Mastering the Art of Facilities Maintenance

managing time and resources effectively


I’ve just canceled a contract with a customer that has been in cutback mode for the last two years. I won’t mention who they are, but they are a property management company that also happens to own and manage commercial real estate. The economy has forced them to have to cut back their operations.

Needless to say, my services were part of what suffered. one of their buildings was poorly constructed from the beginning and has a track record of high utility costs and poor HVAC performance. When I first took over the HVAC maintenance contract, I submitted to them a complete and rather comprehensive strategy for making repairs, upgrades and changes that would have brought the system up to spec.

My strategy called for them to spend roughly $20K over a one-year period. We planned to address everything from incomplete control systems, poor air balancing, and system programming.

Instead the customer opted to do nothing, and then spent the next two years periodically calling me “Can you just do something to get them temporarily through the season without charging too much?”

I understand the cash crunch we’ve all been in, and I understand that they didn’t have the money to make necessary repairs- but one of the things I didn’t see coming is that in the eyes of the tenants and customers, the contractor is the one responsible for their comfort (or lack thereof) and that soon the perception would be that I basically couldn’t fix their problems. Nevermind that I presented several proposals to make repairs- they just saw me in the building repeatedly with nothing changing.

So, I’m wondering how to avoid getting into this situation in the future? Ideally I would simply qualify my customers better, or include repair clauses in my contracts- but in tough times sometimes you can’t afford to be too picky.

I don’t have all the answers for this one- I’m still thinking about it. Let me know what you think.


January 3, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remote Monitoring

Having a computerized monitoring system in your building can be a great way to have continual, updated and current information about your facility and the systems that keep it running.
Today’s embedded devices are lowering the cost of remote monitoring, and it is no longer necessary to have a complete building automation system in order to connect your equipment to the internet for text, email, or web alerts. Here’s a few examples of some really great products to get you started:
The IP-PC 101 from Mamac Systems is a small embedded router with sensor inputs that you can connect directly to your existing ethernet network. This is great for monitoring a set of pumps, a boiler, rooftop unit, etc. I have one that I use for testing and I really think it is a powerful application of xml and embedded software.

The IOLogic W5340 from Moxa is another great application of embedded technology, and has the added feature of built-in cellular connectivity. Although it is a little pricier than the MAMAC device, it has a few more bells and whistles and can be a “standalone” device meaning you don’t have to use an existing ethernet connection if you connect it to a cellular plan. With built-in GPS, it can also be used for monitoring and tracking mobile assets.

If you need to monitor multiple devices across a campus, you may want to take another step up in functionality (and cost) and look into a Red Lion G3 System Interface connected to wireless Banner input devices. These can be connected and networked wirelessly to create a more comprehensive monitoring (and control) network of devices.

Whatever the application, remote monitoring can be a way to create peace-of-mind when full-time staffing isn’t a practical option, and receive alerts for system outages, set up sensing points to monitor voltage, temperature, humidity, pressure and a seemingly limitless plethora of sensing devices.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who’s your heat guy/ gal

Years ago, companies hired maintenance staff to handle the ins/ outs of routine maintenance, perform preventive maintenance, and occasionally call in contractors for specialty trades like electrical, vertical transportation, plumbing, and HVAC among others.
Contractors would develop one-on-one relationships with maintenance staff and directors, and the technicians performing these services would often form friendships with the maintenance directors and engineers they served. Occasionally these friendships turned into collusion and price-fixing but more often they simply became a way for the contractor and the customer to develop a trust-system where the contractor would teach maintenance staff how to better maintain their systems, and thereby provide assurance that when the contractor was called- both parties understood that the contractor would not overcharge for service, and that the maintenance staff would not abuse the relationship.
However, with an ever-evolving world of new technology, trends in outsourcing, and budget constraints- many times there is no maintenance staff onsite, and the technicians lose that personal sense of contact.
So I guess, the question is- how do you develop a relationship, and a “trust-system” when a service tech is simply responding to a site, opening a door with a key fob, and working on equipment for a faceless client?
A couple of ways I have found some success is to communicate frequently through email- and to be active in social media. My twitter account gives my customers (and potential customers) a chance to communicate with me on a regular basis, and develop a “friendship” that gives them a sense of security about having me service their equipment.
My customer can get to know me, find out what sports I like, who my “driver is” and have a sense of not just what I do, but who I am.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Preventive Maintenance Database

Preventive maintenance is work that is done to equipment and machinery on a regular, recurring basis. A common example would be getting the oil changed in your car. In order to keep most  machines working properly, companies and people create programs based on the manufacturers recommendations for the specific tasks, checks, and adjustments necessary. For a given facility or company, all of the preventive maintenance tasks, scheduling, and tracking is managed through a preventive maintenance program. Some companies use photocopied task sheets, others use spreadsheet programs, and still others use a computer-based program.

I have worked with several preventive maintenance database projects, several commercial products for preventive maintenance, and have even used the old manual programs- but I think that there is much room for improvement in how PM is performed, managed, and tracked.

First, I think a PM database should be easy to load. The supervisor or technician who initially sets up the database should not have to wade through lines and lines of similar tasks in order to set up a PM for a specific machine or piece of equiment. I think that there should be a se of generic preventive maintenance programs pre-loaded, and then the user should be able to add a few custom tasks as needed.

Next, I think the person performing the PM should be able to enter the data into the tracking system live, instead of writing on a printout. I also think that the person performing the PM should be able to make adjustments to the program on the fly. If the system says “change belts” and the unit has been converted to a direct drive system, then the person performing the PM should be able to remove “change belts” from the program.

Finally, system reporting should done through a console, showing tasks completed, tasks modified, tasks pending with percentages. The console should be configurable for administrators, supervisors, and maintenance techs, and you should be able to drill down and view more specific data as needed. PMs should be able to be sorted by category- like location, machine type, person performing the PM, etc.

A good preventive maintenance program supports the equipment and the people who service this equipment- but for all of the PM programs I have seen, the priority seems to be reversed. I think that the people performing the PM end up supporting the people who manage the program, and it becomes more about the tracking and the administration than it is about the actual work that needs to be done. It seems to me that a simple, elegant program that is easy to use and administer would capture the market.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Commercial door closers and hardware

I recently had the pleasure of trying to adjust a commercial door closer, and I had a flood of memories come back of all the Rixson hardware I used to maintain at Nordstrom. It doesn’t seem like much, but door closers can be somewhat complicated. To get started, there are basically three components to the action of a commercial door.
1. back ckeck. this is what provides force against you when you try to open a door, basically if there was no back check, you could just as easily break a door opening it, as you could slamming it shut.
2. Sweep. This refers to the speed with which the door actually closes when you let go of the door. The sweep needs to be controlled, so that the door doesn’t slam shut.
3. Latch refers to how the door actually closes. If a door is working properly, you can actually observe the door close slowly, and then at the last minute the sweep control will let go to let the door accelerate slightly just enough to let the locking mechanism catch.
I remember spending hours trying to adjust glass doors so that they have the same backcheck, the same sweep, and the same catch speed, and how seasonal changes would wreak havoc on the hydraulics, and cause the doors to open and close at different rates.

Because doors have a tendency to be easily forgotten, I suggest that you include in your regular PM program, a provision to check your doors. things that you want to include may be;

1 Open door to check proper back check, and that door does not swing fully open freely

2. allow door to close, verify that door closes gently

3. observe latch speed to ensure that door and latch mechanism are working properly

4. check closer for visible signs of wear or hydraulic fluid

Every door closer is different, but they all have a way to adjust each element of the function of the door, and you can usually find set screws in the closer for changing these settings.For more information about adjusting and installing door closer hardware, consult your manufacturer, or check out for a pretty good overview of how they work

March 12, 2009 Posted by | facilities maintenance, Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

Thoughts from a site visit

I reviewed a site today to create a PM program for their HVAC systems, and I have to say that I was rather impressed with their systems.

They were using a ground source heat pump system with Honeywell controls, Yaskawa variable-frequency drives, McQuay water-source heat pumps, and two AAON units on the roof for fresh air and supplemental AC in the warmer months.

Although they haven’t received LEED certification yet, This building is still a long way from older less efficient systems. Another thing I noticed was the attention paid to safety in the installation of thier equipment. All of the equipment was accessible by catwalks and access doors, and you could tell that quality engineering went into the design of their building.

I can’t brag too much about the building yet, and since we’re only bidding on the project, I’ll have to wait before I say too much more about it!

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

maintaining pumps and motors

Many pumps, circulators and motors run quietly day after day sitting in the corner, and the technology has become so reliable- it’s easy to forget that there are still things that can be done to extend the life of the pumps and motors in your plant. Here’s a few things that you can start doing now:

1. monthly preventive maintenance and inspections Pumps and motors have internal moving parts, and moving parts can eventually cause heat and friction- which eventually leads to breakdowns and system failures. The best way to prevent this is to make sure that bearings, shaft hubs, and oil ports are lubricated regularly. Consult your O&Ms for the right frequency, but after a while you will learn what the best schedule to follow is. Also, keep surfaces clean and free of dust as dust buildup can cut off air circulation through cooling vents on motor housings.

2. Take readings and get to know normal operating parameters Motors will give another clear indication that they need care, because amp draw will increase as bearings begin to fail. friction causes a strain on the motor that was not there when it was new and moving free, so the motor will need to work harder to do their job- this immediately shows as an increase in amp draw, so take regular amp readings while the pump is in operation. Remember that you are working around live voltage to do this, so always use proper safety procedures during readings and inspections.

