Mastering the Art of Facilities Maintenance

managing time and resources effectively

The Importance of “Jobbing”

If you work in a facility full-time as a maintenance technician, you know what it is like to walk up three flights of stairs, or across a campus, and realize that the pipe wrench, screwdriver, cordless drill, etc. is laying back on the desk in the maintenance office where you left it.

HVAC, Mechanical, and Plumbing contractors can multiply the impact of a forgotten item tenfold when the office is across town from the shop during rush hour.

Regardless of how far the office is from the work being done, some serious time, effort and cost can be saved by taking a few minuted to go through a checklist and make sure you have everything you need to do a job.

First ask: What is the task? Whether you’re hanging a new picture in the office lobby, or installing a new water heater- there is still a list of items you will need to do the work.  Taking time to think about what you are going to be doing and what you will need to bring with you to do the job can can be the difference between finishing the job and feeling good about the accomplishment and not getting the job done and feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything.

Next ask: What are the tools I am going to need? Run through the inventory. Hammer, Drill, screwdriver, specialty tool, or tools that need to be signed out from the office, or rented. If you’ve ever assembled a piece of furniture, or a bookshelf- you’ll remember that the first thing in the instructions are the tools you’ll need.

Finally, when you arrive at the work site, go through your material and tool inventory one more time, and take the time to lay them out within reach of the work. Bring along a small mat, towel, or dropcloth so you aren’t laying your tools and material on the customer’s hardwood/ ceramic/ tile floor.

It is inevitable that you will run into situations where you need a different screw size, or pipe fitting, or piece of material than what you planned- but having a plan and an inventory for the project will still keep the material or tool trips to a minimum. Following these thought processes, and taking a few moments to think about the task, the tools, and the materials necessary to do a job beforehand will save you time and effort, and help you create a successful, polished, completed project every time.


August 4, 2010 Posted by | facilities maintenance, organization, tools | Leave a comment

The Stanley Fubar

I just picked up a Stanley Fubar

Stanley Fubar

The FUBAR from Stanley

At Lowe’s today, and I’m anxious to try it out. In the HVAC and mechanical trades, sometimes it is necessary to do a little drywall/ trim demo to get to piping or ductwork buried in the walls.

I’ve done some building, and I’ve got a prybar and a hammer, but I’ve been eyeing this thing every time I go to a big box hardware store wanting to try out the claw at the business end of the Fubar.

I’ll post updates and photos once we get a chance to try it out- stay tuned.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | buildouts & remodeling, tools | Leave a comment

Managing work orders and work flow

Managing workflow, documenting work, and providing for compliance with record keeping can be a tough tract to manage when spring and summer work picks up. Maintenance technicians can be overwhelmed and can handle as many as 60-70 work orders in a single day. How do you manage all of these work orders?

My thoughts go back to property managers scribbling addresses on a post-it note, or concierge desk attendants handing “while you were out” notes to maintenance technicians. The tech then proceeds to put the note in their shirt-pocket and then realizes days later that they forgot the call…

The best way to handle a work-order system with maintenance techs is to provide a written work order.  A written work order program can also include the following:

  1. maintenance request forms
  2. door hangers
  3. work orders
  4. make-ready boards

Tenants and customers can fill out a form to make a maintenance request (they can be placed in the lobby, at a concierge desk, or at the property manager’s office) and then the actual work order can be assigned to the maintenance tech. The tech should always leave behind a document that tells a tenant or owner that a tech was in their unit, and door hangers can be used to notify pending work, that a tech is currently in the unit, or that a tech visited earlier.

Finally, in managing workflow, tracking and make-ready boards can be used for punch-out tracking ,special products and for assigning tasks with multiple technicians and vendors.

John Tindale and Maintenance Mastery were not compensated for mentioning Great American Property Management Products.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | buildouts & remodeling, facilities maintenance, organization, safety, tools | , , , | 3 Comments

Reading a set of gauges

One of the things with which new HVAC & Refrigeration techs constantly struggle is to learn to take the mystery out of reading a set of gauges and interpreting the information that they are seeing- but the trick is in paying attention to the fundamentals before trying to move on to more advanced diagnostics. Learn about the refrigeration cycle- memorize it, learn to draw it without looking at it- and don’t just draw the components, but be able to say what state (gas or liquid) the refrigerant is in at each point in the cycle.

Remember to practice safety principles- never let any refrigerant come in contact with your skin, inhale it, or get it in your eyes, flash freeze and chemical burns can occur. Also, never vent a refrigerant to the atmosphere, always recover refrigerant when opening or evacuating a system, and be aware that local, national, and international laws apply to the handling of refrigerants, and heavy fines can be assessed if you don’t know what you are doing. Most municipalities require that you take a refrigerant recovery test before handling refrigerant.

