Maintenance vs. Care — Why Should I Care? by David Albrice

Maintenance vs. Care  — Why Should I Care? by David Albrice

I have experienced some “a-ha moments” in my career.

I may be watching an expert give a talk at a conference and I say to myself: “Now I get it. Now that makes sense and I can incorporate that insight into my work from this point forward”. It is wonderful to be the recipient of an “aha moment” and just as rewarding to watch it being experienced in others as they learn something.

Okay, now you may be wondering what is the “aha” in this article and is it going to be something meaningful? Please allow me one minute to provide some context.

In my career, I have had the pleasure of reading hundreds of maintenance manuals and warranty certificates. Most healthy humans will consider a maintenance manual to be the perfect cure for insomnia. What is more dry and boring than a maintenance manual or the small legal print on a warranty certificate? Not much, I would say.

Notwithstanding the lonely world of maintenance manuals and warranty certificates, there is something useful that I want to share here. Something that is relevant to both those humans who fall asleep after reading the first page of a maintenance manual and to those who happen to actually read it (probably because they are compelled to do so as part of their job). I wonder what percentage of humans actually enjoy reading a maintenance manual and what do they look like? My apologies, I am digressing – let me get back on track. Your time is valuable and should not be wasted.

I have noticed that product manufacturers and warranty providers will often include two key words in the covering pages of their product literature or maintenance manuals. For example, a boiler manufacturer may include the title: “Maintenance vs. Care of your Boiler” or the documents attached to a roof warranty may start with, “Maintenance vs. Care of your Roof”. Why do they use these two concepts in tandem? Is there some important difference that we should be alerted to?

In the early days of my career, I used to think that these two concepts (maintenance and care) were synonymous and could be used interchangeably. In my mind as a young asset manager, these maintenance or warranty documents could have just easily been called “Maintenance and Preservation of your ____ ” (fill in the name of your favourite asset).

I am going to offer some distinctions that have helped my clients appreciate their role in preserving the warranties on their assets and deepening their understanding of why it is important to provide budgets for preventative maintenance and also for periodic inspections.

1. What we must do and What we must not do

The first distinction to be made…

Maintenance is about the things that the owner must do to keep the asset in good working order. For example, the owner must clean the asset, must lubricate the asset, must replace filters, etc . These are all positive actions to be exercised. On the other hand, care is about the things that the owner must not do. For example, do not extinguish cigarette butts on your deck membrane; do not indiscriminately drill holes into your window frames. These are the negatives that must be avoided.

Let’s use the tires on our car to further illustrate this point. We “maintain” our tires by keeping the air pressure at the recommended level but we “care” for our tires by not driving over those nasty spikes when leaving the impound yard.(Yes, my vehicle has been impounded for parking violations – twice over the last 25 years).

Included below is a more expansive (but not exhaustive) list of some of these distinctions:

Maintenance and care are like two sides of the same coin. If one fails, the other fails.

2. The Asset and its Environment

This leads us to the second distinction between maintenance and care. Maintenance is about the actions directed at the asset whereas care is about what we do in the environment around the asset. For example, we vacuum the carpets to remove dirt and prolong the life of the carpet pile (maintenance). On the other hand, we may place runners at exterior doorways to limit the amount of dirt being tracked into the building (care). We paint the interior walls periodically (maintenance) but we place corner guards to avoid gouges in high traffic locations (care).

3. The Probability of Failure and Consequences of Failure

The third distinction can be summarized as follows: Maintenance is about managing the probability of failure of an asset (by extending its life as long as possible), whereas care is geared more towards management of the consequences of that failure (avoiding the loss that occurs at the end of life of the asset). Keeping our car tires at the right pressure ensures that failure is delayed as long as possible (the probability of failure), care ensures that we do not arrive suddenly at that point where our tires are flat and the vehicle cannot be driven (consequences of failure).

In my 20+ years as a maintenance management consultant I have witnessed many situations in which the owners have found themselves in dire straits due to a lack of care on their part more so than a lack of maintenance.

The warranty providers and product manufacturers know that care and maintenance occupy the two sides of the same coin. Once we know what they know, then we can take steps to extract full value from our warranties and ensure the best return on our assets.


David Albrice is a Senior Building Asset Management Specialist at RDH Building Engineering Ltd. He works with property owners, managers and operators of facilities in all real estate sectors, including commercial, institutional, industrial and residential. David is passionate about guiding his clients in the responsible stewardship of their assets and lowering their total cost of ownership.

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