MRO Magazine

Look Way Up: Heroes behind the scene at the CN Tower


February 14, 2010
By PEM Magazine

Defining the Toronto skyline at 553.33 metres (1,815 feet, five inches), the CN Tower is the world’s tallest tower, having held the record for over three decades. It’s also one of Canada’s most recognizable and celebrated icons. The CN Tower is an internationally renowned architectural triumph, an engineering wonder, world-class entertainment and dining destination and a must see for anyone visiting Toronto.

And its maintenance team has been awarded this year’s PEM 2009 Maintenance Award.

Our look behind the scenes of maintenance at the CN Tower

• Pg. 1: Introducing this year’s winner — the CN Tower team
• Pg. 2: Green energy: How they’ve reduced the tower’s energy footprint
• Pg. 3: Zero breakdowns: The tower’s PM and PdM procedures in place
• Pg. 4: Brighter is better: Lighting upgrades that save money

Each year, over 1.5 million people visit the CN Tower and take in spectacular views of up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) away from three observation levels. This includes the world-famous glass floor with a view of 342 metres (1,122 feet) straight down to the ground and the Sky Pod, at 447 metres (1,465 feet), the highest of them all.


Three CN Tower restaurants satisfy every appetite: award-winning fine dining at 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower, upscale bistro dining at Horizons Restaurant and casual fare at the Far Coast Café. Attractions include The Height of Excellence (a film documenting the historic construction of the CN Tower), the Himalamazon motion theatre ride, arcade and souvenir shopping in the gift shop.

The CN Tower hosts more than 500 functions each year from receptions and dinners to product launches and theme events for up to 2,000 people. At the base of the CN Tower, green spaces have been created as a tribute to Canada’s "Communities in Bloom." Each night, there’s also the spectacular architectural illumination of the CN Tower beginning at dusk featuring a top of the hour light show.

AndrĂ© Saker, director of facilities and engineering (with PEM award) and the CN Tower team, which has dramatically reduced energy costs. CLICK TO EXPAND

What the general public doesn’t readily see, however, is the innovative and dedicated work of the CN Tower’s facilities and engineering team. The total team consists of 15 staff, including five electro-mechanic automation technicians, three maintenance mechanics, and a painter and carpenter. Each individual brings a unique and specific skill set to the job. The team understands that their customer includes all departments at the CN Tower; teamwork is encouraged and customer service is a priority.

"Our team is engaged to perform well and exceed expectations. Each person understands the importance of excellent customer service. Everyone also knows their work impacts the CN Tower and the overall visitor experience," says Andre Saker, P.Eng., CPMM, director, facilities and engineering. "The team is achievement oriented and we provide training and goal setting. This makes everyone feel like they’re an important part of our department’s success. Teamwork is a necessity within our department, which reflects on our overall performance.

"Employees are continually challenged and rewarded. And we ensure that we recruit people who enjoy being challenged. Team members are assigned a designated area that contains specialized equipment, which they take ownership over and maintain at a superior level. The assigned areas are identified within their yearly performance objectives. We also have an employee recognition program (High-5 and Sky Scraper) that recognizes team and individual performance that goes above and beyond."

Clean and organized shop and tool room make repairs easier.

Green energy
The CN Tower has an active environmental committee, chaired by Anthony Sergas, manager of engineering services, that’s dedicated to waste reduction and energy conservation. As a result, the CN Tower has achieved many outstanding accomplishments, including BOMA BESt Certification (citing energy and environmental performance of existing buildings) that’s based on accurate, independently verified information, hydro reduction, water conservation and waste diversion.

For example, the CN Tower has implemented various projects to reduce electrical power consumption. These include T8 upgrades, removal and installation of compact fluorescents and turning off unnecessary lighting. The CN Tower’s most important lighting project has been the installation of an exterior LED system. By completing these projects, the CN Tower saves over 52,000 KWH per month. This equates to $60,000 per year in hydro savings from lighting projects alone.

