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Deferred Maintenance: Costly, Risky, and Common

Deferring maintenance and repairs may appear to save corporations and organizations money in the short term, but the long-term costs are significant and disruptive, even resulting in complete shutdowns of facilities. 

Strategic Space Planning teams need to know the risks and consequences associated with delaying building repairs, and that starts with understanding the basics of deferred maintenance. 

How costly is it? In a recent Higher Ed Facilities Forum article, the University of Missouri announced that they’re reducing their campus size by one million square feet due to an $881 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. That price tag was part of the university’s motivation to shrink its footprint. 


The University of Missouri announced that they’re reducing their campus size by one million square feet due to a $881 billion blacklog in deferred maintenance.

HIGHER ED FACILITIES FORUM

WHAT IS DEFERRED MAINTENANCE?


Deferred maintenance can be described as the postponement of building maintenance and repairs from an organization’s normal operating budget cycle in order to save money. Although deferring maintenance may seem like a feasible cost-saving practice, months and even years of neglecting building repairs can result in significantly greater costs and damage in the long term. Additionally, the collective cost of maintaining facilities greatly impacts an organization’s overall budget, especially as the building ages. To make this even more complicated, Facilities.Net reports that many budgets for new construction rarely include the ongoing costs for maintenance. 


HOW DOES DEFERRED MAINTENANCE OCCUR?


One of the main reasons for deferring building maintenance is inadequate funding. Facilities managers may not be aware of all the duties and money that are required to properly maintain building assets. Additionally, they may not take into account the expenses of deferred maintenance when creating budgets. Another cause of deferred maintenance is insufficient staffing. When understaffed, there aren’t enough technicians to address every maintenance issue that emerges. 

Overall, deferred maintenance occurs when facilities management teams don’t enforce regularly scheduled maintenance repairs and improvements. These include periodic adjustments, cleanings, and parts replacements that ensure that equipment is up to code and reduces the chances of its failure.

Then, there’s the relocation and placement of people. One of the big reasons operational teams wait to close buildings is because they would be faced with relocating building occupants. How do you continue operations when a building is shut down for maintenance or repairs? Space Planning teams would be forced to find new places for employees to work or new areas for students to learn while facilities are under construction or repair. 


WHAT ARE THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH DEFERRED MAINTENANCE?


When a repair is delayed, properties are still used and, yes, abused by employees or students every day. This can cause a minor repair to turn into a complete replacement or even collateral damage. An organization will have to pay for fixing the original repair, but they will also have to pay for replacing all other assets damaged due to the delayed maintenance. This means that managers can lose access to multiple facilities while materials are ordered and assets are repaired, another additional cost. ​​Reactive maintenance, sometimes called corrective maintenance, is an obvious problem. Allowing facility or system fixes to linger until they are urgent can mean major disruptions during peak occupancy periods. 

Along with the disruptions, when the asset controls the timing of its repair or replacement, costs will always be exponentially higher. Studies have shown that for every dollar saved by deferring building maintenance, there comes a four-dollar increase in future capital renewal costs

Deferred maintenance can pose physical risks – from air quality to water damage and aging exteriors. Indeed, in a 2022 Higher Ed Facilities Forum (HEFF) article titled 10 Trends That Will Reshape Facilities Managementcondition-based maintenance – proactive not reactive – tops the list. 


HOW CAN SPACE ANALYTICS HELP DEFERRED MAINTENANCE? 


If Space Planning teams can understand where space is underutilized, then they can reassign and relocate employees and students, and get creative with multi-purpose space. By tracking space utilization, these operational teams can deliver data for solving space disputes, and bring long-term operational plans to the C-suite.

At Armored Things, we help higher education and corporate campuses like the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Boston Scientific make decisions by delivering deep insights about how and when to make repairs and routine maintenance. Using space analytics, we are able to aid Space Planners in making data-driven decisions by showing them where underutilized spaces exist based on usage over time.  

Want to learn more about Armored Things Space Analytics Solution? You can visit our website or reach out directly to sales@armoredthings.com for a quick demo. 

To learn more about Space Planning teams, read our Spotlight on Higher Education Space Planning Teams blog.

Alex Trotto contributes to the Blog and Social Media channels for Armored Things. She is currently a Northeastern University student in her sophomore year.

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