The challenge of prolonging the life of aging buildings
Without heating or hot and cold water a building is uninhabitable. That’s why today’s Managing Agent has to manage the potential threat of losing critical services. Yet, escalating service charges are a common and constant worry which means that you can’t just spend your way out of the problem. Often it comes down to postponing the inevitable replacement programme, by keeping heating and hot water assets in service for as long as possible, whilst also minimising costs.
Unfortunately, some Managing Agents discover the hard way that taking on local, poorly qualified tradespeople or domestic engineers to maintain their aging and complex commercial systems, is the wrong way to minimise costs. Don’t fall into this trap. All too often the end result is a botched job, which will cause problems elsewhere in the system, affecting many people and racking up significant service charge costs.
Seek out the potential dangers
Being proactive is essential. That’s because many heat networks and water systems designed to last 50 years, in reality have been in service for close to 100 years. Inevitably problems crop up and, if left, they can potentially become catastrophic.
In my experience, these common hidden issues can lead to major problems:
- Crossovers, with cold water in the hot pipes or vice versa, caused by poor understanding of the system and pressures.
- Long term air and sludge in systems and unchecked storage tanks.
- Changes in demand – fitting pumps, extra radiators and showers – without considering the impact across the system.
- Unresolved leaks leading to constant top-ups with untreated water.
- Low hot water temperatures, blocked waterways and poor hygiene control leading to legionella problems.
- Uncontrolled apartment works that also miss opportunities to replace pipework and valves.
- Valves that don’t work! This means drain downs for planned or emergency work in most instances will affect the whole building and all services.
Plan for the best, expect the worst
When dealing with old buildings my advice to you would be, plan for the best and expect the worst.
Here’s what you should do:
- Don’t think that a ‘head in the sand’ approach will work. It’ won’t.
- Instead, select a maintenance company that has the skills and expertise to provide you with a bespoke maintenance schedule for your buildings.
- Ensure your maintenance company can identify the pressure points and dangers within the existing infrastructure, and attend at short notice 24/7/365 when that inevitable crisis hits.
Avert a crisis with 24/7 emergency response
Flats are valuable assets, so an emergency should only ever be just that, an emergency. It mustn’t be allowed to become a nightmare. As the emergency is spotted, it must trigger a swift response any time of the day or night, 365 days of the year, regardless of whether it’s The Sabbath, Hanukkah, Diwali or Christmas Day. Speedy solutions keep residents happy!
Take control with on-call support:
- Emergency service should be embedded into your contract, with KPIs reported to you each month, should you wish.
- You should expect, and get, a swift response day or night, 365 days per year.
Keep control of costs – Avoid the FTT
With these aging buildings, keeping costs within the maintenance budget can sometimes seem an impossible task. When problems arise and quotes come rolling in, it’s easy for the costs to spiral out of control. Overspends will be scrutinised by the residents and if not fully justified, will cause an even greater problem.
Your cost-control checklist:
- Choose a proactive maintenance company that will assist in budget planning by prioritising works or giving advance notice of funds needed for future works.
- Find a company that’s committed to preserving the condition of plant and systems, and identifying energy saving measures.
- Make sure that you receive a complete breakdown of all costs encountered.
- Demand that all maintenance costs are fully justified and over-expenditure is limited, or eradicated.
- Consider insurance which is available to cover this risk.
Solve complex issues with experienced engineers
Be certain you know the difference between engineers and experienced engineers by using this ‘tick box’ exercise to select the best of the best:
- Are they knowledgeable enough to ignore the obvious and identify the root cause of an issue?
- Are they technically competent to find safe practical solutions to complex problems?
- Are they multi-skilled, so if they discover the heating failure they’ve responded to was actually caused be an electrical failure, they can handle that safely too?
- Are they commercially experienced to consider the long term implications and cost-benefit of any fix?
A specialist maintenance partner, like DMG Delta, with proven ability to support mansion blocks and whose engineers tick all these boxes, is the key to keeping your building alive.
“These mansion blocks which line many of London’s residential streets may look grand, but often the communal heating and hot water systems which are at the heart of the building have far exceeded their ‘best before’ dates. With upgrades potentially costing millions, and the residents reluctant to foot the bill, it’s often preferable to work with what you’ve got – whether it’s aging boiler plant or old heat distribution and water systems.”
Dave Collins, Contracts Manager at DMG Delta.