A Preventive Maintenance Checklist Can Save Time and Money

You may have heard about the 50-cent rubber washer that failed and caused $4,000 in water damage. It’s a true story, and the FIRM Incident Response team hears stories like that on a regular basis.

If someone told you where your next maintenance headache would come from, you’d do something right away to stop it from happening in the first place, right? And if you could instruct your maintenance staff about what to look for and when, wouldn’t you?

That’s exactly what we’ll dive into below. Drawing from decades of on-site experience, we’re listing the most important preventive maintenance action steps you can take to keep costs down and tenant happiness up. We’ll even include a checklist you can use to compare the FIRM list of checkpoints against the one you’re currently using.

Inspect vacant units on a regularly scheduled basis

We’ve seen entire units needing to be gutted because a maintenance issue went unaddressed. One owner, for example, paid over $70,000 in restoration costs alone after a small leak caused big damage. Had there been regular maintenance checks, the problem would have been caught and remedied much earlier. Periodic inspections pay for themselves many times over. What’s your current plan for getting them done?

Further in the article you’ll find a copy of the FIRM routine maintenance inspection schedule. Adapt it as needed to fit your own property. For most properties, a weekly preventive maintenance schedule works well, but that’s not the case for everyone.

Check your emergency response plan and get prepared now

The best time to address an emergency of any kind is before it happens. Hurricanes, floods, wildfire — no matter where your properties are located, threats to your staff and tenants are always possible. Dust off your strategic plan and consult the emergency response section. How long has it been since your team reviewed and practiced the steps outlined there? Have you collected and inspected the indicated equipment and supplies?

Lapses the FIRM team sees regularly include the failure to have enough (tested and maintained) generators on hand, not ensuring there are sufficient emergency supplies ready to access, and a lack of wording in master service agreements to commit vendors to providing priority response (more on this below).

Educate your tenants on how they can help

Property management is a tough but rewarding job, and tenants are often far from reasonable. Nevertheless, the most successful property management teams strive to create a community environment that keeps tenants involved and welcomes their interaction. Willful destruction does occur, but most of the time the person who flushes something that backs up a sewage line (for instance) does so from lack of knowledge, not from any malicious intent.

Education for tenants must go beyond brief coverage during contract signing and a brochure in the welcome packet if it is to be effective. Develop a tenant communications and education plan that is ongoing. You can use tools like email, websites, social media sites, posters, events, and more to keep the importance of preventive maintenance and early reporting of maintenance needs fresh in the minds of your tenants. A little bit of effort in advance can save a whole lot of trouble after the fact.

Consider getting a full-site survey of hazardous building materials in advance

Check OSHA and other regulatory agencies (state, federal, and local) in your region for particulars, but the general rule is that when a repair or modification will disturb building materials — during the replacement of drywall or floor tile, for instance — the owner needs to hire a licensed inspector to confirm that any hazardous building materials (HBMs) involved are identified and a plan for before the work can begin.

The inspection requirement can delay the work considerably and end up costing you more in the long run than you would’ve paid for a full-site inspection in advance. This is a preventive maintenance tactic that often gets overlooked, but the potential value it brings to the table is huge. You’ll find that job response and completion times can both be optimized when full-site surveys are part of your maintenance strategy.

Remember to inspect roofs and gutters on a seasonal schedule

Properties where winters are severe should get routine roof and gutter inspections each fall and spring. Other locations may require a different schedule. One thing is certain, though, roof and gutter inspections are another way to keep small problems from becoming big problems.

Leaks from missing roof tiles usually aren’t detectible from inside the structure right away, but the damage intensifies quickly once moisture has penetrated the roofing barrier. Gutters that are damaged or filled with debris cause special problems of their own. Follow up your roof inspections with trimming of trees as needed. Roofs need a thorough inspection regularly.

Switching to smart burners may save money

This one is a little tricky, since the number of products and applications labeled “smart” is growing steadily. “Smart” can refer to something you can control via your smartphone (turning lights on or off, for instance) or it can identify the presence of artificial intelligence. One company has even trademarked the word “SmartBurner™.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, more home fires begin at the kitchen stove than anywhere else in the dwelling. A four-year study (2014-2018) found that fires originating from cooking equipment caused 49 percent of all home fires and led to 44 percent of all home fire injuries.

FIRM relied on trend analysis to help a client develop a multi-year plan to replace coil-type stove burners with “smart burners” that help prevent fires by leveraging smart technology. The new burners keep surface temperatures below the ignition point of common cooking oils. We’re now tracking the data to find out how quickly the project reaches a breakeven investment point and how much money the decision will save the owner over time.

Identify trends and leverage the information to help educate and prepare

We mentioned trend analysis in the smart burner tip above. FIRM is a data-driven company. That doesn’t mean we no longer rely on the experience and instincts of FIRM staff, but that we realize and incorporate the value of using data to inform our decisions. Trend identification doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming. It does mean you should track the data important to the maintenance of your property and use it to uncover preventive maintenance tactics you can use to offset the trend.

