IMPLEMENTING A PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM
by Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, Adv. RAM, CLP

The Apartment Doctor™

          It’s the big day - your brand new apartment community is completed, lease-up is moving faster than anyone expected, new residents are moving in, and life is good! And no worries about maintenance - it’s a new property, so everything is under warranty and your subcontractors are just a phone call away. After all, you’ve bought the highest quality supplies and appliances, and you won’t have to worry about maintenance problems for a couple of years, right? NOT!

          Right now is the time to create a comprehensive preventive maintenance program that will allow your top quality materials and appliances to function effectively for many years to come. An effective preventive maintenance program accomplishes two goals:

  •      By regularly inspecting and maintaining your buildings and equipment, you can PREVENT breakdowns. For example, regular inspections of your air conditioning units, filter replacements and coil cleanings all prolong the life of your HVAC equipment.

  •      You can make repairs at the earliest possible time to PREVENT more serious problems from occurring. For example, to identify and repair a small roof leak before it causes damage to the ceiling, carpet, furniture and resident in the apartment below!

          A common example of preventive maintenance is changing the oil in your car. Every car comes with an owner's manual, and that manual contains a "schedule of recommended service." (It's not really recommended, it's mandatory, because if you don't do it, it can void your warranty!) By changing the oil at the recommended intervals, you will prolong the life of the motor.

          If preventive maintenance is such a great idea, why doesn’t every property have a program in place? Do any of these sound familiar? "We just don't have the time." "We just don't have the money." "We just don't have enough people on staff." “We don’t have any time, money or staff!” These may all be true, but regardless of the reason that you don’t have a preventive maintenance program, you will inevitably have to make the time, find the money and hire the people to repair the results of NOT having a preventive maintenance program - does the phrase “Pay me now or pay me later” ring a bell? And unlike your car, which just leaves you stranded when it quits, a breakdown in an apartment will anger the resident, strain your staff and budget, and ultimately result in higher turnover (read: LESS CASH FLOW!)

          Just because the property is new doesn’t mean that you won’t need preventive maintenance. If you're convinced that preventive maintenance is a necessity, here's how to get your program started.

1.  IDENTIFY WHAT ITEMS NEED TO BE INCLUDED IN YOUR PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM, and

2.  DEFINE, IN WRITING, WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO EACH ITEM.

Here is a list of the most common items to include in your program and what should be done for each are:

  • HVAC: Clean coils, change filters, oil motors.

  • Rain gutters: Inspect for secure fastening and clean out.

  • Roofs and Flashing: Inspect and repair.

  • Water Heaters: Inspect, drain and descale.

  • Fire Extinguishers: Inspect and recharge.

  • Smoke Alarms: Inspect and test battery.

  • Photocells: Inspect, test and clean.

  • Storm Drains: Inspect and clean.

  • Lawn Sprinklers: Inspect, test, replace heads, and reset timers.

  • Exterior Doors: Inspect weather stripping, thresholds, hinges, door closers and locks.

  • Parking Lot: Inspect for cracks and potholes.

  • Balcony and Stairwell Railings: Inspect for secure fastening.

  • Exterior of buildings: Inspect for wood rot, loose or damaged trim, paint deterioration and loose or damaged siding.

  • Swimming Pool: Inspect filters and pumps, oil and adjust.

  • Exterior, Common Area and Signage Lighting: Inspect and adjust timers or photocells.

          Since each property is different, this is not a complete list. For example, a high-rise building will probably have elevators, fire sprinklers, and a central HVAC with a chiller tower. By doing a complete walk through of the property, you can create a list of everything that will be included in the program.

          To determine what needs to be done to each item to maintain it, talk to your suppliers and subcontractors who sold and installed each item. Service booklets with maintenance schedules and requirements are typically supplied with appliances and equipment. 

3. DETERMINE, IN WRITING, HOW OFTEN THE ITEMS NEED MAINTENANCE.

          Each item needs to be inspected regularly. Again, ask the manufacturer, read the service book, and talk to the subcontractors to come up with a schedule. Using the list above, add a “frequency” column:

ITEM FREQUENCY
HVAC: Clean coils, change filters, oil motors.  Q
Rain gutters: Inspect for secure fastening and clean out Q
Roofs and Flashing: Inspect and repair.  S
Water Heaters: Inspect, drain and descale. A
Fire Extinguishers: Inspect and recharge.  SR
Smoke Alarms: Inspect and test battery.  SR
Photocells: Inspect, test and clean. Q
Storm Drains: Inspect and clean. S
Lawn Sprinklers: Inspect, test, replace heads, reset timers. W
Exterior Doors: Inspect weather stripping, thresholds, hinges, door closers and locks. SR
Parking Lot: Inspect for cracks and potholes.  W
Balcony and Stairwell Railings: Inspect for secure fastening. SR
Exterior of buildings: Inspect for wood rot, loose or damaged trim, paint deterioration and loose or damaged siding. Q
Swimming Pool: Inspect filters and pumps, oil and adjust. Q
Exterior, Common Area and Signage Lighting:  Inspect and adjust timers or photocells. W

CODES: W=weekly, M=monthly, Q=quarterly, S=semi-annually, A=Annually, SR=ANYTIME A SERVICE TECHNICIAN IS IN AN APARTMENT!

One of the most cost effective ways to provide preventive maintenance (say that three times fast!) is to have your Service Technician perform a “mini-maintenance” on each apartment when they are completing a service request. After completing the service request, the Service Technician can check all faucets for drips, flush the toilets to see if they run, check all the window screens, graphite the locks, check the HVAC filter, etc. This “mini-maintenance” should only take five or ten minutes, and the inspection can be noted on the service request.

  4. CREATE A WRITTEN SCHEDULE OF INSPECTIONS AND MAINTENANCE.

          Now that we know what needs to maintained and how often it should be checked, we can create a schedule. The most commonly used preventive maintenance schedules list the items vertically on the left side of a 12 column pad, and then use each horizontal column to represent a month, giving you a form that can be used for annual, semi-annual and quarterly inspections. Make another form with a 13-column pad to get your weekly schedule. Make up one of each for the property and each building, listing all exterior and common area items. Create a second set of schedule forms for each apartment in each building, listing only the interior items. Put your "master copy" of each schedule in a safe place so you can make additional copies as needed.

          Once the basic schedules are complete, bring them to a print shop and have them enlarge the schedules, printing them on heavy card stock, and cover them with acetate film so they could be written on and erased. (Make sure you use ONLY the an erasable marker pen for writing on the film.) The schedules can be mounted on plywood and hung in the maintenance shop. Update the preventive maintenance “boards” by taking information from completed service requests. (NOTE: ANY WORK assigned to your service staff, ESPECIALLY preventive maintenance work, should be issued on a service request.

  5. CREATE A WRITTEN INSPECTION/MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST.

          The same schedules we just prepared would also be used as the manager's preventive maintenance checklist. The manager would update their schedule from the one posted in the shop, and then perform spot checks. Any work marked complete but not complete would be assigned on a service request, and assigned. In addition, find out why the work wasn’t completed and address the problem immediately: Not enough staff, unusually high workload that month, staff needs training, etc.

          If your staff is properly trained, and you regularly inspect and service all of the items identified as part of your program, you will save lots of money by PREVENTing replacements and additional maintenance!

Douglas D. Chasick, CPM®, Adv. RAM, CLP, is The Apartment Doctor™, a Multifamily speaker and consultant specializing in restoring rental health to ailing apartment communities. Doug is also the Multifamily Distance Learning Consultant for CallSource. You can reach Doug at 888-222-1214, by writing to Doug@Aptdoctor.com.

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