The Basics of Electrical Preventive Maintenance and Its Implications for Controlling Costs

in Perspective

By Emily Aschinger Martin

On December 2, 2014 the city of Detroit experienced a widespread shutdown of its electric power due to a failure of the grid. This power failure “forced evacuations, trapped people on elevators and darkened hospital rooms,” according to the Detroit News. The report continued with a statement from Randi Berris, DTE Energy spokeswoman. “Everybody is aware the system has not gotten the attention it needed over the past several decades because of the city’s ongoing financial problems.”

While your own building may not have the potential for the widespread, dramatic consequences of the Detroit power failure, deferring preventative maintenance on your electrical systems can be equally problematic. Building managers are recognizing the economic value in not kicking this expense down the road.

Power consumption is costly. Efficient use of power generated by maintained electrical systems reduces the expense associated with peak energy months. Still, the most obvious consideration for having an electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program is employee safety, followed by damage to property and equipment due to heat build-up from fire. Any serious injury or resulting loss of life due to operating under unsafe conditions may open up a company to costly liability.

According to a report from Hartford Steam Boiler, the “failure rate of electrical equipment is three times higher for components that are not part of a scheduled preventive maintenance program than those that are.”

A full-service, qualified electrical company can provide a regular, preventative maintenance program which should significantly extend the life a company’s electrical systems. The ROI with this maintenance program is typically very high due to the significant costs of installing new systems versus the relatively low cost of the program.

This same electrical contractor can and should be able to provide a cost-benefit analysis to companies who are considering replacing their old systems with new ones. The ROI again is high in this case due to the significant potential savings in making a highly-informed, replace/no-replace decision when compared to the relative low cost of the cost–benefit analysis. We recommend finding a company qualified to do both.

Several factors may go into the scheduling decision for how often you need to perform maintenance. How often a business needs EPM is based on environment and the weather co nditions where the building is ocated. Or it may depend on the quality and type of the equipment. Even the part of the city in which your building is found can be significant in this decision. Stadiums, auditoriums, office buildings downtown or in inner ring suburbs in most cities are ripe for attention given that the age of these neighborhoods is usually older and typically built with greater density. In general, annual EPM by a licensed professional, with a full de-energized electrical maintenance service performed at least every three years, is a good practice.

Just like a maintenance contract for your home, the contractor you hire to service your business should: maintain a personalized checklist for your individual company and building; trouble shoot for the potential hazards and identify those that require immediate attention, while maintaining an accounting of the red-flag spots to look out for on a follow-up; and let you know at what point your money is better spent on replace rather than repair. Remember, there is little point in testing and inspections if you don’t plan on fixing the problems.

The recommended thorough inspection includes: switchgear, air circuit breakers, vacuum circuit breakers, air disconnect switches, oil circuit breakers, molded-case circuit breakers, battery stations and chargers, cables and bus, protective relays and uninterruptible power supply systems. Cleaning; dusting; identifying worn, loose or missing parts; checking for unwanted water; checking that batteries, lights, and casing are in working order; and ventilation should be part of the mix for all these areas.

Our clients schedule EPM during times that are convenient for them within their distinct scope of operations. For example, we work with 24/7 businesses such as hospitals that can shut down to skeleton operations during the weekend we are scheduled. Though not entirely disturbance free, interruption during pre-scheduled maintenance service is nowhere near the havoc caused by the disruption of unforeseen, ill-timed, electrical failure. 

In the electrical industry, making wise decisions about electric preventive maintenance has more importance for owners and managers than merely how and when to spend money. As in Detroit, it means taking responsibility for controlling those conditions with the potential to escalate into dangerous fire exposures to building employees and visitors; and in the least, averting the inconvenience of unplanned power outages and equipment break downs. 

Emily Aschinger Martin is president and CEO of Aschinger Electric, a St. Louis based, fourth-generation family business celebrating 75 years of service. One of the largest electrical contractors in the region, Aschinger Electric is ranked seventh by the St. Louis Business Journal (based on total revenue, 2013), which also named Martin one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Business Women in 2014. For more information about Aschinger Electric, please call (636) 343-1211 or visit http://www.aschinger.com