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  • Writer's pictureJohn@LiteHouse

What is Preventive Maintenance?

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Regardless of the size or type of commercial property, various types of maintenance must be performed, including general maintenance, emergency repairs, and special inspections (such as mandated by an insurance company). However, preventive maintenance is particularly important for the preservation of buildings, equipment and grounds.

What is preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance (PM) is a proactive building maintenance strategy that keeps critical building assets in good working order. It includes regular inspections and selective service and repair of building equipment at set intervals based on use or time. Please note that service completed in this regard is not based on component condition.

The goal of preventive maintenance is to extend life expectancy and prevent equipment failures, thereby minimizing unplanned downtime and reducing overall maintenance costs by correcting defects early before they become significant problems.

What is predictive maintenance?

Predictive maintenance (PdM) is different from preventive maintenance. Rather than maintenance performed at scheduled intervals, predictive maintenance involves work performed based on the condition of a system or component. It also includes regular checks to meet the goal of predicting equipment failure.

Predictive maintenance involves the combined use of various techniques to determine the condition of equipment, including thermography, vibration analysis, lubrication oil application and acoustic analysis. Some people think of predictive maintenance as a type of preventive maintenance because they both share the goal of averting equipment failure.

Examples of preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance on a building is similar to changing the oil and checking the air pressure in the brakes and tires of a car. The aim of these measures is to prevent expensive repairs and extend the life of the car in the long term. Predictive maintenance is analogous to a physician monitoring a patient's condition by performing physical examinations and laboratory work and prescribing some action based on the patient's current health status.

In addition to cost savings, preventive maintenance is important for building safety, which includes both its assets and potential loss of life. For example, consider the importance of maintaining a fire alarm system in an emergency or maintaining an HVAC system to prevent the spread of Legionnaires' disease.

The disadvantage of preventive maintenance is the risk of excessive maintenance. Excessive maintenance can result in the deterioration of the functionality of critical assets. In addition, preventive maintenance requires upfront costs and can be labor intensive.

Types of preventive maintenance

Some of the other specific types of preventive maintenance strategies include:

  • Routine maintenance. It includes regular checks, cleaning and servicing of the machine (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). This strategy usually involves small tasks such as changing filters.

  • Proactive replacements. It requires the replacement of worn, broken or malfunctioning building components before they fail. Such replacements eliminate the high costs and unplanned downtime that occurs in the event of a failure.

  • Planned renovations. This is typically found in colleges and schools and other facilities that have cyclical use. This can also happen in energy companies and facilities with a continuous process. During scheduled downtime (ie, the break between college semesters), all known defective and worn components are repaired or replaced.

  • Status monitoring. This takes predictive maintenance a step further through the use of sensors on machines that allow real-time results to be fed into preventive maintenance software. Similar to predictive maintenance, service is performed as needed based on the condition of the part.

Other types of maintenance

Other maintenance strategies are generally categorized as reactive maintenance because a component is repaired when it is defective. Also referred to as breakdown maintenance or "run to failure". Reactive maintenance is primarily associated with unplanned repairs and high repair or replacement costs. However, it is considered acceptable for non-critical items.

Special maintenance requirements according to building type

There are unique considerations for building maintenance according to different building types. Some maintenance tends to focus on specific building systems and some considerations are more challenging as they relate to funding and budget as well as security requirements.

Below is a list of common considerations that are unique to each building type:

Apartment buildings and condominiums

Apartment buildings and condominiums are typically actively maintained facilities because quality tenants naturally care about where they live. Much of the maintenance performed is custodial and in terms of aesthetics and the building's amenities and mechanical systems are also of utmost importance to the comfort and safety of the tenants.

Apartment building and condominium maintenance is often affected by whether the property is publicly or privately owned. Public housing includes programs run by federal and local governments that are often underfunded compared to the actual cost of maintaining the property.

Private housing has a wide variety, from luxury complexes to neglected and run-down properties. Private owners decide how much money to devote to their maintenance. Decision makers can be the building owner, property manager or home owners association.

Educational facilities

Educational institutions range from universities (colleges and universities) to primary, secondary and higher education. Both types of facilities share the mission of creating an effective learning environment, but operate at different levels. For example, a university can resemble a city in that it includes many different types of buildings (libraries, apartments, retail spaces, etc.). Both types of educational facilities require special facilities, including accommodation for children and facilities such as science laboratories.

Another unique aspect of maintenance is that many of the primary and secondary facilities still in use today were built in the 1950s and 1960s, which means they often face significant issues related to outdated equipment and deferred maintenance. Additionally, buildings built during this time are not energy efficient or designed to be accessible. Some of the devices in use today are even older and present challenges related to preserving their historical integrity.

