photo of original Art Deco lights in the foyer of Broadcasting House, London
Original Art Deco lights in the foyer of Broadcasting House, London © Historic England Archive
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. As they wear out, and components break they can become a risk to the building collection. Carry out maintenance to keep any disruption, cost and inconvenience to a minimum. 

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

It is important to note that plant and equipment located in particularly harsh environments such as coastal locations, can have a shorter life. Such humid environments and where operating hours are longer than normal or even in continuous operation can take their toll.

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. Planned, also known as ‘planned preventative maintenance’, involves scheduled maintenance at regular intervals to reduce or eliminate the unplanned failures of systems. The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Guide M provides best practise guidance for developing a maintenance policy and information on maintenance strategies.

Planned maintenance

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.

The maintenance of engineering services requires a dedicated work force with the necessary skills and expertise. Many organisations use contractors to carry out maintenance tasks instead of employing their own direct labour. There should be a maintenance programme identifying what tasks are undertaken and to what frequency, and a detailed asset register listing all the plant items.

It's useful for whoever is maintaining the system, to have access to the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) manuals from when the installation was done. A good O&M manual will contain information on how to operate all the systems in a building, a parts list, detailed maintenance requirements, testing/commissioning certificates and record drawings.

The Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) Guide BG79/2020 covers best practice on what you should expect to have at the handover of a building construction project, with particular focus on the O&M manuals.

Statutory compliance

How frequently some items of plant are inspected is set by the need to comply with health and safety legislation. Health and safety legislation normally applies to work places where people are employed. Best practice, however, should be applied, where practical, to all locations such as large domestic accommodation; charitable institutions staffed by volunteers or some churches where clergy, who are ‘office holders’ rather than employees, are the only people working in the building. 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