The COVID epidemic, for instance, forced many workers to set up an office at home and work from there much of the time. For many apartment communities, that meant an increased load on air conditioning units and the likelihood of leaks. Since A/C apparatus is normally hidden in a closet or other out-of-the-way place, those leaks can go undiscovered for far too long and lead to unwarranted structural consequences.

Trend analysis alerted FIRM managers to the situation, they alerted property managers, and they in turn educated tenants on where to look and what to look for. That team effort saved untold thousands of dollars in avoidable repairs for the owners and months of unnecessary inconveniences for the tenants.

Hold vendors accountable and insist on consistency across vendors and service providers

We earlier mentioned the importance of signing agreements with vendors that are worded in such a way that it commits them to placing you on their priority list for emergency response events. This is an area of concern that often gets neglected, perhaps because those responsible for creating those contracts aren’t aware of what to specify and how to specify it. The aim isn’t to create a legal requirement you can pound vendors with. Rather, it is to create an understanding that you intend to give your business to vendors who know the value of steady and loyal clients.

FIRM’s network of vendors and contractors commit to priority response, standardized pricing, and an appropriate level of recordkeeping. When a FIRM manager dispatches a FIRM-vetted vendor, a pre-planned system is set into motion. We urge you to do the same with your vendors. Don’t wait for an emergency situation before you try to negotiate with responders. Strengthen your vendor relationship agreements. Get it done now. Waiting is risky and expensive.

The FIRM Routine Maintenance Inspection Checklist for Restoration


Routine Maintenance Inspection Checklist for Restoration from FIRM

Routine Maintenance Inspection Checklist for Restoration from FIRM

The FIRM Routine Maintenance Inspection Checklist for Restoration

Entire Apartment

  • Check walls for cracking, staining, bulging, or bowing. These signs may indicate water intrusion behind the wall.
  • Check painted surfaces for bubbling, peeling, or slouching paint layers. These may indicate water intrusion behind the wall. 
  • Perform a 360 inspection of the apartment. Inspect the ceiling, walls, and closet interiors to check for stains or anything else that seems unusual.  
  • Check areas that contain plumbing. These are generally near kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry areas. Look for signs of leakage, present or past.

Appliance Inspections

  • Inspect appliances and unplug those that aren’t needed to help prevent outlet shortages and potential fires. 
  • Inspect water heaters for leaks and clogged drain lines.
  • Check pressurized lines coming from the clothes washer at the connection point. 
  • Check refrigerator water lines and water machines for leaks. Look behind the appliance, on the floor, and on the wall.
  • Check pressurized lines and connection points on the dishwasher.

Plumbing Systems Inspection

  • Thoroughly inspect the plumbing system. Apartment buildings have complex plumbing connected throughout apartments that should be inspected regularly.
  • Check water pressure from faucets. If the flow seems unusual or is flowing in spurts, there may be a leak elsewhere in the building.
  • Check bathroom fixtures and toilets for leaks.
  • Check under sinks for leaks from pressurized lines.

HVAC System Inspection

  • Perform a close inspection of the HVAC system.
  • Check the ambient air. A malfunctioning HVAC system in the summer can cause high humidity and promote mold growth on multiple surfaces. During the winter, HVAC problems can lead to diminished water supply or burst pipes.
  • Check airflow vents and bathroom exhaust fans for mold growth.
  • Check the condensation pan and drain line from the main HVAC system. These often get clogged and can flood the immediate area. 

Exterior Inspection

  • Inspect the exterior for damage and deterioration.
  • Clear roof drains of debris.
  • Walk the perimeter of the roof to examine flashings, weak spots, previously repaired sections, and damaged or curled shingles. 
  • Check for settling cracks, holes, or other evidence of water damage on exterior surfaces. Focus on areas where objects penetrate barriers: intakes, exhausts, pipes or vents, gas lines, and such. Water can enter through cracks or holes.
  • Schedule a roof moisture inspection every five years to detect leaks.
  • Check for water and ice dams during winter months where appropriate.

Fire Inspection

  • Check all fire extinguishers, fire alarms, smoke detectors, and fire sprinkler systems to ensure they are in working order. Note the inspection date.
  • Check that all fire and exit routes are free from obstructions. Include stairways, exits, aisles, and walkways as appropriate.
  • Organize the inspection data report and store it digitally. Be sure to create and keep a backup on a separate computer or storage disk.
  • Check that all general operational practices are followed. Confirm that combustible materials are properly stored, electrical sockets are not overloaded, electrical breaker boxes are easily accessible and not blocked, and that no flammable materials are stored near breaker boxes.

Here’s How to Make Preventive Maintenance Pay Off Big

The old maxim says, “Hindsight is better than foresight,” and like all sayings that bear repetition, there’s plenty of truth there. That’s why post-incident reviews pay off so well. It’s important to capture lessons learned from past events and use those lessons to do better the next time.

We urge you to flip that particular maxim around, though: Foresight is better than hindsight. Exercise your ability to see what’s coming by consulting historical records (trend analysis), by confirming that your preventive maintenance plan is up-to-date, that regular inspections are being carried out, and that you have the equipment and supplies you will need on hand when an event occurs.

For advice on vendor relationships or another related topic, call FIRM at (888) 910-0994 or use the Contact form on our website. You can also get more information about the FIRM program by using that same number or online form.