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Deferred Maintenance 101: What Is It and Why It Matters

January 26, 2021

Facilities are expensive to maintain and operate. While this shouldn’t come as a shock, the dirty little secret of maintaining facilities is that usually there isn’t enough budget to cover all of the maintenance and repairs that come up in a given year. These maintenance tasks that can’t be completed are what we call “deferred maintenance.”

Let’s face it, deferred maintenance is a challenge faced by every facility team, no matter the industry, number of buildings managed, or budget size they have to work with. While this maintenance may not get completed today, that doesn’t mean it gets swept under the rug. Deferred maintenance requires a dedicated strategy and proper planning to ensure it doesn’t lead to big problems. When done right, occupants, visitors, and customers are blissfully unaware of the amount of deferred maintenance a building may be carrying.

Let’s get started by defining deferred maintenance and diving into the impact it has on your facilities.

What Is Deferred Maintenance?

Deferred maintenance, or maintenance backlog, is repairs to assets and infrastructure that get delayed or rescheduled into the future due to limited resources. These are maintenance tasks that have to be completed eventually, either to avoid safety issues, breakdowns, or damage. Think of it as your facilities “to do” list, with work staying on there until it is completed.

Deferred Maintenance Flowchart Diagram - by AkitaBox Facility Management Software
As work orders and preventive maintenance schedules are created, it is typically the job of the Facility Manager or Director of Facilities to decide which work gets completed and which gets added to the maintenance backlog. These tasks are then scheduled once resources are available, or until the task becomes critical due to safety concerns or a high risk of potential breakdown.

Knowing, tracking, and planning for deferred maintenance is critical to ensuring facilities remain safe and operational. While some deferred maintenance is perfectly healthy for most organizations, as that list grows, tasks and work can begin to fall by the wayside and increase the risk to the organization.

Deferred Maintenance Example

The National Park Service has a well documented issue of inadequate funding, which has led to a massive list of deferred maintenance. In fiscal year 2018, they saw their deferred maintenance grow by 2.7%, which totals $313M. In total, the National Park Service has $11.92B in deferred maintenance that has been rescheduled and pushed out. This includes both public infrastructure such as roads, damns, etc, and also the facility maintenance of the thousands of buildings managed by the agency. That is a lot of outhouses that need maintenance…

Despite this large maintenance backlog, millions of people visit national parks every year. They may have to deal with the occasional road that is extra bumpy or a campground that could use renovating, but with a well thought-out and time-tested deferred maintenance management plan in place, visitors can continue to use the parks and enjoy the natural beauty of this country.

The size of the deferred maintenance may seem astronomical compared to yours, but the challenges faced by the National Park Service that contribute to this growing list such as aging facilities and a lack of funding are most likely very familiar.
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Why Deferred Maintenance Matters

Even though having a lengthy maintenance backlog is a common problem, it doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Managing deferred maintenance is a very important part of a facility director’s role, and it is important for everyone within an organization to understand the long-term impact this list can have.

Deferred maintenance can have a major impact on occupant safety, asset performance, and risk of unexpected breakdowns. As facility maintenance tasks are pushed further out, the condition of that asset or part will continue to worsen. In the short-term, this creates situations where unexpected breakdowns are more likely. Long-term, this can shorten an asset’s useful life, and require a renewal or replacement sooner than expected. Not all deferred maintenance is created equal, so when deciding on what maintenance to defer or which tasks on the maintenance backlog to complete, understanding the risk associated with it is vital.

There is also a cost benefit to consider when prioritizing deferred maintenance tasks. Proactively completing maintenance tasks is always less expensive than dealing with bigger issues later on. Let’s take filter changes on your HVAC for example. Changing the filters may seem like an easy way to save a few bucks or maybe your team just doesn’t have time right now, especially if you have bigger maintenance activities going on. But the longer those old filters are used, the more dust collects in your system and the harder your system has to work. This increases the risk of a major breakdown occurring.

Start your journey to better deferred maintenance management

Since we don’t live in an ideal world where you always have the time, budget, and skill set to complete every maintenance task, deferred maintenance will always be something you have to deal with. But with proper planning, it can be effectively managed to a point of not affecting facilities operations and your organization’s mission. <

Take the first step to proper management by getting an understanding of your current deferred maintenance list. Download our free deferred maintenance plan template and start tracking the different maintenance tasks you need to defer. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for our next blog covering the potential dangers of a poorly managed deferred maintenance list!

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Mitch Comstock

Former Product Marketing Manager and Innovator for AkitaBox.

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