BY DON KIRKHAM
The new fire station is complete. The paint is dry. All the inspections were passed. The general contractor wants you to sign off for the completion of the project.
Accepting a new building is as important as accepting a new engine or ladder, and it takes more time to document and understand a building. The acceptance process takes from eight to 24 hours, depending on the building and the complexity of the systems. These may be the most important hours of the building process.
Warranty schedules are important. You must clearly understand the warranty conditions/criteria and dates, which can differ with each item. For some items, the warranty becomes effective from the date of installation. This means if the unit is installed six months prior to completion, the warranty may extend only six months into the building’s occupied life. Examples include membrane roofing, exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS), and exterior finishes. Other warranties may begin on the day the occupancy permit is issued, which could mean that the warranty clock is running while you are moving in and beginning operation. Other warranties begin the day the occupancy permit is issued on move-in day. It is important that you know and understand when each item’s warranty begins and ends.
Start with the mindset that you are a new employee charged with maintaining the facility 10 years from now. Every scrap of information you can find will enable that person to operate the facility more efficiently and economically. The first step is to assemble all of the construction documents, including plans, specification book, tests, inspection reports, certificate of occupancy, permits, soil borings, and any other valuable data.
I did not mention the “as built drawings” because they have a very special place in this process. They are the pivotal point in the process. Treat them as GOLD. Now is the time to collate the pictures taken during the construction process in sequential order. It is a good idea to download them to a CD and to make a backup, which should be kept in another location. The officer in charge of the facility and his subordinate should be intimately involved with the entire process. Maintenance of the building, grounds, and systems begins the day the building is accepted.
The second step is to assemble every piece of information on each of the systems or building components. This would include concrete load tickets, rebar specification tickets, floor flatness documentation, mortar bag, bar joist tags, insulation wrapper, paint can or codes, an end from a light fixture carton, and other packing lists available. Collect them during the construction process. This is not the time to look for these items.
After gathering this information, categorize the items according to the applicable trade or function, preferably in a large conference room—all masonry papers in one area, rebar tickets in another area, for example. Following the specification book will aid you in organizing the material. After you are comfortable with the organizational system, review each page of the plans with the project manager (PM); ensure that each detail/specification on each plan sheet is initialed and dated.
MEETING WITH SUBCONTRACTORS
Once you are comfortable that all of the plans and details have been followed, ask the PM to call each subcontractor or trade contractor and make an appointment to meet with them. Tell them you want to discuss each facet of their work and would like to know the following: (1) what they did, (2) how they did it, (3) why they did it, (4) when they did it, and (5) how to care for and maintain their product. This will not be easy, but it will be time well spent. Obtain the warranty information, and purchase any special-care items for your maintenance inventory at this time.
Generally, start with the first trade on the project and work your way around as if you were rebuilding the building. Ask questions of each contractor. As an example, ask the excavator where he would suggest placing a plug in the storm-water drain if a spill occurs. Ask the asphalt contractor when he suggests sealing the blacktop. This is the time to pick the contractors’ brains to gain the longest life from their work.
Ask the plumber where the cleanouts are, and confirm their locations on the as built drawings. Operate the plugs; check for lubricant on the threads; flush all fixtures; inspect for leaks; check refill times; open and shut all valves; and operate the hot-water tank, dishwasher, clothes washer, and all other devices. The building should have a water pressure gauge installed on the line for easy visualization. The backflow preventors must be certified and tagged. Listen for loose pipes when water to an appliance is shut off. Inspect the water meter for water movement when all devices are shut. This will aid in detecting unseen leaks.
The electrician will have a laundry list of items to review. Begin with the service’s entering the property. Move to the underground and, most importantly, the grounding of the structure. Be sure to comply with all the electrical engineer’s building code regulations and specifications. Typically, the building is grounded to the copper water line, the structural steel is bonded and grounded, and the electrical system is grounded. Grounding is extremely important to electronics, electrical devices, and the building structure. Have a qualified electrician confirm the grounding of the electrical switchgear. Some gear have built-in grounding monitors; monitor them initially and then monthly or in accordance with manufacturer specifications. Operate each breaker, and confirm operation. If the station has a backup generator, confirm the run-in test. The run-in test should include operating at or near capacity, fluid levels, operational ranges, block heater, phase balance, voltage, and amperage, among other checks. Maintain the records for each startup. Confirming foot-candles of light in rooms during the acceptance phase is important.
