The mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems of a building require constant attention in order to maximize overall efficiency and reduce operating costs. Regular maintenance ensures the equipment performs at optimal capacity, which decreases the risk of a failure as well as the expense for future repairs and replacements.
Monitor equipment performance
Automobiles have reached the point in which they can detect internal problems and alert drivers via a “check engine” light on the dashboard. People typically use their cars every day, so although they might not know the exact issue, they become aware of the problem quickly and make sure they visit a service professional soon.
“You know there’s something wrong,” says Paul Torcellini, a principal engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “You might not know what it is, but at least you know you’ve got to get it checked out.”
Building systems remain out of sight for the most part, so property owners and managers have more trouble paying attention to them on a daily basis. If the HVAC falters but still performs well enough, for example, a facility manager might not perceive the difference, as opposed to a light bulb that burns out and needs to be replaced.
As a result, many building managers adopt a “run to failure” approach and choose not to worry about maintenance until something breaks. Because they neglected the equipment, however, the cost to fix a malfunction or—even worse—replace hardware usually comes at a much higher, premium price.
“They will break; it’s a matter of ‘when’ not a question of ‘if,’” Torcellini says. “You’ve got to know this stuff is there, and what needs maintenance.”
Document service and repairs
Each piece of equipment follows a different maintenance schedule, which can be difficult for facility managers to track accurately. A running list of all hardware, any work done to specific parts (replacing an air filter, for example) and the person responsible for carrying out a particular maintenance task creates an invaluable roadmap.
“You need to know where you have maintenance issues, and you need to be able to log how many hours a filter has been in there,” Torcellini says. “What you’re trying to do is preempt failures in a lot of ways. The last thing you want is unhappy tenants or unhappy customers—because that’s real money.”
Car owners interact with their automobiles far more often than facility managers interact with a building system, so they stand a much better chance of remembering to have their oil changed (especially if the car has a sticker on the windshield with the mileage) than a facility manager does at changing out an air filter on the exact day.
An energy management system, though, can help building managers log their equipment assets, runtimes and respective maintenance schedules. This computer-aided tool sends a notification when something falters, but facility managers must be able to act on the data and information in order for the system to be effective.
Execute maintenance actions
Torcellini says he has seen large retail store chains implement a new energy management system and outfit each of their buildings, yet they fail to hire an on-site maintenance staff and struggle with outsourcing the work when a problem occurs. The error messages start piling up, and facility managers quickly become overwhelmed.
“They spent all this money to collect data, but they couldn’t turn it into information that they could access,” Torcellini says. “[The energy management system has] to talk to the people who are looking at the information in some way that it makes sense to them. The building can only be as complex as the understanding of whoever’s operating it.”
Whether building managers subcontract maintenance work or depend on in-house staff, they must be confident in their ability to troubleshoot issues and resolve them promptly. Instituting a process that addresses maintenance concerns immediately and outlines the people responsible for subsequent action affords valuable protection.
“If you’ve got a building that becomes sick because you haven’t maintained it, you have a pretty high degree of risk there,” Torcellini says. “So what do you do? You [can] hire a professional to help you, and that person should be qualified at the level of sophistication of your building. If they’re not, somebody else should do it.”
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