Designing for Ease of Building Maintenance
By Doug Downie, CAD Designer
A good friend once worked at a building maintenance company and would occasionally download that day’s work challenges with me. One theme that kept getting repeated was how difficult it was to maintain the equipment he had to work on.
I often use the three-legged stool analogy for how buildings can be designed. The three legs are:
- Permittable – All designs must meet this minimum level from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to receive a permit to build.
- Constructible – Various design aspects 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 often 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 Consider Maintenance During Design?
The design industry has been moving towards more energy-efficient designs for many years, and the efficiency of system design and 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 when 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 eventually fail.
Finally, a building is generally assumed to last at least 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.
Adding Sustainable Maintenance Features
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 ensure 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 and all the way to the building exterior. Coordinate early and often.
- When laying out equipment rooms, 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. Ensure a floor path to the building exit is clear of low-level piping, conduit, or other obstacles that could impede a heavily moving dolly. If equipment is mounted on the roof, ensure an access door or hatch is large enough to bring in components that need replacing 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 consider the maintainability of your building’s design.