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.