You know what they say about assumptions…

You know what they say about assumptions…

Nearly everyone has heard the cliché that to assume “makes an ass out of you and me”. Today I want to talk to you about a major assumption that is built into every reserve study, capital expense budget, and facilities operation plan. The assumption is this; you are doing proactive maintenance of your buildings, systems, and grounds.

I know what you are thinking right now; well, of course we are. And you may be.  However, just because you have a facilities maintenance line in your budget, or a maintenance crew or contractor, or a reserve study, does not mean that maintenance is being done.  The sad truth is that most property owners simply are not doing the right types of maintenance, enough maintenance — or simply are not doing maintenance at all until something breaks (which is not maintenance, it is replacement).

First, so we are all on the same page, what is proactive maintenance? Proactive maintenance is defined as maintenance that occurs in such a way that it is designed to prevent the failure of systems or components. So here we would be talking about building systems (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, elevators, and other major equipment), as well as building components such as wood trim, metal handrails, fences and gates, etc.

Let’s look at a real-world example. You may have a relatively new roof. The one on my house is twelve years old. I did not install the current roof, but I know that the shingles have a 25-year warranty. Knowing all that, you might think that I don’t need to worry about my home’s roof for another 13 years. However, I inspect my roof every year in the fall to see if any shingles are damaged, and to check all the mastic at the vertical penetrations where pipes or vents come through the roof. I do this because the mastic at the vertical penetrations will usually only last 2 to 3 years before it begins to become brittle and crack, and water can enter the building through those cracks. I do annual inspection and maintenance because every roof warranty requires you to perform maintenance, so if my roof fails and I try to make a claim, the roofing company will check to see if maintenance has been done before honoring their warranty. I also do this because if I want my roof to last for 25 years, I need to be maintaining it.

Why is proactive maintenance important? Because every planning tool ASSUMES that you are actually doing proactive maintenance, and therefore, the systems and components that make up your buildings and grounds will reach their full life expectancy. It is really quite simple; if you do not want to pay to replace something, then you have to pay to maintain it.  While you have numerous places that you could spend every dollar you have available to you, it is always more expensive and disruptive to replace a system or component that it is to maintain it. Always. 100% of the time.

I understand that this can be difficult (and perhaps unpopular). I also understand that many volunteer leaders do not have the expertise to evaluate your current maintenance to determine if you are on the right track or if you need to make adjustments. If you do not know where to start, find outside consultants who can help you. It is better to spend some money now to start proactively maintaining your facilities, than to do nothing and to find yourself waiting for an emergency repair technician to stop the downpour from the upstairs plumbing.

Matthew C. Boomhower is the founder and president of Southern Cross Property Consultants; a construction management, architecture, and facilities management consulting firm. He is licensed in California as both an Architect and an Attorney.  He can be contacted at or 858-444-5498.