A hotel and convention centre needed an upgrade on its rooftop heating and air conditioning system last year. 38 of 150 rooftop heating and air condition units were replaced in the process. However, nine months later, compressors began to fail due to dirty filters and coils. The manufacturer voided the 10-year warranty on the new unit’s compressors and coils, and the estimated cost for premature failure added up to $500,000.
The longevity of a building system depends on many factors. Age, frequency of use and extreme weather conditions can all take their toll on a system. While some of these issues are difficult to manage, a building owner or manager can at least control how well a system is maintained.
The aforementioned case is just one story about a poorly maintained mechanical system. The hotel’s onsite maintenance staff was neither qualified nor properly trained on best practices.
There are countless other cases. From property managers and board members to insurance adjusters, issues with mechanical systems are prevalent, and many industry members see their systems face an early, imminent death. However, a preventative maintenance program is a key step in prolonging the life cycle of equipment and ensuring peak efficiency.
What does a proper preventive maintenance program do?
Preventive maintenance is supposed to keep a building’s equipment and systems working at peak efficiency in a number of ways: providing maximum comfort, eliminating or limiting breakdowns, ensuring all equipment is operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, ensuring it meets all codes, standards and by-laws, and, most importantly, ensuring a maximum service life or life cycle.
If the equipment and systems are not properly maintained, energy will be wasted, comfort will be compromised and building managers will be busy dealing with angry tenants and contractors.
The equipment and systems will require replacement many years earlier than forecasted in the reserve fund study. I have been to several annual general meetings where police were present to protect management and the board of directors because a special assessment had been levied to replace systems that had failed long before they should have.
In green or LEED buildings, ensuring the equipment’s life cycle is just as important, if not more important, as maintaining energy efficiency.
How can managers ensure proper maintenance?
When tendering requests for proposals, it is imperative that the manager conduct his or her due diligence. Check references, ensure bidders have all of their licenses and insurance and are current with their WSIB payments. Also, review their CAD 7 history (accident history with WSIB). Also, worth acquiring is a list of technicians who will be working on the building’s equipment and systems. Make sure they provide proof of their trade licenses, certificates and experience.
Once the tender has been awarded, it is important that a manager and other support staff in the building become familiar with the technicians performing maintenance work.
In many cases, a contractor will underbid the maintenance and try to send in apprentices or trades helpers to do minor maintenance work, such as filter changes. Trades helpers are not permitted in our industry; you must be a licensed technician or a registered apprentice. If the technician cannot provide proof of qualifications, he or she should not be permitted in your building and allowed to touch your equipment.
It is equally important to know what work the prime maintenance contractor is subcontracting out, such as a chemical treatment of a heating and cooling water system.
An annual recommissioning process on equipment and systems will help ensure they work at peak efficiency. During this recommissioning process, the manager and his or her staff, must make themselves available to go through every piece of equipment with their maintenance contractor. It may even be advisable to have an independent third party involved in this process. If doubts about the ability of your maintenance contractor arise, a third, unrelated professional party should offer an opinion.
In an 18-year-old building, a reputable contractor performed a maintenance program, but the chemical treatment was subcontracted, filters weren’t changed, the chemical feeder was turned off due to leaks, only one of two pumps was running in mid-winter and chemicals were not maintained. Unfortunately, fan coils and piping became plugged and there was poor heat distribution, resulting in hundreds of complaints. The piping network, boiler tubes and pumps became corroded, and pin-hole leaks began to develop, greatly reducing the life cycle. The cost for this premature failure was estimated to be $2.8 million.
Brad Arnold is an award-winning, recognized leader in the plumbing, mechanical and pipe rehabilitation services sector, with close to 40 dedicated years of experience. As technical consultant at Pipe Shield Enterprises Inc., Brad often delivers seminars and training workshops at industry conferences and educational seminars. He sits on several boards and committees at local Canadian colleges, government and non-government agencies, and teaches at George Brown College and PM Training Group.