The Buck Stops With the Building Owner

August 14, 2006
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QUEBEC CITY - They are the bane of commercial contractors and operations staff: building owners who won't approve a budget to be used for HVAC maintenance work, but who will fork over money for new carpeting throughout a facility.

According to Bob Baker (BBJ Environmental), the inspection and maintenance project could help these contractors out by officially placing the ultimate responsibility for system inspections and maintenance where it belongs - on the owner. At the annual meeting of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Baker described the Standard 180 maintenance project as a standard minimum practice for inspection and maintenance of commercial HVAC systems.

Standard 180 (Standard Practice for Inspection and Maintenance of HVAC Systems) is intended "to bring minimum inspection and maintenance requirements that preserve a system's ability to achieve acceptable thermal comfort," Baker said.

"Lack of maintenance does not affect sustainability or system life," he added. "There's no documentation to prove it."

WHAT IT INCLUDES

The maintenance and inspection standard:

  • Gives minimum requirements for new and existing buildings.

  • Does not cover residential stock.

  • Does not apply to systems that primarily provide for manufacturing, industrial, or commercial processes.

  • Shall not supersede health and safety practices and standards.

    Baker called the discussion of minimum maintenance requirements "a debate that's been going on for decades."

    The body of the standard will include a definition, and will place responsibility for maintenance on the building owner, who ultimately is the top person, Baker said. In cases where maintenance is lacking, often it's not because the maintenance staff or contractors are incompetent. "It's because they don't have the resources to do what they need to do."

    AREAS FOR CONTRACTOR INPUT

    Contractors and building operators will need to provide plenty of input for their individual facilities' maintenance programs. Those may include:

  • An inventory of items to be inspected and maintained.

  • Specific performance objectives. (Use the "ASHRAE Handbook" or original documents, Baker said, or hire a competent professional "so we know what the system needs to achieve.")

  • Condition indications (e.g., what is an unacceptable condition - failed drain pans, etc.).

  • A list of inspection and maintenance tasks tailored for that facility, along with frequency (time, condition indicators [i.e., pressure drop]).

  • Documentation - the plans, path, and evidence shall be documented and archived.

  • A mechanism for inspection and maintenance - how these will be executed.

    There also needs to be a plan for program revisions. What will trigger a change to the facility's maintenance procedures? Baker suggested that any modification to the building needs to be a potential trigger.

    "At a minimum," he said, "somebody needs to sit down and consider whether the change would affect maintenance." Additional triggers could be equipment or system changes, change of building function or use, or "any evidence that the system is incapable of achieving performance objectives."

    EQUIPMENT TO BE INCLUDED

    According to Baker, all of the inspection and maintenance activities will be driven by a list of subsystem inspection points:

  • Air cleaning.

  • Air movement (fans, dampers, VAV boxes, terminal ventilators, etc.).

  • Controls.

  • Heat distribution (ejection or exchange, and into the building).

  • Heat generation (any source).

  • Refrigeration.

    The full list totals 566 items, around 100 of which are ranked "high" ("shall" be included), Baker said. The technical committee in charge of the project plans to have a CD with the listing on it, "hopefully coming to an ASHRAE bookstore near you." They expect it to be published in 2007.

    MAINTENANCE FROM SCRATCH

    It's a fact that a lot of commercial buildings don't have any formal maintenance plan in hand, said Tom Coker (Cumberland Gap Tunnel Authority). He gave some examples of how to develop a maintenance plan from scratch.

    The first step, he said, is to get a plan. "Get management as well as users to buy into it." That means getting the maintenance staff, supervisors, and management involved in its creation. Determine what you want to do.

    He pointed out these four "steps to maintenance bliss":

    1. Preventive maintenance (PM).

    2. Predictive maintenance.

    3. Condition monitoring.

    4. Reliability-centered maintenance.

    "Develop specific tracking methodology," he advised. "Generally, we use alpha-numeric codes that provide ease in identification" - for example, identifying an air-handling unit as an AHU. "Identify equipment that's actually out in the field that you want to include in the program." Assemble other maintenance-related reference materials from manufacturers and servicers, plus safety requirements, he said.

    Analyze the information and determine how critical the equipment's performance is (i.e., life safety, functionality, replacement costs, maintenance costs).

    Coker said that maintenance providers should keep the 80-20 rule in mind: "80 percent of your problems will come from 20 percent of your assets," he said.

    THE DETAILS

    Develop preventive maintenance tasks based on anticipated failures, Coker said. His department uses four general categories: clean, inspect, lubricate, and perform minor adjustments and repairs.

    "Clean and inspect pump unit" is insufficient instruction, he added. "Verify alignment within 3 mils" is better. Use manufacturer sources for maintenance procedures, but don't forget about talking to the people who are already working for you, who deal with the equipment daily.

    "What if you have just two guys on your maintenance staff? You have to work with what you have," Coker said. Look into training and cross training, and look into the tools available to you. "Do you have the tools that you need?"

    Use a work order system, he said, as well as written procedures to be followed. Measure the operational parameters. "If you can't measure it, you can't monitor it."

    Finally, make sure the work is done. "You have to make sure that whatever schedule you establish, is followed," Coker said. Make sure the tech understands the tasks; if not, provide training or contract the work out. "Also, make sure techs in the field record any major item that they find. Record thoughts and ideas to ultimately modify the PM. Look for new PM opportunities while you're out there."

    "You've got to understand that maintenance is a living, breathing thing," he summarized. Programs fail because of improper planning, lack of support, low prioritization, boredom, and poor results.

    Publication date: 08/14/2006

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