FM Frequency: Clean Up Your Act, Then Go And Give Thanks

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the November 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

I hope you’re planning some rest and relaxation over the holidays. But before you start working on adding a pant size from excess turkey and apple pie consumption, you might want to consider whether you’ve done all you can to defuse those little time bombs that could be ticking away in your festively decorated facilities. The following list is offered to help you make sure your “second homes” are in good shape.

  1. Air Filters. Have you looked at them lately? Do they look like brown shag carpeting from a 1970s movie theater? Do you get “double efficiency” by spinning them around and putting the clean side toward the air source? (Seriously, don’t try this in your buildings. ASHRAE would ban me from its meetings if anyone knew I joked about this!)
  2. Sinks And Toilets. When the little drip, drip, drip that’s been happening behind the fixture inside your wall reveals itself on the ceiling tiles of the floor below, or when the bathroom walls start shedding wallpaper to display black mold underneath, well, then it’s already too late. Look for the warning signs like damp grout ahead of time.
  3. Smoke Detectors. Like your hairy air filters, you’ll find that around smoke detectors, dust defies gravity and becomes a detector magnet. Troubled detectors usually announce their filthy condition at the exact moment your CEO is announcing company performance results.
  4. Water Treatment. This may be the most misunderstood and neglected component of preventive maintenance in commercial facilities. It’s amazing how a few bucks each month (spent with a reputable contractor) can keep chillers, boilers, and cooling towers clean, safe, and efficient. Can you say Legionella?
  5. Roof Flashing. This material provides extra protection from water seepage where surfaces on roofs intersect. When you walk your roof, tug on your flashing components and make sure they’re nice and tight. Loose or missing flashing can turn your valuable roof into a sieve. You know who loves moisture and a warm roof membrane? Our good friend Mr. Mold!
  6. Irrigation Breaks. This is a seemingly minor inconvenience-until either you get a $230,000 water bill and a “thank you” card from your municipality, or your COO’s Lexus SUV disappears in a sinkhole under your parking lot. Beware. Contrary to popular opinion, mysterious geysers in your flowerbeds and parking lot medians are not “cool freaks of nature.”
  7. Condensate Drains. Imagine someone working on a roof, and a condensate line gets in the way. Rather than gently moving it, the person flips the annoying PVC “stick” upside down so the P-trap now works in reverse, sending 20 gallons of condensate down the supply air duct!
  8. Water Heaters. Water has minerals in it that detest heat. In fact, these minerals are so bold, they literally attack heating elements and sacrifice themselves to save their friends. Eventually, the heating element surrenders and stops producing hot water; or even better, the water heater tank corrodes and ruptures, sending gallons of water petitioning you for independence.
  9. Windows And Doors. These features allow us to see the sun during the day and actually go home in the evening (most of the time). But they aren’t always functional. With the right air balance and static pressure in our buildings, doors and windows can refuse to open or decide to whistle loudly, protesting efforts to close them. These are also common areas for moisture intrusion, rotting building materials, and security breaches.
  10. Staff. Have you cross trained team members to help out when someone leaves? Are there any functions for which you are totally dependent on a single person? If the answer is yes, you might want to reconsider this “deferred maintenance” strategy. It could cost a little now or a lot later.

After you’ve reviewed the items on this checklist, go ahead and enjoy the holidays. Spend time with family and friends, and give thanks for our profession as a proud facility manager. As long as there are facility managers solving problems in office buildings around the world, the potential for a prosperous global economy and world peace might be closer than we think.

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.