Extending Asset Life: 3 Maintenance Scenarios

When it comes to our building assets, such as our roofs and boilers, we all want to stretch our dollars by delaying the big ticket items. This is a reasonable goal; but how do we stretch those dollars as far as possible without something snapping?

When it comes to maintenance there can often be confusion. Are we required to maintain our building assets to simply reach their life expectancy? Or are we maintaining to extend their lives somehow?

Some definitions to start:

  • Reaching life means that we are doing the necessary and sufficient maintenance to get the reasonable expected life from our assets. For example, we may have a roof on our building with a reasonable life expectancy of 25 years and we want to reach that point. If it needs to be replaced earlier than 25 years then we have failed to reach its expected life.
  • Extending life means that we want to extract more life from the asset than is ordinarily expected. We want to prolong the life of the asset, as long as possible, by seeking out its potential life. Considering the same roof example, we may not agree that 25 years is its full potential life and want to extract more utility from it.

In reaching life we want to “get-to” a target year whereas in extending life our target is to “go-beyond” a particular year. The expected life is the average of what has been achieved in all circumstances, whereas the potential life is the very best case scenario that has ever been achieved.

The following image illustrates what these two goals might look like. The red bars indicate the years in which capital projects (such as roof replacement) are forecast to occur. The yellow zones indicate opportunity.

Okay, so how do we extend the life of our asset?

Is it achieved by applying a very rigorous maintenance program to our assets? Unfortunately, it is not that simple — there are certain factors that prevent us from achieving this linear correlation of more-maintenance-equals-more-life.

Assets can be divided three groups.

1. Assets whose lives are not permitted to be extended

The life of some assets cannot be extended because we are not allowed to even try doing so. For example, many fire safety components of buildings, such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, must be replaced after a certain number of years, as required by law, regardless of their actual condition.

Here asset life can never be “extended” but only “reached” through maintenance. There is no value in trying to optimize maintenance to buy more life from these types of assets.

This highly regulated group typically represents about 5-10% of all the components of buildings.

2. Assets whose lives can be extended but only at significant cost

This group includes equipment and components that are constructed of less than perfect materials. This is done intentionally so that the building is made “affordable”. It is not always reasonable to use the very best materials and products, which would price the building beyond what the market can bear. There is a point of diminishing returns beyond which people are not willing to pay the extra money for the extra durability.

The cost to extend the life of these assets requires the use of alternative materials and design details that are more durable and robust. But this is expensive and it would not necessarily be economical or viable to do so. As the building ages, and the owners are presented with decisions to replace these components, opportunities will arise for consideration of alternatives with longer lifespans.

The vast majority of the components of buildings fall into this category, which includes about 60-80% of the asset inventory.

3. Assets whose lives can be extended but only with delicate care

The final group includes those components that can potentially last for indefinite periods of time, but subject to careful and consistent maintenance practices. These assets are protected by another asset and their lifespan is directly dependent on the protective function.

An example is coated wood siding. This asset typically lasts about 30 years (expected life) but some owners have been able to preserve their siding for 40 years and beyond (potential life) through careful cycles of protective re-coating of the wood. On the other hand, some owners have failed to even reach expected life due to deferred maintenance resulting from missed painting cycles.

This group represents about 10% of the assets and is where some of the greatest returns on investment can be achieved.

It is helpful for building owners to recognize which of their assets fall into each of these three groups and to align their maintenance strategy accordingly.


David Albrice is a Senior Building Asset Management Specialist at RDH Building Engineering Ltd. He works with facility owners, managers and operators in the cataloging of their assets and developing strategies to mitigate risk. Follow onTwitter.