Maintenance is necessary even when building systems are designed and installed properly, since components have a limited service life. Also consider that some parts wear down faster due to their function; for instance, the bearings of a motor operating 24/7 can be expected to last much less than the wiring of LED luminaires.
Maintenance planning has many similarities with project planning. Just like a project can go over its budget with poor planning, maintenance can become much more expensive.
Both cases involve managing a technical staff that can offer a limited number of man-hours per day.
The purchase of materials and tools must be scheduled in advance to avoid delays.
Maintenance tasks must have minimal interference with other activities in the building, just like project activities must be planned to avoid conflict between subcontractors.
The scope of work must be clearly defined in both cases.
A common mistake is to use reactive maintenance, where the technical staff is always on standby to fix issues. However, this is not the best way to use a maintenance budget, since prevention has a lower cost than reparation. Reactive maintenance is also risky, since an important building system can malfunction when it is needed most - a boiler breakdown is the last thing a building owner would want on a cold winter day!
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Finding the Best Time for Building System Maintenance
Ideally, building systems should be inspected and serviced before the time of the year when they are needed most. Air conditioning systems should be in optimal working conditions when summer arrives, and space heating systems must be ready for the winter. A chiller malfunction in the middle of the summer is a serious problem, and the same can be said of a boiler malfunction while the outdoor temperature is below zero.
Even when building systems have been working properly, periodic inspections are necessary to prevent breakdowns. Equipment can fail suddenly and without warning in some cases, but most performance issues show warning signs. The fastest and cheapest way to fix a maintenance problem is not letting it happen in the first place.
How Reactive Maintenance Wastes Time and Money
Waiting for problems to happen before fixing them is very expensive and inefficient. As a result, reactive maintenance consumes more resources than preventive maintenance.
Preventive maintenance can be scheduled within working hours, while reactive maintenance often involves overtime. For this simple reason, reactive maintenance has much higher labor costs.
With preventive maintenance, technicians know exactly which tools and materials must be available. On the other hand, reactive maintenance involves emergency purchases and rushing to the hardware store. Traffic may be an issue, and providers may have run out of certain supplies.
Preventive maintenance can be scheduled during hours when its impact on building operation is minimal, while reactive maintenance cannot be scheduled.
Switching from Reactive to Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance saves time and money in the long run, but it requires a time commitment to plan activities and define their scope. As a result, preventive maintenance often seems more complex at first, and there may be some resistance from staff members. However, the time invested in planning and scheduling is a small price to pay for the resources saved when problems are fixed before they occur.
When implementing a preventive maintenance program, it is also important to make sure that team members are familiarized with the documentation used.
Maintenance activities are normally assigned with work orders, and reports are also needed to keep track of the work completed and plan further activities.
Reactive maintenance is still needed occasionally, but emergencies become much less frequent. The target of building managers should be to maximize the percentage of time spent by maintenance personnel on prevention, and minimize the time spent on emergency reparations.
In large facilities with plenty of maintenance personnel, having a full-time maintenance planner is recommended. In smaller properties with a reduced staff, maintenance planning can become a task assigned to a team member instead of having a dedicated job position.
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