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Preventive Maintenance (Part 1)

The term “Preventive Maintenance” suggests establishing a program after the installation of an operable wall and custom designed to maintain it in good working order so as to avoid needless and expensive repairs in the future. But the absolute best operable wall preventive maintenance program actually begins at the product selection stage and not after you have the product installed and up & running. Most times operable wall systems are chosen based on price, acoustics, ease of movement or aesthetics. Very little consideration is given to how easy or costly it will be to keep this very expensive system in proper working condition for years to come. The buyer (and specifier) should choose a “user friendly” designed product rather than one that “looks” pretty or has the latest “gimmicks” that primarily benefit the manufacturer rather than the consumer and in the long term you will be much more pleased. Read the product warranty before you buy and see what it covers. In particular note what you have to do to keep the warranty valid. Look for “get out of jail free” terms like “limited” or similar words.

An operable wall consists of three main elements each of which have their own maintenance considerations: Panel skins, Track & trolley system & Panel acoustical seals.

Panel skins; the panel skins (surface as well as substrate) are more susceptible to damage than any other system component.

Choose :

  • Hard steel skin rather than softer gypsum to minimize impact damage.
  • Manufacturer’s standard range of covering materials rather than a special finish in order to ensure future material availability when recovering or repair is needed.
  • Removable & repairable/replaceable skins rather than ones that are permanently attached to panel frame which typically require a new panel when damage occurs.
  • Conventional width panels (maximum of 48”) rather than unique or special widths. Unique widths lock you into one supplier. Difficult to find special width recovering materials.
  • Protective edge trim rather than a non protective design (Trimless). Protects & preserves most vulnerable part of a panel (the edge) preventing tearing and peeling.
  • Protective edge trim provides a place to hold panel when moving reducing stains and marks on panel surface.
  • Track & trolley system (suspension); if the track system ceases to operate then the “operable” wall system becomes an “inoperable” wall system.

Choose :

  • Extruded track (aluminum) rather than roll formed (steel) to minimize wear on trolleys from uneven track joint condition.
  • Aluminum track: Appearance is consistent. Steel track will inevitably rust even if primed.
  • Anodized aluminum track rather than painted aluminum or steel to minimize need to paint or touch up. For the most part aluminum rarely needs lubricating. Steel needs greasing on a regular basis.
  • Track system that can be easily leveled due to building movement. Accessible hangar rods to tighten nuts.
  • Trolleys that are easily adjusted in field due to loosening. Ensure that trolleys have a secure and reliable locking system.
  • A trolley system with vertical or horizontal drive wheels rather than a sliding disc design.
  • Trolleys that are self lubricating.

Acoustical Seals: Where most of the “gimmicks” and “unique” designs” are found.

Choose :

  • Use a time proven established system. There are many “different” types of panel seals being offered most of which cause more problems and costs than benefits to the user. There are pneumatic seals, all types of lever operated seals – both top and bottom, automatic seals with various operating clearances and throws, automatic top seals, gas operated automatic base seals, cable operated seals, fixed sweeps both top and bottom, floating seals, field adjustable seals etc. There is even one out there now that has an “automatic’ seal on the top which can be used with a lever operated seal on the bottom: they do not work together. Avoid crazy systems to avoid problems.
  • Top seal: should be a fixed sweep or a mechanical seal that operates in conjunction with the base seal. Never just an automatic top or any top and bottom system working independently.
  • Base seal: an automatic seal with maximum 2” operating clearance. A lever operated mechanical seal that uses a fixed top sweep or a mechanical top seal that works in sequence with the base seal.

The best way to “prevent” unnecessary maintenance & repairs is to “Look before you buy”

  • Select a product from an established, experienced company with a proven history of performance.
  • Read the warranty. Look for weasel clauses.
  • Ensure that after purchase the product operation is demonstrated to the General Contractor and the owner.
  • Read the manufacturer provided operation and maintenance manuals & view the operational video.
  • Designate trained personnel to operate and maintain the system.
  • Contact your local distributor/installer and sign a semi annual maintenance agreement.
  • Join the Operable Wall Industry Group on LinkedIn to get answers, share ideas and learn more about your product regardless of manufacturer.

In summary – think before you buy. Think – “What am I buying and what will it cost me to maintain?”