Developers are well familiar with backup power generators, which are a critical piece of the emergency evacuation puzzle in all condominium installations. The generator keeps the emergency systems functioning in the event of a loss of utility power.
As most property managers know, generators require regularly scheduled service intervals to comply with CSA 282.09, which is the current enforced code relating to generator service in life safety applications. Property managers always face pressured from residents (through their board of directors) to keep costs down and reduce building maintenance expenses. This is no easy chore at a time of rising labour and material costs.
There are many factors to weigh when condominium developers choose the design and location of a generator installation. The four major factors that will affect generator service costs in all condominiums are:
1) The make/model and kilowatt (kW) rating of the generator;
2) Generator location (roof, basement, underground parking, outdoors);
3) Electrical connection points for load bank testing; and
4) Room access and cleanliness.
The make/model and kW rating
The generator make/model and kW rating are straightforward, as there is typically not a lot of leeway on size in the design of a generator installation. Kilowatt ratings are essentially determined by the electrical load that the generator needs to support. The greater the electrical load to be backed up, the larger the size and capacity of the generator. Larger-sized generators require larger engines to drive them, and larger engines are more expensive to service (increased oil and coolant capacity as well as larger, more expensive oil and fuel filters).
Outdoor installations are typically the least expensive service option and can save thousands of dollars annually compared to other potential generator locations. Typically, because the generator service provider can bring the service truck, parts and equipment very close to the generator, the resulting labour costs are much lower. Another money-saving aspect of an outdoor installation is that when the generator is load bank tested (a requirement of CSA 282), the load bank (which exhausts extreme heat) can usually be placed close by the generator, saving time and electrical cabling and connection costs.
Generators that are in penthouse mechanical rooms or on roof tops can have significantly varying service costs. A generator on the roof of one condominium can have an annual maintenance cost of five to 10 times that of an identical generator on another roof. Factors that can affect this installation location are elevator access and stairs. If equipment and supplies have to be carried upstairs, costs can be higher. In a few condominiums, there are rooftop generators that can only accommodate a load bank on the ground, which can add more than $10,000 to the annual maintenance cost of the generator, as electrical cables for the load bank have to be run over 25 floors in some cases. In cases such as these, it may be more advisable to have a permanent load bank installed on the roof when the building is designed and built. This strategy can save thousands of dollars in annual maintenance costs.
Many generators can be located in basement and underground parking areas, which can be fairly cost-friendly for generator service. Once again, though, certain factors can increase service costs. For one, they depend on how close the contractor can get the service truck to the generator room. For another, they depend on how close the load bank can be placed. Stairs and elevators also come into play here.
In many condominiums, the load bank heat can be exhausted directly into the underground parking area during tests. This is convenient and requires the least labour to do, but there are limitations. Larger generators exhaust extreme amounts of heat when they are load banked. There have been cases where the heat exhaust has set off sprinkler systems in the underground parking. In cases such as these, the load banks must be placed outside, which requires additional electrical cabling as well as labour.
Load bank connection points
CSA 282.09 requires that a two-hour load bank test be performed annually, so load bank connection points influence maintenance costs. Take, for example, a large rooftop generator with an electrical connection point on the roof. In this scenario, the generator contractor will likely have to bring their load banks up to the roof via elevator and/or stairs. This can be time-consuming and can also lead to a one-man job becoming a two-man job, which in turn leads to increased service costs. Conversely, an outdoor generator located on the ground is much less expensive to service, as the load banks are placed near the generator and the connections can be made with minimal cabling.
Some condominium developers are now designing buildings with load bank connection points (via camlock connectors) located on the outside of the building. This is an excellent way to reduce maintenance costs. The contractor can simply bring their load banks close to the load bank connection point, connect the load banks and begin performing the required two-hour load bank test.
Room access and cleanliness
Besides being a requirement of CSA 282, keeping the generator room free of debris and other materials is good practice. If the generator contractor has to climb over or move debris, this will increase labour costs. Debris in the room can also lead to catastrophic failure of the generator. Generator cooling fans move large amounts of air over the generator engine and exhaust the air outside. Debris in the generator room can easily be sucked up and fired through the generator radiator, leading to cooling system failure and ultimately unforeseen generator shutdown.
Is the room easy to access? Are there elevators? Are there many stairs? All of these factors affect the maintenance costs.
By considering these four factors, it’s possible for developers and property managers to minimize the annual service costs associated with generator maintenance.