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What Is Deferred Maintenance? (And How It Affects Your Facility )

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Learn about deferred maintenance including what it is, how it affects your facility, and what you can do to overcome your maintenance backlog.

Modified on

November 27, 2023

Deferred Maintenance: What It Is & How It Affects Your Facility  

Your company may be in a situation where a piece of equipment breaks down or begins showing signs of wear. However, you may need to hold off on repairs for one reason or another. It’s not uncommon for companies to delay necessary repairs and maintenance activities to their assets. 

This kind of upkeep postponement is often referred to as deferred maintenance, also commonly referred to as a maintenance backlog. Learn about what defines deferred maintenance, how delaying upkeep might affect your facility, and what you can do to overcome your maintenance backlog.


Understanding Deferred Maintenance

Numerous factors could impact a decision to defer maintenance. Budget limitations, scarcity of parts, and infrastructure issues are common reasons you may need to hold off on scheduled maintenance and repairs. When you hold off on proper maintenance, existing problems will often compound with new issues, which may result in more serious problems. It’s vital to overcome deferred maintenance as quickly as possible. 

Not only does delaying upkeep affect asset performance and increase the likelihood of breakdowns, but it also increases the risk of injury to anyone who works near the asset. While some deferred maintenance tasks may be minimal, facilities managers must take care to avoid major issues and risks down the line. 

Why is Deferred Maintenance Important?

It’s important to understand the types of repairs that can wait and which ones are a priority. A maintenance audit prioritizes the most important repairs over less vital upkeep, moving certain tasks to the back of the maintenance schedule, or to deferred maintenance — factors such as maintenance costs, inaccessibility, or lack of availability of parts needed to correct the problem come into play. 

Companies need to ensure their facility maintenance operations personnel have a proper budget, labor, and materials. The facility manager must keep safety and potential liability as their top priorities when allocating resources for maintenance management.


Examples of Deferred Maintenance

Facility maintenance has many moving parts. A few key examples of deferred maintenance include postponing painting offices in a commercial building, delaying landscaping, or pressure washing. While these are primarily cosmetic upkeep, delaying more urgent matters, such as a cost-prohibitive plumbing repair, has the potential for more serious outcomes if not addressed promptly. 

Inspections also fall under maintenance tasks. When an asset shows signs of an imminent breakdown, you may have to prioritize inspecting that particular piece of equipment or structural element. This might push back less imperative inspections. Another instance would be when planned maintenance tasks are being taken care of, and a major breakdown occurs, pushing other important tasks down the line.

Common Reasons for Deferred Maintenance

Sometimes deferred maintenance can’t be avoided. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in facilities management, and there are multiple reasons why maintenance is deferred. There may be times when the workload is seemingly unmanageable due to the number of tasks in the queue. 

This can lead to problems in many areas. If no sound preventive maintenance program is in place, an unmanageable maintenance schedule can facilitate health and safety risks, issues with compliance, and employee burnout. Facilities using deferred maintenance often have high repair costs, and their equipment doesn’t run efficiently.

Some common causes of deferred maintenance include: 

  • Company policies: The policies in place may be run-to-failure based, which means the assets and equipment run until they break down.
  • Lack of information: If the maintenance strategy is unorganized or the facility does not have one, maintenance managers cannot make educated decisions on the budget needed to run the department successfully. 
  • Lack of trained staff: Certain assets and equipment may require specialized training and knowledge that the current team does not have. When large assets break down, there may not be enough people to complete the repairs. 
  • Lack of parts: Depending on the asset or equipment, there may be a backlog on certain parts needed to repair the assets and equipment.

Deferred Maintenance Workflow

A deferred maintenance workflow indicates the expected scheduling of maintenance tasks and when they’re due. The facility manager decides if these tasks will be scheduled for completion or placed into a backlog using steps such as these: 

  1. Look at preventive and reactive maintenance tasks and capital renewals. 
  2. Determine if there are enough resources and time to complete the tasks. 
  3. The maintenance tasks are scheduled if there are enough resources and time. 
  4. The tasks are added to the maintenance backlog if there aren’t enough resources or bandwidth.  

Common Consequences for Deferred Maintenance

Deferred maintenance can ripple throughout your entire facility maintenance scheme. Keeping in mind these potential results of holding off critical maintenance tasks is helpful in understanding the necessity of timely upkeep:

  • Delaying maintenance: It’s vital to get a handle on your maintenance schedule. Putting off repairs and upkeep today can grow your backlog and push back other critical maintenance. 
  • Decreased asset efficiency: Poorly maintained internal systems can lead to higher overhead costs, such as utility bills. Equipment that’s not kept in good repair can see intermittent breakdowns and loss of productivity.
  • Safety hazards: Deferred maintenance on facility assets can increase the likelihood of stray components causing injury. Other hazards to be aware of include the potential for explosions and the build-up of carbon monoxide or other harmful gasses.
  • Regulatory compliance issues: Inspections revealing unmaintained assets may result in action from a regulatory agency. Depending on the severity of the issue, discovery of out-of-compliance equipment or assets could result in a warning, fines, or operational shutdown until your facility is in compliance.
  • Loss of asset value: Better maintained assets are consequently valued higher. Asset value can impact financial statements, which may subsequently affect business loans.

