Services & Maintenance: Outer Limits

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By Bruce K. Wilson
Published in the June 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Regular inspection of the exterior elements of a facility isimportant for several reasons. First, a primary responsibility of thefacility management team is to protect and enhance the physical assetsof the facility. Second, there is value in creating curb appeal for apositive first impression. A third, very important element is safetyand security. Depending on the specific facility, one of these factorsmay be of higher value than another, but they are all important.

Primary areas of the exterior that require regular inspectioninclude landscaping, irrigation systems, and pest control. Normal wearand tear on a facility is reason alone to justify periodic inspection,but what is the effect of a year of extreme weather?

Every property is affected by the environment, which can be unpredictable. Changing conditions can be significant and require major adjustments to the normal maintenance routine. [For more on building envelope inspection, see "The Building Envelope Breakdown," TFM, May 2005, page 48.]

Conditions specific to the facility should also be taken intoaccount when deciding on inspection processes. For instance, a regionalshopping mall will handle heavy traffic, especially around theholidays. A corporate research campus probably does not experience suchhigh traffic and may not have a peak season. This is a variable thatneeds to be evaluated on a site by site basis. Some sites are difficult”right out of the box” due to existing site conditions beforeconstruction.

Regardless of the site nuances, there is the question about theregularity of site inspections. Facility managers should consider whowill perform the work and how often these inspections will occur.

One logical place to start, especially with a new facility, would beto contact the architects involved in the original design, as they havean interest in seeing the property develop according to its proposedintent. They are familiar with the site conditions and can targetproblem areas with solutions and prove helpful in fine tuning ongoingmaintenance practices.

Oftentimes, a facility manager is assigned to a maturing facilitywithout an existing, ongoing inspection process and is unclear where tostart. If the facility manager has expertise in a certain realm, hiringan outside expert in that area may not add value. Facility managersshould, however, look for outside expertise in areas where they do nothave the depth of knowledge necessary to develop and execute a goodmaintenance program while evaluating the long-term effects.

There are property management consultants who work with facilitymanagers to enhance their landscape maintenance programs. One cautionhere is that some landscape contractors look at these consultants asconflicted in that the contractor fears that the inspecting consultantneeds to find something wrong in order to justify the consulting fee.

In addition to these resources, there are numerous otherprofessionals whose services can benefit exterior inspection andmaintenance. These include landscape contractors, consulting arborists,and irrigation consultants.

Areas To Inspect

Attention to landscaping is important to preserving the exteriorassets of an organization. A quarterly or semi-annual inspection isoften sufficient for most facilities.

To a degree, monthly inspections border on micromanaging for mostproperties. There are cases with some very high profile, complexlandscapes where a monthly inspection is valuable. However, for mostproperties a quarterly or semi-annual inspection is sufficient todetermine if adjustments to maintenance practices are needed due toenvironmental conditions or changes in use patterns.

With respect to maintenance programs, attempts to save money on feescan often be shortsighted when it is the life cycle cost of themaintenance program that affects ownership costs more. For instance, ifa maintenance program does not correctly address issues in terms offertility for plant materials, irrigation, and pruning practices, it isa prescription for destroying rather than enhancing the investment.That money saved may result in the need for a large renovation projectin three to five years.

It is important for inspectors to look at the big picture. Dependingon the qualifications of their contractor, this is where the facilitymanager may need to hire specialized consultants to help create amaintenance program.

For instance, most landscape contractors do not have thequalifications to manage the long-term health of mature trees. Also,many facility managers do not realize the value of trees to theproperty. Mature trees reach a point where they are essentiallyirreplaceable. Therefore, this may justify a proactive maintenanceprogram.

A consulting arborist is the ideal specialized consultant to build along-term tree care program. That way a budget can be developed toreduce vulnerability to storm damage and to eliminate other safetyhazards associated with mature trees. Also, facility managers shouldnot underestimate the long-term destruction that can be done to treesby landscape maintenance programs that focus only on the landscapespecification, which usually excludes trees above 15′ in height.

Irrigation management, or lack thereof, can have long-term effectson landscape plantings and other elements of the exterior environment.Having an irrigation consultant come in annually is a worthwhileinvestment. It is relatively easy for someone with a trained eye toobserve symptoms of overwatering or underwatering in the landscape.

On this front, technology has developed rapidly over the last fewyears, making Evapo-Transpiration (ET) controllers cost effective toolsin managing water in the landscape. ET controllers essentially adjustirrigation timing based on weather readings, taking the human elementout of the process. Since most water mismanagement is a result ofpersonnel failing to adjust controller timing to changing weatherconditions, this saves water and money. It also helps to prevent damagecaused by overwatering. An irrigation consultant can ascertain if afacility can benefit from this technology.

When conducting a visual inspection of landscaping and irrigationsystems, the facility manager can look for the presence of stressspots-areas of grass with a grayish or wilted appearance. These spotsare caused by a lack of water and occur before the grass turns brown.

Areas of standing water or continuous damp areas on the grounds,including paved areas, can be a sign of a leak in the system. Parkinglots and other paved areas are often broken down by constantoverwatering or overspray onto-or seepage under-the surfaces. It isalso important to inspect the effect of watering practices adjacent tobuildings where overspray, poor initial design, or excess water canlead to damp conditions that favor mold development.

Pest control is another important area in exterior inspectionprocedures. In looking for potential problems, facility managers shouldkeep an eye out for rodent burrows and harborage areas such as tallweeds. In addition, they should check for signs of termite tunnels onexterior foundation walls.

The key is to keep the area adjacent to any facility clean, well mowed, and free from weeds.

Making The Plan

There are many aspects to think about when considering the issue ofinspection. The process should include first identifying the specificneeds of the facility. What is the value of the exterior environment tothe facility or business? What areas of expertise are needed tocomplement the facility team to make sure the investment is beingprotected? Building a team of outside resources around those needs canhelp the facility manager stay focused on the long-term or life cyclecost of the maintenance program.

Wilson is CEO of the Symbiot Business Group located in Sandy, UT. He can be reached at [email protected].

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