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MIIA is a Membership Service of the Massachusetts
Municipal
Association

Effective Facility Maintenance Can Avoid Potential Costly Losses

Published in News on by Stephen Batchelder, MIIA Risk Management Director

This past winter was relatively mild, which typically means less property damage and cleanup for cities and towns. It is important, however, not to forego seasonal property maintenance tasks, including assessing winter damage and preparing for the spring and summer months ahead.

Winter wrap-up

Winter inspectional and preventive maintenance practices should remain in place as municipal operations transition into spring. Now is a great time to inspect and evaluate the condition and maintenance needs of key heating systems (boilers, furnaces, unit ventilators, sprinkler systems, and water heaters). These systems have generally been working continuously over the winter months and may begin to show signs of wear and tear, inefficiency, and leakage – all key indicators of the need for repair or preventive maintenance.

Unit ventilator failure has been a high-frequency loss type this year. As heating and cooling systems are inspected and maintained in a building, it is imperative that all of the unit ventilators are included in the scope of work. Problems with unit ventilators, including freezing, seizing and failing, can often be identified before a failure occurs.

Thermography cameras can be particularly helpful in identifying dampers that may be stuck or compromised. The effective use of these tools is a major asset in understanding HVAC and plumbing systems and preventing premature failures. Not only can thermal cameras alert facility managers to problems ahead of time, they can also decrease labor costs and keep workers safe.

A significant contributor to property loss is water damage. To help minimize this damage, the presence of water in the vicinity of heating equipment can be an indicator of imminent failure and the need for professional service or repair.

Spring walkthrough

Cold temperatures, snow, ice, and even salt can cause quite a bit of damage to any structures out in the elements.

It is important to closely inspect buildings and landscaping, taking note of any cracks in the foundation, walkways and parking lots; broken or loose pavement; sinkholes; missing roof shingles; separations or erosion of siding and masonry; and broken, cracked or leaking windows.

Inspect irrigation and drainage systems for leaks and blockages and other forms of damage. Be sure to inspect gutters, nozzles, sprinkler heads, and valves as well. As part of the inspection, look around for any standing water and loose or packed-in debris. Clear, clean and repair areas of concern in order to avoid potential property damage, particularly from heavy spring and summer rains.

Install temperature detection systems

The importance of water and temperature detection systems cannot be overstated. Sprinkler and pipe freeze-ups are a leading cause of property damage. Spring is a great time to install new technology so it can be fully implemented and tested before going into colder weather this fall.

This past winter, MIIA embarked on a pilot program with Hartford Steam Boiler’s Connected Technologies Division. Their cellular IoT sensor solution provides a combination of sensors: water, temperature, humidity, and pipe. These sensors continuously provide data readings to a centralized data center, where the data is then integrated with external weather data to create a series of algorithm-based loss prevention alerts of conditions that are likely to give rise to a property loss.

To date, MIIA has installed the sensor systems in more than 30 locations, with the goal of 100 installations by the end of this summer. Thus far, MIIA has documented three important loss “saves” from the use of this technology.

In two of the cases, sensors detected the presence of water after hours – one situation involved a burst dishwasher hose, the other involved a drain failure in the boiler room. Maintenance staff were alerted and able to mitigate the situation before permanent damage occurred.

The third case involved a drop in temperature and low heat scenario in a school kitchen. Staff were alerted and necessary repairs to the heating system were made, thus preventing a potential freeze-up situation.

In each of these instances, the costs avoided due to these saves have more than exceeded the cost of the technology.

Prepare for summer

Winter months are typically associated with property losses, but the summer months also generate a fair number of losses. Inspect HVAC systems for dust buildup and check air conditioning units to ensure proper working condition and to reduce levels of allergens and dust. Coil cleaning is beneficial in two ways: it can boost operating efficiency and improve indoor air quality, which keeps everyone healthier. Consider the fact that the A/C unit has been sitting unused all winter, and that means dirt and sludge can build up, which, in turn, means odors, allergens, high operating costs, and even degradation or possible failure of the unit.

Also check air filters, flush water heaters, check the status of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and examine the electrical components of fire systems, including sprinklers and alarms.

A rigorous spring inspection and preventative maintenance schedule can go a long way toward saving time, money and stress by helping to avoid future equipment failures and property damage.

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