I fired my first boiler in the U.S. Navy in 1968. In 1983, when I moved from power plants to the facilities industry, I recognized that facilities operated in a more reactive mode, with trouble calls coming in day and night. Moreover, preventive maintenance received a lower priority.
A regular routine for inspecting equipment improves preventive maintenance and reduces expenses. Over the years I’ve developed a seven-step process that I use on a variety of facilities, including schools.
Step 1: Create an Equipment List
The first step is assembling a basic list of all the equipment types that you are likely to encounter. The frequency of certain types of equipment popping up is very predictable, so you know your list will have pumps of various types (centrifugal pumps, reciprocating pumps), air handling units, rooftop units, and so forth. The list should have the parameters that you will use to inspect each individual device. The parameter for some devices might be just a simple on/off, whereas a boiler would have a variety of inspection parameters. Click here to download an example of my equipment list at .
As you encounter a new piece of equipment or go to a new location, add to this basic list. Once you do an initial walkthrough of a facility, you can add and delete equipment as appropriate for that particular facility.
Step 2: Do an Initial Walkthrough and Plan the Route
On an initial walkthrough, you will determine what equipment needs to be inspected and plan the routine route through the facility. Many of the equipment points are already in the building automation system control package, and the walkthrough complements the control system by visiting the corresponding equipment. With that information and the sample equipment list, you should be able to create the route. Determine a logical route – for example, from your boiler room to your roof. Your route should be as direct as possible. It shouldn’t take more than one hour to one hour and a half; if it gets too long, it won’t get done regularly.
Each piece of equipment along the route will be defined. You should be able to stand in a mechanical room, take your boiler readings, turn in one direction and go to whatever piece of equipment is next.
I recently walked through a college facility where I had to take an elevator to a mezzanine level, climb a 15-foot ladder onto a roof, then another 10-foot ladder through a hatch onto another roof, in order to check out two air handling units. Those pieces of equipment were not included in the routine route. If it is too difficult, it won’t get done. In this case, that equipment is inspected on a three-month preventive maintenance visit.
Step 3: Create the Log
Now you should be able to take the basic equipment list and copy/paste the parameters for those individual pieces of equipment. Go into the mechanical room, look at the equipment and say, "here are two centrifugal pumps, and over there is an air handling unit." Note them in the sequence that you find them. Bring up the equipment list and copy/paste each of the individual generic units over to the log sheet. Then give it a specific name on the log sheet. One of the best naming conventions is to call the equipment exactly what it’s called in the building automation system. By doing that, everything is easily identifiable because it has the same name.
Write notes in the corners, in the note box on the left, and if that’s not large enough, write in the margins. Encourage people to get as much information on the walkthrough as possible. Click here to view an example of my log.
Step 4: Walk the Route
You need to walk through each mechanical room and know the feel of the room, the sounds that it makes, and if anything has changed since the last walkthrough.
I recommend a monthly walkthrough for school districts. New York state, where I live, has very strong facilities support, both from the state and the superintendents of the buildings and grounds, and they look for documentation of system maintenance. By providing a documented monthly inspection of a piece of equipment, if you are looking for support to replace it down the road, you have a great tracking document – every month it was inspected using these specific parameters.
Step 5: Use a Second Pair of Eyes
When you bring your log back to the central location, have a second person look through the readings to see what potential trouble may be brewing. In such instances the log identifies the job that a mechanic needs to do, exactly where to go, what piece of equipment to examine, and what parameters on that equipment are important.
Step 6: Create the Work List
I suggest that the walkthrough be charged as a building charge; the walkthrough gets a work order charged to the building and a building charge number. Then any discrepancies discovered during the walkthrough result in a work order against a piece of equipment. You start a history on that piece of equipment as soon as you start using the walkthrough and following up on it.
Work orders can be either repair work orders or investigative work orders. A repair work order is pretty straightforward – you find a broken belt, you note it, and you get it replaced as soon as possible. The investigative work orders are the ones that really lead to the optimization of your plant, such as an investigation of low temperature differentials.
Step 7: Prepare for Ongoing Optimization
You want to become increasingly familiar with the facility and always be thinking ahead because so many buildings lose enormous efficiency as time passes.
Newly commissioned buildings and retro-commissioned buildings may work just as designed for a while, but over time they become de-optimized. It can be difficult to chart a loss of efficiency based on the age of equipment. Most frequently, de-optimization is event-driven. For example, when an executive working on a blistering Saturday complains sharply about the temperature, someone may set equipment to run every Saturday rather than risk taking that kind of phone call again. Or equipment may not have been adjusted to accommodate a change in occupancy or function. Fouling of coils due to lack of treatment is not an age factor. It is the decision to curtail treatment – an event – that leads to loss of efficiency. After a year or two of such events, combined with equipment whose maintenance needs have gone unrecognized, a building can be gravely de-optimized.
Regular inspections and working steadily through event-driven situations will inevitably reduce the energy consumption and the carbon footprint of a facility. B
Bernie Daily has 10 years’ experience in facilities management and 20 years in building operations trades. He is the founder of Daily Operations Inc.