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The Power of a Facility Condition Assessment

By David Burks, Paladin, Inc.

Whether you “meet a building” for the first time when it’s on the drawing board or during a realtor walk-through, it’s tough to really get to know a structure while you’re busy running it. However, running a building you don’t know thoroughly is a surefire way to waste money, frustrate your tenants and endure a steady stream of unpleasant surprises. So, if you want to get the most of your building (or buildings) it’s time to establish a baseline with a first class facility conditions assessment.

While some building owners may assume an assessment is just a simple census that will leave them with an equipment list, a piping diagram and a few pamphlets offering equipment maintenance services, they should actually expect much more. A quality assessment not only identifies the condition and projected service life of key equipment, it creates a data set that can inform a highly accurate maintenance budget and gear replacement plan. It allows to become proactive in maintaining your facility rather than reactive, which is the most expensive way to operate a building.

If you’re discussing a facility conditions assessment, be sure to take full advantage of the resulting information, with benefits including:

  • Early identification of problems: readers might be surprised to learn how often we walk into well-used facilities and are still the first ones to discover sometimes glaring maintenance issues ranging from flooded basements to degraded equipment. Understaffed and overworked maintenance departments are often too busy chasing from crisis to notice everything.
  • Improved budgeting: not only do our data-rich assessment findings inform 1, 5 and 10-year maintenance budgets, they also help inform capital improvement budgets with increased accuracy on replacement timeframes and their associated costs. Reducing the need to borrow from Peter to pay Paul on the fly, and maybe increase the lifespan of an accountant or two.
  • Better continuity: a surprising number of organizations rely on long-time, trusted employees to retain critical information about key systems without demanding documentation. Those same organizations are often left high and dry when that person retires or changes jobs, taking the corporate knowledge with them. We document it all so organizations can endure change. Should a world-class organization need to go on a bear hunt just to find out when the last time the roof was replaced?
  • Effective warranty utilization: when equipment or systems inevitably fail, the financial burden of replacing it entirely can be offset with warranty dollars determined by well-documented service life measures. Whether it’s a roof with a 20-year warranty or a pump with a decade of backing, we dig into maintenance records and receipts to nail down the data that can save a building owner big bucks when it comes time to replace things.
  • Enhanced technology usage: as project management platforms get more sophisticated, the effectiveness of their algorithms is increasingly reliant on dense collections of accurate and complex data. Whether they’re comparing the cost of repair vs replacement or projecting service life and accompanying cost, their accuracy is based on the sort of data a rigorous facility condition assessment can generate.

A little stream of conscious:  Being a part of a business and building owner team, I felt the sting of an unexpected failure of a major piece of equipment on our office, which resulted in a meeting between the three executives for over 4-hours to readjust the budget for the year and the loss of another line items annual budget.  It was depressing to say the least, and to make matters worst it should have been expected as the equipment was 15-years old.  We should have had this in our budget and been saving towards its replacement years in advanced.  But not “knowing” our building cost us on this day.  An assessment is like a medical checkup with your doctor where your building gets to talk about its ache and pains, and what is still feeling great.

All information from an assessment is not bad.  We have gone into buildings and found 10-year old equipment operating and in mint-condition, which means that we extend our projection of replacement meaning that budget dollars can be utilized elsewhere.  Facility condition assessments do not make budgeting items a guarantee or take out the risk of a catastrophic failure, rather it turns the game of long-term budgeting from a game of roulette to a game of poker, allowing you to assess the situation as the game progresses and folding or pushing rather than finding out where you stand after the ball settles on red rather than black.  But you have to be looking at the tells of your building in order to take advantage of them.

In a business with no shortage of lowest-cost vendors, it’s important to partner with a company that not only understands the essentials of building design, construction and testing, but has also mastered the technology that can fine tune financial expectations and expenditures for decades to come. Choosing a reputable partner can move a building owner from life as a “fireman” who spends his or her days battling unexpected maintenance challenges to one who can schedule and conduct maintenance with a plan for long term success.

That is a transition worth the effort.