Cheapest is Best?

There is often more than one solution to a problem, but we generally select the least expensive one to implement.  The cheapest choice isn’t always the best solution to solve a problem.

Over my 29-years in the Facility Management and Maintenance industry I’ve been on both sides of the decision making process to resolve problems.  Now that I’m a contractor, it is interesting how many decision makers elect to solve a facility problem based more on price than any other factor.  Sometimes the chosen solution doesn’t deliver the expected results or resolve the problem.

Price is certainly a very important factor in decision-making, especially these days, but is it really the best determining factor in proceeding with a solution?  Additional factors in the decision making process should include:

  1. Your best understanding of the problem.
  2. The impacts associated with the proposed solution(s).
  3. The cost variance of the proposals, particularly if they vary widely.
  4. Does the solution really meet the need?

Your best understanding of the problem gives you the basis to select and define a solution.  When facing a problem, it’s easy to get frustrated or simply want the problem to go away.  Time is of the essence in some cases and getting the problem fixed quickly is important.  But understanding what is causing the problem will help you evaluate the proposal alternatives.  A detailed understanding of the problem helps you precisely specify the work you want done (I’ll speak further on that in the upcoming paragraphs).  If you understand the problem very clearly you’ll know what areas a proposal should cover, the quality of the product or service being delivered, and the scope of work within which a contractor or vendor will work to resolve the problem.

Once you understand the problem, the next consideration is realizing the associated impacts of the solution.  Knowing how the solution will affect the quality of the equipment or “fix’ you receive is key factor in your decision making process.  Will the solution leave you with an added “goody” you did not have before implementation, such as a warranty, an added interface, a new look, an added usage step, or additional maintenance cost?  For example, new vinyl floor tile laid over an older asbestos tile is an environmentally conscious installation.  But could imperfections in the previous tile visibly transfer through to the new tile?  If the new tile is lighter, not only will imperfections appear more obvious, but also cleaning and waxing requirements increase the maintenance costs.

So you complete your due diligence and provide several capable contractors your requirements.  The return cost estimates that vary widely for the same project.  How can this happen?  Cost variation can occur because each contractor plans to approach the job differently, which you may not have considered as a source of cost variation.  When specifications or a good scope of work statement is absent, contractors will accomplish jobs the way they believe is best.

I once reviewed contractor bids for the painting of a church sanctuary ceiling.  This ceiling was roughly 30 feet high with lower hanging ceiling lights, three rows of pews beneath, and of course the pulpit and choir stand.  Each painting contractor completed a site review as part of the bidding process.  Each contractor saw all of these factors but were told only the to caulk all cracks and crevices, and then paint the ceiling white.  The bids ranged from $3,000 to $17,000, the variance simply the result of each taking a different approach to doing the job.  The least expensive proposal would utilize a wheeled scaffold to move one painter over the space in the span of a week.  The most expensive proposal called for building a platform above the pews with several painters completing the job, a three-week project.  The least expensive proposal was selected in the end, but wouldn’t the church have been better off getting bids with less price variance because of a better scope of work specifications and/or performance limits?  The more precisely you describe the work you desire through specifications, the better contractors can bid the scope of work.

Getting back to the tile job I described earlier, did the new vinyl tile meet the need?  Not entirely. The limited selection of vinyl time colors and patterns caused maintenance costs to increase.  Because the new tile was a lighter color, there were issues with scratches and scuffmarks.  A thorough review by all parties in advance of the project would have revealed more than a need to simply installing better looking tile over the existing flooring.  In this case, there were needs to improve the acoustics, improve the appearance and to lower the maintenance costs, if possible.  Carpet tile would probably have done a better job meeting all these needs.

Consider all the factors in your facility maintenance decision-making process, and then let the price of the solution fall where it may.  If all other factors are equal and you fully understand what you are getting for the price then making a good decision is much easier.  Don’t just rely on the least expensive proposal as your default solution.

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Preparing for Christmas Lights

As Christmas draws near, many decorate their homes and churches with lights, Nativity scenes, little villages, reindeer, inflatable Santa’s and all kinds decorations that plug into an electrical outlet.  Most of us see our electrical bills go up during December and have decided it’s worth it in order to enjoy the holiday decorations.  Why not have goals this Christmas season to save a little bit on your electrical bill and safely enjoy the holiday decorations?  I’ll share some ways you can do both.

When you’re dealing with electricity, we encourage you to enlist the services of a licensed electrician to accomplish anything that requires you to contact source power.  Connecting your lights and electrical decorations to the closest outlet is the typical way most of us do this.  You do not want overload a breaker by simply installing all your plugs into one or two receptacles.  Most receptacles are connected to one another and are already supplying electricity to something else.  Make sure you are aware of the amperage load on the circuit breaker you will use by knowing what your decorations will draw.  Check in advance to see if a breaker has room for an additional load will help prevent tripping breakers or moving decorations.

It’s a good idea to use power strips to the greatest extent possible (but do not overload a particular receptacle with numerous plugs in this instance either).  Power strips provide additional protection to prevent an overload on a circuit, something that extension cords cannot do.

Have an electrician come in and tighten the terminals on the breakers in your panel box.  This will not only ensure the breaker is well connected to the source power but improves performance (efficiency) of breaker as well.  This process provides some energy savings not just at Christmas, but also throughout the year.

