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Mechanical System

One of eight primary systems in a building

The mechanical system is analogous to the vital organs of the human body (such as the heart, liver and lungs). It comprises, amongst other things, pumps and filters for the efficient passage of fluids and air through the building. The mechanical system provides water, heating, cooling and ventilation to meet the interior conditioning and service requirements for the building occupants.

Some components of the mechanical system are hidden within wall and floor spaces and may be difficult to maintain. However, many other elements are located in locked utility rooms and therefore accessible for maintenance and renewals activities. Periodic inspection, testing and parts replacement are all part of the maintenance and renewals work associated with mechanical systems.



Attributes
The mechanical system has the following general attributes:

Asset Inventory
The mechanical system includes many different types of assets, such as:

  • Pumps
  • Valves
  • Fans
  • Boilers
  • Hot water tanks
  • Air conditioning equipment.

The photographs to the right show some of the different facets of the mechanical system.


Physical Analysis
Physical analyses of the systems can be found at:



Condition Assessments

Survey Questions

Listed below are some sample questions that are utilized in a facility condition assessment:

Heating, cooling, ventilation   
  1. What kinds of service calls have been attended to with the HVAC equipment in the last 6 months?
  2. Which are currently (or have historically been) your most troublesome pieces of mechanical equipment?
  3. Are there any rooms/locations in your facility that are not sufficiently warm in the winter months?    
  4. Are there any rooms/locations in your facility that are not sufficiently cool in the summer months?   
  5. Are there any rooms/locations in your facility that are not adequately ventilated?    
  6. Where do you keep the inspection logs and other reference information for the HVAC system?
  7.  Do you have all the reference information that you need for maintenance of the HVAC system?    
  8. Do you feel that the HVAC equipment’s capacity is adequate for its usage? If not, please specify     
  9. Have you received any complaints from the general public regarding the HVAC equipment? If so, what?  
  10. Are there any temporary “stop-gap” repairs to the HVAC equipment that are waiting for permanent solution?   
  11. Where do you store spare filters, belts, and other maintenance parts?                                     
  12. Is there any equipment that is exceptionally difficult to access? If yes, please specify:
  13. When was the last time that the entire gas supply system was shutdown?       
  14. Is there any significant repair/upgrade work to the HVAC equipment scheduled to occur in the near future? If yes, please specify:  
  15. Any general comments about the HVAC equipment?
Plumbing System
Water heaters, sinks, faucets, toilets, drains, etc  
  1. Are there any active insurance claims resulting from losses such as fires and burst pipes?    
  2. Have there in been any water damage insurance claims in the past year?    
  3. Are the valves labelled in an organized way and is there a valve schedule?    
  4. Are there any valves that are exceptionally difficult to access?    
  5. When was the last time the valves were tested to determine if any were seized?       
  6. What kinds of service calls have you attended to with the plumbing equipmet in the last six months
  7. Which are currently(or have historically been) your most troublesome pieces of plumbing equipment?                 
  8. Are you aware of any current drainage problems?   
  9. Are there any temporary stop-gap repairs to the plumbing system that are waiting for permanent solution (such as gear clamps over pinholes in the piping system?
  10. What are your procedures for emergency water shutoff?        
  11. What kind of vandalism has occurred, if any, in the public washrooms                                    
  12. When was the last time the entire domestic water supply system was shutdown?       
  13. What kinds of complaints do you receive from tenants &/or the general public regarding the plumbing equipment?                     
  14. Is there any significant repair/upgrade work to the plumbing equipment scheduled to occur in the near future? If yes, please specify:
  15. Any general comments about the plumbing equipment?


FCA Observations
Things to look out for:
  • Quality of safety signage to mechanical rooms
  • Cleanliness of mechanical rooms
  • Valve chart in main room
  • Quality of ID labels/tags on valves
  • Legibility of name plate data
  • Availability of service tags and logbooks
  • Storage in mechanical room and adequate clearance around equipment
  • Availability of mechanical supplies (filters, belts, etc)



Risk Management
Risk management is about identifying the undesirable things that can happen to the organization and to the people who live and work in the building(s) and the things that need to be done to avoid (or to lessen) their negative impact.

Mechanical assets have certain unique risks associated with their use and when they stop working properly.  Some of the primary risks (the “consequences”) that are to be avoided or mitigated through management of the mechanical system are as follows:
  • Water damage to interior finishes and personal belongings
  • Water damage to the building structure
  • Mould growth and poor indoor air quality due to water damage
  • Increased water damage insurance deductibles
  • Nuisance and frustration to residents of the building due to poor water pressure, water temperature and space conditioning,
  • Diminished quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property due to excessive noise and vibrations from poorly performing mechanical equipment.
  • Potential for ground contamination
  • Plugged drains and sewer backups
  • Greater financial hardship through large special assessments and onerous demand loans
Some of the hazards (the “causes”) that can affect the performance of the mechanical system are as follows:
  • Inadequate clearance around mechanical equipment
  • Misuse and abuse of the residents and guests of the building
  • Excessive heat in service rooms
Once the organization understands and appreciates the significance of the consequences that may arise from inadequate care of the mechanical assets, the team can start to make appropriate plans for operations and maintenance so as to mitigate the impact on our organization and its people.