"In 2007, the CN Tower installed a new $2.5-million programmable, energy efficient and cost-effective LED system. It presents a more vibrant CN Tower, while using less energy than former conventional lighting systems," says Sergas. "With the new lighting system, the CN Tower exterior lighting now uses over 60 percent less energy than fully lit using conventional fixtures during the 1990s.

"Each LED fixture uses less than 20 percent of the energy required to light a comparable conventional colour-changing lighting fixture. The CN Tower’s exterior lighting system uses directional lighting, which is precisely directed and thereby avoids light pollution. With low maintenance and an expected life cycle of over 10 years, the new system will require less frequent replacement and disposal of light bulbs. LEDs also radiate little to no heat and don’t emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation or (IR) infrared."

Repairs being conducted in the CN Tower’s revolving restaurant, which offers fine dining to the general public.

Since 2006, the CN Tower has reduced its annual consumption of water by 4.5 million gallons. This has been accomplished through the installation of energy efficient water fixtures and reducing water use where possible. This equates to more than $30,000 in yearly water costs. The savings per year are equivalent to approximately 7.5 Olympic-size swimming pools.

According to Sergas, other energy and resource conservation efforts include: night time setbacks and air-handling unit shutdowns managed through an updated building automation system (BAS) where an additional $25,000 per year in hydro cost savings have been achieved; replacing internal incandescent lighting fixtures with energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs; and installing low-flush toilets and low-flow taps, reducing water consumption.

"The CN Tower has designed, built and implemented recycling systems internally and externally, which have diverted 61 percent of waste from landfill sites (50 percent is considered a benchmark for the industry)," says Sergas. "In terms of building materials, the CN Tower uses environmental best practices when planning upgrades, improvements and innovations.

"The CN Tower is proud of its efforts to deliver an excellent experience within a framework which considers the environment, promotes sustainable best practices in our business operations and complies with appropriate environmental legislation. And the facilities and engineering team plays an important part of the CN Tower’s efforts to promote sustainable best practices. Everyone is strongly involved in our environmental committee. We’re in contact with our waste management company on an ongoing basis to retrieve stats about the amount of waste that’s recycled, energy conserved and water reduced within the CN Tower. The team monitors and documents results and items are reviewed quarterly. We’re always thinking of ways to conserve energy and improve on recycling within the building."

Regular preventive maintenance checks.

Zero breakdowns
The CN Tower has many critical systems that must not fail. For this reason, the facilities and engineering team achieves zero-breakdown performance. This is accomplished through the use of engineering initiatives and preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM). A web-based computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system coordinates all maintenance schedules and tasks. As well, 100 percent completion on PM tasks is achieved monthly.

"The CN Tower is a technological leader and it’s a priority to maintain this facility as efficiently as possible. Many of the systems at the CN Tower must be 100 percent operational at all times to ensure efficiency. We created PM and PdM tasks by using total productive maintenance (TPM) principles," says the CN Tower’s Saker. "On all life and safety systems, 100 percent redundancy has been implemented in case of equipment failure. The CMMS system also links intensive PM activities to all critical systems throughout the CN Tower.

"With each task, extensive detailed standard operating and instructional procedures have been written to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Team members also understand the importance of following procedures. During work tasks, the team is empowered to suggest improvement changes or recommendations, which more often than not, are subsequently implemented. As a proactive quality control measure, the maintenance supervisor ensures that all PM tasks are completed as per instructional procedures. On critical systems at the CN Tower, team members perform quality checks that our procedures require."

The CN Tower has automated and critical systems that must not fail. Monitoring software plays a key role for maintainers.

The CN Tower has also implemented two key engineering upgrades: the pumping automation control system and the turntable monitoring station. "At the CN Tower, there are many critical systems that can’t fail," says CN Tower’s Sergas. "As a result, automated performance-monitoring systems have been designed and programmed specifically for and installed by our staff.