How to Manage Your Maintenance Backlog

The maintenance backlog is an essential element of facilities management metrics (FM), which are key maintenance and repair efficiency indicators. Employing these simple steps will help keep on top of deferred maintenance duties and help improve other vital metrics.

1.  Identifying Routine Tasks

Regular maintenance procedures should be a part of a facility maintenance team or crew’s task schedule. Every crew member should know the timetable and the steps for each routine task to ensure that any of them can perform the necessary steps in the absence of another.

Predetermined items such as equipment inspections can pinpoint wear and tear and identify elements to keep a close eye on or see if they are in immediate need of replacement. Regularly testing alert systems, such as carbon monoxide or smoke detectors, is a low-cost process that can tremendously impact a facility’s overall efficiency and safety. 

2. Prioritizing Work Orders

Effectively managing a maintenance backlog starts with knowing what to prioritize. This is commonly done by creating a work order for each needed task. It is not uncommon for backlogs to become outdated if not carefully monitored. The backlog is broken down into categories: plannable, planned, and ready. With each repair, close out the associated work order. 

Knowing the urgent needs of the facility helps in creating feasible backlogs to track maintenance activities. Make sure each maintenance task is prioritized by order of need to make sure the backlog doesn’t become unmanageable. 

3. Assigning Responsibilities

Once the information has been distributed, it can be easily identified. Everyone on the management team in charge of assets and equipment then meets regularly to reprioritize, modify, and add to the maintenance backlogs. 

Each person knowing their responsibilities within a preventive maintenance program reduces risk, improves safety, and highlights needed resources. Placing a high priority on critical systems and deferring maintenance activity on lower-impact assets as part of your maintenance management strategy substantially reduces additional expenses and potential liability for the company.

4. Maintaining Records

Work order management software solutions help to better organize and maintain work orders, maintenance reports, and service records. Records of completed inspections, repairs, and other maintenance projects and tasks keep your company up to speed on asset and equipment needs. A software solution that takes on the load of tracking such information significantly saves facilities managers and personnel valuable time.

Maintaining reports of all maintenance tasks from the work order to completion helps to inform personnel of current equipment and asset conditions, when to place new service requests, and prevents duplicating work orders. Optimally, each report can be further broken down into timelines of 30, 60, and 90 days on the list, helping to readjust and reprioritize tasks when needed.

5. Integrating Predictive Maintenance

More and more companies are turning to predictive maintenance models as part of their asset management process. Predictive maintenance is data-driven software that employs analytics to anticipate numerous factors in assets, equipment, and environment to provide proactive maintenance methods and timetables. 

Predictive maintenance helps to determine routine maintenance schedules, as well as anticipate future upkeep needs for equipment and assets. Being informed by predictive models enables companies to head off potential loss of production and safety concerns.

How to Decrease Deferred Maintenance

One of the best ways to reduce deferred maintenance is by seeking additional resources to avoid a deferred maintenance backlog. Management meetings to outline the current challenges, such as budget, training, staffing needs, and necessary materials to get the deferred maintenance projects done, should be clearly presented with existing data. If the company uses a CMMS, the data can be pulled in different ways, highlighting the current situation, inefficiencies, and how the backlogs are hurting the company. 

1. Log All Maintenance Activities 

Tracking all upkeep tasks is vital in effective maintenance scheduling. All preventive maintenance tasks and activities should be logged to see where problems most often occur. Data gathered through activity logging helps build a proactive, predictive model, reducing reactive repairs and saving organizations tremendous amounts of time and money.

2. Develop a Preventive Maintenance Program

A preventive maintenance program is a proactive solution for deferred maintenance. Prevention minimizes costs and reduces safety risks while improving productivity through minimal downtime. Establishing a proactive solution model also gives your maintenance team more control in acquiring the resources needed to succeed.

3. Utilize a CMMS

By providing extensive and accurate data, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) tracks all maintenance tasks, scheduling, and deferred maintenance orders. Through analysis and visualizations, a CMMS empowers facilities teams to assess needs for future budgeting and material needs.

4. Allocate Funds

A healthy allocated maintenance budget usually sits in the 2% to 4% range of a company’s total budget. Several key factors impact fund allocation. Personnel, material, and administrative costs greatly affect the overall maintenance budget. The type of facility in use also plays a significant role in fund allocation and capital improvements. If production equipment is involved, an organization may want to allocate separate budgets for equipment and facilities upkeep. 

5. Address Risk Mitigation

Companies can expect that certain risks are inherent in just about any piece of equipment or facility asset. The types of risks vary by the type of facility and the equipment used. Risk mitigation or risk management accepts that these inevitabilities exist and proactively seeks to reduce the impact of foreseeable breakdowns. 

Effective risk management assesses which elements have the highest risk and greatest financial and liability impact if a breakdown should occur. Regular inspections of high-impact facility assets and equipment reveal at-risk components and enable facility managers to change out parts and shore up assets before they become a problem. Keeping materials and tools on hand allows personnel to act quickly and avoid serious issues.

The Role of Technology

Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS)

CMMS solutions are comprehensive software packages that enable companies to track all of their assets and equipment. The CMMS communicates with tracked assets and alerts personnel when something isn’t right. In many cases, a CMMS can track certain metrics — such as pressure levels or torque — to inform users if equipment operates outside of acceptable parameters. A preemptive alert allows maintenance crews to assess the item in question and service it before it becomes a problem.

Building Automation Systems (BAS)

As the world heads into the future, building automation systems are becoming a prevalent fixture across all industries. These systems control the functions of everything from security monitoring to HVAC units. BAS solutions take much of the monitoring burden off of the shoulders of facilities crews, which affords them more time to address issues as they arise. As with a CMMS, a BAS observes the condition of integrated assets, providing alerts and status readouts to pinpoint problems and risk factors easily.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) integrates physical objects, allowing them to communicate across an internal network and the Internet. For example, a thermostat no longer needs to be hardwired to an HVAC unit. Through wireless communication, it can direct a furnace or air conditioning unit to activate as needed to maintain an optimal environment. This helps prevent a growing backlog by keeping a central maintenance database updated on equipment statuses and letting personnel know when there’s a problem or when a problem seems imminent. Facilities crews can then assess necessary maintenance tasks and prioritize them.

Use Cases

Deferred maintenance is going to affect specific industries differently from one to another. Some facilities utilize potentially dangerous equipment, while others strictly concern themselves with utilities and environmental controls. The type of industry a facility belongs to will greatly impact how a company approaches its maintenance objectives. 

Residential buildings: From duplexes to apartment complexes, building managers may postpone cosmetic repairs to keep up on structural issues or critical utility systems. Deferring upkeep and repair to assets that impact the health and safety of residents have far greater liability risks than a squeaky door hinge. 

For example, a blocked sewer line will cause a backup that can cause serious water damage to the structure, as well as potential health issues for residents. A severe issue like this will likely always take priority over tasks such as a fresh coat of paint on window trim.

Commercial buildings: Commercial buildings vary greatly in maintenance needs and responsibilities. Typically the property owner is responsible for structural and environmental system maintenance. Deferred maintenance on structural issues can pose safety and liability risks for the owner. Some commercial property tenants may utilize the property’s systems, in which case the owner would need to track maintenance tasks. 

A specialized business within the compound will sometimes have systems of its own that aren’t shared with the facility at large. For example, an ice cream parlor in a strip mall would be responsible for the upkeep of their own freezers and other business-specific equipment, while the property owner would concern themselves with the condition of shared systems and the overall structural reliability of the building.

Industrial facilities: Industrial facilities typically employ many independent and integrated systems, each with its own set of risks and impact on the personnel and operation of the facility. Each facility is unique but tends to put personnel safety at the top of their priority list. 

Heavy machinery is usually a common component in an industrial environment. Delayed maintenance on industrial equipment could result in a workplace accident. Each piece of equipment usually has its own maintenance schedule, and maintenance crews must strictly adhere to it to ensure a safe work environment.

Often, chemicals are used in various processes, such as anodizing metals. Other times, chemicals or breathing hazards are a byproduct of doing the work, such as welding fumes in metal shops or sawdust in woodworking facilities. Adequate ventilation is critical to worker safety in such environments. Deferring the maintenance and repairs on environmental and ventilation systems could result in worker sick days or worse.

Educational institutions: Public educational institutions are often at the budgetary mercy of a city, state, or federal authority. Lower funding may affect the proper maintenance of structures that make up the institution. Available resources and decreased staffing may make it difficult or impossible to maintain all assets properly. Deferred maintenance can enable safety hazards to arise later on and may ultimately make for higher costs.

In some cases, schools and colleges are scrambling to address immediate and obvious safety concerns. Tripping hazards on the sidewalk may take a higher priority than overhauling the heating system because it’s less expensive and an easily recognizable problem.

Government and public sector: As with educational institutions, deferred maintenance on civilian government facilities — state buildings, government offices, and the like — has been compounding over the years. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), lean budgets have pushed back billions of dollars of facility maintenance across the country. Another crucial factor in governmental deferred maintenance is increased material and overall maintenance costs, pushing repairs and upkeep outside budgetary constraints. 

Some agencies defer maintenance because repairs and upkeep aren’t immediately necessary. For instance, spillway gates on the Hoover Dam were due for various maintenance tasks. Officials determined that the maintenance work wasn’t immediately necessary due to declining water levels on the backside of the dam.

Your Trust Maintenance Partner

Replace deferring and postponing maintenance issues with a proactive solution. Maintenance management software is the definitive tool for improving your company’s approach to maintenance scheduling and record keeping and, ideally, keeping operating costs down.

As your maintenance management solution, Service Channel can help your organization develop a preventive maintenance strategy that works effectively, efficiently, and productively. For more information, explore our platform today.

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