Operations
Operations is about the day-to-day activities in the building that must be coordinated amongst different people with a variety of skills.  Listed below are some of the things that should be considered in estimating the level-of-effort to operate the mechanical assets and the composition of the team that will be required.
  • Durability & Service Life - Mechanical assets are equally divided between those that are generally short-life assets (under 15 years) and those that are medium-life assets (15-30 years). There are seldom any long life assets (over 30 years) in the mechanical system.
  • The Asset Inventory – The mechanical system contains many moving parts and it therefore will typically have the longest list of assets in the asset inventory. For example, the average low-rise building could have as many as 25 mechanical assets in its inventory, ranging from fans to boilers to pumps.
  • The Team - Operations and maintenance of the mechanical assets is labour intensive and takes a lot of skill and effort on the part of the building team and/or external contractors. In order to keep the interior spaces comfortable 24 hours each day, the equipment needs to be working continuously. Some failures can early overnight and cannot always wait until the next day to be fixed. Just imagine a burst pipe at 2am or a boiler that stops working and all the residents wake up without hot water.
  • Equipment & Supplies – The nature of the mechanical system is such that the organization will be required to keep some supplies. For example, replacement filters for furnaces and air make-up units are often kept in mechanical rooms. Some buildings include a more extensive supply room that contains spare fan belts and other parts.   
  • Documentation & Recordkeeping – The mechanical assets require extensive recordkeeping – more so than any other system. Also, the organization will require reference documents to be kept close at hand for day-to-day operations.



Maintenance
Maintenance is work done to preserve the mechanical assets over their useful service lives, without unforeseen repairs or major renewal. Included below is a summary of the things to consider for ongoing maintenance and periodic repairs of the different components of the mechanical system.

Some components of the mechanical system are hidden within wall and floor spaces and may be difficult to maintain. However, many other elements are located in locked utility rooms and therefore accessible for maintenance and renewals activities.  Periodic inspection, testing and parts replacement are all part of the maintenance and renewals work associated with mechanical systems. Mechanical assets are typically maintained on fixed intervals under a preventive maintenance and, sometimes, predictive maintenance program.

Included below is a few examples of maintenance activities on mechanical assets:
  • Lubricate pumps and motors
  • Replace worn fan belts
  • Calibrate gas sensors
  • Replace filters in air make-up units
Some examples of major maintenance on the mechanical system includes:

Repairs
Deterioration of the mechanical system is evidenced by things such as leaks and corrosion. Since the mechanical system has so many moving parts, it tends to suffer from the most problems and require periodic repairs. It is quite common for buildings to include an allowance in their budgets for these repairs. The following figure includes an example of one of the many types of maintenance activities within the mechanical system.




Capital Planning

Capital planning is about making appropriate financial preparations as each of the mechanical assets approaches the end of their respective service lives. As assets get beyond a certain age, maintenance is no longer sufficient to stop their physical deterioration (or slow down their obsolescence) and plans need to be made to replace and/or upgrade some (or all) of the components.

One of the most expensive mechanical projects that a low-rise building will face over its lifetime is the replacement of the plumbing distribution system
Financial analyses of the systems can be found at:


Energy Considerations

The mechanical system, with its many moving parts, presents many opportunities for improved energy efficiencies.  Mechanical equipment such boilers, fans and pumps are periodically swapped out with new equipment and this can include either a like-for-like renewal or an upgrade to more energy efficient options. Since mechanical equipment is often sold as packaged units it can be relatively straightforward to swap out a low-efficiency item with a higher-efficiency one.  With advances in technology, particularly control technology, there are opportunities to regulate the speed of rotating equipment with variable speed drives so that supply of water and air can be regulated more closely to demands at different times of the day and different seasons of the year.

Human physiology as an analogy to illustrate the importance of system interaction and comparing the mechanical system to the cardiovascular system.
Fig. Human physiology as an analogy to illustrate the importance of system interaction and comparing the mechanical system to the cardiovascular system.


TCO distributed across the different systems of a facilty or across the asset portfolio
Fig.  Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) distributed by system across the asset portfolio.



AssetInsights.net  1
Boilers                                      Sump pumps


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Fig. Domestic hot water heaters are an example of an asset in the mechanical system.


Distribution of medium-life assets within each of the eight primary physical systems
Fig. Distribution of short-life, medium-life and long-life assets within each of the eight primary physical systems.


Seasonal maintenance program represented by system.
Fig. Seasonal maintenance program represented by system.


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Fig.  Mechanical room.


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Fig. Overhead gate motors.


Replacing copper piping (the defender) with pex piping (the challenger)
Fig. Replacing copper piping (the "defender") with pex piping (the "challenger").



Conceptual representation of the interconnected systems in buildings
Fig. Conceptual representation of the interconnected systems in buildings.


The capital load distributed across the eight primary physical systems for different types of buildings
Fig. The capital load distributed across the eight primary physical systems for different types of buildings.



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