— Guest post from our partner, LogCheck —
A strong maintenance culture separates well-run buildings from the rest. Understanding the human element of facility management is critical if you want your building to perform at its highest level. Ultimately, your human assets determine the success of any initiative, so it’s fundamental that you make nurturing a healthy culture a top priority.
If you don’t have a strong maintenance culture in your facility, it’s time to get to work. Culture is constantly evolving, and with the right direction, you can improve it dramatically. Both Bright Power and my company, LogCheck, have seen this happen time and time again.
We’ll show you what good maintenance culture looks like and how making some simple changes, starting with your routine inspection rounds, can make all the difference.
Why culture matters
A healthy facilities culture is built on good communication, between all stakeholders, and a sense of ownership. Teams with a strong culture take pride in their building and recognize how their actions impact it. They work proactively to prevent problems and are always looking to improve how things get done.
Good culture requires teams to truly know their building. The overall system must be the focus, and knowing how any individual piece of equipment fits into that system is essential. This allows you to make connections that result in benefits across a facility.
Without a strong culture, most facilities get stuck in a cycle of reactive maintenance: something goes wrong, they fix it. While fixing unexpected issues is obviously important, reactive maintenance alone doesn’t prevent future problems or promote long-term efficiency.
Reactive maintenance without preventative maintenance leads to costly issues like excessive energy costs, safety concerns, and shorter equipment life. This arrangement pits management and staff against each other: rising costs frustrate management, and staff feels stuck on a neverending treadmill of problems.
Mike Brusic, Technical Director at Bright Power, agrees. In his experience, cultural problems often belie the issue he’s brought in to solve.
Mike Brusic: “Sometimes energy problems are fundamentally human problems.
“It’s the same story over and over again: money is tight and there’s a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Facility staff are stuck in firefighting mode. The facility manager is constantly getting angry phone calls and complaints. Nobody is happy. Live like that for a few years, and you end up with a culture of disenfranchisement. The consequences are severe, both for morale and for energy performance.”
Fortunately, culture isn’t set in stone. In fact, seemingly small actions can bring about profound culture change, as Bright Power has seen first hand.
Improving culture in unexpected ways
Bright Power originally integrated LogCheck into their energy management process to collect data. LogCheck replaces the paper logsheets used for routine inspection rounds and meter readings with a simple mobile app and web dashboard. Putting information in this format made it easy for Bright Power to:
- Quickly access relevant equipment and usage readings.
- Identify issues that may be overlooked.
- Learn how staff interacts with their building.
In order to generate this necessary data, facilities staff had to start doing rounds diligently. They walked through their building every day to inspect their equipment and take readings. LogCheck made sure facilities staff knew what needed to be checked and when. This clearly indicated what was expected, and because everyone could see what was or wasn’t completed, it instilled accountability that those inspections got done.
While the information itself was important, Mike quickly saw how committing to this process caused something to shift. Before long, one relatively simple change in routine – doing rounds – had a weird side effect of transforming staff culture for the better!
MB: “When we started out implementing LogCheck, we came at it from the perspective of energy managers. We weren’t interested in maintenance for its own sake – we just wanted the equipment to work, because you can’t optimize a broken air handler. So we set up daily rounds and preventative maintenance programs for our clients’ staff to execute. And we started to see this weird side effect – the staff were walking the whole building every day.
“Their managers saw how thorough the staff were being. When staff pointed out a leak or a broken valve or a stuck damper, it was there for everyone to see. It had to be responded to. And when the facility staff saw that their actions actually made things better, they started to take pride in what they did. There were fewer fires to put out and they had more time to spend on digging themselves out of that deferred maintenance hole. And eventually they did, and we at Bright Power got to focus on optimizing energy performance like we originally hoped. But along the way, we saw the culture totally change.
“Staff went from being reactive to being proactive and empowered. And that has far-reaching and profound implications for the performance of the building.”
This all makes perfect sense. When you force yourself to walk your facility, to get in front of your equipment every day, you know your building better. You start to notice things and identify ways to improve. Inspection rounds aren’t just about writing down temperatures and pressures, they’re arguably more about getting facilities staff to physically interact with their equipment and their building.
Since repeating this process with more facilities, the results have been astounding. Mike Brusic reports that three-quarters of the buildings where they’ve deployed LogCheck have undergone a profound cultural shift. No longer do they simply react when things break; these teams are finding ways to proactively avoid issues before they happen. These engineers and maintenance staff are proud of their facilities, and it shows.
Adopting and sticking to an inspections routine truly makes a difference. While you certainly don’t need LogCheck to realize the benefits of rounds, it can lower your barriers to success and make it much easier to stick to your plan. It has also provided a clear entry point for Bright Power to teach, correct, and help clients build complete maintenance programs.
Good culture doesn’t happen overnight, but sticking to a routine rounds process is a great start. Whether you want to be more resource efficient, maintain a safer facility, prevent future problems, or improve your building another way, addressing the human element of maintenance sets you up for success.