Medical facilities

The primary difference between healthcare facilities and other types of buildings is the nature of patient care. Maintenance of these facilities is challenging due to the sensitivity of sick patients and life-and-death situations if critical systems are down. In addition, most healthcare facilities operate 24 hours a day, which means that maintenance is bound to affect someone or some patient services.

Specialty equipment in hospitals also tends to be complex and critical to patient procedures, including: gas systems for oxygen, nitrogen, and other medical gases; filtration needs for HVAC systems; and electrical power distribution for medical devices. Failure of any of these systems can be life-threatening.

Historical buildings

An older building may already be designated as historic, or the owner may apply for historic designation, which provides benefits and restrictions on property maintenance, including repairs and replacements of original components and systems. There can often be leeway when it comes to a historic building's compliance with current building codes as governed by the state and municipal authorities having jurisdiction. Plans must usually have AHJ approval prior to renovation.

Energy and accessibility improvements are typical for historic buildings. Also common are improvements related to a building function that did not exist when the building was constructed, such as changing its use and occupancy, installing an underground lawn irrigation system, installing or upgrading a fire protection system, etc.

Historic buildings also have unique features and materials that can include stained glass, heavy timber frames and stonework that can affect the technical side of maintenance. Building owners and inspectors should work with contractors who have specialist knowledge of historic buildings in general and, where appropriate, of the specific building in question.

Hospitality properties

Hospitality properties include hotels, motels, resorts and convention centers. Many such properties are part of a franchise that requires the franchisee to provide a certain level of ongoing repairs and maintenance. These are complex buildings because they have many functions depending on the specific type of building (retail spaces, commercial kitchens, office spaces, etc.).

It is common for hospitality properties to have a preventive maintenance plan to ensure that the grounds are well maintained and that the equipment is functional and reliable to provide guests with a comfortable and safe environment. Larger properties may have multiple in-house maintenance teams responsible for specific building components and systems.

Production plants

Downtime and equipment failure can be very costly for a manufacturing facility because profit depends on production. It is the lifeblood of the operation. For this reason, maintenance is vital for production equipment. The complexity of the property depends on the type of facility, which can range from food processing plants to assembly plants and light manufacturing.

There are many problems specific to production equipment. For example, specialized equipment may be present and environmental requirements may vary from property to property. Complex facilities can use maintenance software to report and record preventive maintenance programs. Additional condition monitoring technology is also available to monitor and analyze device function.

Office buildings

Office buildings are generally the least complex property type in terms of typical layouts and installed systems, but can be more complex if flexible spaces or high-rise buildings are involved. Much of the maintenance is predictive and routine, and is generally only interrupted by a change of tenant, which may require upgrades such as increasing power to a particular floor to accommodate the tenant's special electronic equipment.

A building owner or management company usually employs a maintenance team to maintain their office building. However, some leases place responsibility for building maintenance on the tenant, which can result in deferred maintenance until the end of the lease term.

Retail equipment

Retail facilities are also generally less complex than many other types of commercial real estate. However, retailers are facing intense competition to acquire customers, while building owners are facing problems renting their premises as many retailers are increasingly experiencing economic difficulties due to the growing popularity of online shopping.

These factors may force some—if not most—retailers to operate at a low profit margin. Unlike hotels and apartment buildings, building maintenance for retail companies is not as regular or routine. This can lead to deferred maintenance issues as retailers strive to improve their bottom line.

Some retail properties such as malls, malls and energy centers may also employ a full-time maintenance team. In comparison, the maintenance responsibility for some small retail properties, such as pads and individual suites, rests with the building occupier.

Preventive maintenance inspection

Regular reviews are a requirement of any PM program. The frequency depends on the complexity and unique needs of the property in question. It is common for complex and large properties such as manufacturing facilities, higher education facilities, hotels and convention centers to have full-time maintenance staff. Commercial real estate inspectors should interview these individuals during the research portion of the engagement to gain insight into the specific building.

In contrast, managers of less complex properties may hire a commercial property inspector or other professional to perform inspections at set intervals. The purpose of the inspection is to provide a measure of the current physical condition of the property. The information it provides is integral to an effective and efficient PM program.


All commercial buildings require some form of maintenance to allow for their continued use and safe operating conditions. Preventive maintenance is a form of proactive maintenance that can increase life expectancy and prevent equipment failure if properly implemented. PM strategies also promote a reduction in overall maintenance costs, while reactive maintenance is typically associated with unplanned downtime and high repair or replacement costs.

Most commercial facilities have more in common than not, including their shared critical assets such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical equipment. However, some building types have special maintenance requirements. Some PM programs employ a team of full-time or part-time staff to care for the property. Other programs require the hiring of a commercial property inspector to handle the inspection portion of the maintenance program.

A Cincinnati commercial property inspection, from LiteHouse Commercial, can help you prioritize your maintenance plan.

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