information is intended to provide a cursory overview of building
engineering with the hope that it will give the reader an enlightened
sense of perspective.
The role and
mandate of any property engineering department is the
protection of the building’s/owner’s assets; the structure
from the façade or building envelope, to the integrity
of the floors, walls, ceilings and all of the furniture, fixtures,
and equipment (FF&E) contained therein. This includes the
electrical transformers and the distribution throughout, the domestic
water distribution and sewage, the heating-ventilation-air conditioning
system, (HVAC), the fire alarm system and fire safety components,
the vertical transportation system (elevators), the property surroundings
like parking and landscaping and pest control. Utility management
such as electrical, gas, steam, water. Kitchen and laundry equipment.
Lighting and sound systems and on and on.
in the preceding paragraph I like to refer to as the base building
system or the physical plant as these components form the basis
of all properties whether office or hotel or apartment block.
A building is a building. The end use or purpose of the building
is what differentiates how the engineering department is managed,
and indeed, how the building is operated.
the base building, office buildings are quite easier to maintain.
Generally, offices and shops within commercial buildings are subject
to various lease arrangements, with the tenant often being responsible
for all maintenance and repairs within their space and proportionate
costs of the utilities and taxes . The property operators are
usually only responsible for the base building and common areas.
The same concept being applied to apartments and condominiums.
element here is what is contained within the lease or rental agreement.
Office building hours are usually fixed, say, from 7:00am to 6:00pm;
electronically controlled locks securing every outside door and
alarm systems readied by time clocks. Security guards sweeping
all areas at random and responding to any alarm calls. Weekends
are generally in lock-down mode 24hrs a day. The after hours involvement
of building staff are the building cleaners, normally contracted,
however, engineering is rarely called for after hour situations.
Tenants that would use their offices during off base building
hours may contract for HVAC services and pay for the cost.
much more extensive and demanding. The engineering department
has the responsibility for everything in the building as well.
Depending on the organizational structure of the hotel, some elements
are assigned to other departments. The Security or Loss Prevention
department may take on the task of fire systems but ultimately
this is the responsibility of the engineering department as the
building operators to monitor for regulatory compliance.
often been given the analogy of a cruise ship or a hospital in
that the operation is 24 – 7. Twenty-four hours a day and
seven days a week. When the guests are sound asleep the systems
of the building continue to operate. The heating and ventilation
units are running, the domestic hot water is being heated, the
laundry may be operating, the night cleaners making their rounds,
desk clerks and night auditors all doing what they have to do.
Behind the scenes, there is a flurry of activity, and everything
has to work so that everyone can do their jobs and the guests
are safe and comfortable.
the contribution of other departments, of which there may be as
many as ten or more, the bottom line is if there is no engineering
department there is no hotel. Take away those services like hot
water or elevators, heating or cooling, electricity, kitchen equipment,
laundry equipment etc, you simply would have no customers. When
everything is working the next most significant department of
course is housekeeping whose efforts keep the property clean and
attractive, tending to the guests comfort in their rooms. Removing
a restaurant from the system will not close the hotel, or closing
the bar or lounge will not cause the hotel to cease operations.
Again, all departments should contribute to a seamless operation
where the guest comfort and safety and satisfaction are paramount.
following will attempt to shed some light on the various segments
of hotel engineering although some aspects are interrelated and
not really separable. Hopefully, by narrowing the focus the reader
will gain a rudimentary or cursory understanding of the role of
the engineering department.
are going to be dictated by quite a number of variables. The variable
that seems to pre-empt all others is the financial performance
of the property, although manipulating the contribution or size
of the engineering department will only defer more costs to further
down the road. Factors other than financial can be building specific;
the amount of rooms, meeting space, grounds, age of building,
available talent pool, plant size (boiler room etc.) swimming
pools and peripheral equipment.
of hotel also influences the caliber of maintenance. You can repair
everything with sticky tape and glue, or you can do it right and
replace the part. Scheduling plays a role depending on how busy
it can be on any given shift. Hotels can be very busy in the evenings
after dinner when guests return to their rooms and start using
all equipment. More engineering staff may be required on the afternoon
shift. Does the hotel require a midnight or graveyard shift?
The general rule/formula for the staffing level or department
size is expounded by Frank D. Borsenik, a professor of engineering
at an American University who gives a relatively accurate basis
around which to set parameters. Reviewing my notes from the School
of Hotel Administration at Cornell University compliment his opinion.
When all the operating equipment, systems, building surfaces,
are taken into consideration it is determined by following manufacturer’s
recommendations and current best methods, that in the areas of
preventive maintenance and frequencies of maintenance required,
the formula is 3.1 engineering full time equivalents per 100 available
that a hotel of 500 rooms would have 15.5 FTE’s to properly
maintain a hotel building in a state of good repair. Some hotels
have other “appendages” such as retail and commercial,
residential, or convention or marinas, which will add to the maintenance
requirements. Mistakes are made in dismissing these areas as “self
maintained” because of triple-net leases, where the tenants
handle their own maintenance. This is not to be confused with
a building of unitary function as previously mentioned, such as,
office buildings, apartment buildings, factory or retail malls.
behind the scenes is that the plumbing, ventilation and virtually
all systems are sized larger and are generally more extensive
in providing services to these locations. The tenants themselves
have requests of maintenance and their own work has to be approved
and monitored. The common areas still have to be maintained. Adjustments
to the recommended number of FTE’s are feasible if the work
is contracted out. Unionized properties may or may not have issues
with contracting out.
of 3.1/100 available rooms is arbitrary as the physical property
will dictate the staff required to maintain a building in a state
of good repair. The cyclical “financial pressure”
that has plagued most building operators and the slash and burn
mentality that prevails will have a negative impact on the quantity
and quality of maintenance.
is a business, and the prudent operator should operate it as such,
however, should be cognizant, that saving a dollar on maintenance
today will cost him two dollars tomorrow. During the course of
my thirty-seven years in the business of hotels, commercial, and
residential I’ve seen all too often where managers have
cut costs irregardless of financial performance but based on their
own political ambitions. The other greatest folly is rewarding
by way of bonus or other accolades the engineering manager for
I have seen
where engineering managers have received hefty bonuses at the
end of the year and behind the scenes have left devastation. Fan
damper motors tied together with coat hangars, leaking pipes with
little wooden wedges hammered into the holes, fire dampers wedged
open because the fusible links had failed. Had these things been
repaired and money spent the bonus would have been less. Temporarily
increasing profits may lead to a manager’s promotion or
transfer, and in a year or two they are gone leaving the successor
holding the bag as the “deferred maintenance” comes
back to haunt.
measures are sometimes necessary and a recent survey of several
hotels has shown that the common level for engineering during
a “crisis” period is 2.3/100 available rooms after
cutbacks. This is crisis management. These levels of cut-backs
should only be sustained for a number of weeks as guaranteed deterioration
will make it difficult to catch up or recover.
it be expected that requests for projects or creating what never
existed should be handled by in-house staff when a department
is staffed at the lower level; a misconception is that it is business
as usual and other departments wonder why it may take so long
to honour their wish list.
without getting into specific trades, a smaller operation can
do well with generalists. A person who is proficient in electrical,
in plumbing, in mechanical, in carpentry, painting; suffice a
person with the necessary mechanical aptitude and skill. Caution
should be exercised in the level of repair that is undertaken
by any one trade person so as not to exceed his or her expertise
or to do work when a permit or license is required.
and authorities having jurisdiction should be consulted to determine
if there are any code violations. Depending on the staffing level
you could hire a kitchen and or laundry mechanic, at minimum staffing
levels – these could be contracted out. Generalists by nature
can be quite proficient in a variety of trades and excel at either
one or more and are usually less expensive.
To hire a
licensed tradesperson is not feasible and hotels usually will
not compete on a salary basis as it could cost as much as two
or three times more what they would normally pay. The tradesperson
would have little versatility outside their specific training
and would only be suited to a larger hotel that had a sufficient
amount of work to keep them fully occupied in that particular
It would make
no sense to hire an electrician for $75,000 a year unless that
person would have sufficient volume of electrical work ($75,000
+) to make it cheaper to have one on staff. More often than not,
if a licensed trade person is working for you it is only because
they are between jobs and will leave when there is an opening
elsewhere for their skills.
For the complexities
of a building and its systems it normally takes a good year and
sometimes more to learn where everything is and how everything
works. From valve locations, breakers, systems layout to operating
procedures. Seasonal layoffs should never be considered for a
couple of reasons; one, a year or more has been spent in training
the individual who may permanently leave.
This is not
the same as a person trained as a server who is required to walk
from the kitchen to a table. Secondly, the hotel’s off-peak
season is the engineering departments busiest time as they are
now able to access low or non-occupied areas. Managers of other
departments having little to do often invent or create make-work
projects for engineering which effectively competes for the time
and dollars from the areas that have been deferred.
chart of a typical engineering department would normally consist
of the following criteria:
room hotel. 3.1/100
Director of Engineering
Administrative Assistant - Asst. Director of Engineering
Shift Engineers (4)
The positions of the Director of Engineering or Chief Engineer
or Maintenance Manager or by whatever that position is called,
is usually certified, as well as the assistant position. Some
of the major hotels make it mandatory. The position should only
report to the General Manager and is a executive committee member.
There are properties where the reporting line of the Director
of Engineering is to a Rooms Division manager, or other; which
is a department with a function of it’s own and an engineering
manager has to insist that the Engineering Department comes first!
The building comes first. The guest comes first. Engineering has
responsibility of all departments including those areas –
boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, all behind the scenes, that a
rooms division could never fathom. Rooms can represent a small
piece of the pie when compared to food and beverage and the building
mechanics. Engineering in some instances should only report to
a corporate engineering position who’s neutrality would
ensure that budget funds are funneled to the building and the
assistant given today’s phenomenal amount of paperwork,
records keeping, parts ordering, purchase orders, inventory, payroll
and job assignment and dispatch is an essential full time position.
Scheduling of work will enable response to issuing departments
on a timetable. This position reports only to the Director of
Director of Engineering, or assistant maintenance manager, again,
by whatever term is used must be able to make instant decisions
and operate the department effectively. This position has full
authority over the departments operation and the shift engineers
and engineers. The position reports to the Director of Engineering
and in absence, to the General Manager.
engineers are normally the “runners” that carry the
radio or pager and their primary function is to respond to the
day to day maintenance requests generated by the housekeeping
department or PBX, or those that may be assigned to them and it
is emphasized written maintenance requests depending on the nature
of the request. A direct verbal request by a guest is given first
priority and is paged. Fire or flood is paged.
All else is
to be written on a maintenance request form that is then distributed
or assigned by the administrative assistant. The nature of the
frequent spontaneous requests by the shift engineers especially
at night when they are by themselves, should not be assigned tasks
such as painting or projects of a long duration.
are those general workers whose skills are utilized by the assistant
director of engineering for those jobs outside the scope of the
shift engineers requiring longer time to complete or are more
extensive. Staffing levels in the “crisis mode” should
determine that it is maintain only and that projects or wishes
or to create what never existed is costed out to appropriate outside
trades. To do otherwise is detrimental to the property.
The most disruptive
method of communication for maintenance requests is VERBAL.
an engineer is sighted on route to a job site it inevitably happens
that someone “Could you fix this?” I suppose it’s
normal for everyone to take the easiest route or the path of least
resistance. When an engineering person is on route to a job they
generally have brought the tools and materials for that particular
job and are while on route forming a plan of attack in troubleshooting.
I recall sending an individual on a job that would have taken
thirty minutes including travel time, to come back an hour and
a half later because he was interrupted with other jobs while
on the way. Verbal requests should not only be avoided, they should
The best way
of communicating maintenance requests has always been to fill
out the appropriate maintenance request form and submit for action.
Each area department head should inspect their areas daily, making
out request forms as they go. Managers work in their area every
day but seem oblivious to deficiencies. It is not nor should it
be the responsibility of the engineering department to inspect
or maintain areas that are managed by others.
are another good method of keeping on top of the property’s
condition. A walkthrough should be conducted monthly of all public
or common areas. Public or common areas are those areas of the
building that do not specifically come under the jurisdiction
of any one department or department head; such as lobby, grounds,
are to be conducted of a restaurant or lounge or meeting room
etc., the department head responsible should be held accountable
for any deficiency and be able to produce a copy of the maintenance
request form for that particular item. If the question is one
of cleanliness, then again show a request of the housekeeping
department to action. Too often, engineering will get a request
for a burnt light or paint touchup just minutes before the guest
I read somewhere
once “that lack of planning on your part shouldn’t
make it a crisis on my part”. The message for other departments
is to be a little pro-active. In just about every hotel that I
have had the pleasure to work in, and in discussions with colleagues
at other properties, the most offending department for unreported
deficiencies and damage is banquets.
are the ones to call ten minutes before a meeting starts to report
a critical light burnt out or a piece of equipment not working.
Meeting rooms will have holes poked into the ceiling or walls,
doors knocked off their hinges. I have had scrapes in walls repaired
only to see them damaged again within minutes. All hotels seem
to have the same common challenge with the banquet department.
In their defense
I have observed with banquets that it may be a staffing issue
where part timers are only called in for the last minute for functions
and they really don’t care. Regular staff are too few to
handle equipment properly as I see many a banquet person moving
an eight-foot table by themselves and of course smacking into
doors and walls. I never see supervisors “supervising”
or inspecting vacant meeting rooms.
Lists of actions
due to inspections are also good, however it then makes it incumbent
on the engineering department to then write up maintenance request
forms for assignment.
request form is one of the most essential tools for which the
engineering department operates. They are used to track trends,
monitor inventory and labour and to ensure that things are not
forgotten. Completed maintenance request forms should be sorted
by type such as plumbing, electrical etc to indicate trends and
frequencies. They can then be actioned in an attempt to eliminate
A good example
of studying trends towards a solution is a hotel where I had started
to work and it was mentioned to me that all guest room fan coil
units leak condensation in the summer when the air conditioning
is on. Too late to investigate and repair all four hundred and
fifty units, we set up a room layout template and proceeded to
chart each report of a leaking air conditioning unit during the
We would normally
have liked to pre-empt any guest complaint but as this situation
was happening for the previous twenty-five years that one more
season wouldn’t hurt. The survey indicated that 25% of the
fan coil units had leaked and resulted in many repeat complaints
exaggerating the extent of the problem. Unfortunately more that
one hundred units were leaking but it went back to a construction
deficiency where all the drain lines of these units were sloped
was not only with the plumbers however; the drywall installers
pushed up on the metal studs pushing up on the unit drain lines.
The plumbing error is where they measured from the ceiling concrete
slab to slant the drain line but the slab they measured from was
poured on a slope as well. Engineering had one person of each
shift who did nothing but drain these condensation pans daily
to help prevent their leaking. They did this for twenty-five years!
Now that the drains have been corrected and the problem resolved
the engineers can go on to other things. Tracking request history
and large are an interesting vehicle for fiscal manipulation.
The engineering budget is split into two categories, heat light
and power, and repair and maintenance. Depending on the location
of the hotel the heat light and power budget might consume 4%
or more of sales revenue with repairs and maintenance at about
5 or 6%. The combined average being about 10% of sales revenue.
Note that a renowned consulting group determined, albeit 1991,
that of full service hotels over 200 rooms and an average rate
of $75.00 or more, it would cost about 10.3% of revenue.
be understood that HLP consumptions and costs are variable due
to weather, room occupancy, restaurant and banquet covers, market
price volatility. Predictability can only be assumed, however,
baselines for utility consumption can be established to provide
a relatively accurate consumption pattern for billing units. Regression
analysis is one such method.
of all utilities, heating degree-days, cooling degree-days, guests
in house, covers, will provide background information to weigh
against billing unit consumption. Meter information should be
gathered on a daily basis to quickly diagnose any anomaly in consumption
such as major leaks or equipment malfunction. The general ledger,
chart of accounts will indicate each utility, i.e.; electricity,
natural gas, steam, water and sewage etc.
be exercised when gathering utility history from P&L statements
as these statements have sometimes gone through numerical gymnastics.
I once had a utility budget pared down by a controller telling
me to just say, “tell them the weather changed.”
and maintenance portion, R&M covers the balance of the engineering
expenses such as labour, building, mechanical equipment repairs,
kitchen repairs, uniforms and on and on, covering almost all repair
be understood with any budget is that it is a guide only. Engineering
budgets are best replicating historic data for that particular
property. Zero-based budgeting is not possible, or at the least
will not be accurate at year-end. When budgets are made it is
only a foggy view of the next fiscal year.
pump failure could cost $10,000.00 to name only one incident or
the cost of natural gas go up 150% in one month. There are some
hotels attempting at monthly forecasts that as a tool may arrive
at some idea on how achievable the budget might be next month.
Engineering forecasts are best kept to the weather.
once the engineering manager submits the annual budget it is often
“massaged” to placate corporate offices.
The end result of any budget is a reflection of management’s
commitment to the level of maintenance they would like to see
in their property.
A plan to
do maintenance work in the future is usually of two types and
that is scheduled maintenance and preventive maintenance. Scheduled
maintenance is that type of work that requires longer durations
to complete, planning of manpower and tools and materials required,
co-ordination with other trades and possibly outside contractors.
replacement or maintenance on a major piece of equipment could
involve shut downs of other departments or blocks of guest rooms.
Projects such as building of walls or complete painting of areas
could also come under scheduled maintenance. Indeed, any project
requires scheduling and planning.
Maintenance, as it’s name implies is the intent to perform
timed inspections, minor adjustments, lubrication based on manufacture’s
recommendations with the ultimate goal of preventing unscheduled
breakdowns and prolonging the life and efficiency of the equipment.
During the course of the inspection if it is determined that major
work may be required, then work orders are generated to schedule
both guest and meeting rooms again follows the above with inspections
and generating work orders to schedule and correct deficiencies.
The frequency of inspections should be determined to happen sometime
before the area slow periods.
If guest rooms
occupancy is peak in summer then schedule the inspection just
prior to the downturn as it will give time to order necessary
materials and schedule the labor to accomplish the tasks. The
importance of inspections cannot be over emphasized because I
have yet to see room attendants or banquet staff adequately report
maintenance can be both negative and positive. Negative if it
has an impact on guest comfort, safety, or is detrimental to the
smooth flow of production that keeps other departments operational.
can be very expensive if it happens after hours and outside contractors
are required, or if say the main chiller shuts down and all your
guests walk out. Positive as you would not want to spend $100
a year on preventive maintenance on a blender worth $50. Also,
in maintenance repairs don’t waste $20 worth of time to
repair something only worth $10.00.
is mandated in some instances such as for elevator service, kitchen
hood exhaust cleaning and fire systems. The reasoning behind this
is to ensure that the work is performed by qualified technicians,
and may also require licenses and special knowledge. Local regulations
and insurance companies usually require these contracts. It also
serves the purpose of making sure the work gets done irregardless
of budget restraints. Maintenance contracts or contracting out
is almost always necessary to complement an engineering department
that is undersized.
of engineering management personnel is unfortunately processed
by persons without a technical and mechanical background. The
difficulty with some properties is that they may not have the
corporate resources to use a engineering person on staff, either
at head office or a similar hotel in a chain. The benefit of experience
and certification in property and hotel operation is apparent.
for the sake of the bottom line engineering management are hired
based on little experience and know-how to save on dollars. There
are some instances where power engineering 4th class or higher
is required to satisfy boiler and pressure vessel regulations,
however these only form the minimum entry level requirements of
power plants in lumber mills and power process industries and
may be necessary if the building has equipment with heating surfaces
and refrigeration exceeding normal capacity.
does not confer on anyone the ability to operate buildings, especially
hotels but could be an indicator of mechanical aptitude. There
are other preferred courses in property management and building
operations. Like anything else, you get what you pay for!