The whole point of any refrigeration system is the removal of heat. We are using scientific principles of heat transfer to remove the heat from one area (bedrooms, milk, chicken, buildings) and then reject it somewhere else (usually outside) Refrigeration does this in exactly the same way steam does it, it’s just that refrigerants boil at a temperature lower than water at atmospheric pressure.. It is generally referred to as the vapor/ compression cycle. In the evaporator, the refrigerant picks up heat and boils. this gas is then compressed, and cooled at the condenser, and sent back to the evaporator to boil again.

I know a few old rules of thumb, where techs have some calculation based on the outside air temperature, or something else- which may be enough to get the system running, but may be overcharged or still undercharged when outdoor conditions change.
The best thing to do, is to carry a thermocouple type thermometer, and a pressure-temperature chart and watch what the system is really doing. Remember that the point of any refrigeration cycle (no matter how complicated, or how new the refrigerant is) is all about heat exchange.Here’s a few things to consider:

When charging a system, take temperature readings of the system you are trying to cool. What sort of degree split are you trying to achieve? If you’re running and air handler, with a split system- the best you can achieve is a 15-20F or 8-11C degree split. If it is more or less than this- you are going to have problems down the road. The same thing is true with most walk-in boxes and rooftop units.

Have a look at your suction pressure, and the corresponding temperature. Once you begin adding refrigerant, and you start to get readings on the evaporator section, go back out and read your gauges. Does the suction pressure correspond to a temperature above 32 degrees? If not- is your system designed with a defrost timer or circuit board when appropriate. (A heat pump when charged properly will run a suction temperature lower than 32 degrees during some winter days)

Finally, learn to charge by measuring superheat and subcooling and using the superheat/subcooling method of charging. It is the best way to determine whether a system is properly charged. It requires that you take readings of the suction pressure and two temperatures — “the evaporator boiling temperature at a given pressure and the temperature of the refrigerant at the outlet of the evaporator on the suction line.” Print the linked article and carry it with you until you are 100% sure how to do it every time.

take some time to monitor how different systems run. Walk-in boxes that run on r-22, will have identical pressures/ temperatures to a residential R-22 system when they are first started (indoor temp of the box is 72F or 29C). Get in the habit of carrying a notebook and make cheat-sheets, taking notes when observing how different systems run. Pick up a copy of Modern Refrigeration (Amazon also has used copies) Remember-it’s all about temperatue change, boiling refrigerant, and the transfer of heat!

April 11, 2009 Posted by | refrigeration, tools | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Right Multi-purpose Tool for the Job

I’ve been working in the field for quite a long time and I’ve tried most of the multi-tools. The right multi-tool can make your job easier, and make you look like a pro when you don’t have to go running for a toolbox every time you need to open an access panel on a building walkthrough.

There’s times when you know you are working on a project, and you know that you have to lug out the toolbox (or boxes) and set up and do a job. Then there’s those other times when all you need to do is open a panel cover or unscrew a cap. You don’t need a whole tool pouch, you just need a few things to make your life easier. Here’s my top 5.

1. The 6-in-1 screwdriver. This baby started life as a 4-in-1, and someone got the bright idea to add the 5/16 and 1/4″ nutdrivers, and now we have a handy multi-purpose tool that’s useful for opening panel covers, tightening loose screws, adjusting door hardware, and for general inspections and maintenance. I find that even when I have all my other tools, the screwdriver i usually grab is this one.

2. Swiss Army Knife. I have to admit, I’ve only ever owned one of these, but I’ve been able to hold onto this one longer than many other tools I have. I got it for Christmas over two years ago, and I have found it to be one of the handier things I have. For one thing it fits in my front pocket, so I don’t have to strap something else onto my belt. I mostly use the knife, and the two screwdriver blades, and I have been known to use the bottle opener as well. The one I got has an LED light in it, but I never replaced the batteries in it when they died.

3. The Leatherman. This classic American multi-tool is a handy knife- plyer set that anyone who does a bunch of control or small electronics repair should have. The screwdriver takes a little getting used to balancing the handle and turning a screw, but the more you use it, the more handy it becomes. The only drawback is that the handles don’t lock back when you are using the plyers, so don’t exert too much force on it trying to crank on a small nut or bolt.

4. The Gerber multi-tool. At first glance it looks like a knock-off of the Leatherman, but once you get it in your hands, it as a little more heft, and the lockback feature means you can tork on it a little more. I’ve left two of these in burning hot attics in the summertime, so I refuse to let myself buy another. Not because it isn’t a good tool, but because I let myself lose two of them at over $60 each. One thing to remember about this and the leatherman, the handles aren’t insulated, so stay away from live electricity with it (even 24v can startle you when you aren’t expecting it)

5. The CRT Lil Guppie . I don’t personally have one of these, but a great friend of mine does, and he swears by it. The little crescent wrench, wire stripper, knife and other things fit nicely in a tiny ergonomic device that is fitted with a belt clip, or will go comfortably in your pocket.

All of these tools come in handy, and anything that you don’t have to worry about taking out of your back pocket when you sit down is always a plus.

June 7, 2008 Posted by | tools | , , , | 2 Comments