What is maintenance?

This Issue This is a part of the Maintenance feature

By - , Build 160

Once the owner gets the keys to a new building, whether a home or a commercial property, it’s not the end of the story. Ongoing maintenance is necessary to keep it in good repair and compliant.

Maintenance ranges from ensuring gutters are clear to a complete gutter replacement.
Maintenance ranges from ensuring gutters are clear to a complete gutter replacement.
Maintenance should be considered at the design stage to save costs.
Steel column and sealant joint showing obvious deterioration because of poor maintenance.

DEFINITIONS OF MAINTENANCE share common themes. One is the combination of technical and management actions needed to keep an asset at or bring it up to a suitable standard whereby it can perform its intended function at optimal efficiency.

Unfortunately, maintenance is a concept that is not well embraced by many New Zealand residential and commercial building owners. Studies such as the BRANZ House Condition Survey have shown that many of our dwellings, especially if rented, are not as well maintained as they could be.

Maintenance specific to each building

Buildings begin to age the moment they are completed, and from then, they require maintenance as they deteriorate over time. The degree to which maintenance impacts the service life of building assets depends on their durability and the conditions they are exposed to as well as the quality of the maintenance carried out.

The amount of maintenance required varies according to the:

  • building owner’s approach to maintenance
  • design and construction complexity
  • construction materials used
  • warranty conditions for the installed product/system
  • statutory or essential services requirements
  • finishes specified
  • construction and detailing quality
  • environmental conditions
  • activities carried out within and around the building
  • behaviour of the building occupants
  • the ease with which maintenance can be carried out
  • the commissioning processes carried out.

Start with the right design

Design and construction quality can have a significant impact on the life expectancy of a building’s materials and components as well as on the maintenance and renewal requirements.

Building maintenance can’t be ignored. However, it is often the least likely factor to be considered during design. Once a building is finished, the maintenance process should begin, and it continues until the structure is removed.

This approach is supported by several published papers that report issues such as:

  • where maintenance is not considered as part of the design process:
    • the servicing, upgrading and maintenance of the building is more difficult
    • there can be issues around poor building performance
  • maintenance problems in buildings are often created due to the design of the building
  • the performance of buildings is largely dependent on the quality of their design. A Building Research Establishment (BRE) survey in England of building failure patterns and their implications by Seeley in 1986 found that 58% of the defects originated from faulty design.

Compounding the issue are:

  • a lack of awareness of maintenance information by building owners
  • new building owners and developers not taking planning for maintenance seriously at the beginning of the design, material specification and construction process.
Maintenance should be considered at the design stage to save costs.

Barriers to designing for maintenance

Currently, maintenance is not considered an integral part of design by many developers, owners or designers. There are several barriers that need to be overcome to change this:

  • Owner’s perception that many materials and finishes are maintenance free.
  • A lack of understanding of the maintenance requirements.
  • A ‘build it now and fix it later’ attitude rather than one of anticipating future trends and drivers affecting the energy performance of buildings.
  • No involvement of facilities managers in the design process for commercial buildings.
  • Perception that it is a cost without benefits.

Building developers, owners and designers need to be more aware of the implications of design and cost decisions on building maintenance.

Making maintenance easier

At the design stage, maintenance can be made easier where these elements are considered:

  • The design is kept simple – complexity typically increases maintenance difficulty.
  • Access is provided for maintenance.
  • Mechanical plantrooms are laid out with sufficient space to allow maintenance, inspection, repair/replacement and access into the space.
  • Crevices, surfaces or areas that are prone to trapping or holding debris, dust and moisture are avoided.
  • Materials and finishes are standardised.
  • Materials and finishes are selected for their long-term durability and lowest maintenance and not necessarily their lowest cost.
  • Materials that are durable without any additional surface treatment such as copper, high-strength concrete or prefinished or factory finished are specified. These materials generally have a longer interval to first maintenance than site-finished materials or components.
  • Site-painted finishes are only used in accessible areas.
  • Surface finishes are smooth or glossy as they tend to stay cleaner and are easier to clean.
  • Sealants used as a primary weather barrier are avoided.

Maintenance approaches

There are several classifications for maintenance activity:

  • Condition-based or preventive maintenance is carried out according to the need identified by regular inspection or monitoring of the actual condition of building elements and services.
  • Predictive maintenance (PdM) is a type of condition-based maintenance where a maintenance plan is based on the ability to detect a potential failure and have the maintenance carried out before failure occurs.
  • Cyclical or time-based maintenance systems are based on a rigid pattern where the maintenance schedules are preset in advance.
  • Response-based maintenance, which is generally based on complaints or failure, can lead to a maintenance system.

While these have a commercial building focus, they can be applied to all building types.

Steel column and sealant joint showing obvious deterioration because of poor maintenance.

Annual checks for houses

For residential buildings, a simpler approach to planning maintenance can incorporate yearly inspections to check the condition of the inside and outside of the dwelling. Observe the condition of:

  • roofs and spouting
  • walls – including doors and windows
  • decks and balconies and particularly roof decks and deck/wall or balcony/wall connections
  • foundations and subfloor spaces
  • services – including plumbing and drainage, electrical, hot water services, heating systems, septic tank and aerated water treatment systems
  • interior, particularly in roof spaces and attics and around wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundries
  • outdoor areas.

There should be a plan to address items for which known maintenance will be required or has been identified during the inspection such as cleaning gutters or painting weatherboards or other cladding.

For new residential builds, it is a mandatory requirement that the builder gives the owner information on the maintenance requirements for the completed building. You can use BRANZ Maintenance Schedules, an online tool, to develop a property-specific maintenance schedule (see page 58 for more information).

Consequences if not maintained

Where owners are unaware of maintenance requirements or where maintenance is ignored, the consequences may be:

  • deterioration, which, while slow and not that obvious to the owner initially, may accelerate over time
  • non-compliance with the Building Code performance requirements such as weathertightness failure and consequential damage
  • the cost of finally attending to the problems will be greater
  • failure of a critical component such as a floor heating system, sewage pump, boiler, water pump or fan, which could affect the functioning of the building.

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Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

Maintenance ranges from ensuring gutters are clear to a complete gutter replacement.
Maintenance ranges from ensuring gutters are clear to a complete gutter replacement.
Maintenance should be considered at the design stage to save costs.
Steel column and sealant joint showing obvious deterioration because of poor maintenance.