Appropriate Level of Building Maintenance

Published on Saturday, 22 February 2014 06:26:27    Written by Marc
I traveled a lot in the past years and had a chance to see a wide range of commercial, industrial, and office buildings. One of the first things that I noticed when I tour a site is the maintenance; or, more specifically the quality of the maintenance that is being performed on the site.

DSC01613If you work in large North American companies, most of the time there are maintenance people on staff, full time, doing nothing else than maintenance on the building. You can see the quality of the maintenance when you walk into a mechanical room and could eat off the floor… literally. I used to take pleasure in trying to find something broken or poorly maintained when I walked into some of the mechanical rooms, often to come out empty handed.

However, keeping buildings in perfect state does come at a cost. It means doing things that may not naturally come to other companies that do the minimum upkeep. For example, doing a thermo/infrared scan on the circuit panels to see if some circuits are heating, doing infrared scans on roofs to see if there is water infiltration, these are items that do carry a pay back in the long term but are not always done by all, some companies preferring to simply repair or replace when the item breaks (electrical circuit fries or the roof starts to leak). Most of the measures are simply preventive and some companies still prefer to keep their money than to invest in such measures. While they may be saving some money in the short term, they do risk having to pay more in the future.

Does building maintenance always have to be kept at the highest level? No, of course not. There are actually many factors that will influence the level and quality of maintenance of a building, such as:

Company policy. The company policy can establish the overall quality of how a building will be maintained and what will be done in this regard. If the company is a low cost operator and decides that only minimum maintenance should be done, this sets the tone for what type of maintenance the buildings will receive. This can be driven by what the company offers, their economic capability, or could simply a business decision.

Retention period. It is not surprising that maintenance tends to be reduced when a company knows that it will soon dispose of a building. The estimated retention period can have an impact on the overall quality of maintenance. Moreover, in all fairness, it is often difficult (if not impossible) to recuperate your investment when you sell a building. For example, if you have a warehouse and decide to replace one of the rooftops that is still working but clearly showing signs that it has about to give up, chances are you might not get much more, or even any more, for your building by replacing the unit. Same goes for most other equipment, especially the auxiliary ones that are not necessarily core to the central heating and cooling of the building since the new purchaser might not even have a need for that equipment.

Own/Lease. This one also does not come as a surprise, as companies tend to better maintain assets that they own versus those that they lease and leased sites often receive the minimum maintenance required by the lease. If you are leasing a site for only a few years, you can probably get away with doing the minimum maintenance required by your lease. Obviously, you still need to keep in mind your operations, but you might not need to do maintenance at the same quality level as you would if you owned a building and were thinking of keeping it for the next 30 some years.

Purpose (usage). The usage of the building can be a driving factor on the quality of maintenance. For example, a typical five star hotel should expect to receive better maintenance than a roadside motel because clients paying top dollars for the five star hotels expect the building to be in pristine condition. On the other side, people will generally more easily accept that the roadside motel be in fair condition, but not to the level of its expensive counterpart.

Legislation. This is a driving factor that does not always come to mind for North American or European companies since we know that the laws are in place and most companies simply incorporate their guidance in their normal operations. However, in some countries the legislation will play a significant factor on the maintenance since companies will try to meet the bare minimum requirements of the legislation, thinking that if there is a law in place, simply complying with it should make things all right.

Therefore, if a piece of equipment does not have a law attached to it, chances are it will not be taken care of. For example, if there is no requirements for when to replace fire hoses or refill fire extinguishers, chances are they will simply not receive maintenance. Unfortunately, this happens too often and the minimum requirements set by the local laws are excessively low and simply cover the immediate potential dangers for the building occupants. Because of this, it is not rare to see buildings slowly deteriorate until it reaches a point of no return, or catastrophic failures occur.

Economic situation. This factor seems to influence heavily maintenance for any given building. In good economic times, companies tend to have more money for maintenance and will spend a little more to do preventive maintenance and repair items to keep the building in good condition. However, when the economy takes a bad turn, maintenance is often one of the first things to go. Companies cut maintenance in order to save money in the short term, even if they often forget that they will probably need to spend more in the future in order to compensate, making the overall cost of maintenance in the long term a little higher. However, repeatedly, when the economic tide starts to turn, we see companies slashing the maintenance budget, delaying repairs and replacements and using temporary solutions here and there for fixing building problems.

Critical equipment, operations. Obviously, if the building equipment is critical for the company’s operations, it should be well maintained. If the company processes something like meat and the building needs to be kept at a certain temperature, cutting corners on maintaining the systems HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) systems is not a good idea since the company can risk having to shut down their entire operations. However, even if your operation is not as critical and you operate say, a large shopping center, would you really want your cooling system to break down in the middle of a hot summer day, like on a Saturday afternoon when the mall is full of shoppers? Without proper maintenance, you are at the mercy of luck and things always seem to happen at the worst of times.

Warranty period. This is a factor that many do not talk about, but it is an important one. If you have equipment under warranty, chances are the manufacture has provided requirements for minimum maintenance. Going below this requirement could void the warranty, so it is always good to understand what the manufacturer’s requirements are before deciding to skip on some maintenance tasks here.

When you can delay maintenance and when not

So, with all the factors above influencing the quality of building maintenance, when is it a good time to delay maintenance and when should proper maintenance be done? In all fairness, this is not the proper question to ask, since the answer to this would be that maintenance is always important, regardless of the period. However, if we go back to some of the factors above we can see that at times, you might not need to do maintenance with the same high level as you would normally do. For example, if you are planning to give the keys of a leased space back in a few weeks, chances are you can do standard maintenance but will not invest much to bring the equipment in pristine condition. The same applies to equipment that is targeted for imminent replacement. For example, if you are planning an energy saving project and will replace equipment in the coming weeks, chances are you could live with minimum maintenance for this equipment, to keep it running until you replace it.

The bottom line is that there is not always a right or wrong answer here. While some maintenance is dictated by external factors (legislation, warranty periods, lease requirements), most of the time it is up to the company to set its policies and determine the level of maintenance that building will receive. However, before setting standards for building components, it is always good to see what consequences a lower maintenance level could bring, not only for the short term, but also for the longer term. And remember, equipment and installations t that receives lower maintenance tend to compound problems over time and cost more in the future.