How to Add Building Envelope Inspections to Your Maintenance Program

Poor building inspections don’t get any respect. People think they're a waste of time or unnecessary.

Maybe it’s because inspections are usually used to find small problems. People don’t have time to look for problems where there appear to be none.

But that’s precisely why they’re so powerful.

Inspections prevent significant problems from ever happening. They give you a clear picture of your current and future maintenance needs, instead of just hoping that you don’t have any expensive repairs this year.

As a building manager, you can control which projects you do and when you do them, instead of system failures putting you in a corner with no options.

Because they prevent significant problems from ever happening, you need to be proactive when it comes to inspections.

A good maintenance program is based on preventing unnecessary costs for owners and avoidable disruptions for your tenants.

Reacting to major problems rarely works. But strategic preventative maintenance does.

For building managers, a solid building inspection plan is one of the first things you’ll want to make sure you have in place. If you’re starting a brand-new maintenance program from scratch, I’d actually recommend that you put building inspections in place even before you make your budget or annual work plan.

First: what’s a building inspection?

It’s when you take an inventory of your major building components and record necessary information about their current condition. Every year, you log each component’s state and compare it to the previous inspection.

That makes a building inspection an excellent tool for making sure small problems don’t turn into expensive repairs. You can track a component’s deterioration over time so that you can intervene before it completely stops working. That way, you can avoid damages to other parts of the building envelope and the interior, which means you’re preventing both unnecessary costs for owners and avoidable disruptions for tenants.

Why would a building inspection ever come before a budget or annual work plan?

The job of the building inspection is to look at the condition of each component, determine if any are in bad shape (so you can prevent an inexpensive problem from turning into a costly one), and identify what needs to be repaired or replaced (so you can efficiently use your budget to lower repair costs next year). That paves the way for a cost-effective maintenance program.

So if you put together your budget and annual work plan, but an emergency repair pops up, to some extent you’ve wasted your effort. On the other hand, if you get a clear picture of what your maintenance needs are to come up with your priorities before anything else is in place, your later work with budgeting and planning can be translated into lower maintenance costs this year and the future.

What kind of information do you need to capture from your building inspection?

The most effective inspections we’ve seen or helped building managers establish all create a traditional “inventory” of building components.

You might do something as simple as taking a picture of the component and comparing it ones from the previous inspection, or you can do what we recommend at Western and involve a specialty contractor or engineer to inspect each component’s condition for you.

A building component inventory should determine the condition of a component and note any changes from the previous inspection. It should also have the component’s age, and it’s typical useful life. That way, you can plan for replacing a component well in advance.

We recommend doing a building inspection once a year, a couple of months before your annual budgets are due. That lets you easily make an accurate budget, and also it gives you reliable information you can take to the owner to ask for more resources if need be. This last point is subtle, but it gives you a tool for improving the bottom line for this year and the future.

Your homework

A simple spreadsheet is a terrific tool for keeping all the information in one place, making it really easy for you to use. Make it simple and easy for you and your team to digest the information at a glance.

Stick to the most essential and useful information — think about if the component’s conditions warrant action this year and what the consequences will be if nothing is done.