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Designing Buildings For Minimum Maintenance

Designing Buildings For Minimum Maintenance

Maintenance contributes a significant amount to the cost of a building -- not only in terms of money but in terms of its carbon footprint. Facilities designed with efficiency in mind can help save money and emissions in the long run, but creating them can pose a bit of a challenge. Here are some ways you can balance efficiency, cost, and usability to develop buildings that require minimal maintenance:

1. Work with the right people.

Creating low-maintenance building designs involves taking a lot of external factors into account, including the way that different building materials respond to climate and weather patterns, and how end-users impact a building's maintenance needs. Your best bet is to work with architects and contractors who have experience with designing buildings with minimal upkeep in mind. Ask to see any certifications related to energy-efficient and low-maintenance design. Arrange a tour of one of their buildings that's at least ten years old. You'll have a much better idea of how your future project is likely to age, and what kind of upkeep it will require as it does.

2. Standardize wherever possible.

Experimenting can be very helpful when it works out, but, when it doesn't, it can be a costly mistake. Maintenance professionals generally prefer to standardize products and equipment to ensure that they're using what works and trimming down the number of product lines that have to be bought and inventoried. A lot of crucial items for a building's longevity can be standardized, including HVAC supplies, circuit breakers, paint, pumps, fans, tubing, tile, bulbs, and virtually anything that may require replacement. This reduces cost, cuts waste, and saves on training time. Discuss using standard products throughout the entire building with the contractor ahead of time.

3. Balance aesthetics and practicality.

In a perfect world, every building would be a modern showpiece that was easy and inexpensive to keep looking as good as the day it was opened. Unfortunately, aesthetic choices often conflict with maintenance needs. Lobbies that have tall ceilings with fancy light fixtures, for example, can mean shutting the entire lobby down for days while maintenance crews set up a scaffold, clean the fixture, and replace burned-out bulbs. Aesthetic choices that don't account for maintenance accessibility inevitably result in a lot of lost time and wasted money. Make sure that any equipment installed early on is able to be easily accessed by maintenance workers.

4. Don't forget the landscaping.

Maintenance doesn't end at the front door. Don't forget to consider how a building's exterior might influence its interior. For example, trees planted too close to buildings can cause problems when they inevitably grow, like foundation damage, roofing damage, and clogged gutters and downspouts. Choosing landscaping plants that aren't native to an area can also add to the maintenance load when it comes time to water them and amend the soil.

5. Consider the long game.

Building or renovating a facility is expensive, and it can be tempting to try to save money on things like flooring or light fixtures. Unfortunately, this often ends up being a bit of a false economy -- for a higher initial cost, you can end up saving money over the life of the product. Cheaper flooring that needs to be replaced in 10 years isn't a good deal when compared to more expensive flooring with a 25-year lifespan.

6. Bring your maintenance crew on board.

If you aren't one of the people directly responsible for maintaining a building, it can be difficult to see a design from that perspective. Make sure maintenance crews are part of the design or renovation process because they can offer valuable input about what it will actually take to keep a hypothetical building running smoothly. They can point out future trouble spots, allowing you to fix them before they become an expensive mistake.

7. Make sure you have local support.

You've got a new building with a brand new HVAC system, and everything looks good. There's only one problem -- the system you chose doesn't have any local vendors for replacement parts, filters, or other needs. This means that you have to keep spare parts on hand yourself or have them shipped in with an additional cost and downtime while you wait for them to arrive. When you're deciding what kind of equipment a facility needs, consider vendor support as part of your maintenance outlook.

Whether you're looking to design a new building or renovate an old one, limiting maintenance costs should be part of your plan. By working with contractors well versed in low-maintenance building, balancing appearance and practicality, and including your maintenance crew in the design or renovation process, you can create a building that maximizes efficiency while minimizing ongoing costs.

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