Bradley Short works for LogCheck, the easiest way to stay on top of routine maintenance tasks, inspections, and meter readings. To learn more, visit logcheck.com.
We regularly visit buildings across New York City to diagnose problems with their mechanical and steam systems. But one visit impacted me in an unexpected way. Typical of many multifamily buildings scattered across the City, it is a pre-war masonry apartment building. The super was friendly and gave me access to the entire basement, as I requested. He also said that he would be in the office if I needed anything.
As I went about my routine, I noticed one of the main steam pipes led straight into his office. When I approached the office to do my testing, I saw two pairs of shoes in the doorway – one of which I assumed belonged to the barefoot super, and the other likely belonged to a porter or a friend. Opening the door, I saw them both sitting on a couch watching a soap opera.
I paused for a moment, perplexed by the fact that the floor seemed to be at least as dirty as the bottom of my shoes, and I’m ashamed to admit that I wondered why the building super was lounging around watching TV with his buddy at 3:00 pm while I was sweating in the boiler room, trying to improve their building.
But when I noticed that the nearly windowless adjacent room had a bed and a dresser, it occurred to me that their shoes were off because this dingy basement “office” isn’t merely an office, it is this man’s living room. The bathroom, with no ventilation, is where he gets ready in the morning, and the dusty, moldy, water-bug inhabited corridor in which I was standing is the entrance hallway of his home. (Of course, living in a NYC basement has its upsides too; this super’s several thousand square foot “apartment” is spacious enough for a ping-pong table, a bench press, and anything else he could ever want.)
I took off my shoes and entered the office, careful to work as respectfully as I would if I were entering anyone’s home, wondering how many of my friends and family could tolerate such living or working conditions. Then I realized that I had greatly misjudged the situation. Yes, he was socializing and watching TV during the workday, but his workday isn’t 9-5 or even 8-7. When a toilet gets clogged, ice freezes on the stairs, trash needs to be taken out, or a resident is looking for a punching bag to hit with complaints, he is working to resolve those issues and make his residents feel comfortable and safe, day or night. So what if he takes some breaks during the day?
As I left, I noticed a large crowbar near the door. Now, it is entirely possible the super had casually placed it there after using it, but it is much more likely that its placement was intentional as a ready-to-use defense weapon. After all, his front door is also the basement entrance. And in fact, it is common to see baseball bats, machetes and other weapons stashed in these basements, even in neighborhoods most people would consider safe.
I don’t presume to know anything about this man’s personal life or whether he is happy with his job, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that all building staff have the same situation. But what I do know is that it is the building staff who keep our basic needs met, who deal with the repugnant rodent or insect in our apartments, and who can often be our first line of defense against intruders.
This experience was an important reminder to me of how critical their jobs are in making our lives livable and how easy it might be to overlook their real value. They should be respected, not pitied or judged. And particularly during these cold winter months, it’s important to remember to be grateful to one’s building staff, both at work and at home, and perhaps even to flash a friendly smile the next time we see them.
As leaves change and summer temperatures begin to wane, you can get away with putting off unpacking your winter coat, but for building owners and operators, now is the time to start transitioning buildings from cooling to heating season. With new September leases settling in, it’s more important than ever to make this transition smooth and successful. But what exactly should your site staff be doing to prepare? To ease the transition, our engineers are here to help. Below is a checklist outlining the most important measures to take as we head into the next season.
Cooling System Shut Down
- If laying up equipment for the winter (summer boilers, chillers, etc.) decide on a dry or wet lay-up. For a wet lay-up, make sure the water is treated properly to prevent corrosion during the off-season.
- Drain cooling towers and check for water in low spots. If they run year-round, check operation of the basin heaters and tower bypass valve.
- If shutting down circulating pumps (such as chilled water) that have variable speed drives, consider running pumps at minimum speed. In some systems – particularly ones with old pipes, many terminal units, and clog-prone terminal unit control valves – this can prevent the strainer plugging and valve clogging that would have occurred when the pumps were restarted.
- Seasonal changeover – many systems require manual valve position changes as part of a seasonal switchover. Failing to make these changes properly can result in poor operation or even equipment damage. Does your staff have an up-to-date accurate valve chart? Is there a written procedure and checklist for switchover?
- For any equipment that operates with glycol, check the glycol concentration. Check that glycol feeder supplies are full and feeder equipment is functional.
Heating System Prep
- If boilers have been shut down, have your service contractor fill and start them. If they were running over the summer, they should be cleaned and re-tuned for winter operation at higher firing rates.
- If your boiler is dual-fuel, make sure the oil tank is full at the beginning of the season, so that you have enough oil for a few days of operation during a cold streak.
- Are controls operating in automatic mode at the beginning of the season? Are the setpoints correct? (Do you have documentation of what the correct setpoints are?)
- Check the operation of all heat-trace systems. These are often neglected and abandoned.
- After starting up systems, check that all indicating devices are working. Replace dirty sight-glasses, blown out pressure gauges, and the like.
- If hot water or steam pipes have not had flow during the summer, blow down suction strainers and boiler/s more frequently for the first week or two of operation.
- Check functionality of all outdoor air dampers and freezestats on air handler. Freezestats can be checked with cheap freeze spray. If the stat can’t shut the fan down and outdoor air dampers can’t close, you risk coil freezing and expensive coil damage, not to mention water damage when the iced-up coil thaws.
- Check all piping exposed to freezing temperatures for “dead legs” – sections of piping that have been isolated or bypassed and have no flow in them. These are a freezing risk.
- Check drain lines from any condensing combustion equipment, especially if it drains outside. Combustion condensate lines will stay open in moderately cold weather and then freeze and shut boilers down when temperatures are at their coldest. In freezing weather, building staff should be checking this every day.
These are just a few of the most crucial steps to take before it gets cold to ensure heating systems perform optimally when they’re needed most. We encourage building owners to talk with their site staff to ensure these steps are being taken and incorporate them into standard procedures and written documentation for seasonal changeover. Consistent and reliable operations and maintenance is the backbone of healthy buildings, happy staff and residents and minimal headaches.
When was the last time your organization reviewed its maintenance policies? Operations and maintenance (O&M) can be easily overlooked when formulating an energy management strategy for your portfolio. O&M may not be as sexy as a lighting retrofit, but it is the first line of defense against energy and water waste. Effective O&M systems are critical to any successful energy management program but, to many, these are foreign terms. Before we go any further, let’s talk about them – separately.
Operations includes all of the processes needed for an organization to deliver its product. For a business – that means hiring employees, paying them, charging and collecting fees, etc. For a multifamily property – the same processes apply. There are additional concerns, though. The heat needs to work. The water needs to run. Lights need to turn on. Each activity contributes to the property delivering its “product” – safe, comfortable homes.
What is maintenance? Maintenance includes the physical side of operations: making repairs, painting, turning the heat on, turning if off, and replacing filters. Maintenance activities are necessary for keeping the physical components of a property – the roof, the windows, the boiler, the toilets etc. – functioning effectively and efficiently. Each building component requires maintenance to help provide a safe, comfortable home for residents.
Why is O&M Important?
Both facets of O&M are equally important to providing desirable homes. Why is my apartment 80°F in January? Because the boiler is not operating as originally intended. Why do I smell my neighbor’s dinner every night? Because the roof fans were not maintained – and need new belts. These problems are the result of relatively minor oversights from building staff. Systematic O&M processes helps prevent these oversights from slipping through the cracks and compounding each other over time. An effective O&M strategy helps ensure inspections happen when, and how, they should.
Operations & Maintenance are the front lines of energy efficiency. Small changes in operations or maintenance can have significant effects on building performance. Changing a chilled water supply setpoint by 1°F can increase a chiller’s energy usage by 2%.
O&M is not just about eliminating waste. It’s also about providing value. O&M is key to keeping residents comfortable, one of the most important goals at any property. Uncomfortable residents move out, increasing turnover and expenses on the management side. What makes tenants uncomfortable? Does the heating system sound like a drum solo every time it comes on? This is just one minor issue that often affects residents, and management, in a major way. In this scenario, it’s the result of steam traps. Failed steam traps can force steam into the return piping, leading to that nasty banging you hear every time the heat comes on, and plenty of energy waste too! That’s the kind of problem that can be avoided by routine testing and replacement, a standard practice in a sound, strategic O&M plan.
What can you do about it?
Just as small changes in O&M practices can lead to waste – the opposite is also true. Operational changes can also result in significant energy savings. Something as small as changing HVAC setpoints can significantly affect heating and/or cooling energy usage for the better. Regularly scheduled coil cleanings can keep HVAC units running at high efficiency. The key to unlocking these savings is developing an ongoing O&M strategy. Over the last few years Bright Power has helped many organizations do just that. We’ve created new inspection checklists and maintenance schedules to help both property managers and maintenance staff define “effective” operations and maintenance.
It is critical that an organization define which maintenance procedures must be followed at a property. Equally important is how often they should be completed. A clearly defined scope listing maintenance staff responsibilities creates a benchmark against which performance can be evaluated. It can also act as a resource for new hires –showing which inspections and/or repairs need to happen, when they need to happen, and most importantly how to do them. The last part there is the most important. It’s not enough to define which tasks need to be completed – there must be a reference for how to complete each one.
Operations and maintenance are both critical to running an effective property. O&M can also be an effective tool in an energy management strategy. An effective O&M strategy for a portfolio will identify and reduce energy waste, and also keep residents comfortable. When was the last time your organization reviewed its O&M policies? It’s never too late to start.