Mastering the Art of Facilities Maintenance

managing time and resources effectively

Highlights from ASHRAE’s AHR Expo

Expo floor shot

Expo floor shot

We just Got back from the show tonight, and I wanted to highlight some of the exhibits that I saw there. Since this was my first AHR Expo, I really didn’t know what to expect going into it, and I have to admit that I was impressed with the number of manufacturers that were represented at the show.

Johnson Controls probably wins “the biggest exhibit with the most hype” award, giving out free gadgets with drawings and a giant puzzle for the crowd to work on. They were also the first one to get an email out to me with more information after scanning my badge at the show.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of actual zigbee devices, while the zigbee-bacnet connection was pretty big news. Bacnet has decided to accept the zigbee protocol for wireless solutions, and IEEE (the creators of the zigbee protocol) has also decide to reciprocate. This should allow manufacturers to design hybrid systems that combine the best of wired solutions, with new wireless innovations.

A real example of a company moving forward with wireless is Honeywell, who was there with a large “hype booth” but also had a smaller booth tucked over in the corner exhibiting a new CO monitoring system that uses zigbee wireless sensors with a hybrid CO/ CO2 monitoring system.

Another small vendor with a really great product called Gasflux uses a liquid flux tank attached to an oxy-acetylene rig to create a really clean brazing technique. I’m sure this will catch on with refrigeration mechanics and welders alike.

Green was a big deal this year, as was to be expected- from variable frequency drives, to high efficiency pumps, solar collectors, and heat recovery devices, finding ways to reduce energy costs has become the holy grail of the HVAC industry. The thing that I like about ASHRAE is that they are making real efforts to gauge and measure actual energy savings, and their OPMP certification is a step in the right direction to help facility managers decide on the cost benefits of adopting an energy strategy. (I took the test, I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks if I passed or failed!)

Finally, the big news this year at ASHRAE was globalization- Many Chinese manufacturers were represented, as well as more european manufacturers as well. With efficiency and cost becoming hotter issues, manufacturers that can create small, modular high-efficient equipment at a lower cost will begin to stake out their own segment in the market.


January 29, 2009 Posted by | controls, facilities maintenance, wireless | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

AHR Expo this week

I’ll be attending the AHR Expo hosted by ASHRAE this week in Chicago at McCormick Place.

This is my first day working full-time for my new venture Enercient a wireless HVAC monitoring system, so we’re going to the AHR expo to see the latest and greatest in HVAC wireless monitoring and controls.

I’ll be posting to brighkite with pictures and updates, and plan to report on new technologies, equipment and controls that we see at the show.  Maybe we can get some quotes and pics from the showroom floor. I’m also taking the OPMP certification test on Wednesday at the show, so wish me luck.

Later, We’ll be able to do more in-depth reviews and post material covering the show.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | wireless | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Basics of Combustion Analysis

Now that the east coast of the US has been running in heat mode for a few months, boilers furnaces, and water heaters will begin doing strange things (like shutting down in the middle of the night so you have to go in and hit a reset button in the middle of the night!)

One way to make sure that oil and gas-fired equipment is running is to do a combustion analysis to get a clear and definite answer about what the flame is doing inside of your piece of equipment. Combustion analysis is performed using a combustion analyzer to determine how well a flame is burning by measuring the following things:

1. how much air is it getting? if a flame is getting too much air, it will flicker (like blowing a candle) and can cause the flames to hit the sides of a combustion chamber or burner tube causing carbon to build up, which can then cause other compound problems. Too little air can cause the flame to burn low, and then you won’t get the maximum output from the system.

2. how much carbon monoxide is it making? too much carbon monoxide is a sign that the burner is not getting the right air/ fuel mixture, while you’re doing it, take a few general readings in your plant to make sure your combustion chambers aren’t leaking deadly CO into your plant.

3. What is the stack temperature? A hot stack (or flue) can be another sign that not enough heat is getting into the air or the hot water that you are trying to heat. This can also be caused by carbon buildup which can act as an insulation blowing the heat right out through the flue piping. You can get temperature readings with an IR camera but for the purpose of this test a simple infrared thermometer will work fine.

