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Tower Maintenance: the Best Investment You Can Make
While a qualified professional should perform maintenance, you can learn a lot about the condition of your tower by simple visual inspection (which is recommended to be performed every year for guyed and every three years for self-supporting structures). In my opinion you should perform a visual assessment every time you visit the site, especially in remotes areas that might be subject to attracting the attention of fun-loving locals.
I make it a habit to look at the tower from a short distance to see if everything looks in alignment. Of course the eye won't catch small variations, but once I noticed some sections of the tower looked a little crooked, which turned out to be a guy anchor that apparently was hit by a vehicle. I also recently had an experience with a guyed tower at a not-so-remote location, that happened to be owned by a city, stood next to its E911 call center and was used as a primary microwave link to its other radio sites. Someone unscrewed the turnbuckle on one side and released a level of guy wires. Fortunately it was noticed and addressed before the tower collapsed. You should also take note of the condition of the paint and/or the operation of the lighting system.
Check every visit
When I arrive at a site I usually check to see if the fence has been breached. It is very common to see openings in the fence, which usually means there is going to be -- at the very least -- some copper, transmission lines or AC compressor missing; but, it's also not unusual to find the doors open. While this isn't directly addressed in maintenance requirements, a broken ground ring will create problems (and potential safety issues) and should be repaired ASAP. You can also easily check the anchors and foundations for unusual cracking, connections to the guy wires, and rust or corrosion.
For a self-supporting tower, items that seem to get overlooked are the bolts that connect the foundation to the tower legs. These are typically bolted above and below the plate, to allow for some minor adjustments to level the tower base. Normally once the tower is built, they pack the lower bolts with concrete (between the base plate and foundation) to protect them from moisture or water pooling. I have seen many self-supporting towers with these exposed and rusting.
None of this should take the place of a proper full inspection of the tower, which includes:
■ Climbing the structure and noting (and hopefully correcting) loose bolts, documenting bent members, rust, improperly attached line and antennas, electrical connections to tower lighting, missing grounds, improperly functioning safety items or anything else unusual. They should take lots of pictures to document the problems that should be included with a comprehensive report.
■ They should use a transit to determine the vertical alignment of the tower shaft and guy wires
■ The tension of the guy wires should be measured and corrected if needed, every three years.
■ The lighting system and tower paint should be inspected annually per FAA Circular AC-70/7460-1K.
■ The integrity of a ground system should be inspected and conductivity tests performed annually. You can learn a lot about the performance and deterioration of a ground system by noting the measurements each year. Try to perform them around the same time of year. A poorly functioning ground system can cause deterioration of metals through possible galvanic or electrolytic corrosion.
A properly maintained tower can stand for more than 50 years -- that's the best return on investment you can have.
McNamara is president of Applied Wireless, Cape Coral, FL.
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