5 DIY Tests to Identify Problems

If you are not ready for a full professional review of your building’s equipment, there are a few tests that the average person can perform. Some of these tests can be done easily and safely by almost anyone. A few others should only be done by a maintenance engineer or someone with enough experience around industrial machinery to be near the equipment and conduct the tests safely. If you’re not sure whether a particular person is competent to be in a machine room, then err on the side of caution and skip those tests. I will also mention a few simple and inexpensive tools needed and leave links and prices for them or you can find them online with a simple search.
Let’s review the easiest ones first. The simplest review is to just look at the equipment. Does something look obviously wrong? Has anything fallen off and onto the floor? If there is more than one piece of the same equipment, do they look exactly the same? If there are several types of the same equipment, it can be very helpful to take pictures of each piece. Make sure you take them from the same so they are easy to compare later. With multiple pieces of equipment, you will need to identify them individually. If they don’t already have an identifying label on them, use a permanent marker or stencil to label them. As you take your pictures, take a picture of each label before the equipment. This will make your reviews later much easier to keep up with.
If this visual review was on your elevator equipment, then anyone could safely look at the hall buttons, the up and down direction lanterns, the doors (both lobby doors on each floor and cab doors inside the elevator), look at the cab buttons, floor indicators, switches, lights, handrails, cab panels, ceiling panels, etc. It is also good test to see if the elevator is level when it stops or just exactly how far out of level it is. Be aware that different elevator systems were designed with different tolerances and even codes in mind. Because of this, a slight amount of offset can be normal. During these simple tests, you should be looking for the oddities. In general one quarter of an inch or less offset is normal. If you find three of your four elevators stopping almost perfectly level and the other elevator one half of an inch out of level, it is likely not operating properly and should be removed from service.
When the inspection moves to the mechanical rooms, it should only be done by someone who is qualified to be in those areas and can view the equipment safely. Remember you will be looking for obvious problems and things that are significantly different between two of the same types of equipment. Look to see if anything is loose or vibrating differently than the other units. Reminder, looking is with the eyes and touching is not allowed. Is anything lying in the floor? Again, take pictures, they will help you immensely. Pictures with a flash often will show you things that you did not notice with the naked eye. For a more precise visual examination (not just the obvious items), you will most likely need a professional.
The next easy review is based on sound. Anyone can ride the elevators and listen to the sound of the doors opening and closing on each floor and determine if any particular floor or elevator sounds differently. As you used a camera to help with the visual inspection, using a sound meter (sometimes referred to as a DB meter) is very helpful for accurate measurements. I recommend either an Extech Sound Meter http://amzn.to/2kOBAvn for around $150-$200 or an Amprobe Sound Meter http://amzn.to/2kOBjZA for around $175-$225. Both of these meters do a good job, but I do like the Amprobe unit a little more. I have tried a few apps for my smart phone, but they have not provided good results for me. Make certain that you take the readings from the same location, with the elevator starting to move, as it’s running full speed on a multi-floor run and as it is slowing down. You also need to make sure that you use the same settings on the meter as you test different elevators. As with the visual recordings, you will need to identify which sets of data belong to which elevators. A clipboard and a prewritten chart will help you to perform and record the measurements quickly. Again if you instruct someone to take measurements in the mechanical rooms, make sure they are qualified to do it safely. Again accurate reading can only be performed from the exact same distant from the equipment with the meter facing the same direction and as the elevator is running or idling. You don’t want to compare a machine sound level when it’s idling to when another unit is running. That will not be fair comparison and you will simply be wasting your time.
The third easy review is based on time. I suggest picking up a stopwatch that is easy to use. I won’t recommend one particular model because the most important factor is that you find one you can use well. Most people will need to practice a little to get reliable and consistent readings. If you don’t believe me, try measuring something that you know if consistent. You will quickly find that your response time and ability to operate the stopwatch consistently may not be as good as you thought. Once you have mastered the stopwatch and have your clipboard ready again, let’s take some measurements. I suggest measuring the length of time it takes for the doors to open. Take your reading as soon as you detect movement and until they fully stop. You may also want to observe whether they open fully or not. Then perform your measurements for the door close time. Now record the length of time for a one floor run up and a one floor run down. For consistency you need to begin and end your measurements at the same time on each elevator. You can also make these measurements for longer runs. Again, different types of equipment will have different speeds and times. After you have finished, if things look, sound and feel normal and your readings are within 5% or so of the other units, you most likely don’t have a serious performance issue.
Our fourth set of tests can be done as you take the visual and sound level recordings. It is a measurement of movement. I could recommend a couple different expensive tools for more precise measurement, but unless you’re a professional elevator person of some sort (consultant, inspector or mechanic) getting good recordings will be difficult. After that, interpreting them can be a challenge as well. You should simply note any abrupt movements you feel as you ride. Let your body be the measuring tool. Often times if you just close your eyes for a couple seconds, you can perceive bumps and jerks a little better. Just make sure you are holding on before closing your eyes. Does the elevator jerk when it starts or stops? Is there a bump in the middle of the ride? Any abnormalities usually indicate there is some type of a problem. As with all of these tests, if you determine something is wrong or not normal, you should call your service provider and have repairs performed immediately.
Now we need to take some different measurements. We need to determine how hot the equipment is getting as it idles and operates. An inexpensive and great tool for detecting problems with industrial equipment is an infrared thermometer. There are many different units available, but one of the most inexpensive is the $40 Laser LCD Infrared Heat Checker IP21 http://amzn.to/2kDpvr1. The measurements to be taken will require the tester to be in close proximity to the machinery. So again, make absolutely sure this person is qualified and can perform the tests safely. If you’re in doubt, err on the side of caution and skip this test or hire a professional. There are too great times to take these readings. The first is when the building has been very quiet for at least an hour (usually very early or very late). The second time is when the building has been very busy for at least thirty 30 minutes (morning rush in and afternoon rush out). To take measurements you simply need to point the tool at the equipment and push the button or trigger. A red dot will illuminate on your target to confirm your aim and the readings will display almost instantly. Play with the tool a little to get use to it. Notice how aiming at a slightly different angle or location can make a huge difference in readings. For elevator equipment, I suggest targeting motors, generators, brushes, commutators, transformers, fuses, large power relays and anything you see arcing or that looks suspicious. These readings can also be easily taken for building transformers, breakers, switch-gear and numerous other pieces of equipment as well. Just be absolutely certain that whoever performs these tests is qualified to do them safely.
We have reached the end of the DIY tests. Additional tests require a professional consultant. They are obviously recommended to perform these tests more efficiently and accurately than a beginner. In addition, they will be aware of code issues that you should be aware of and in determining the equipments current condition and expected longevity. They can perform tests that are far too dangerous for you to do. The DIY tests are better than no testing. However consultants typically will save you more money than their fees with their recommendations and in reductions to your liabilities. They can also insure that the proper level of maintenance is being performed on your very expensive equipment to prevent premature failures. Hiring a professional often provides a return on investment over just weeks or a couple months.
I hope this information has been educational and helps anyone that wishes to do a DIY evaluation.

JF Lewis of Needed Knowledge and author of Surviving Your Elevator Entrapment.

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