If you don’t have access to this equipment and you chose to use an outside contractor, make sure you use a contractor that has been trained by the National Comfort Institute, and make sure they leave you a copy of their readings and explain what each thing means.

Finally remember that this time of year is critical for carbon monoxide poisoning. People burn fireplaces they aren’t used to using, try to use parts of their stoves they’ve never used before, and many other combustion-related fatalities can occur. Look into getting a permanent CO detector, and have it checked annually just like your fire alarms and smoke detectors. CO is a colorless, odorless gas- and has been called “the silent killer”.

Remember, in addition to all the other important things that a maintenance technician does, you’re probably the company safety officer as well- stay informed and stay up on the latest in Facilities Management skills right here at Maintenance Mastery.

December 19, 2008 Posted by | combustion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Building your maintenance tech resume

Over the years I have seen hundreds if not thousands of HVAC and maintenance facilities resumes and job applications, and I’m constantly amazed at how unprepared people are when they apply for maintenance and facilities jobs. Having a good resume is a key to getting hired & can be a helpful tool when asking for raises or promotions. Here’s a few tips for having a good HVAC and facilities maintenance resume:

Start building your resume now, even if you aren’t currently looking for a job. Make a folder, and keep the certificates from any classes you take, any commendations or letters that you get from your employer or customers, and be sure to track and keep a record of any special tasks you perform that go above and beyond your job description. You don’t need to bring all of your certificates to an interview either. If you have your HVAC recovery certification, make that a line on your resume, don’t ask your interviewer to sort through ten pages of certificates. It is ok to be proud of them, but they belong on your wall (not stapled to the back of your resume.)

Second, try to get training in areas and abilities that complement your job description. Take a word-processing class, or a time-management class. You will not only build your resume, but it will help you communicate with your non-maintenance co-workers and show that you can move and communicate  in their world.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You want to have at least three people review your resume. You’ll want to have someone review for grammar and spelling errors. Nothing catches a reviewers eye like spelling “maintenance” wrong on a maintenance application. Next have someone in the business review your resume, to look for technical errors or clarifications. Finally, have someone read it to see if you’ve used technical terms where you don’t need to. Rather than say “managed HVAC condenser retrofit program” say “managed a program to replace air conditioners” Remember, chances are that you’ll be hired by a non-technical person, and if they can understand your resume it shows you aren’t hiding behind technical lingo, and you actually know what you’re saying.

Finally, keep a soft copy of your resume in digital form, that way you can easily refer to it, keep it updated, and make changes to it as you develop in your career. Even if you don’t have a computer, buy a usb memory stick and carry it with you to keep documents and files handy.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | resume | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using OEM Information to Create a PM Program

Everyone says “according to manufacturer’s recommendations” when writing preventive maintenance tasks, but in reality, how often are the OEM-Original Equipment Manufacturer’s recommendations actually followed? When writing a PM program, it should become standard practice to consult the installation, startup, and operation documentation that came with the equipment.

More often than should be the case, the original OEM material is not with the equipment, and it is nowhere to be found on site. So, what do you do when the OEM’s aren’t onsite? Write down as much information you can find on the equipment including model number, serial number, amperage, voltage, etc. and consult the following sources:

1. go to the manufacturer’s website

2. call your local manufacturer’s representative

3. consult a third-party engineering firm to write your program for you

Finally, keep a library of your preventive maintenance tasks for future reference.  If you have a PM written for a specfic type of pump, fan, motor, or other piece of equipment, and you later acquire a contract that has that same piece of equipment, you can use the one you have. I prefer to call this my “best practices” book, and I keep both a digital copy, and a hard copy for reference when writing new programs.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | facilities maintenance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conducting a Building Walkthrough

Community Managers, Property Managers and HOA Representatives have a lot on their plate when it comes to the general maintenance and upkeep of a commercial or residential property. One of the ways you can keep up with what’s going on in your property is to conduct regular walkthroughs of your facility. A good walkthrough gives you a fresh perspective to recognize things like: cosmetic and general appearance issues, safety violations, lighting, and mechanical systems. It is also a very good way to build a structure and timeframe around ongoing projects and to-do lists.

