The Six Principles of Painless Preventive Maintenance

Aug. 5, 2008

Going green has become an important criterion for buildings and facilities. Commercial property owners and managers are responding by joining the green movement and seeking LEED certification for their properties. One critical step of this process is putting an effective preventive maintenance (PM) program in place. As an added benefit, an effective PM program is critical to preserving and enhancing the value and cash flow of properties. The actual performance of maintenance activities and the accurate tracking of asset history, however, often remain mysterious and inaccessible as competing priorities take precedence.

Due in large part to the environmental movement, owners and managers have new incentives to put more efficient practices in place. Green buildings not only minimize environmental impact for future generations, but they also have been demonstrated to lower operating costs, boost rental rates, increase sales values, and even improve occupancy rates, according to studies by the White Salmon, WA-based New Buildings Institute and CoStar Group, Bethesda, MD.

While new construction can incorporate energy efficiency and other green criteria into a building's design (sometimes at only a small cost premium), retrofitting an existing building or facility, which has pre-existing systems and practices, to meet certification is a potentially disruptive and costly challenge. That's why the first step toward green certification for existing buildings is maintenance and operations, not necessarily renovations and retrofits.

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EB O&M) program promotes sustainable building operations through energy and water efficiency, waste and recycling, green cleaning and custodial protocols, and sustainable purchasing. Organizing and executing the checklist of certification items across many properties or facilities is a daunting task.

Portfolio owners may face an overwhelming volume of equipment and required maintenance activities scattered across several geographical areas being maintained by a mix of staff and outside vendors. As an example, one owner with 70 properties manages more than 100,000 pieces of equipment with overlapping annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and seasonal activities that are performed by 175 staff members plus outside vendors. An additional challenge is setting and tracking maintenance standards and guidelines across a portfolio.

A natural reaction to this situation is to put tools in place to manage the mess. If the selected tool isn't easy to set up and use, however, it may end up sitting on the shelf and gathering dust as yet another permanent item on the "to-do" list.

For commercial property owners and managers, there are six simple steps that can make a difference in implementing and continuing a maintenance program critical to preserving asset value, optimizing equipment life, increasing budgeting accuracy, and, ultimately, bringing a new level of efficiency to your organization.

Principle 1: Clear Division of Responsibilities
There are three essential roles that need to be filled, each with its own responsibilities. The division of responsibilities allows each role to view and manage activities as efficiently as possible while preserving standards and tracking activities down to the task level.

The initial division of responsibilities and its application to a specific set of assets requires some upfront planning, but by clearly defining roles and identifying maintenance standards, a systematic deployment of those standards to your specific situation becomes simple.

Principle 2: Focus on Critical Assets First
Focus primarily on equipment with a high impact on tenant satisfaction and property value as a first step. For commercial properties, this means focusing on three areas with the greatest impact:

  • Life and fire safety (keeping tenants and building occupants safe).
  • Elevators (getting tenants where they need to go).
  • HVAC (keeping building occupants comfortable).

Once a routine is established, completing your program across other areas of concern can proceed quickly.

Principle 3: Set Standards and Track Exceptions
Because priorities differ and special situations arise, be both strict and flexible at the same time by setting up standard maintenance procedures (ideally based on industry standards created by RSMeans or organizations such as BOMA Intl.). For green certification, select a standard such as the LEED-EB O&M.

Then, propagate the standards to all properties with the intention that they be customized based on specific equipment and requirements. To maintain flexibility, allow schedules to float, if necessary, so work can be distributed sensibly. Then, track exceptions to standards to monitor skipped tasks or measurements for management oversight.

Principle 4: Invite Your Vendors In
One key criterion for an effective, long-term maintenance solution is to involve your vendors and leverage their resources. By ensuring that vendors can access your system and become part of the reporting and oversight infrastructure, you can adjust skill sets and optimize cost controls while ensuring a smoothly working system. Dispatching work to vendors should be as easy as dispatching to your own staff. As an added benefit, you should be able to monitor vendor completion and quality with objective measures based on an accurate and complete history of activities.

Principle 5: Don't Tie Your Field Teams to a Desk
With low-cost, highly effective wireless options, mobile workers should have options to accept and complete paperwork online, wirelessly, or by paper, if necessary. Ideally, mobile solutions will be completely integrated into the workflow and won't require typing on small form factor devices. Reducing paper processing, with its inevitable keying errors and inefficiency, is an added green benefit.

Cutting-edge wireless enablement may be out of reach because of cost considerations. The work-order system you choose should be able to streamline your paper-based system and also give a seamless upward migration path for the time when adding a mobile solution becomes a priority.

One additional note on field adoption of a wireless solution: Make sure to evaluate the field requirements for mobile dispatching. E-mail-based dispatching is often inefficient because work orders are buried in spam or other nonessential communications. Select a system that segregates work orders into a separate priority queue. Many systems also require typing as part of a response, which is challenging for engineers who are less comfortable with complex electronic devices. Instead, select a system that minimizes or eliminates the need to type when accepting or completing work.

Principle 6: Keep it Simple
Ultimately, a successful PM program will rely on choosing a system that is easy to set up, easy to grasp and use by all parties, and easy to expand and grow as your portfolio and ambitions do. Ideally, you should select a platform that integrates with other systems and leverages your existing data.

In many respects, green maintenance is similar to traditional procedures with differences in focus rather than technique. Switching to a green paradigm requires additional training and changes in the selection of products, but is obtainable with your current resources and staff. Thankfully, motivating owners and managers to make these changes has become an easier job as environmental awareness has blossomed.

One of the biggest effects of evaluating green certification from an asset perspective is looking at a building or facility as a whole. Reducing environmental impact and promoting good practices are more a matter of little improvements adding up than of large dramatic capital projects. The role of a PM plan is to organize these efforts so that a cumulative benefit is realized, and choosing a flexible PM management system is an excellent first step.

By putting these six practices in place, an effective PM program can be a simple, low-cost start toward going green. Now is the time to begin the process of increasing efficiency, saving money, and improving value, all while reducing our impact on Mother Earth.

Derrick Chen is CEO at New York City-based Workspeed Management LLC (

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