At the Bentall 5 office building complex in Vancouver, BC checking on the day-to-day health of the air quality and heating and cooling systems is a full time job for maintenance technicians. In recent months, Operations Manager Ian Thomson and his team have decided to explore better ways to get the job done. So they've started working with the Fluke 975 AirMeter test tool to perform a variety of indoor air monitoring functions.
This device combines five test tools in one to measure temperature, velocity, humidity, CO2 and CO. Thomson says that kind of versatility comes in handy given that his maintenance staff of 15 has to cover 2 million sq. ft. of space in a five-tower office complex that houses more than 200 tenants. "They have to deal with everything from heavy equipment maintenance and lights, to addressing complaints about air quality and HVAC systems. I'd say up to 70 per cent of their role is dedicated to ensuring client comfort."
As part of the company's core policy, the team performs air quality testing on a continuous basis in randomly selected areas throughout the complex. The results from these are recorded on a weekly basis for auditing purposes. Test equipment is also used to provide static seven-day recordings of designated areas when required, as well as for testing sections of the complex when they received a complaint from an occupant.
"When a tenant complained, a technician would have to plug the old test device in at the location and leave it there to record readings," explains Thomson. "We were pretty much operating in a reactive mode. On top of that, the test equipment we had was fragile and cumbersome. In many cases we weren't able to make accurate measurements on the spot so ended up manually 'tweaking' equipment with a screwdriver until we got the right setting."
With the Fluke 975 however, team members have a much more portable, rugged tool that makes these day-to-day tasks easier and much more efficient says Thomson. "This meter has the potential to do all the jobs we need, from on-the-spot testing to general maintenance tasks."
Bentall tech Kerry Cheung
For example, a team member can record detailed balancing specifications (air velocity and flow rates, pressure drop and % outside air) for equipment so they can see if everything is working the way it should and make the appropriate adjustments. "We no longer have to make crude adjustments and use reverse engineering to fix a problem based on minimum/maximum readings alone," says Thomson. "We can have a calculated value that allows us to adjust heating and cooling systems with accuracy. It's like adjusting the volume on your TV. Instead of just pressing the button until it sounds right, you get the numbers to tell you what your actual volume levels are."
Bentall technicians currently have three Fluke 975s in inventory that are shared by the technicians. "The 975 has improved the ability of anyone on a call to get more information respond more quickly," says Thomson. "Sometimes a complaint about air conditioning may not require fixing. It might be just a comfort issue for the tenant. But if something is broken, we know right away because we can test things with more finesse and get the information we need to accelerate a resolution."
Accurate testing can also help to remove the strain from a tense situation if occupants are off the mark with their assessment of a heating or cooling situation. "If someone has 35 people in a room for example, we'll get a complaint that the air conditioning is not working," explains Thomson. "With the Fluke 975 we can immediately test the temperature and air quality and demonstrate that everything is within the accepted range. Knowing that takes away the tension when dealing with tenants."
Thomson adds that more efficient air quality testing is especially important for building management in an age where energy efficiency is top of mind. Bentall is a part of the Building Owners and Managers Association's 'Go Green' program, a national environmental recognition and certification program for existing commercial buildings. Among other benefits, accurate testing allows the technicians to see if systems are running past occupancy hours and adjust HVAC settings accordingly. "If a space is empty after 6:00, we can pull back on the air conditioning [or heating] for those hours and save a lot of energy costs," says Thomson.
Although testing out the Fluke 975 is still in its early stages, Thomson is pleased with the results to date. "We're just really getting a handle on using it. When I first saw it in an engineering magazine, I recognized it had good potential. Almost right away we noticed that it could deliver on its promises."
He adds that if all goes well - and by all reports it's so far so good - Bentall will be stocking up on more Fluke 975 units. "If the memory is long enough, the tool is robust enough and it's as idiot proof as it seems, I'd like to see everyone on the team with one."