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5 Easy Ways to Prepare Your Building for Winter

Posted on 12/16/2014 2:10 PM by H. Jay Enck

Milder temperatures make fall the perfect time of year to conduct a thorough review of your building systems. A few quick steps can help avoid unexpected repair costs that can become bigger emergencies during extreme winter weather. Depending on your budget cycle, it can also be helpful to identify system repair and replacement needs that have significant budget impacts before the end of the year.

Here are five easy steps to take this autumn:

1) Inspect the insulation

Even small breaches can mean big problems and higher operating costs, so review insulated systems to identify areas with damaged or missing insulation and make necessary repairs. Consider the climate where your building is located, system operating temperatures, and exposure to the elements when determining the type and level of insulation to install.

2) Check mechanical and plumbing systems 

Conduct a thorough evaluation to ensure freeze stats are set at correct temperatures, power to freeze protection devices are on, heating systems (hot water, steam, etc.) are properly operating, leaky valves, damaged actuators and linkages as well as faulty control sensors are repaired. Check the operation sequence of your chilled water cooling and hot water heating control valves, verifying that the valves open fully when the freeze stat trips and that the outside air damper closes. An audit like this will help you locate and correct problems before they contribute to an emergency.

3) Don't overlook semi-heated spaces

Ensure the units function and set points for semi-heated spaces are not resulting in wasted energy. Experts recommend that unit heater thermostats be set between 45-50°F. Once set, it is important to verify that the heating unit is working as intended when the weather turns cold. If the temperature falls too low in these spaces, pipes or sprinkler systems can freeze.

4) Check your roof drainage

Snow or ice can interfere with normal drainage paths even as they melt. If the existing gutter is blocked, for example, drainage may be redirected to an area within the building enclosure, possibly resulting in a costly incursion.

5) Don't just set it and forget it

Monitor how your building responds to various weather conditions over time. Through consistent data collection, you can verify whether systems continue to operate as intended. For example, in colder weather, you may find it takes longer to bring the building up to a comfortable temperature, which may require adjusting the unoccupied set-back temperature or identifying over-performing heating elements to minimize energy consumption.

With the current prevalence and sophistication of building automation and data collection systems, the overall energy consumption of your building and building sub-systems are easier to gather and understand than ever. A considerable amount of measurement and verification (M&V) guidelines and toolkits are available to begin the process including ASHRAE RP-1050, and ASHRAE Performance Measurement Protocols for Commercial Buildings and ASHRAE Guideline 14.

With these and other best practices in place, it can be difficult for even the most sophisticated facility management teams to identify all opportunities for building performance improvement as they focus on the most urgent work orders (often dictated by the squeakiest wheel rather than the highest value item long term). Engaging a third-party expert can help provide a framework to analyze and prioritize needs to ensure your buildings continue to perform to your and your occupants’ high expectations.

H. Jay Enck is the co-founder, chief technology officer, and principal of Commissioning and Green Building Solutions, Inc. (CxGBS). He can be reached via info@cxgbs.com



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Ask Service Providers 6 Questions to Maintain Onsite Power

Posted on 12/12/2014 10:04 AM by Bhavesh S. Patel

The task of selecting a service provider for maintaining always-ready onsite power for mission critical systems should not be treated as an afterthought. In some facilities, the responsibility falls to the building management company or to a long-time service provider not specifically equipped to diagnose and treat today’s complex onsite power systems. For many installations at commercial buildings, going with the status quo is not necessarily the best decision. It might be time for a change. A dedicated electrical equipment service provider could do a better job at maintaining reliable backup power at a facility and diagnosing and repairing problems when they occur. 

Here are six questions to ask all service providers under consideration before signing a new contract.   

1) How many technicians do you have who are qualified to service my equipment?

Make sure the company is adequately staffed. The person who picks up your phone call should not also be the technician who services the call, leaving the next caller to reach voicemail – you don’t want to be that “next caller” when your facility has an emergency.

2) Are your technicians experienced in maintaining and repairing my brand of onsite power equipment?

You are really looking for a resounding “yes” here. Some manufacturers require technicians in their service divisions to undergo an initial mandatory training program as well as several hours of training every year to keep current on the latest technologies and applications, including control and monitoring. Addressing a problem on one manufacturer’s automatic transfer switch may require a different approach than repairing another manufacturer’s switch. Service techs should be familiar with protocol for your brand of equipment. Some manufacturers also require techs to carry certification by the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA), which measures proficiency in the installation, maintenance, and repair of onsite power generation systems and is becoming an industry standard.   

3) How do you support your technicians when they are onsite?

Ideally, a tech responding to a call for emergency service should arrive in a company truck fully stocked with replacement parts, rather than having to order the part from the manufacturer. Logistics for delivery of parts to your facility could delay repairs. Make sure the prospective provider has the capability to support the technician’s needs with parts as well as expertise 24/7.

4) Can you train my staff?

You want a “yes” here, too. If the service provider can give selected staff members a clear understanding of the basic operation of the critical systems, then when a problem arises, before the service tech arrives that staff is less likely to make a mistake that could result in a much larger event.   

5) What type of service agreements do you offer?

Whether your system entails a single automatic transfer switch or multiple transfer switches and engine generators, a service provider should ideally offer a comprehensive preventative maintenance program and emergency repairs around the clock. The service agreement could also offer the opportunity for upgrades and modifications as they become available. In many cases, upgrades can be installed and tested while the full functionality of your emergency power system is maintained. 

6) How do you keep up with the latest technologies in onsite power systems for emergency power?

You will want your service provider to be as informed as possible in this area. Typically, the equipment manufacturer offers a formal system of service alerts or bulletins. Using the manufacturer’s service provider affords the advantage of being the first to know. Beyond that, one increasingly prevalent trend at facilities where uninterrupted power is of paramount importance is the installation of advanced power monitoring and control capabilities that use reporting from a variety of computing devices and can report to remote locations. Best practice features include power quality analytics that, going beyond traditional monitoring, can analyze events that happen over just milliseconds. Will the service provider under consideration have the capability to respond to this?  

Bhavesh S. Patel is director of marketing and customer support at ASCO Power Technologies, reach him at customercare@asco.com.



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