3. Duty cycling Many pumps and motors are installed in  groups or pairs  so that they can provide backup for failures and shutdowns, however it is important to cycle the backups because bearings and seals can develop flat spots if they are left to sit without running. Some engineers and operators will run their pumps in an alternating lead/ lag switching back and forth with each inspection- sometimes this must be done by hand, and sometimes its just a matter of throwing switches in a panel. If you are unable to put pumps into service, and you know that they will be out of service for an extended period (summer/winter) put it on your schedule to operate pump shafts by hand regularly.

Finally, and I’ve mentioned this in other posts and I’ll probably end up saying it again- always listen to your plant and get comfortable enough to put your hands on your equipment as you walk through. If you get used to the way your equipment sounds, you will notice when that sound changes. If you know your normal operating temperatures, you will know when those tempertures begin to rise. These are the things that will distinguish you in your career- and make you a better mechanic.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Painting equipment and piping

A sure sign that a building engineer or maintenance tech is taking care of his or her facility is that the mechanical rooms are painted. Floor coatings can provide non-slip qualities to a boiler room floor, and color coded paint schemes on piping can make it easier to trace system piping when opening or closing valves, or troubleshooting.

Various color schemes can be used, The US Navy has a color scheme used on Naval Vessels, and OSHA has standards for piping colors. Sherwin Williams has a great website designed to help sort out safety markings.

In addition to keeping a boiler room looking clean, well-maintained, and safely marked- the actual process of painting equipment can be an exercise in learning about your equipment as well. Shutting down to paint moving parts while practicing lock-out procedures can be a good “dry run” so that you remember how to do it when you really need to, and painting in a boiler room puts you close to equipment for hours at a time- where you get that “sixth-sense” that something isn’t right when a piece of equipment begins to break down. Perhaps the bearing assembly in a pump you’ve been listening to for three days begins to overheat, and now the familiar 60hz hum you’ve been hearing is accompanied by a lower pitch- these are things you will only come to appreciate after you’ve spent some time in your plant.

So, talk to your building or property manager, and don’t go overboard- but commit to applying some safety markings in your building and start painting that piping soon!

September 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Managing your outside contractors

Working in maintenance means that you have the opportunity to learn about all of the diverse systems in your building. You very quickly learn that you can change a lock without calling a locksmith, you can change a faucet or unclog a toilet without calling a plumber, you can change a thermostat without calling an HVAC company, and as you progress in your career and learn new things you’ll find that you can outsource fewer and fewer things to outside contractors. Then the question becomes “When Do I call in an outside contractor?”

1. Establish a limit based on the cost of the project. Review and establish a policy with your property manager that if you are going to spend over a certain amount of money in material on a project, then you are going to call in a contractor. This will do two things for you; First it protects your liability and credibility by relieving you of being responsible for the materials (what if that $600 motor with the $300 bearing is a new model that needs to be retrofitted and doesn’t go in right?) Second, using an outside contractor can extend and supplement the warranty period on larger purchases.

2. Establish a limit based on the time it will take to do the project. Sure you’d love to redo the cabinets and countertops in the employee breakroom, and you probably have all the tools, skills, and ability to do the job- but how many times are you going to be interrupted by service calls? How many times are you going to listen to fellow employees complain about not being able to use the breakroom?

3. Finally establish a limit based on the degree of specialty required to do the project. Face it- there are some things that are just better left to professional outside contractors. This doesn’t mean that you “set it and forget it.” Remember you are still managing the relationship by tracking their time and their cost. Take time to ask your generator contractor what type of oil he or she prefers to use, watch your elevator contractor perform shut downs and calls, ask your refrigeration contractor about what methods he or she uses to read their gauges and set temperatures. Think of every visit from an outside contractor as an opportunity to learn something.

If you follow these three simple guidelines you will be better able to manage your relationships with your facility manager and be trusted with more responsibility in managing the relationships with your outside contracts. Knowing when to do it yourself and when to get help is an important key in being and effective maintenance technician.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments


It’s always important to document the work that you do. No one ever knows how much you do, or what you do until you tell them. Make sure you have plenty of places to brag about what it is that you do as a maintenance tech.

Create daily, weekly, and monthly logs of your PM- and your service request activity. Make sure that you include as much information as humanly possible. Keep a journal, or a notebook and start making it a habit to write down every request, every communication, and every commitment you make to your customers. One good little compact journal is a Moleskine.


Whatever the type of journal you chose, just make a habit of loggin your daily activity, and keep a record of things like;

  1. phone calls to subcontractors and vendors
  2. service requests and repair requests made “in passing”
  3. dates and times you placed orders include item, PO and promised delivery date
  4. progress and status updates of ongoing projects
  5. notes on equipment and repairs that you perform

This isn’t meant to take the place of your existing documentation plan. There are federal, state, and local requirements for record keeping that you must maintain, and I recommend a 3 ring binder in your office for this sort of thing.

Finally, remember that private journals and logs that you carry can be subpoenad in the event of a disagreement or for several other reasons, so remember not to write down your personal feelings about your boss, or anyone else at the property. Keep it brief, keep it updated, and keep it professional.

June 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment