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Finger Pointing

My company did a great deal of work for a state corrections department. One of our assignments was to provide a new HVAC system for a women's facility. The building housed inmates who needed consistent medication. The medical staff felt air conditioning, which was not part of the original design, would aid medication results.

The design was based on four HVAC units feeding 100-percent outside air to cells and other areas. The cells contained water closets, so return air was out of the question. The heating medium was provided by a steam valve off of the building's existing steam entry from a campus underground line. The air-conditioning system utilized direct-expansion condensing units in secure areas. The building had a relatively high crawlspace area, so access was not a problem.

The job had problems because the contractor “disappeared” before the job was finished. However, enough work had been completed so the job could be “punched out.” The air-conditioning system worked well. In fact, it worked too well. Facility personnel ran the air-conditioning system at lower-than-design temperatures and ruined a compressor. The big problem came when heat was needed. None of the units could perform to specification requirements. Filters were removed for cleaning and never put back. When temperatures could not be reached, facility personnel arbitrarily cut holes in the supply duct to pull in air from the crawlspace.

A new contractor arrived to finish the job. We ordered coil cleaning, control checkups, manufacturer verification of materials sent, and flow tests to verify capacity. We were suspected of not designing the heating system properly. This was exacerbated by a new agency project manager who got on our case. Talk about finger pointing! We even chased after the manufacturer, looking for answers.

Finally, we requested the manufacturer send a new coil to be installed on one of the units. This was done reluctantly. The new contractor installed it. Guess what? On a cold day, the unit performed exactly as it should. The original coil was sent back to the factory. After the manufacturer's inspection, we received a sheepish phone call from their local office. The coil was defective; it had delaminated. Heat transfer was affected. All of the coils had the same problem.

Send “war stories” of 400 or fewer words to the attention of Scott Arnold, managing editor, at [email protected]. Authors are paid $50 per published war story.

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