"Prior to installation of the performance-monitoring systems, there were times when we had to complete multiple daily checks to ensure that systems didn’t fail. With the installation of the performance-monitoring systems, automated alarms and back-up systems can occur 24 hours per day. This not only protects the CN Tower infrastructure, but allows us to extend equipment life by properly being able to predict failures."

What does winning the PEM 2009 Maintenance Award mean to the CN Tower? According to chief operating officer Jack Robinson, it’s about achieving and acknowledging excellence. It also represents industry recognition for the solid efforts put forth by the CN Tower’s facilities and engineering team: "The CN Tower is extremely honoured to have earned the PEM Maintenance Award and proud of the professional recognition it represents. It acknowledges the extraordinary efforts of our facilities and engineering team, and as an engineering wonder of the modern world, recognizes the ongoing high standards at the CN Tower. Facilities and engineering teams are often the heroes behind the scene of any successful operation. Our team at the CN Tower is a highly skilled and extremely dedicated group of individuals. We can all celebrate this great achievement."

Brighter is better
The CN Tower’s new exterior lighting is the latest upgrade in its ongoing proactive implementation of leading-edge systems and technologies to ensure the efficient operation of the building.

For almost a decade, the CN Tower has maintained minimal exterior lighting (appearing dimly lit in the night time skyline), while searching for advances in technology that would present an energy efficient solution.

The CN Tower implemented a Color Kinetics lighting system that merges patented Chromacore technology with microprocessor-controlled, light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The first major breakthrough in the lighting industry in over 100 years, Chromacore has enabled an entirely new kind of lighting (intelligent LED illumination), which is recognized by designers and industry experts as a revolutionary invention, both technically and aesthetically.

As the world’s tallest tower, the CN Tower can also be considered the world’s tallest architectural LED lighting installation. The very same LED fixtures illuminate other high-profile landmarks around the world, including the London Eye in the UK, the Hollywood Bowl (Los Angeles, CA) and the LAX Gateway at Los Angeles International Airport.

CN Tower lighting schedule
Each night beginning at sunset, the CN Tower features programmed lighting to celebrate the architectural integrity of the structure. In doing so, the CN Tower has installed an intelligent LED illumination system that’s energy efficient, cost effective and provides a number of added unique benefits:

Lower power consumption
Using conventional incandescent fixtures, it would be extremely difficult to replicate the lighting effects provided by the new LED technology. And if it were possible, the energy consumption, maintenance and labour of the conventional system would be energy and cost prohibitive. Each LED fixture uses less than 20 percent of the energy required to light a comparable conventional colour-changing lighting fixture. While some of the former conventional fixtures that were used previously to light the CN Tower were each as large as a washing machine—the new LED fixtures are no larger than a shoebox.

Millions of colours and infinite effects
Microprocessor-controlled, each fixture can produce 16.7 million colours. Intelligent digital control makes the system programmable from a single computer console. Each fixture has a unique "address" that can be programmed individually to create an infinite variety of lighting effects.

Directional lighting
Unlike conventional light sources, one of the unique benefits of LEDs is that they’re directional; light output can be controlled and precisely directed. Therefore, the resulting lighting will illuminate the CN Tower, while ensuring light output doesn’t "spill" or interfere with nearby hotels, office towers or residences.

Low maintenance
The LED technology installed at the CN Tower is designed to achieve excellent performance standards. With its intended use, the system is expected to last in excess of 10 years, requiring minimal fixture replacement and maintenance. Unlike conventional lighting systems, the new system doesn’t require frequent replacement and disposal of light bulbs.

Due to the uniqueness of the CN Tower structure, the sheer size and accessibility of certain locations posed a number of design challenges that had to be overcome. Over a period of three months, all conventional fixtures that were formerly used on the CN Tower structure, including giant xenon lighting fixtures atop the building’s main Sky Pod roof and at the base, were decommissioned and replaced with 1,330 LED fixtures.

The fixtures were installed and positioned directionally. The most challenging aspect involved the installation of 768 fixtures throughout the CN Tower’s three main elevator shafts. Considered one of the longest elevator hoist ways in the world at 342 metres (1,122 feet) tall, installation involved riding atop each elevator on a work platform to complete the installation in that area.

