Keeping Your Schools Running Smoothly

Equipment Checklists Help Guide Maintenance Efforts

Whether you're located in sunny Miami or snowy Minneapolis, almost every school district is challenged by equipment failures at the beginning of the school year and as temperatures fluctuate from hot to cold and back to hot again. While children are buying pencils, pens, calculators, and other school supplies, savvy school districts are making lists and checking them twice to make sure they've inspected and tested their critical systems.

Checklists are an important risk management tool that school districts can use to guide strategic maintenance and help prevent both common problems and potential catastrophes. Proper maintenance can also result in significant energy cost savings. Something as simple as cleaning a coil on an air conditioning unit prior to starting it up, for example, will prevent wear and tear and allow the equipment to run more efficiently. 

Inspecting Boilers
Most state and local jurisdictions require an annual boiler inspection. These inspections typically look at both the internal and external parts of the boiler and confirm that the equipment is fit for service. 

  • Cleaning and adjusting burner equipment and boiler heating surfaces
  • Testing safety valves
  • Checking pressure and temperature controls and gauges
  • Lubricating, as needed, fans and other mechanical equipment

While boilers generally get a lot of attention each year, school districts may be more likely to neglect equipment that doesn't have operating permit requirements. But it's important to provide the same level of maintenance for electrical and heating systems - otherwise you risk start-up and operating problems.

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Maintaining Electrical Systems
With the increased use of computers and other electronic equipment in the classroom, school districts are more vulnerable than ever to power outages and voltage surges. If a switch or buried cable fails, or someone slams a car into a telephone pole, that can send a surge down the line that could damage everything from computers to telephones. 

Given the critical role of electrical distribution equipment in school operations, school districts should consider adopting a comprehensive program of electrical preventive maintenance. A major component of the electrical preventive maintenance equation is locating trouble spots and fixing problems. That's where infrared imaging technology comes in. Infrared (IR) imaging technology also enhances safety during troubleshooting. While other strategies for locating potential faults require technicians to get close to electrical connections, IR imaging allows inspection to be done at a safe distance.

The key to using IR imaging technology is understanding how to interpret the observed temperatures. All electrical equipment generates heat, so it's important to know whether the circuit you are looking at is emitting normal or abnormal amounts of heat. A good IR scan report should include a color photo of each trouble spot placed beside its IR image. This feature helps the technician locate the trouble spot once the scanning is complete. In interpreting the temperatures, the report should also tell you how urgent the need is for corrective action in order to avoid a failure. Finally, a good report should include a cost estimate of the corrective action compared to the cost associated with restoring system operation after failure (which is usually many times greater). These cost comparisons will help your school district prioritize repairs. 

Preventing Water Heater Explosions
Water heaters are ubiquitous. They're out of sight and out of mind, and no school can do without them. At the same time, every water heater could be a potential time bomb if routine maintenance is not done. 

Under normal conditions, the gas or electric heat source shuts off when the set temperature is reached. But if both the temperature controls and the pressure valve malfunction at the same time, then the water heater can become a steam generator with no means of relieving the pressure caused by heating the water above boiling point. 

The checklist for water heart maintenance includes, but is not limited to:

  • Lifting the test lever on the temperature pressure relief valve at least annually (if water does not flow through the valve while the level is raised, and then reseal without leaking, the relief valve should be replaced)
  • Checking water temperatures at regularly scheduled intervals to ensure they are within safe limits
  • Replacing temperature pressure relief valves - and the heaters themselves - at manufacturer recommended intervals.

An Energy Audit Can Save You Money
School districts all across America face a number of equipment related challenges stemming from shrinking maintenance and operating budgets. A key dilemma is knowing when to repair old equipment and when to replace that equipment with new, more efficient technology. An energy audit can give you solid data to help make these decisions.

In an energy audit, a power company or consultant will gather information about:

  • Total energy consumption and the energy consumption of your major equipment systems
  • The way your equipment is operated
  • The age and condition of your equipment, including the manufacturer's design specifications

Ideally, your contractor will place monitoring devices on your large, energy-consuming pieces of equipment to accurately capture and track energy consumption. 

Once all the information has been captured, the next step in an energy audit is to analyze the data and look for opportunities to reduce energy consumption. A simple cost-benefit analysis will show where cost savings may be obtained through a variety of corrective actions. An old, inefficient boiler may return its replacement cost within two or three years. Likewise, replacement of aging air conditioners, lighting and inefficient motors could yield high returns by reducing both energy and maintenance costs. In some cases, installation of state-of-the-art controls will reduce energy costs by reducing unnecessary swings in building temperature or reducing lighting selected areas during off hours. 


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