Equipment Rails: Keeping your HVAC Unit Safe and Secure

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Steel Cant Equipment Rails

“We’ll just wing it.” That isn’t really a phrase you want to hear when you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – to ensure your commercial building is the safest. That’s where equipment rails come in. Let’s see how these equipment supports ensure the safety, reliability, and longevity of your rooftop air handling products.

What Are Equipment Rails?

Equipment supports for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units are essential for ensuring safety. These products provide load-bearing support and are designed to elevate or support ductwork, HVAC units, walkways, pipes, and more. Also known as sleeper roof curbs, equipment rails, and support rails, they are typically made of steel, aluminum, or self-flashing.

How Do Equipment Rails Work? 

Imagine walking in high heels. The point of the heel is small, and all your weight is focused on a tiny area. Now think about the most comfortable tennis shoes you own. Your weight is equally distributed throughout the bottom of the shoe, giving you more stability, comfort, and support.

Equipment rails work by ensuring that the weight is distributed evenly across multiple points, preventing one area from undertaking the majority of the weight. These rails also help increase airflow and prevent water accumulation.

Using the wrong equipment rails is like putting your HVAC unit in an expensive pair of heels. If the weight isn’t equally distributed, the pressure on certain parts of the roof can cause it to sag, leak water or air, or cause the HVAC unit to separate from the structure below.

The moral of the story? Those red leather pumps may look great, but your HVAC unit deserves the cushioning comfort of a nice pair of running shoes. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Equipment Support Styles

Even though the name implies they are just there to support the equipment, these rails do so much more. If you don’t utilize the correct type of support system, your HVAC unit is at risk of damaging your roof and more.

There are two main designs for equipment supports:

  • Standard Equipment Support
  • Canted Equipment Support

Standard equipment supports, also known as straight equipment supports, are the same size at the base as at the top. These supports offer elevated installation and are typically made with wooden beams surrounded by welded flashing. By placing the equipment slightly above roof level, there is an increased amount of water and airflow.

Canted equipment supports – like this Aluminum Cant Equipment Support Rail – are flared at the bottom, providing a broader base than the top with a typical cant of 45 degrees on each side. This type of equipment support provides a sturdier base for heavier equipment.

Prior to these updated styles, many equipment supports were made with railroad ties. Although this may sound like a good idea – railroad ties can support the weight of trains, so why wouldn’t they be able to support the weight of an HVAC unit? – using something made of wood without any protection can attract ants, rot, and termites.

Installation Examples

Many manufacturers require equipment supports to be installed before placing your equipment. For example, many rooftop units that are designed to extend over a roof curb require supports for units that measure more than a certain weight.

Another example of an installation that should utilize equipment rails is when you’re placing power exhaust modules. If your module is an after-market installation, it may only require screws for installation. Although it will likely be okay at first, over time, the weight of the power exhaust may cause a separation between the module and the rooftop unit.

A separation can cause water and air to leak through the space or even a complete separation. Adding equipment supports can help evenly distribute the weight, allowing the area to remain structurally sound and secure without compromising the unit’s integrity.  

Can You Re-Use Equipment Rails?

Saving money is seldom a bad thing, but when it comes to the safety of your architecture, you can never be too careful. Although it may seem logical to re-use your equipment rails when you install a new unit, make sure to do your homework and consult with an expert before making a decision.

It isn’t always as easy as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when discussing utilizing an existing support system. If you can take advantage of the existing equipment supports, make sure that an expert can examine the installation process and determine that you’re complying with all safety codes and processes.

Installing Equipment Rails and Supports

Your HVAC unit is only as strong as the equipment rails supporting it. Don’t waste money on an expensive HVAC unit if you’re not going to invest in the same quality equipment support. If you spend the money to ensure that your HVAC is the best in the business, then ensure that you also provide the best, watertight, and strongest roof supports to keep your purchase safe and protected for years.

As with nearly any construction project, ensuring you have trained installation experts is critical to the project’s success. Understanding the correct load ratio and how the material may weather or age will ensure that you’re prepared for anything out of left field that comes your way.

Ensuring that the HVAC equipment has the correct weight distribution over the entire surface area will help prevent mounting-related damages as well as increase the longevity of the roof.

Metal Equipment Supports

Two of the most popular materials used for building equipment rails are:

  1. Steel
  2. Aluminum

But what’s the difference? When it comes to providing lightweight protection and strength, aluminum is the better choice. Although it is more susceptible to scratches and superficial dents, it is lighter than steel and is incredibly strong in colder environments.

Steel is stronger, but it is also heavier. Therefore, when measuring strength alone, steel is more likely to stand up against bending and warping when exposed to force, weight, and heat. Considering these factors, steel is one of the most durable construction materials.

Where to Buy Equipment Rails

If you’re shopping for equipment supports, Lloyd Industries has the products and expertise you need to ensure the safety and security of your most important assets. With over 35 years of experience manufacturing HVAC and fire protection products, the expert staff at Lloyd Industries is on hand to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

Shop the quality equipment rails and other support products you need from Lloyd Industries.

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