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Deferred maintenance: A green issue?
Maybe without realizing it, institutional and commercial organizations could make their facilities greener in a hurry with a single step.
Given the buzz these days surrounding anything to do with environmental friendliness, why wouldn’t organizations give this step more serious consideration? Surprisingly, it’s been available for decades, but most within these organizations have chosen to overlook it day after day, even though it’s in plain sight.
It’s hard to understand why. The step would immediately improve the operation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems by drastically cutting energy use. It would improve plumbing systems’ efficiency by curtailing the amount of water facilities use. And it would improve occupant comfort and indoor air quality, making buildings less harmful to occupants.
So what single step could provide these benefits and make facilities greener? Investing in deferred maintenance.
Many maintenance and engineering managers probably abandoned hope long ago that their organizations would properly fund the seemingly endless backlog of overdue repairs to key facility systems and components.
The problem has been well documented. In 1989, APPA found that 20 percent of higher education facilities required replacement at a cost of $60 billion; one-third of these replacement needs were classified as urgent. A 1995 follow-up estimated the urgent needs had grown to $26 billion. Given the ongoing battle over public higher education resources, APPA this year conservatively estimated that the amount needed for deferred maintenance now might have risen by more than 25 percent.
And that’s just colleges and universities. Throw in public schools and government buildings, and the size of the challenge becomes clearer. So what could it hurt revisiting the issue of deferred maintenance and making the case for funding repair projects as green investments?
After all, repairing or replacing leaking roofs and fixing damaged interior surfaces would reduce or eliminate further problems with mold, improving the quality of the indoor environment and the health of occupants and visitors.
Upgrading or replacing inefficient chillers would curb organizations’ energy use and costs, and replacing chillers that still use ozone-depleting refrigerants certainly would fit in well with any organization’s green strategy.
And retrofitting old or leaking plumbing fixtures with low-flow fixtures or waterless urinals would help conserve the nation’s dwindling water supply.
Managers would need a little time to reframe their requests in these terms, but they wouldn’t need to go it alone. Manufacturers, green-issue groups and a host of other interested parties certainly would be willing to provide the needed facts and figures to back up any request.
And in the end, whatever the tone of the request and whatever strategy it dovetails with, the goal for managers is finding the funding to do the right thing for facilities and their occupants. So if green can make it happen, join the movement, and go green.