I have been researching and writing about Asset Information issues for many years and if anyone should anticipate and prepare for problems, it should be me. Yet, my recent experience with replacing a thermostat in my home shows that naivety knows no bounds.
We built a new home a few years ago and our contractor gave us a large package of information about the house at the closing so that we could deal with any problems that might arise. My wife, who is incredibly organized, did an excellent job of organizing and filing this information, but we simply trusted that it was complete and accurate.
Our home is two stories with a separate heat pump system for the second floor, where my office is located along with a couple of extra bedrooms. We also have an open floor plan that makes it impossible to position a single second floor thermostat that is isolated from the rest of the house, so our heat pump was running continuously and my office was always too hot or too cold. So I found the perfect solution, a new Honeywell unit that could be mounted in the existing location, but with a portable, wireless control and thermostat that could be moved from room to room. It was rather expensive ($400) but, despite my wife’s protests, I felt that I could also install it myself and save several hundred dollars in additional costs that our HVAC contractor wanted for the same unit.
I ordered the unit from an on-line HVAC equipment supplier and it came with Honeywell catalogs, which included wiring diagrams for a variety of standard and heat pump configurations, a couple of which were for the manufacturer of my system. Great, I thought, until I opened up my existing thermostat and discovered that the existing wiring didn’t match any of these diagrams. Not only were there differences in the way that terminals were labeled, but also in the number and color of wires that were used.
But I was undaunted, how hard could it be to figure out the connections for five simple wires. All I needed were some schematics of the units and, thanks to my wife, I was able to quickly find all of the information we had on this equipment, several catalogs for our various cooling units and one for an attic fan unit. They contained a lot of information, but unfortunately it was all about installing the unit, again with a variety of configurations, with and without auxiliary heating, multi-stage operation, etc. But nothing to tell me which setup I had. I also discovered that I had no catalog at all for the existing thermostat. A quick check of the existing unit also revealed that it had the HVAC contractor’s logo printed in place of the manufacturer’s name, so I had to spend several hours on line searching for something that might match markings on the internal PC board. In the end, I concluded that my unit had already been replaced by a new, improved unit, and I decided that I would just use the wiring information for what I thought was the replacement – at least it had the same terminal labeling as my unit.
While I lacked vital documentation, I felt for sure that a physical audit of my system would solve the problem. So, with flashlight and iPhone in hand, I climbed into our stuffy attic. At first, I was excited because I saw a chart on the fan unit with check boxes to indicate the setup, but then it was clear that no one had taken the time to check any of the boxes. So I resorted to simply taking pictures of how the wires from the thermostat were actually connected to the unit and I did the same at the thermostat to associate this with terminals.
I spent about 4 hours piecing together this collection of disjointed, inconsistent information, and came up with what I thought was the most logical way to connect the new unit. Finally, I installed the new thermostat, which only took about 30 minutes, including the installation of an outside temperature sensor, programming the device and doing some basic startup tests. Fortunately, everything worked, but I was still troubled by a couple of connections and after a couple of days, and a couple hours of more research, I decided to reverse two wires. I didn’t see any change and I now think that these wires were redundant to begin with, as I don’t think (still don’t know for sure) that I have an auxiliary heating element. In any case, everything seems to be working fine now, at least for cooling, and I hope that I don’t find any surprises when winter comes.
As I sit here in my comfortable office, I can’t help but reflect upon this experience from an Asset Information perspective. I probably wasted 8 hours for a job that should have taken 30 minutes. It was only luck that I didn’t damage the device, lose more money, and incur the inevitable “I told you so” from my wife. And, I still don’t know if what I did was right, so the potential for future downtime and more cost still lingers. Had I only taken the time to check that the builder had given me complete accurate information, I could have avoided all of this. But, who can delay moving into a new home, just to check that the information is right? And, who has the time to deal with this after the fact?
We find that O&M personnel in real organizations suffer from these same kinds of ridiculous problems on a day to day basis and that this is true across the spectrum of asset-intensive organizations. Unfortunately, most organizations have come to accept poor information as the norm and the resulting performance problems as just another cost of doing business. But few understand how much they are really losing through this behavior. Even the most conservative estimates indicate that organizations can increase their ROA by 2.5 percent, by simply gaining control of their asset information.
Obviously, such waste cannot be tolerated in today’s competitive and highly regulated environment. Organizations need to recognize that these problems can be solved and take immediate action. This includes a short term plan to stop the bleeding and a long term program to work with others in developing standards that will improve handover for everyone in the ALM ecosystem.