There are 5 hidden costs to putting off maintenance.

Every year, needed maintenance repairs that would cost billions of dollars are put off. Most of the time, people say that they can’t do maintenance because they don’t have enough money or staff. But there are other things at play.

Maintenance managers and staff may not know all of the tasks that need to be done to keep building assets in good shape. Assets may have been set up in a way that makes them hard to maintain. And the people who make the budget might not know the full cost of putting off maintenance.

Organizational studies have shown that for every dollar “saved” by putting off maintenance, the cost of capital renewal goes up by four dollars. Those are the costs that are directly related to that asset. There are also indirect costs, which could have an even bigger effect. Over the life of that asset, these extra costs may add up to more than 15 times the amount that would have been spent on maintenance if it hadn’t been put off.

If managers want to change the culture that leads to putting off maintenance, they need to make a case that shows all of the costs, from emergency repairs to damage to other parts of the building.

Need-to-fix repairs

The best maintenance program is one that is planned ahead of time so that the right tasks are done when they are needed. And when the asset is getting close to the end of its useful life, it is planned to be replaced. But putting off maintenance turns a proactive process into a reactive one.

With reactive maintenance, the asset decides when it needs urgent repairs or a whole new one. This can cause problems during busy times or even shut down parts of the building completely. When this happens, the maintenance department is put under pressure to fix the problem, even if it means putting maintenance workers on overtime or hiring services from outside the building.

If parts need to be ordered or the asset needs to be replaced completely, there will be extra costs to add to the cost. When parts or replacement assets aren’t available on time, operations may have to be moved to another part of the building. If a heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) system or another system like it breaks down, temporary replacements may have to be brought in at an extra cost. When the asset decides when it needs to be fixed or replaced, costs will always be higher and there will be problems.

Less time for an asset to be useful

All building assets have a set amount of time they can be used. There are many things that can affect how long something will last in a certain application, but one of the most important is how well it has been cared for. Almost every asset in a building will have a shorter useful life without proper maintenance.

For example, if the paint on the wood trim on the outside of a building starts to peel, water can get in and cause the wood to crack, split, and rot. If you don’t check the trim often and put off painting it for a few years, you might save some money now, but that will only let more damage happen. Because of the damage, the wood will have to be replaced at some point.

The same idea applies to a building’s mechanical systems, where reactive maintenance or “run-to-failure” is a very common way to keep things running. Think about putting in a heating, cooling, and water pumping system. In these situations, a typical centrifugal pump needs to be oiled, the seals checked, the vibrations measured, the alignment checked, and other routine maintenance tasks done. If a centrifugal pump is kept in good shape, it can easily work for 20 to 30 years. If that same pump is maintained by running it until it breaks, it could break in as little as five years.

Reduced equipment efficiency

Building mechanical systems are the ones most affected by putting off maintenance in terms of energy efficiency. If you want to keep energy costs down, it’s especially important to keep these systems in good shape.

For example, in order for boilers to work at their best, there are a number of regular maintenance tasks that need to be done. To make sure that the right amount of air is going into the boiler, it needs to be tuned up on a regular basis. If there isn’t enough air, the fuel isn’t fully burned. Too much heat and air are going up the chimney.

Boilers also need to be cleaned from time to time so that soot doesn’t build up on the fire side of the boiler tubes or heat exchanger. In the same way, the water side of the boiler needs to be cleaned so that scale doesn’t build up. Soot and scale both stop heat from moving through the boiler, making it less efficient. Even skipping just one annual cleaning can cut a boiler’s efficiency by 2% to 3%.

Dangers to safety and health

Putting off maintenance on a wide range of building assets can hurt both employees and people who come to the building. Some are easy to see, like a broken floor tile that could cause someone to fall. Some may not be as clear, like when mold grows behind walls that have been damaged by water. If building HVAC systems aren’t cleaned regularly or aren’t cleaned at all, mold, mildew, and pathogens can build up in the systems and spread through the building. Even simple things, like door closers that aren’t set up right, can hurt someone if the door closes on their hand when they’re not ready.

If the air quality in the workplace is bad or if things break down often, it will hurt employee productivity. Visitors will also be able to see and feel these flaws, which will hurt the organization’s reputation.

Maintenance that is put off can also cause problems with local code and regulation officials. Spot checks or complaints from people who live in a building can lead to failed compliance checks, fines, and a bad reputation. In the worst cases, they can force the facility to shut down until the problems have been fixed.

Collateral damage

Putting off maintenance has effects on more than just that asset. Often, it goes much further. Think about a roof that is falling apart. The roof has been leaking for a while and needs to be fixed, but there are no funds to do so. So, when leaks are found, the people in charge of maintenance make repairs. But even with their best efforts, there will be more leaks, and some of them may not be reported. There are more repairs to be made, and even though the leaks may have been stopped temporarily, they will have caused other damage.

Because of water damage to the roof’s insulation and decking, parts of the roof may now need to be replaced. Water damage may mean that the ceiling and walls need to be fixed or replaced. Elements of the building that are in contact with water may rust or rot and need to be fixed. Wiring and light fixtures that have been damaged by water will need to be replaced.

Collateral damage can turn a single maintenance issue into a nightmare. Not only will the organization have to pay to fix the original problem with maintenance, but they will also have to pay to fix or replace all other damaged assets, and they will have to do this quickly, which will add to the costs. If the collateral damage is bad or widespread enough, managers may not be able to use the affected space for a long time while materials are ordered and repairs are made, which adds another cost.

Getting out of the trap of putting off maintenance

If facility managers want to reduce the total cost of maintenance that has been put off, they need to build a case and present it to the people in charge of the budget. They must show good reasons why maintenance projects should be budgeted for now instead of being put off until some other time.

How big is your facility’s problem with maintenance that has been put off? Numbers talk. Don’t forget that you and other departments are all trying to get the same amount of money. Start by looking at the building as a whole, including its mechanical and electrical systems, building envelope, interior structures and finishes, and building site. The assessment of the facility should look at the condition of each asset and point out any problems. Rate how important the asset is and how important each problem is. Lastly, make a plan for how much it will cost to fix or replace it and how long it will take.

Having a list of repairs that need to be done and how much they will cost isn’t enough. Most of the time, there will be so many things that need to be fixed and they will cost so much that the people who set the budget may choose to ignore them because they think maintenance is just making a fuss about nothing. To help make your case, give them examples from the past that show how putting off a repair or replacement caused extra costs, messed up operations, or made things less safe. Your case will be stronger if you show solid data that shows how big the problem is and how it has hurt the organization in the past.