If you are going to use timers to schedule when your lights turn on and off, plan how and where you will connect to the timer.  Some timers provide an outlet for more than one plug, so use these where appropriate.  The use of a task appropriate timer on a single line is the best scenario for decorating.  However, an extension cord with numerous items plugged into it, which in turn is plugged into a timer on the supply-end, is not a safe scenario for your decorations.

Be sure to use outdoor rated cords, timers, lights, etc. for outdoor applications.  Only use outdoor rated items outside. Enjoy your decorations and have a Merry Christmas!

Preparing Your Facility for the Heating Season

Have you done anything to prepare your building for cooler temperatures by doing anything other than just switching the thermostat from “COOL” to “HEAT”?

Ideally, facility managers and owners should plan a “no heat – no cool” time between the seasons to save energy and costs.  Typically, October is temperate enough to operate comfortably without cooling or heating.  A warm sweater or an open window as appropriate can satisfy your comfort needs most of the time, and the savings are significant.

There are some specific things you should do prior to the start of each cold-weather season to prepare your building for heating, and some of these will require a licensed technician to accomplish.  Taking these recommended actions will keep your heating system running efficiently and to decrease the call for heating as much as possible.

The most important thing a facility manager or owner should do is a heating system inspection by a licensed technician with the experience to review of the entire system to ensure prolonged operation and extended life.  During the inspection, the technician will pay attention to details such as these:

  • Inspect the pilot flame on a gas furnace or boiler for proper operation and flame.  The pilot flame should burn a royal blue color.  Any orange or yellow in the flame indicates inefficiency and leaves soot in the burning process.
  • For a direct ignition or spark furnace, the technician can inspect this system for proper operation as well and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Change system filters.
  • Inspect heating elements or heat exchangers.
  • Drain expansion tanks on boilers and ensure appropriate adjustments on controls.

Here are other actions you can take to reduce the heat load of your facility:

  • Keep your thermostat set point between 70 – 72-degrees Fahrenheit and maintain that temperature as much as possible during the season.  Consider adjusting the set point down to between 65 – 68-degrees Fahrenheit when the building is unoccupied.  You can automate this through the use of a programmable thermostat.
  • Check windows and doors for air leaks into the conditioned space.  Keeping cold air drafts to a minimum will require fewer heating cycles within the conditioned space.  Keeping the warm air contained in the space as long as possible will save money.
  • Adjust any ceiling fans to circulate the warm air collecting at ceiling downward into the living space.

Some other cold-weather preparation tips:

  • Cover outdoor faucets with insulated covers purchased from a Do-It-Yourself store.  If your faucets are freeze resistant, you needn’t worry about this, but make sure you know which type of faucet you have to protect your plumbing during the winter.
  • Flush your water heater.  Connect a hose to the lower faucet on the heater and drain out sediment that collects in the bottom of the tank.  This improves the operational efficiency of your heater.  Doing this once or twice a year is a very practical and efficient means of extending its life.

Performing these small but intentional tasks at the beginning of the cold-weather season can make a significant difference on your energy bill while extending the life of your building systems.

Top issues in church facility maintenance & management

Based on 29 years of maintaining large commercial and government facilities, ESRA founder Rob Rogers has compiled the following list of most neglected church facility maintenance and management issues:

1. Scheduled maintenance on HVAC Systems.

  • Key Indicators:  Low/no cooling; Runs excessively; Freezing up due to dirty coils.
  • What you should do:  Establish a Preventive Maintenance program.

2. Energy Management such as programmable thermostats, lighting control & usage, energy efficient windows, insulation, air leaks and water conservation.

  • Key Indicators:  Cold Spots; Systems on when building is unoccupied; Faucets leak; High Utility Bills; South facing rooms are hotter than others.
  • What you should do:  An Energy Audit to identify energy efficient upgrades.

3. Roof repair and maintenance.

  • Key Indicators:  Shingles that are warped, missing or torn; Ceiling spots or leaks.
  • What you should do:  Inspect roof and get repair estimates.

4. Budgeting and forecasting for building systems replacements and repairs.

  • Key Indicators: Urgent repair/replacement needs; no funds to complete the work.
  • What you should do:  Develop a 4-5 year Capital Improvement Plan that includes system replacements.

5. Tracking work accomplished or scheduled and associated warranties.

  • Key Indicators:  Not knowing when the job will begin and end; the impact on services; if the warranty covers a break or repair.
  • What you should do:  Track all work and warranties in a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS).

6. Annual inspections required by state or local codes and associated documentation.

  • Key Indicators:  Inspections expire without owner awareness, often resulting in fines.
  • What you should do:  Manage and track third party inspections in a CMMS.

7. Dealing with small maintenance issues before they become larger ones.

  • Key Indicators:  “Small” repairs become expensive replacements and/or work.
  • What you should do:  Don’t kick the maintenance “can” down the road by being penny-wise but pound-foolish.

8. Emergency evacuation/escape and Fire Suppression systems maintenance and operation.

  • Key Indicators:  Inadequate coverage; Cumbersome/cluttered escape routes.
  • What you should do: Inspect/test systems as required by manufacturers and conduct regular drills.

9. Handicapped accessibility, such as parking and movement through the facility.

  • Key Indicators:  Disabled members/guests need assistance to overcome obstacles when entering and/or utilizing the facility (e.g. doors, entrances, parking areas, restrooms, etc.).
  • What you should do:  Churches do not have to comply with Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, however, it shows consideration for the disabled to comply.  Should it be easier for a disabled person to enter a liquor store than enter and utilize a church?