HVAC Services: Details, Details

Adding key provisions to service agreements can help ensure expectations are met

By Lindsay Audin   Equipment Rental & Tools

While many large facilities maintain an in-house staff of mechanics and technicians to keep their buildings running, HVAC technology has advanced to a point where outside expertise often supplements or replaces such employees. HVAC contractors may provide a higher level of service than found in-house, but managing them can be a challenge in itself.

A comprehensive HVAC service contract is one of the best ways to meet that challenge.

Such agreements contain, or reference, a clear set of task specifications, a detailed equipment list and essential contractor qualifications. Doing so avoids conflicts while securing a desired level of service. Depending on a facility’s size, complexity and need for reliability, a variety of other important provisions might well be worth including in a contract.

Basic Provisions
Regardless of the type of service being rendered, a service contract should address the usual contract issues, including length, responsibilities, wage rates, dispute resolution, force majeure and other items. A simple one- or two-page document from a contractor is rarely sufficient to cover all the bases. Even a long and detailed contract may not, however, lead to the level and type of service desired unless it clearly states what work is to be done, on what schedule, and how is it to be performed, tracked and verified.

At the very least, a scope of work must cover preventive maintenance, repairs and replacements, finding and correcting operating problems, and reporting on such work. Some scope-of-work provisions also include guidance on engineering and upgrades to improve energy efficiency. To ensure those efforts are done to the satisfaction of the facility, specifications detailing items such as preferred products and methods, service hours, contractor professional qualifications and exclusions are often referenced in an addendum.

Among the specific items needed in a scope of work are:

• Identities, by a unique number, of all pieces of equipment to be serviced along with the location of the equipment, referenced by unchanging room numbers or other means.

• Task descriptions for each generic type of service, such as seasonal chiller servicing.

• Procedures on how to log, track and file work orders and materials used in them.

• Methods to pursue and track changes to equipment and programming.

• Details on how often reports must be provided.

• Descriptions of any training, drawings or other non-routine activities desired by the owner.

Getting Specific
Task descriptions detail the steps involved in each type of routine service. When big-ticket items like chillers are involved, such descriptions may be broken down into subtasks, such as seasonal startup and shutdown, inspections and efficiency verification.

Although a good HVAC contractor can help facility executives assemble a scope of work, it may be advisable to use the services of an independent engineer to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

A facility executive needs to be sure that the personnel and equipment provided by a contractor will meet expectations and standards. To that end, the following details should be spelled out in the contract or an addendum:

• Warranties on labor and materials should be summarized with regard to length and coverage.

• Brands and model numbers of routine replacement parts, such as air filters, should be identified so that the facility may approve of them and, if it changes contractors, be able to maintain service continuity during such a transition.

• A copy of all relevant contractor licenses, certifications — including factory-training certificates for major equipment — permits, insurance and other documents should be provided. If those materials were detailed in the contractor’s proposal, that document should be appended to and referenced in the contract. Likewise, if the equipment list was part of the proposal, it too should be referenced in the contract.

• The type and quality of measuring and repair instrumentation — duct thermometers, power analyzers and other equipment — to be used during repairs or troubleshooting should be listed. The contract should also indicate which personnel are trained to use them.

If services include cooling-tower and duct maintenance, be sure the contractor has procedures in place to detect and remedy health-related situations such as mold and the bacterium that causes Legionnaire’s disease. If the contractor subcontracts mold detection and remediation, be sure the subcontractor has qualifications in the area.

Contractor employees who are not U.S. citizens should also be identified and listed. Copies of green cards or equivalent work permits should be kept on file.

Sharing Responsibilities
To help the contractor and avoid possible confusion, any shared activities should also be addressed. Doing so may take little more than exchanging information and providing access, but consider doing the following before the contractor initiates work:

• Affirming that the contractor inspected the equipment and premises and accepted responsibility for them in “as is” condition or has indicated changes needed before service may commence.

• Setting base comfort conditions, such as seasonal temperatures and humidity.

• Providing secure storage for contractor equipment, especially when of a hazardous nature.

• Defining and logging passwords to be used for contractor personnel when altering building management system programming.

• Listing and describing any responsibilities shared between the contractor and the organization’s facility staff.

• Furnishing access to buildings during off-hours and supplying security credentials to minimize service delays.

Other steps that might be necessary, depending on the scope of the contract, include specifying energy prices to be used when analyzing energy cost-cutting measures and agreeing on the frequency, method and types of chemicals to be used in water treatment procedures.

In addition, equipment installed by the contractor should be accompanied by electronic and paper files of its maintenance manuals for the facility executive to keep.

Maintaining Flexible Maintenance
Facilities rarely remain unchanged for very long, and a HVAC service contract must be flexible enough to allow such changes without requiring renegotiation. Clauses addressing system alterations or additions, new tenants and building extensions, to name a few, are essential.

The increasing sophistication of control systems and plant equipment means the specification of a contractor’s qualifications should be open to upgrading. While a standard refrigerant mechanic may be acceptable for a typical chiller, installation of an absorption cooling unit, for example, may require a different set of credentials. Similar concerns could apply to programming of the building management system. Likewise, participation in a demand-response program offered through a utility could require expertise and programming not contemplated when the scope of work was assembled.

The contractor should be flexible to special circumstances that dictate when HVAC work can be performed. Educational institutions, for example, may require that work be done during off-hours to avoid disrupting classes, while data centers may demand round-the-clock contractor availability and one-hour response times. Placing such demands on a contractor will influence the price, so it’s important to differentiate which systems require special attention by service level and response time.

When defining those levels, it pays to consult tenant leases to be sure none will be violated in an attempt to minimize the cost of services.

Bottom Line
Facility executives managing dispersed facilities may also find value by differentiating hourly rates based on the locale of each facility. In some states, such rates may vary significantly between urban, suburban and rural areas of the same county, especially where union labor is involved. When contracting with a single large maintenance firm that serves all such areas, it pays to check both union and non-union rates for the same jobs and seek the most economical options.

Other labor cost differences are apparent depending on the level of mechanic or electrician to be used. For some work, an apprentice or low-level technician may be used, yielding considerable savings if job titles are linked to tasks. Trying to tighten the purse strings too much, however, may result in delayed handling of tasks if the least-expensive technician is not immediately available for such work.

When specifying personnel for some tasks, price may also need to take a backseat to safety or regulations. Some cities have rules regarding who may operate a high-pressure steam boiler, measure emissions or perform electrical work. In the specification of titles and tasks, an awareness of the licenses and permits required to legally perform certain types of tasks may also lead to economies, depending on local regulations.

Keeping track of what maintenance work was done when, by whom and at what rate can be made more efficient through computerized maintenance management software (CMMS).

When used in conjunction with a service contract, some synergies are possible. The contractor enters work tickets directly into the system for routine examination by a facility employee having CMMS training. Such software typically includes canned reports that summarize sources and distributions of costs, greatly shortening time involved in preparing such presentations.

In such cases, the service contract should specify the type and version of CMMS software to be used and what duties in addition to entering work tickets may be desired from the contractor. Updating equipment identifiers, adding and deleting materials descriptions, and other adjustments to the facility database may be better handled by the contractor than by facility staff, for example.

Maintaining a computerized room plan through a CAD program may help avoid confusion while also ensuring easy access to clean prints, specifications and manuals. If that level of service is desired, specifications for it should also appear in the scope of work as a task description. Having such an electronic library also solidifies some of the institutional memory that often disappears from a facility when staff leave or service contractors are changed.

Lindsay Audin is president of EnergyWiz, an energy consulting firm based in Croton, N.Y.

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  posted on 10/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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