Designing for Ease of Building Maintenance
By Doug Downie – A good friend of mine once worked at a building maintenance company and would occasionally download with me that day’s work challenges. One theme that kept getting repeated was how difficult it was to maintain the equipment he had to work on.
I often use the analogy of the three-legged stool for how buildings can be designed. The three legs are:
- Permittable – All designs must meet this minimum level from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in order to receive a permit to build.
- Constructable – Various aspects of a design are challenging to build, which is relatively common.
- Maintainable – A design that locates equipment where it is very difficult to reach, or where large pieces of equipment have torturous paths to exit the building when they need replacing. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not, and was causing my friend’s troubles at work.
So how can we in the design community consider building maintenance, and indeed, why should we?
Why should maintenance be a factor during the design process?
The design industry has been moving towards more energy efficient designs for many years, and the efficiency of system design, as well as equipment, has improved measurably. Additionally, many projects see some form of post construction commissioning, to ensure that all systems are operating as they were designed to.
But that only ensures design compliance on the day the project is handed over to the owner. All equipment needs to be maintained, and if maintenance is difficult, or sometimes impossible due to equipment placement or building constraints, then maintenance will likely get deferred, or not happen at all. If equipment is not maintained correctly, it will become less efficient, cost more to operate, and will eventually fail.
Finally, a building is generally assumed to last a minimum of 50 years, whereas an HVAC system might only last 15 years. If there isn’t an easy way to remove and replace HVAC components from the building when they come to the end of their useful life, the tendency will be to keep using them as they become less efficient, until they eventually fail.
How to incorporate sustainable maintenance features during the design phase
This requires some application on the part of the design team. Consider embracing these steps as part of your designs:
- Work with the building designer early in the design process to make sure all equipment can be easily removed from the building for replacement. That could be as straightforward as making sure that there are double doors in the equipment room, as well as all the way to the building exterior. Coordinate early and often.
- When laying out equipment rooms, try to locate items that need regular and frequent maintenance close to entry doors. Also make sure heavy items can be removed easily. A 20 HP electric motor weighs about 640 pounds. Make sure there is a floor path leading to the building exit that is clear of low-level piping, conduit, or other obstacles that could impede a heavy moving dolly. If equipment is mounted on the roof, make sure there is an access door or hatch that is large enough to bring in components that will need to be replaced, or a clear path to the ground for a crane.
- Finally, empathize with the maintenance crew. When designing buildings and systems, consider how, if asked, you would access a piece of equipment to maintain it, or move a heavy, awkward item out of the building.
If any one leg of a three-legged stool fails, the stool becomes unstable. Make sure to give some thought to the maintainability of your building’s design.
For more information, please contact us at Morrison-Maierle.
Doug Downie has more than 40 years of experience designing mechanical systems for commercial, industrial, and healthcare buildings. He has worked on projects in England, Australia, and throughout the US. He is based in Morrison-Maierle’s Bend office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Technical review of this article provided by Eric Webber, PE.