When the game clock is ticking down, there’s no time for HVAC system errors — just ask LeBron James. In game one of the 2014 NBA Finals, the AT&T Center’s HVAC system malfunctioned, causing temperatures in the filled-to-capacity arena to rise and James to uncontrollably cramp up.

A winning sports arena is one that not only plans for the worst case, but takes steps to prevent those scenarios from occurring during crucial moments. Designing and installing an efficient system that can operate at varying capacities lends control to the unique quality of a sports complex experience, but are only part of a comprehensive solution. By utilizing the tools and methodology of predictive maintenance, sports and multiuse arenas can make sure HVAC issues are taken care of long before an event is underway.

The Swiss army knife of buildings

Arenas present several unique challenges for HVAC construction design, maintenance, operation and repair. An arena is like a Swiss army knife, one minute housing a hockey game, the next a basketball game, then onto a standing-room-only concert. Switching from one function to the next requires preparation.

For example, when a hockey team practices in the morning before a night game, conditions must be such that the ice is frozen, but temperatures and humidity do not promote condensation. Before that night's game, however, temperatures must be lowered to account for the body heat of thousands of fans entering the arena. Changing from one event to another — whether ice hockey, basketball, boxing, rock concert or convention — requires a highly flexible HVAC system design.  

Even without the extremes of a changing event type, the changes that occur when an arena goes from idle to fully operational can be drastic. Within a matter of hours, the space goes from dark and empty to ablaze with lights, steaming from the heat of concessions stands, and full of thousands of people. And beyond all of these factors to consider, open-air or domed stadiums add an extra layer of complexity into the equation — the HVAC system may need to be run continuously to keep an air-supported structure inflated and different environments are necessary for enclosed portions to keep windows from fogging up.

To meet these various requirements, arenas must be designed with humidification and dehumidification capabilities, exhaust fans for load-in, and often separate systems entirely for different parts of the building. Put simply, arena HVAC systems are complex and leave little to no room to spare to accommodate rapidly changing conditions.

Predictive maintenance vs. prevention

Just like any electromechanical system, the various components of an HVAC system break down over time and eventually fail. The key to making sure that this doesn't happen during key periods of time like game time is to continuously monitor all aspects of the system and replace degrading components before they fail.

Preventative maintenance is the traditional approach to keeping an HVAC market system operational, but it can result in systems going offline at inopportune times. Preventative maintenance functions as a scheduled system of inspections and replacements, much like you might replace your car's tires every 50,000 miles. If, for some reason, your tires wear unevenly and fail sooner than their scheduled replacement, however, you might find yourself stranded with a flat. The same goes for the various belts and motors of an HVAC system.

Predictive maintenance, on the other hand, is an approach that continuously monitors component conditions in real-time, which allows technicians to identify problems and schedule repairs during downtime rather than on an arbitrary subscribed schedule or when parts break and it’s panic mode.  

Affordable and accessible

Previously, predictive maintenance was an expensive endeavor that required monitoring equipment to be custom-installed and operated by trained professionals. Advances in mobile and cloud technology, however, have made predictive maintenance far more affordable and therefore accessible to small and large businesses alike. Even large operations, such as sports arenas, previously used predictive maintenance only for the largest and priciest components, leaving the rest to a rules or schedule-based methodology. An inexpensive water pump, fan or motor can still wreak havoc if it fails at the wrong time.  

When it comes to multi-purpose arenas, the importance of keeping every part of an HVAC system functioning is paramount to success and can no longer afford being left to a bimonthly, manual inspection approach. If one critical component of a system fails between morning hockey practice and that evening's game, it could derail everything and cost the arena greatly.