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AHU Leaks: Prevention is the Key to Keeping Floods at Bay

When the Dam Breaks

With the laundry list of tasks and pressing needs that facilities teams address on any given day, it’s easy to see why there’s not an abundance of thought given to what’s lurking inside the dark, damp confines of an air handling unit (AHU).

When you factor in budgetary restrictions, a shortage of qualified facilities staff, and simply not enough hours in the day, it’s understandable why facilities teams might inadvertently turn a blind eye to the condition of their AHU condensate pans and chamber floors until there’s a need – which usually means there’s a problem.  Once you notice water outside an air handling unit, however, it might be too late.  Condensate pans and chamber floors will eventually fail, allowing water to infiltrate the building, causing potentially catastrophic problems such as costly property and equipment damage and the accumulation of mold and other biological agents responsible for sick building syndrome (SBS) or building-related illness (BRI).

Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) sites air handling unit condensate as the primary source of microorganism and biological growth contaminants that cause SBS and BRI.  Their primary recommendation to employers to help guard against these environmental hazards is to adopt a preventative maintenance plan for humidifiers, water spray, and other HVAC system components.  Even with today’s technology and sophistication, the World Health Organization has reported that as many as 30% of new and remodeled buildings have excessive complaints from occupants about indoor air quality.  The irony is that most AHU water leaks, and the problems that often come along with them, are the result of neglected and poorly maintained mechanical systems – a highly treatable and preventable problem.

Just as important as understanding the effects of these problems is to understand a frequent cause.  For nearly a century (and still today), the default material used in the construction of most condensate pans is galvanized steel.  However, galvanized steel has inherently poor corrosion resistance to water*, leading to aggressive corrosion of the steel once the protective zinc coating has eroded.  Accelerated deterioration occurs when galvanized steel is in an environment where it’s partially submerged in water and constantly exposed to varying levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide – just like the inside of an air handling unit.  What begins as unaddressed pinhole leaks in the pan, over time becomes the compromised overall structural integrity of the AHUs core support system.  The result of which is a much bigger and costly problem like those mentioned above.

> According to the General Services Administration’s Technical Procedures governing Historic Preservation, inherent material deterioration problems of galvanized steel “require appropriate routine and preventative maintenance to control”. Similarly, the American Galvanizer’s Association acknowledges that moisture is highly corrosive to most metals, including steel and zinc, and that utilizing adequate corrosion protection systems in harsh environments can drastically reduce ancillary costs. <

With cooling season just around the corner, perhaps it’s time to inspect your air handlers.  After all, the price of being proactive is much lower than the high price of being reactive.

If your AHU floors and condensate pans are plagued with standing water, scale, rust and corrosion – it’s time to call AQUIS.  AQUIS can eradicate these problems and leave you peace of mind.

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