photo of original Art Deco lights in the foyer of Broadcasting House, London

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Original Art Deco lights in the foyer of Broadcasting House, London © Historic England Archive

Maintaining Building Services

Building services systems don't have an infinite life: they wear out, and components break. If this happens, they can become a risk to buildings and also cause disruption to normal business, which can be costly and inconvenient. It's important to carry out maintenance.

The main objective of maintenance is to limit deterioration and keep the services in good and safe working order. Although it's often seen as mundane, inspections carried out at regular intervals, coupled with prompt action to pre-empt or remedy problems, are the basis of good maintenance.

Maintenance is cost-effective. The time and money spent on routine care, regular surveys and minor repairs protect the value of the building. Good maintenance also helps to ensure the health and safety of building users and the general public. Maintenance can:

  • Extend the life of building services
  • Improve the performance of building services
  • Ensure there are fewer unplanned interruptions
  • Ensure systems will operate when they're needed
  • Remove potential dangers
  • Provide particular environmental conditions for the building fabric or collections
  • Use energy as efficiently as possible
  • Comply with legal and health and safety requirements

Planned maintenance and testing of systems is very important in older buildings. Electrical systems can pose a great fire risk if they are not inspected and tested regularly. Many old buildings may have unknown voids and combustible materials, so fire can spread far more easily and therefore be more devastating.

Maintenance can be divided into unplanned and planned. Unplanned is where a system fails and there is no process in place for the replacement or fixing of the service. Planned, also known as ‘planned preventative maintenance’, involves scheduled maintenance at regular intervals to reduce or eliminate the unplanned failures of systems.

photograph of detail of a radiator fitter on the ceiling of RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London
Detail of a radiator fitter on the ceiling of RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London © Historic England Archive

Planned maintenance

For planned maintenance of systems you will need:

  • An asset register of all the items to be maintained. This should include a description of the item, where it is in the building, supplier's make and model, rating, quantity and date of installation
  • When and how frequently the items need to be maintained. There may be statutory requirements for some items
  • Details of what maintenance tasks need to be carried out on the systems and equipment
  • A system for recording and monitoring the maintenance undertaken
  • Qualified employees to carry out the maintenance or employ a contractor
  • A budget for the maintenance system and related costs

It's useful for whoever is to maintain the system, to have access to the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) manuals from when the installation was done. O&M manuals contain information such as the manufacturers’ maintenance requirements, details for replacements of components and any record or installation drawings.

Many organisations use contractors to carry out maintenance tasks instead of employing their own direct labour. A maintenance contractor could be employed to carry out both planned and unplanned maintenance. If a maintenance contractor is to be employed, it's important that a contract is drawn up between both parties to establish:

  • The scope of works
  • What service is required
  • Response times
  • Competence of staff
  • Payment terms
  • How long the contract will run
  • Insurances

Statutory compliance

How frequently some items of plant are inspected is set by the need to comply with health and safety legislation. The following items will need to have appropriate inspection and testing undertaken and records kept to ensure that action cannot be taken by the Health and Safety Executive for non-compliance:

  • Lifts
  • Fire alarm systems
  • Emergency lighting
  • Fixed electrical wiring
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Portable appliances
  • Gas installations
  • Pressurised systems
  • Smoke extraction
  • Water services
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