FM Frequency: Water Plus Electricity Equals BIG Problems: The Shocking Conclusion

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

Last month, I shared my “Indiana Jones”—like adventure with my jealous building. If you’ve never experienced anything similar in your career (or if you were on the edge of your seats after reading my column in February), I’ll recap the happy resolution of my “character building” (isn’t that what all miserable experiences are called?) nightmare about my building with character.

So what finally happened when my building decided to take a leak? (Come on, that’s a real mechanical expression!) Believe it or not, in spite of a saturated main electrical riser there was a happy ending—that is, if you don’t consider the bill!

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let me return to the troubleshooting process on that dreadful Saturday afternoon. I left off with an account of my team’s efforts over the weekend to establish temporary power successfully so staff could work bright and early Monday morning. First thing Monday, the manufacturer’s rep processed a fast track custom order (that’s a salesman’s term that translates into “super-expensive” for you and me) for the parts that needing replacing. These parts were sent to Charleston on a dedicated truck Tuesday.

A marathon encore performance followed on Tuesday night (I had a similar session the previous Saturday and Sunday at the start of the disaster) when the delivery arrived. We shut down our affected areas at 6 pm, and four dedicated electricians spent 10 hours surgically removing temporary electrical cabling and carefully reassembling the new gear.

I was able to leave the building at 5:30 am Wednesday for a couple hours of sleep and a shower, only to return promptly at 9 am for a strong cup of coffee and my annual performance review. Imagine the fantastic lead in to the conversation which began with a statement along the lines of, “Drive for Results!” Around noon that day, I went home and collapsed.

As of this writing, we’re still expecting an invoice (with lots of zeros) for the repairs and a meeting with an insurance adjuster.

Pending instructions from that meeting, the following steps are anticipated:

  • Although my senior maintenance technician confirmed he was making frequent rounds of the mechanical and electrical rooms, we didn’t have a formal policy or procedure in place. Immediately, we created a “Look, Listen, Touch & Smell… Just Don’t Taste” checklist and posted daily log sheets for each service room.
  • We need to conduct an engineering review of the electrical installation plans/specs to see if any water shielding or curbing should have been installed at the electrical risers’ penetration of each floor. Preliminary review identified a NEMA standard suggesting a 4″ concrete curb around each floor penetration. We don’t have that.
  • In considering the mechanical equipment that leaked, we need to determine if tightening the guilty plumbing fitting is in the manufacturer’s standard preventive maintenance (PM) instructions. If it is, we need to know why our PM contractor didn’t do it. If it isn’t, we need to ask the manufacturer why.
  • In addressing prevention, we should consider some type of damming and/or water alarms in the mechanical and electrical rooms, so leaks are quickly detected and reported.

We are optimistic that our insurance company will have additional advice regarding our follow up. Fortunately, closing this chapter allows me to put this incident behind me with some valuable lessons stored away in the old mental toolbox!

The following is a list of Crane’s checklist and log sheet:

LOOK—LISTEN—SMELL—TOUCH
JUST DON’T TASTE!

Electrical Rooms

  1. Doors open and close freely?
  2. Hear any unusual sounds? Transformers humming more than usual?
  3. See water on the floor, walls or dripping from above?
  4. Hear or feel equipment vibrations?
  5. Breaker panels or transformers too hot to touch? Hotter than usual?
  6. See or smell smoke or wiring burning?
  7. Lighting OK?
  8. Duct and smoke detectors dry and blinking?
  9. Fire seals on wall, roof & floor penetrations intact?
  10. Floor and equipment clean and free of debris or unauthorized storage?

Mechanical Rooms

  1. Doors open & close freely?
  2. Hear any unusual sounds? Compressors or belt noise louder than normal?
  3. See water on the floor, walls, coming from unit, plumbing, valves or dripping from above?
  4. Hear or feel abnormal equipment vibrations?
  5. Any parts on the equipment, insulation piping or ductwork forming condensation on their exterior?
  6. Is condensate draining freely and properly to the floor drain?
  7. Any part of the SCU too hot to touch? Hotter than usual?
  8. Any error codes flashing on the SCU?
  9. See or smell smoke or wiring burning?
  10. Lighting OK?
  11. Duct and smoke detectors dry and blinking?
  12. Fire seals on wall, roof & floor penetrations intact?
  13. Floor and equipment clean and free of debris or unauthorized storage?

Data Rooms

  1. Doors open and close freely?
  2. Hear any unusual sounds? Equipment humming more than usual?
  3. See water on the floor, walls or dripping from above?
  4. Hear or feel equipment vibrations?
  5. Any equipment or racks too hot to touch? Hotter than usual?
  6. See or smell smoke or wiring burning?
  7. 7. Lighting OK?
  8. Duct and smoke detectors dry and blinking?
  9. Fire seals on wall, roof & floor penetrations intact?
  10. Floor and equipment clean and free of debris or unauthorized storage?

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.

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