When considering cosmetic and general appearance issues, you want to think about how the property might have looked when it was first built. Was that wallpaper peeling in that corner? Was the fabric on that chair in the lobby frayed on the arms like it is now? Was that back door scuffed up from the delivery guy like it is now? These are all obvious examples, but a good walkthrough helps you to see some of the smaller things because it’s the details that customers, unit owners and future prospects notice when they first visit your building.

Safety is a big part of facilities maintenance these days, and we all want to be compliant with local, state, and federal laws concerning public safety. However, even without a lot of training there are actions you can take to keep your building compliant. Some active measures will be to make sure that: ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) entrances and doors are working and in proper order, hallways are free from debris and storage, fire exits are well marked and signs are lit. You also want to know how your emergency systems work, and know what your emergency plan is. No one can know all of the codes and regulations, but common sense can many times keep your building safe.

Lighting plays a key part in many areas of facility operation, including cosmetics and general appearance, safety, as well as energy efficiency. Are all the areas of your building well lit? Do all the buttons on your elevator light up when you push them? Do you have equipment in place to save energy by automatically turning lights off when rooms are not in use? You might want to visit your site in the evening to see if entrances are well lit, or if trees or shrubs obscure lighting.

The mechanical systems in your building deserve attention from your walkthrough as well. Even though you might not be an expert plumber, electrician, or tradesperson, there are still things that you can train yourself to look for. Do you have a written maintenance program? Are mechanical rooms clean and well lit? Are utility closets clean, well lit and secure? What is the difference between your summer operations and winter operations (outside hose bibs, fountain pumps, etc.)? Knowing a little bit about how your building’s mechanical systems work will help circumvent problems in the future.

Finally, you want to have a format for your building walkthrough that provides: the date of the walkthrough, personnel present on the walkthrough, and a detailed list of action items that need to be addressed. You will want to record who is responsible to see that the particular item is addressed, and what your deadline is for determining when the action item will be addressed. Ongoing projects can be updated as you do the walk, and to-do lists should be updated and followed-up frequently. Regular walkthroughs will keep you updated and knowledgeable about the state of your building systems.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | facilities maintenance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introduction to Facilities Maintenance

Facility Maintenance and Operations can always be a tricky issue for businesses and organizations because it’s always difficult to get people to see the value in maintaining anything. When a computer breaks, we throw it away, when a car breaks down, we buy another one. It has become cheaper and easier to replace things than to repair and maintain them.

The trouble is with a building, you can’t just throw it away when it stops working.  The truth is that facilities, maintenance and operations are a matter of stewardship. We have been entrusted wit h a building and we are called to maintain it- efficiently and effectively and to maximize the resource that having a building gives. Taking care of equipment, changing belts, lubricating motors, changing lights and taking care of the general day to day operations and maintenance in a building are all important parts of the overall business or residence that you are taking care of.

There are three parts to Facilities Maintenance and Operations (or FM&O.)

  1. The first is routine maintenance. These are the things that need to be done weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually to keep the building running efficiently. These items usually include existing HVAC systems, lighting, life safety, plumbing and electrical systems.
  2. The Second is emergency repairs and breakdowns. Managing the FM&O is an effort to minimize the number of times a plumber has to be called, or the number of times the lighting or heating system doesn’t work.
  3. The third part of FM&O is in planning for the future; will a new heating system save money on future gas prices? Will different lighting cost less to operate? Forecasting is usually based on historical costs and known immediate needs.

Being an effective maintenance technician or building maintenance professional means staying on top of code requirements, trends affecting the industry, green initiatives, and many other pieces of the puzzle that keep buildings and facilities running smothly. This blog is dedicated to staying on top of these and other facilities maintenance related issues.

May 25, 2008 Posted by | facilities maintenance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is the first post…

…and hopefully only the first of many posts providing tips, tricks, and tools to help maintenance and facilities technicians become more effective at provinding great service to their employers and clients.

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment