Your Building’s Systems Understanding the Basics

If you think about it, a multifamily building isn’t that much different than the human body. Both house important complex operating systems and organ-like pieces of vital equipment; both take in fuel and produce waste; and both require regular check-ups and a good maintenance program to stay healthy and thriving. 

And just like humans need to see doctors regularly for updates on the heart, lungs and eyes, buildings need to have examinations of its systems as well, with checkups required for HVAC chillers, plumbing, electricity, and the building envelope. “You've got to know the condition of your systems. You've got to call in your professionals, whether they be plumbers, electricians, or engineers, to get an idea of what is the condition of each system in the building,” says Philip Kraus, president and CEO of Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating, in Manhattan.

Charles A. Merritt, PE, principal of Merritt Engineering Consultants, P.C., in Bayside, notes a multifamily building’s primary operating systems include the building envelope, waterproofing, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, elevator systems, as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC. “Each ventilation of the building systems can present a number of problems that will affect the level of comfort in the building,” Merritt says. “One notable problem that can affect a building as a whole is a lack of insulation, along with air and water infiltration from the building envelope. Improper insulation leads to inefficient operation of the mechanical systems associated with the building.”  

Anatomy 101

First, a brief explanation of how these systems work to serve the building. The building envelope and waterproofing systems protect the building from external factors such as weather. Life safety provides adequate protection to the occupants in the event of a fire, power outage or other emergency. Life safety systems include, but are not limited to, fire pumps, sprinkler system, a fire alarm system, and stairwell pressurization fans.

Electrical systems for smaller buildings consist of a simple power distribution system, which is transmitted through an electric meter (owned by the utility company) to panels, wiring and devices that are owned and operated by the building owner. Circuit breakers control the flow of power to the various circuits in the building. Lighting and convenience lighting require a small load, while some appliances such as air conditioners require a heavier load. 

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