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high cost of deferred maintenance

The High Cost of Deferred Maintenance–And How to Avoid It  

Why Preventative Maintenance Starts in the Construction Phase

We have all come to that familiar procrastination crossroads at some point in our life. What’s the harm in waiting another hour or day? What’s one more month really going to do? Before you know it, a simple task has turned into a burden in your mind–and possibly much more.

In the whirlwind of designing, building and handing off a project, construction stakeholders and workers often forget a critical point: the construction process is not the main stage in any building’s life cycle. In fact, it represents only a small blip in time compared to the tenure for which that building will serve its human occupants. Even everyday buildings last for decades or centuries; if we look to antiquity, we can easily find proof that a well-built structure can last millennia.

Despite proof that good construction and a healthy maintenance plan can keep buildings sound for years, many facilities owners and teams turn a blind eye to stewarding their structures. Unfortunately, most of them have come to a point where they’re forced to choose between updating a system or component and respecting the needs of a budget that seems particularly thin that quarter or year.

The problem is, in any facility, you have things that need to be fixed or updated on a routine basis. Indeed, there can be great harm in waiting, and it can be much harder to fix the problem come next year. That’s why it’s so important to understand the cost of deferred maintenance–and how to avoid it.

The Cost of Deferred Maintenance

According to research collated by CHT Healthcare, Buildings.com reports that “On average, if you defer maintenance, you can expect future expenses to be equal to or greater than the cost of the part squared or 15 times the total repair cost.” That can mean serious money over time in a state-of-the-art facility.

Moreover, “Every $1 deferred in maintenance costs $4 of capital renewal needs in the future” and “Less preventive maintenance on systems shortens their life cycle by as much as one-third.”

And that’s only dollars and cents, to say nothing of healthcare concerns. When you put off servicing HVAC systems, for instance, you significantly compromise air quality. There’s frequently no hint that air has become poor, full of allergens or toxins, other than the ailing health of workers. Even then, the results may quietly build up over time, only to result in illness or disease later on–with no discernible cause to the patient.

For these reasons and many more, deferring maintenance is unacceptable. If we want to save money and keep our buildings and people healthy, there’s only one thing to do: understand the root causes of deferred maintenance and work to avoid it at all cost.

What Is Deferred Maintenance?

By definition, “Deferred maintenance is the postponement of buildings and equipment upkeep from an entity’s normal operating budget cycle due to a lack of funds,” explains the University of Illinois Facilities & Services. Unfortunately, while there are understandable reasons for pushing back maintenance–lack of funding, no apparent need to maintain structures at the moment–this can lead to a snowball effect.

“Lack of funding for routine maintenance can cause neglect, allowing minor repair work to evolve into more serious conditions,” says the university. “The failure to take care of major repairs and/or restore building components that have reached the end of their useful lives results in a deferred maintenance backlog.”

The high cost of deferred maintenance on your facility, overall, means a shorter life cycle of your entire facility, which makes it confusing that owners and teams put off maintenance for so long, in so many cases and different types of buildings, across the nation and globe. So, why do they do it?

Why Building Maintenance Is Often Deferred

The main reason for deferring maintenance, as explained above, is cost. Not the costs that will be incurred due to putting it off, but rather the money required to maintain and operate a building at the intervals it requires.


“According to the BOMA data, repair and maintenance account for about 15% of total expenses,” says commercial real estate team Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). “Although the report does not distinguish between repairs and maintenance, estimates suggest that preventive maintenance may account for between 30% and 50% of repair and maintenance costs, or from 4.5-7.5% of annual operating costs. Although not an overwhelming number, this is a significant amount. Can it be justified?”

A secondary issue is that good maintenance routines are not always so easy to achieve. Teams might not have the right access to and information on systems they are repairing, which can make it easier just to avoid the situation entirely. Also, timeliness is an issue. Even if the money and access are there, they might feel swamped, like they already have too much to do. If people don’t understand the high cost of deferred maintenance, this kind of thinking is likelier to hold sway.

But, says JLL, maintenance is worth it. In their article, they go on to run an analysis of three different maintenance scenarios, eventually concluding that “The results of the analysis … were overwhelmingly positive for performing preventive maintenance. The analysis shows that an investment in PM not only pays for itself but also produces a huge return on the investment.”

It is, therefore, critical that teams start prioritizing good maintenance from the very beginning, even before the building handoff.

Good Maintenance Starts in the Construction Phase

To limit the high cost of deferred maintenance, and start prioritizing preventive maintenance instead, involves setting up processes and collecting construction data earlier. Project data should be considered similar to a living, breathing system. It’s critical to start tracking it from design onward, all the way through to operations.

Start Collecting Data in Construction

Just like any object in this world, the present state of any building is just a bit different than its past and future. A building constantly changes, in fact. After construction closes, it’s essential that contractors provide owners and operations team access to the full set of project plans and documents. Having access to all the changes, big and small, throughout construction is key to being proactive about maintenance later down the road.

With more access to data and plans, maintenance teams can quickly locate more information on a utility or room and be able to solve problems faster and more effectively. This isn’t just a feel-good idea, either.

As we’ve talked about before, “71% of owners reported that retaining more data during design, construction and closeout would reduce or significantly reduce lifecycle operations costs.”

Use Software That Simplifies As-Builts and Project Handoffs

The good news is, this isn’t as hard to achieve as you might think. Sure, designs don’t always translate seamlessly to reality. It’s not the fault of any given contractor or worker that something is different in physical form than it was on paper. What’s needed is a way to track those changes so that operations and maintenance teams have access to the real, living, breathing form the building eventually takes.

Luckily, certain technology platforms can provide rich and visual data, which is extremely useful for preventative maintenance. As-builts, for instance, are vital to understanding the building’s current state of being. With PlanGrid BIM, contractors have an easy job handing over as-builts to owners. These include “all asset details and 3D views pinned to their location on the drawings. In turn, facility teams have fast access to information during repairs and renovations.” They can also plan ahead with “manufacturing and dimensional data before even getting to the site, helping them save time when preparing to solve an issue.”

The result: happier operations and maintenance teams, more satisfied owners, and contractors with better names and reputations.

Defer No More: Make a Smart Maintenance Plan Today

The cost of deferred maintenance is high, no matter how you look at it. Waiting for components or buildings to prove their antiquity and inefficacy will always be more expensive than getting out in front of things and keeping everything up to date. So why wait? Save yourself and your business money, and implement a smart maintenance plan today, starting in construction.

Further Reading:  6 Common Causes of Cost Overruns in Construction Projects

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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