Exploring the Top 7 Cooling Tower Upgrades

The engineering team checks the operation of the cooling tower upgrade HVAC system of a large industrial building.A cooling tower, when properly maintained, can provide anywhere from 15 to 20 years or more of efficient, cost-effective cooling for your building. In our previous blog posts, we discussed how to install your cooling tower, repair your cooling tower, and maintain your cooling tower to extend its operational lifetime and deliver the best return on your initial investment.

In addition to practicing regular proactive maintenance, you can extend your cooling tower’s life with a cooling tower upgrade, in which you replace older components with more advanced and newer components to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. You can upgrade your cooling tower at any point in its lifetime, including during installation, but the importance of upgrading becomes more and more important as new technological advances outpace what was “new” in your cooling tower’s time.

Read on to discover seven of the best upgrades you can make to your existing cooling tower to improve its performance, keeping your building cooler and your expenses for energy, water, and maintenance lower.

How can cooling towers be improved?

You can upgrade your cooling tower at any point during your tower’s operational lifespan as long as it makes financial sense. Making improvements to your cooling tower correlates to improving your cooling tower’s lifespan, improving your cooling tower’s thermal and energy efficiency, and even making future maintenance and repairs easier. Many upgrades are most easily made during installation.

Seven of the best cooling tower upgrades include:

1. Moving your cooling tower motor

Some cooling towers have their motor installed inside the cooling tower unit, while other models place the motor outside. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Outside motors are exposed to the natural environment but benefit from being removed from your cooling tower unit’s airstream, which can put undue strain on your motor and leave it vulnerable to moisture.

Moving the motor to the outside of the cooling tower can prolong its lifespan, depending on your area’s climate, and make it easier to access for maintenance.

2. Choosing stainless steel for structural support

Many cooling towers come with galvanized steel structural material, which is cheaper than stainless steel. However, stainless steel is much stronger and sturdier than galvanized steel. In addition, the outer corrosion-resistant zinc coating of galvanized steel wears off quickly, leaving the underlying steel exposed and vulnerable to rust issues.

While stainless steel can cost up to 50% more than galvanized steel, the trade-off in maintenance cost and frequency and reduced risk of corrosion, rust, and leakage almost always makes it worth it.

3. Upgrading your fans with a gearbox

Your cooling tower’s fans are a critical part of its waste heat expulsion mechanism. If your cooling tower has a fan belt that transfers energy from the motor to the fan shaft, replacing it with a gearbox can save on maintenance costs, even if they require a slightly higher monetary investment upfront.

While belt drivers need replacement every year on average, gear drivers are more durable and usually require maintenance once every five years, partially because gearboxes protect the driver’s internal mechanisms from temperature differences and humidity.

4. Adding mechanical access platforms

Installing mechanical access platforms such as landings, walkways, safety cases, and access doors can be an expensive investment. Still, the convenience they offer to your maintenance personnel saves time and money for every maintenance inspection, especially more in-depth quarterly and annual inspections, by making it easier and safer to access your cooling tower’s critical systems.

5. Installing a shaft grounding ring to the VFD

If your cooling tower has a variable-frequency drive (VFD) that controls the output speed of your fans, then installing a shaft grounding ring prevents the drive’s electrical signals from interfering with the shaft’s bearings, prolonging their longevity, minimizing the risk of fan failure and downtime, and reducing maintenance expense.

Many cooling towers with VFD fan shafts do have grounding rings built-in now, but if you have an older cooling tower with a variable-frequency drive, installing a grounding ring can drive down maintenance costs and save money on repairs.

6. Installing thermal cooling tower upgrades

Thermal upgrades are not one specific upgrade to a particular component, but rather a class of batch upgrade cooling tower options focused primarily on increasing your cooling tower’s thermal efficiency.

As your cooling tower ages, not only do its components degrade and require replacement, but the cooling tower itself also becomes out-of-date compared to more modern models and compared to the climate-control requirements of your building.

Thermal upgrades focus on identifying and replacing components that can contribute to inefficient cooling and heat transfer, such as worn fan blades, deteriorated drift eliminators, old spray systems, worn collection basins, or plugged fill media that prevent your cooling tower from meeting heat load demands and efficiently expelling heat from your building.

If your cooling tower is getting on in years and struggling to keep your building at a reasonable temperature, thermal cooling tower upgrades can help. A thermal cooling tower upgrade can make your old cooling tower work like new again—or even better, potentially bringing its performance more in line with newer models.

7. Installing water-efficient cooling tower upgrades

Another category of cooling tower batch upgrade options to consider is water usage. On average, cooling towers account for 40% or more of a building’s water demand.

Today, in many parts of the world, water waste and overuse are becoming more and more pertinent concerns. In addition to climate considerations, upgrades to make your cooling tower more efficient in its water use also save on utilities and electricity costs.

Some of the water-efficient upgrades, retrofit modifications, and batch upgrades you might be able to make to your cooling tower include improved controls, monitoring, and water treatment options to more efficiently utilize water and do more with less.

For example:

  • Upgrading your cooling tower’s conductivity controller
  • Using acid-based water treatment and a pH controller
  • Pre-treatment water softening
  • Installing a reverse osmosis system
  • Non-chemical precipitation-type water treatment systems

Cooling tower equipment varies wildly from one brand to another, and the practicality and usefulness of some water-efficient upgrades varies from model to model. Other considerations, such as local ordinances or regulations, should also be taken into effect. If you’re considering installing a water-efficient cooling tower upgrade, talk to professionals to get a good sense of what upgrades are feasible and recommended.

Replace or Refurbish: How much does a cooling tower upgrade cost?

You may remember the price tag from your previous cooling tower installation, so you might have a concept of how much it costs to replace your cooling tower.

The cost of cooling tower replacement depends on the size of the tower and, likewise, the size and cooling needs of your building, with a replacement cooling tower generally costing between $50,000 and $200,000.

Refurbishing, retrofitting, and upgrading your cooling tower can cost up to 60% less than installing a new one while still delivering massive efficiency and quality-of-life improvements.

While cheaper than outright replacement, upgrading your cooling tower can still be a hefty investment of money and effort. But when the situation calls for it, a cooling tower upgrade is worth every penny and more in terms of ROI.

When should you perform a cooling tower replacement?

With such a massive cost to replacing your old cooling tower and installing a new one, it’s not a decision to be made lightly. Once your cooling tower reaches the end of its operational lifespan and repairs, upgrades, and retrofits stop being cost-effective, it’s time to start shopping for a cooling tower replacement.

In general, a cooling tower replacement is something you want to perform when:

  • Your cooling tower is old and out-of-date enough that upgrading or retrofitting it to meet more modern standards is more of a cost and labor investment than it is worth.
  • There is damage to your cooling tower that cannot be repaired.
  • Repairs may not completely fix the problem with your cooling tower, making it unable to operate at the desired capacity after the repairs are complete.
  • In your case, repairs or upgrades may not bring your cooling tower up to the energy/water/cooling efficiency standards you need.

The decision to replace or batch upgrade your cooling tower is not a decision to make lightly, nor an easy one. Cooling tower upgrades and replacements are large investments, and your unique situation determines when the cost of either upgrading or replacing your cooling tower is worth it.

At Chiller Systems Service, we’re here to help you make that decision. We’re dedicated to providing the expert advice you need to make the best decision for you, your property, and your budget regarding your cooling tower, from installation to repairs to maintenance to upgrades to replacement. We don’t sell brands or equipment—just the most skillful and attentive technicians to take a look at your unique situation and provide you with just the right solution for you.

If you’re considering single cooling tower upgrades, a batch upgrade to your cooling tower, or a cooling tower replacement, contact us and find out what makes us the Denver area’s best option for cooling tower services.

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What are the benefits of upgrading a cooling tower?

Upgrading a cooling tower can improve its operational lifespan, improve its thermal and energy efficiency, and make future maintenance and repairs easier.

What are the seven best cooling tower upgrades?

The seven best cooling tower upgrades are moving the motor outside of the cooling tower, choosing stainless steel for structural support, upgrading fans with a gearbox, adding mechanical access platforms, installing a shaft grounding ring to the VFD, installing thermal cooling tower upgrades, and installing water-efficient cooling tower upgrades.

How much does a cooling tower upgrade cost?

The cost of a cooling tower upgrade is typically up to 60% less than the cost of replacing a cooling tower and can vary depending on the size of the tower and the cooling needs of the building.

When should you perform a cooling tower replacement?

You should consider replacing your cooling tower when it is too old or out-of-date to upgrade, when it has damage that cannot be repaired, when repairs will not be enough to increase its efficiency, or when repairs or upgrades do not meet the energy/water/cooling efficiency standards you need.

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