Elevator ride
The CN Tower’s facilities and engineering team has led the way with impressive in-house upgrades, which includes the introduction of North America’s first and the world’s highest glass-fronted elevators with new glass-floor panels. The new elevators now offer a thrilling perspective on the CN Tower’s view—346 metres (1,136 feet) straight down through two glass panels in a portion of the elevator floor. These two combined panels represent almost 0.6 square metres (six square feet of the total 3.65 square-metre (39.25 square-foot) elevator floor space).

"The glass-fronted elevators that rocket guests to the top of the CN Tower in 58 seconds at a speed of 22 kilometres/15 miles per hour are an exciting part of the CN Tower experience," says CN Tower’s Saker. "Each panel consists of 3.81-centimetre (11/2-inch) thick special load-bearing glass that has been tempered for hardness and laminated together. Then there is a layer of special privacy glass. You then have 1.27 centimetres (1/2-inch) structural glass that’s designed to protect the privacy glass from exposure to dirt and wind below. The uppermost surface is a replaceable film that can be changed out to always provide the clearest view.

"Another unique feature of the glass panels is their ability to instantly change from clear to frosted white. Sandwiched between the two layers of glass, is a 0.8-centimetre (5/16-inch) layer of innovative liquid crystal privacy glass. This layer of glass is programmed to frost when the elevator isn’t in motion at the top or bottom, and instantly clears during ascent or descent. In its natural state, nanospere particles in this glass layer cause it to appear frosted. During ascent or descent, a small electrical charge safely applied to this mid-layer diffuses the particles making the glass appear clear."

Future trends
In terms of future trends that will impact buildings and related maintenance, Saker says the need for apprentices and changing infrastructure will impact the industry. "We currently have registered apprentices and we’ve been involved in an apprenticeship program," he says. "We’re also involved in co-op programs at both the college and high school level and have signed up and registered several apprentices.

"Buildings and utilities and the environment are changing. It requires us to initiate sustainable, conserving programs that will be good for years to come. The use of technology is also changing and experiencing tremendous growth. We have to implement new technology, while maintaining the integrity of the building [CN Tower]."

Fun facts
• Builders, owners and managers: Canadian National Railways built the CN Tower in 1976. In 1995, the CN Tower became a public company and continues to be federally owned and managed by Canada Lands Company (CLC) Limited, a Crown corporation;

• Height: At 553.33 metres (1,815 feet, five inches), it’s the world’s tallest tower;

• Height of observation levels:
Glass floor: 342 metres (1,122 feet)
Lookout level: 346 metres (1,136 feet)
Sky Pod: 447 metres (1,465 feet)
360 Restaurant: 351 metres (1,151 feet);

• Cost to build:  $63 million;

• Construction time:  Approximately 40 months;

• Construction start: February 6, 1973;

• Completion date: The tower was completed on February 22, 1974, and the antenna was completed on April 2, 1975. Open to the public: June 26, 1976;

• Workers: 1,537 courageous workers toiled around the clock, five days a week, 24 hours a day to build the CN Tower;

• Annual visitors: Over 1.5 million visitors;

• CN Tower staff: 400 (full and part time), over 500 in peak tourist season;

• Time for the 360 Restaurant to revolve once: 72 minutes; and

• Broadcasting facilities: Provides transmission for UHF, VHF television, FM radio, microwave transmissions, fixed-mobile systems.

• Recent Special Awards


  • BOMA BESt Level 1 National Green Building Certification (Building Owners and Managers Association);
  • Best Tourist Attraction (City Parent magazine readers); and
  • Canada’s Most Visited Tourist Attractions (Forbes Traveler).


  • Award of Excellence-Environment: This award recognizes excellence in environmental and/or socio-cultural sustainability (World Federation of Great Towers).

Robert Robertson is PEM editor. You can reach him by email: