Erected in 1973, the 12,000-sq-ft Oxnard Civic Center Professional Building in downtown Oxnard, CA, is operational 24/7/365, and its thirtysomething HVAC system was requiring constant repairs with bills often exceeding $10,000 annually. The building's owner, Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, had endured complaints about the HVAC system for many years from the tenants. "Ever since I purchased this professional building in 1983, I have had persistent and frequent complaints from 13 very disgruntled retail tenants and one 23rd District Congresswoman Lois Capps, who has an office in my building. For nearly 20 years, the temperatures in each of their spaces always ran either too hot or too cold. It was never right or balanced," said the mayor.

The entire ground floor was home to a number of Oxnard merchants, including a print shop and optician. The entire second floor was dedicated to office space, including the office of the mayor himself.

In spring of 2003, Steve Dishman of Kaiser Air Conditioning advised Lopez to replace his worn-out equipment with state-of-the-art technology - a cooling and heating system that could provide individual zoning controls for each one of the building's retail and office tenants. New technology would require special bypass dampers and sophisticated controls in order to balance the existing ducted system that was neither balanced nor sized correctly for the fluctuating air volume.

Heat wave forces the issue

In the spring of 2004, southern California experienced an early "heat wave." Air conditioning systems throughout the state were put under enormous pressure, including the mayor's office building. In March, eight different leaks were found in the coil of the old 30-ton air handler. The mayor decided to move on Dishman's proposal to replace the outdated HVAC System. But there was a problem.

The cost of raw materials - including sheet metal, copper, and all metals required to complete this project - increased over 80% from the prior year resulting in an additional $25,000 in material costs. During this period, the staff at Kaiser Air Conditioning attended a one-day seminar presented by Buddy Delaney, western regional manager for Mitsubishi Electric HVAC. At this seminar, Dishman realized that the Mitsubishi Electric HVAC system - called Mr. Slim - demonstrated exactly what he needed to effectively cut back the incredible cost increases of the raw materials. He also recognized that the technology and innovative systems design would keep labor and installation costs down.

Dishman contacted his distributor, Derek Chan of US Air Conditioning Distributors as well as the local representative, Bobby Hahn. The result was an immediate decision to scrap the original plans and begin designing around the Mitsubishi Electric HVAC MXZ Inverter Technology. Within a month, construction began, with a completion date of June 30, 2004. The installation of the units allowed a 30% reduction in labor costs because a single master technician was all that was needed on site, with two to six journeymen, thus greatly reducing labor costs.

Complaints conquered

"With this dramatic conversion from an obsolete enthalpic (thermodynamic) system to a sleek, cost-busting variable frequency compression technology, the Civic Center Professional Building today is the most perfectly balanced and zoned system in the entire City of Oxnard," Dishman said.

"The retail and office tenants are ecstatic to have their very own systems and controls. The previous system ran 24/7, 365 days a year, with either the whole building in heating mode or cooling mode. Aside from the initial cost savings for both labor and materials, the monthly electric bill has been cut in half. This was a real win-win for everyone."

"It has been almost eight months, and I have yet to hear a single complaint from one of my tenants. Each unit now has its own temperature control, and the improvement both in quality of life, and ability to get work done has improved remarkably," Lopez said. "As yet, I don't have exact data on energy cost savings, but I am certain that my monthly electric bills have been cut substantially." ES