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Engineering 101:
Revitalizing Your Property After Years of Deferred Maintenance

By Richard Manzolina
August 2012

For too many hoteliers, the past three to four years have been fraught with group cancelations, rate attrition, and cost reduction efforts. Engineering operations have been asked to do their part as well, often drastically reducing repair and maintenance expenses. After all, with 10-12 cents of every dollar headed toward maintenance and energy, hoteliers often opted to eliminate or defer maintenance activities in a desperate attempt to maintain margins, prevent layoffs, or even just to keep the doors open.

After years of trying to do more with less, the economic outlook is not quite as grim, and fiscal indicators suggest a slow but steady recovery of our once stellar RevPAR and EBITDA indices. So with the future starting to look brighter, savvy hoteliers should consider revisiting some long overdue maintenance that has gone by the wayside, and by now is likely costing you more than it’s saving. In this vein, below are four tips designed help guide you when taking a second look at deferred maintenance projects.

Don’t forget to change the oil. Consider this: Even if you drive to work every day to a job that pays you half of what it used to, you still have to change the oil every 3,000 miles. Your hotel doesn't know or care that there has been a dip in occupancy. Filter’s still need to be changed, chillers still need to be cleaned, and rooms still need to be kept safe and comfortable...even when the ballroom goes dark. So talk to your engineer, and find out where exactly the cuts were made. If they ran too deep, it might not be too late to reverse course.

While you are at it, dust off your Management By Walking Around manual and take a tour of the mechanical rooms. You will be amazed at what you see and learn. While you are there, ask to pull out an air filter or two from an air handler...if for no other reason than to allay concerns that filter changes were part of your previously welcomed cost saving measures. Even money says you are overdue for a filter change. Remember, excessively dirty filters don’t just look bad, they cost you money. Fan motors have to run harder, longer to pull air through a dirty filter, and worse still, really dirty filters restrict so much air that guest comfort can be impacted.

Spring is in the air... and so is pollen, dirt, leaves, and a myriad of other airborne contaminants that rapidly collect in your cooling towers. Eventually, these contaminants break down into sludge and fine dirt particles, known in the industry as suspended solids, and are often pumped through your property’s ice machines, chillers, walk-in boxes and other water cooled equipment. Here they build up on the equipments’ heat exchange surfaces, especially equipment located on the lowest levels of the building. This build-up acts as an insulator and causes equipment to work harder, run longer, and use more energy. Left unchecked, this can cause catastrophic system failure when the first major heat wave arrives, costing thousands in lost product and guest dissatisfaction. This is because the summer heat puts much greater loads on refrigeration systems which are trying to reject heat from a freezer, ice cube machine, meeting room, etc., and put that heat into your cooling tower water. But the tower water temperature is also rising and can take on less heat due to the temperature outdoors. This one-two punch is often more than a dirty, inefficient refrigeration system can withstand.

While there are lots of effective mechanical designs and equipment that can help prevent this scenario, the most basic and effective is simple…keep your cooling towers clean. Drain all wash tower basins, backwash sand filters (if you have one), change cartridge filters, and blow down mud legs. This maintenance has to be done, is inexpensive, and will save thousands in unnecessary expenses.

Is the F.O.G. rolling in? To the average person, fog is a unique weather anomaly that hinders driving conditions and conjures up images of mountain valleys filled with smoke-like clouds. But to an engineer, FOG has another meaning...Fats, Oils, and Grease…the inevitable byproduct of any food service operation. And like so many other building systems that remain out of sight and out of mind, waste lines and associated FOG receptors will eventually be the source of major problems and expenses if not dealt with regularly. So if FOG system maintenance has been on back burner in your property, it's time to bubble it up to the surface before it backs up in the kitchen.

Start with professionally cleaning or jetting grease laden waste lines that service FOG producing equipment such as dish machines, pot washers, and floor drains under tilting skillets or steam kettles. This process removes grease build up using very high pressure water, restores your drain pipes to their original diameter, prevents back-ups and reduces or eliminates odor issues. Note: this process is not the same as drain snaking, the purpose of which is to penetrate and clear blockages in pipes, not to clean them.

When you are done looking down...look up! Another commonly neglected maintenance area is kitchen exhaust systems. In food service production areas, hoods over the cooking equipment remove the byproducts of the cooking process by pulling smoke, grease, and soot from cooking equipment. These materials adhere to the exhaust system’s surfaces, and act as stored fuel for a potential fire. As such, it is vital to keep these systems clean and well maintained, and minimize the buildup of grease. Yet often these systems are neglected due to a lack of visibility, understanding, funding, or a combination of all three.

To the casual observer, exhaust hoods may look clean, but the hood is just one small part of the exhaust system. The majority of the system remains unseen, but still requires regular cleaning. This includes the fan that pulls the air through the hood, and more importantly, the duct that connects the two. This process should be done by trained, certified professionals, with frequency intervals based on the amount of business and type of food products produced. The more greasy foods cooked, the more frequently cleanings need to take place.

Admittedly, a revitalized marketing campaign or scaling back on the use of internet booking channels are more likely responses to an uptick in your property’s economic outlook. But truth be told, proper, timely maintenance can have just as much of a direct impact on cash flow and fiscal stability as top line revenue…and with a lot less effort. So while the number of worthy recipients of precious maintenance dollars is seemingly endless, these four areas can produce a return of their own, and represent a great start to helping restore efficient and proactive engineering operations.

Richard Manzolina

Richard Manzolina is a Senior Engineering/Facilities Executive with 20 years hospitality industry experience, specializing in helping owners and operators realize the full potential of their physical assets and engineering operations. He is adept in dramatically improving property appeal, operating efficiency, expense margins, and asset longevity through pragmatic execution of repair and maintenance programming and capital reinvestment. Currently, Richard oversees engineering operations of The Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC, and has held multiple property level positions including Director of Engineering for the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD; Director of Property Operations for both the Capital Hilton Hotel and the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center; and, Senior Assistant Director of Property Operations for the Waldorf Astoria. At the corporate level, Richard acted as the Property Operations Cluster Lead Engineer for Hilton Hotels Corporation, leading a group of 17 engineering executives among five hotel brands across all market segments, from economy to 4-diamond. He has consulted for several lodging facilities in the area of facility maintenance, standards compliance and execution, and energy conservation. Richard has also authored white papers on topics relating to facility operations and maintenance, and is a regular guest lecturer at the Cornell Hotel School, and is Group Leader for Cayuga’s Hospitality Engineering Consulting Services.

Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review.  All rights reserved.


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