Stories & Features

Why maintaining your building's vault is just good business

Image of a dual radial vault
Dual radial vaults need a little love from time to time. WorkSafeBC requires that vaults be maintained every 42 months.

Keep 3.5-year maintenance cycle on your calendar

If you own or operate a building in Vancouver's downtown core, you're likely on the dual radial vault system. The underground vaults within most commercial downtown buildings provide access to BC Hydro's electrical grid.

These "dual" vaults are served by two separate distribution circuits, which are connected to different substations so that there's built-in system redundancy in case of a power outage. The vaults also require mandatory routine maintenance to ensure they don't present a hazard to workers.

It's in a customer's best interest to book early so they can choose a maintenance window that's at a time that's best for their business.

BC Hydro has been working with downtown Vancouver property owners and property managers to ensure all vaults that were behind on their maintenance are getting caught up.

WorkSafeBC rules require that every 42 months (3.5 years), a building owner or a representative such as a property management company have a certified high-voltage contractor de-energize the whole vault, take the equipment apart, clean the components and check them for any needed repairs. Only after that's done is power restored.

"It's important to remember that this maintenance is required every three and a half years," says Kim Grahame, who provides dual radial vault support at BC Hydro. "We encourage dual radial vault customers to book at least six months in advance because the provided maintenance windows book up quickly. It's in a customer's best interest to book early so they can choose a maintenance window that's at a time that's best for their business."

"Customers who require vault maintenance within the next 3-6 months are contacted by us directly," adds Grahame. "That includes property managers, building owners, strata managers and select office buildings in downtown Vancouver. Proactive communication and planning means maintenance with a certified high voltage contractor can take place in a way that minimizes any impact on building operations."

What to do if you've received a "non-compliance" notice

Buildings could face power disruptions if maintenance is missed

There are dedicated crews working constantly downtown (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to complete routine maintenance on BC Hydro's portion of the electrical grid and to support customer maintenance requests. Normally, when work on a particular circuit might impact a building, workers would enter that building's vault and "flip" them to the other circuit.

Switching between circuits ensures grid maintenance is accomplished with no power outage for the building and its many tenants. In most cases building owners are unaware of this seamless switching, a testament to BC Hydro's system and our goal of reliable power.

Due to the risk of arc-flash (an electrical explosion), WorkSafeBC regulations prevent crews from entering any non-compliant rated vaults to make the switch. If your vault is rated non-compliant, BC Hydro must completely shut down power to any building affected by routine grid maintenance work.

A vault typically has 12,470 volts flowing through it. If there's an arc flash or an equipment failure, it can mean real damage and significant risk to the public, employees and our workers.

Outages can vary in length, but even a short five-minute outage can cause frustration for building tenants. In today's technology driven age, businesses rely upon data servers and global enterprise connections to run core operations, so losing these can lead to operational challenges or customer service issue . In addition, if there's a power outage in a building caused by a storm or another problem such as cable fault, BC Hydro crews are not able to enter a non-compliant vault until it is de-energized. That could cause significant delays in restoring power.

"The message here is that we need you to keep up with your routine 3.5-year maintenance schedule," says Grahame. "It's a safety issue for the crews, which is why this rule has been put in place by WorkSafeBC. But it's also a way to reduce your risk of serious problems. A vault typically has 12,470 volts flowing through it. If there's an arc flash or an equipment failure, it can mean real damage and significant risk to the public, employees and our workers."

If you're non-compliant, you'll get an email from us

If you've received such a notice, it's an urgent reminder that your building is at risk of power disruptions. Notices are sent out to the local contact we have on file starting 12 months from the non-compliance date.

Customers will receive 4-6 notices in total and be given plenty of opportunity to have their vault scheduled for maintenance. To support customers in completing their routine maintenance, we arrange "maintenance windows". Building owners must arrange for a certified high-voltage contractor to complete the work during the window or risk unplanned power disruptions.

"We urge building owners, property managers, strata councils and electrical contractors to pay attention to maintenance schedules, and to bring all vaults into compliance so that we can ensure uninterrupted power service going forward. If you're unsure or worried, have a qualified electrician enter the vault safely and check the last service stickers," adds Grahame.

For more information on this type of required maintenance, or if you would like to schedule dual radial vault maintenance, please email DRV@bchydro.com. You may also find helpful information in our Dual Radial Vault Overview.