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Buildings, their lifespans, and why they’re “Time-Tested”


Buildings are unique in that they decay, age, and most importantly, adapt over time. Why is that?


Buildings are like the human body—they emerge from construction full of promise and potential. And yet, over time, systems become a bit more rickety, slower to respond, and generally less efficient. In such circumstances, the facility manager must play doctor, diagnosing the building’s issue and finding a suitable course of treatment.


But, why do buildings fail? Why are maintenance and system curation always part of the job?


A Change in Needs —


Sometimes, buildings evolve simply to address a change in tenants (or, a change in the preferences of existing tenants). Just as no two businesses are the same, so should no two buildings attempt the same solutions for disparate needs.


Aesthetics, too, play a role in how buildings evolve. As older generations retire and younger minds take their place, companies often feel a pull toward modern, mainstream aesthetics. In today’s market, for instance, we’re seeing a large number of renovations based around open floor plans. In 20 years, we might see a return to the cubicle. Put simply: preferences change, and buildings change with them.


New Opportunities From New Technology —


Retrofitting buildings with new technology not only improves their resale value, but can also have an immediate impact on wasteful energy expenditures. When weighing new lighting, heating, cooling, or plumbing options, some companies are surprised by how little time must pass before such updates have paid for themselves (some old systems were really inefficient).


And, occasionally, older buildings are forced to make updates for safety reasons as new information emerges on old building materials. A few examples including asbestos insulation, lead paint, and so forth…things we now know to pose serious health risks.


Natural Causes —


One of the more common sources of system failure is age itself. We demand a lot from our furnaces, plumbing, and other utilities. And, such challenging roles necessitates wear and tear, with the efforts of routine maintenance eventually falling short. Like it or not, there’s a natural life cycle for these systems.


But, the good news is that many products come with recommended usage terms (be sure to always ask a salesman for details on how long any new purchase may last). With this information—and by mapping the age of existing systems—facility managers can plan for updates and discuss them with management before disaster strikes.


Improper Use —


Unfortunately, tenants don’t always share the same set of priorities as the FMs in their building. And, even if they are conscientious about usage, they may simply lack the facts necessary for responsible use.


A large number of plumbing issues, for instance, stem from people attempting to flush items they should not. And, the lifespan of furnaces can be dramatically shortened by overuse. By keeping an open dialogue with tenants, FMs can help mitigate risks from improper use while ensuring that those under their watch stay comfortable.


In sum, the way in which any individual building ages—and is subsequently repaired—ultimately boils down to a diverse array of forces (including, but certainly not limited, to those listed above). What sorts of issues have led your facility to make changes?

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