Failure to plan a maintenance budget increases risks for owners, operators and investors

Darren Waitson argues that maintaining systems is as important as selection and installation

What is the issue?

There is a focus on early dialogue and collaboration between investors, consultants and installers of services and systems in residential developments across the UK.   

However, there isn’t enough early dialogue and collaboration with service management and the maintainers of these systems.  There is a distinct difference between an installer and maintainer of a system where each party is focused on their own areas of expertise.   

The consequence of this non-alignment results in increased risk – with potentially unlimited exposure to reputational damage and financial liability while also creating hidden, condensed, and increased maintenance costs for the future.   

An installer will have in-depth knowledge of regulation, design, installation, and selection of products.   

 A maintainer will have in-depth knowledge of regulation, design, operation, on-going costs, and best practice for reducing risk over the lifespan of the building.   

 As an example, the selection of third-party installers of fire doors and the correct approach to installing certified products (as part of a certificated and complete fire door set) has seen considerable improvement over the last few years.  

However, early advice and consideration around maintaining these critical safety systems still falls short – potentially leaving both investors, building owner and managing agent liable to significant risk.   

 A fully certified fire door set, installed under the construction phase, does not necessarily mean the same fire door set is fit for purpose or compliant a short while after handover.    

As fire doors are regularly used by residents and other building users, they can become damaged.  This is especially true during the first six months of occupation (very early on and shortly after being certified) when residents start moving in and there are deliveries of furniture and other bulky items. 

This stage can be the most significant period of risk as there is a heightened risk of damage to life safety systems combined with new residents who might not be familiar with their properties, appliances and building layout.  

Picture of a fire door and emergency exit

Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

Best practice would be to engage early on with a maintainer of a system to ensure that adequate advice – in real life practical terms – can be considered and implemented to reduce risk

While there is now a requirement for fire door inspections every six months, this if often either not put in place or only commences several months, or even years, after occupation.     

Best practice would be to engage early on with a maintainer of a system to ensure that adequate advice – in real life practical terms – can be considered and implemented to reduce risk.   Having an inspection by an independent surveyor immediately after occupation (potentially six months after handover) will pinpoint any damage caused during this period but also potentially identify any defects in the installation.   

From a regulatory (and moral) perspective, ensuring systems are compliant at install/prior to occupation but also immediately after occupancy results in increased peace of mind and assurance that the property and those occupants are safe. If carried out properly, this can be evidenced to new occupants of a building. The focus on residents feeling safe and being safe is highlighted within the Building Safety Bill. 

From a commercial perspective, identifying defects early on – and potentially within the defects period – will result in those works being carried out by the original installers rather than the building owner.  In some cases, rectifying fire-door defects present from installation has resulted in remedial charges exceeding many tens of thousands of pounds.   Approaching the inspection cycle early on, under consultation with a maintainer of systems, will result in less risk to the operating income of a BTR building.    

In addition, understanding the life expectancy and lifecycle of systems and their components will result in effective and efficient planning of likely future costs to maintain systems.  Thorough planning and budgeting will avoid any unnecessary surprises.   

  1. Engage early on with designer, installer, and maintainer of all building systems   
  2. Consult with specialist maintainers to discuss best practice for budgeting for inspections, remedial and reactive costs   
  3. Implement inspection cycles of systems immediately following occupation of a building   
  4. Collaborate with specialist suppliers to understand life expectancy and lifecycles of systems and components to budget effectively   
  5. Explore service agreements which include fixed costs for inspection, remedial works, and reactive works to improve the operating income of a BTR building   

Another consideration is around the ongoing maintenance costs.  

Staying with the fire door scenario, some consideration might be given to implementing a six-monthly inspection regime but there may be no specific allowance made for rectifying any defects.   Unfortunately, on too many occasions an allowance is made to have an inspection carried out, but remedial works cannot proceed due to budget constraints.  Again, this increases the risk to the investor, building owner and managing agent.   

The reality is that the above applies to every product and system installed.   


What is the solution?

  1. Early engagement with both installer and maintainer of services and systems within residential properties so that a truly 360-degree consultation can be considered.   
  2. By engaging with a maintainer of the system, unique and specialist expert advice can be given for the lifespan of the building which will mitigate risk over what could be many decades of ownership.    
  3. Best practice is not only to have the most durable, compliant, and cost-effective products installed but also to have an inspection and maintenance regime in place. This will safeguard the ongoing reduction of risk while also ensuring that, should works be necessary, they have been adequately planned and budgeted for.   
  4.  A positive step forward would be to liaise with maintainers to provide service-level agreements which include inspection regimes and cover both remedial and reactive works. This would not only remove risk but reduce the commercial investment necessary for the upkeep of the building systems.   
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