A note on startups of complex equipment: I recommend paying a small fee to have the manufacturer begin the initial operation of special equipment. The fee is small in comparison with what it would cost if you start it up and have something fail because you do not know the correct procedure. This is also a great time to ask questions from the expert. Many times the architect will insist on following the specifications of a manufacturer’s representative or an authorized distributor to start the equipment.
Now comes a time-consuming but important part of the process. Visually inspecting each unit and confirming size, type, and model are important. The HVAC contractor should give the owner a notebook with every appliance and its owner manual. Having these manuals will be valuable when problems arise and maintenance is necessary. The HVAC contractor should review each piece of equipment with you and confirm amperage draw, belt size, damper openings, weather tightness, filter sizes, and other pertinent information. It is a little late, but I hope the architect has drawn in a required light and an electrical outlet on each rooftop HVAC unit. The light is very handy, and the receptacle is valuable for trouble lights and electrical tools while servicing the HVAC units. Operate each HVAC system through at least two cycles of heating and cooling. A spot check of the air balance report will confirm adequate flow to areas. Be sure to inspect both the supply and return side of the HVAC system. If a programmable thermostat has been installed, be sure the appropriate personnel know how to operate it and are familiar with its capabilities. As with the electrical systems, all personnel should know the location of the utility shutoffs.
Confirm with a manufacturer’s representative that the roof is installed correctly, and ask for a copy of the inspection report. The warranty should be transferred at this time as well. If it is a membrane roof, look for loose seams, patches, wrinkles, and the presence of walk-off mats from the roof ladder to each HVAC unit. If it is a shingle roof, look for loose or torn shingles, humps in the shingles, valleys installed per manufacturer’s specifications, and leaks in roof ventilations. Walk into the attic space, and look for leaks or water stains.
The windows should be clean and free of cracks and cleaning marks and should be sitting properly in the frames. If the windows are tinted, ensure that each window has the same degree of tint. The metal framework should be straight; joints should meet correctly. The weather stripping must not be loose or puckered.
Each door should be inspected, opened, and shut. Note the fire rating. The gap between the frame and the door should be equal on all sides. If a metal frame, the top corners generally may have a small screw to hold the frame together; check to see if it is in place. If the door is equipped with a closer, check its operation. The lock should have a key that is matched and identified in a master file. Close security of keys is very important. If the door is equipped with panic hardware, check the operation. If the panic hardware has a lock-open position, ensure the “dog down” feature has the appropriate wrench to complete this operation.
These doors will see years of use. It is imperative that they are installed properly. The door should be square with the opening and should fit properly. The door should rise without pinching or catching on the track. The opener must raise and lower the door without much effort. It must open the door and stop at the desired position. Conversely, the opener must lower the door to the floor correctly. Many doors have timers for closing within a set period of time. Cycle the door several times to ensure the timer operates correctly.
Inspect the carpet, ceramic tile, vinyl flooring, and other floor coverings for discoloration, tears, seam alignment, adhesion, and other flaws. If the carpet or vinyl is glued down, ask for the installation guide and have the PM or contractor certify that the specifications were followed. Keep a label from the glue can in case the flooring should fail prematurely. Always have paint samples and codes from any finishes applied. If a special wall finish is applied, obtain the flame spread and smoke-generation specifications.
Check each drawer and door. Make sure they operate properly. The doors should be aligned properly and fit securely.
Accepting a new building is fun and exciting, but bear in mind that what you accept today will stay with you for many years to come.
DON KIRKHAM is a retired firefighter/medic from the Delaware City (OH) Fire Department. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire science and in engineering, a master’s degree in public administration, and a Ph.D. in business administration. Kirkham is facility manager for Velocys, a research and development company, and was the construction project manager for Ohio University’s newest satellite campus in Pickerington, Ohio.