Maintaining a commercial building is a big job - there's no two ways about it.

But it's one that can be made a lot easier with some smart design choices upfront.

In addition to regularly scheduled cleaning and repairs, there are also the occasional big projects, like repainting the exterior or replacing roofing. This can all be a lot to handle, both in terms of time and money.

This is where Design for Maintainability (DfM) comes in. 

In this blog post, we will discuss some of the factors that go into designing for maintainability, and why it matters for commercial buildings. So if you're planning a new construction or renovation project, be sure to read on!

What is Designing for Maintainability?

Design for Maintainability (DfM) is the practice of integrating operations and maintenance considerations into project planning and design to achieve effectiveness, safety, and economy of maintenance tasks during the lifespan of a facility. While it may not be the most exciting part of the design process, DFM is crucial for ensuring that commercial buildings can be maintained effectively and efficiently.

While DFM may seem like a no-brainer for commercial buildings, there are still many building owners and developers who don't give maintenance the attention it deserves. This can be due to a number of factors, including a lack of understanding of what DfM entails, or simply because they prioritize other design considerations over long-term maintenance costs.

But the fact is, designing for maintainability should be a top priority for any commercial building owner or developer.

DfM takes a holistic approach to facility design, considering all stakeholders - from building occupants to front-line maintenance staff - in order to create an optimal balance of function, form, and utility. The goal is to identify potential problems and develop solutions that will minimize negative impacts on the overall facility.

Why is designing for maintainability important?

The goal of DFM is to reduce long-term maintenance costs and improve building performance by making it easier and more cost-effective to maintain the building over its life cycle.

In order to achieve these goals, everyone involved in the design and construction process must be aware of and involved in the DFM process. This includes architects, engineers, facility managers, and contractor representatives. By working together to consider maintenance needs at each stage of the design process, the team can develop a comprehensive plan that will ultimately save time and money.

DFM is important for commercial buildings for a number of reasons. First, commercial buildings are subject to more stringent building code requirements than residences. Those requirements often include provisions for easy access to building systems for maintenance and repair.

Second, commercial buildings tend to have a higher occupant density than residences, and the occupants are typically more diverse in terms of age, ability, and mobility. This means that there is a greater potential for user-initiated maintenance and repair activities, and the design must accommodate those activities.

Third, commercial buildings are often open to the public, which means that they are subject to a wider range of environmental conditions and potential wear and tear. This increased exposure can shorten the lifespan of building materials and systems, and it can also make it difficult or impossible to perform maintenance and repair activities during business hours. Designing for maintainability helps to ensure that commercial buildings can withstand the rigors of daily use and provide a safe and comfortable environment for occupants.

Finally, the cost of commercial building construction is typically much higher than the cost of residential construction. This makes it even more important to design for long-term value, rather than simply focusing on initial costs. This is because the initial cost savings from cutting corners on maintenance can quickly be offset by the increased costs of repairs and replacements down the road.

When done correctly, designing for maintainability can have a significant impact on the long-term value of a commercial building. By reducing maintenance costs and improving building performance, DFM can help to increase the resale value of the building and make it more attractive to potential buyers.

How can you design for maintainability during the early phases of construction?

It's estimated that the cost of operating and maintaining a commercial building can be up to three times the cost of the initial construction. This can be a significant sum of money over the life of the building, so it's important to consider maintainability when designing and constructing a commercial building.

There are a number of ways to design for maintainability during the construction phase. These include:

Using standardized components:

By using standardized components, building owners and operators can reduce the cost of ownership and improve the long-term performance of their buildings. Standardized components make it easier and less expensive to perform routine maintenance tasks such as cleaning, re-lamping, and filter changes as they can be sourced from a variety of suppliers. This makes it easier to find replacement parts and to keep costs down.

In addition, using standardized components can simplify the training of maintenance staff and reduce the need for specialized tools and equipment. Finally, standardized components can help to improve the efficiency of the building’s operations by reducing the need for custom-designed solutions. 

Planning for easy access:

Accessibility is one of the most important aspects of commercial building design. In order to ensure that a building can be properly maintained, it is essential that all systems and components are readily accessible. This includes everything from the electrical and plumbing systems to the HVAC equipment and fire sprinklers.

By incorporating easy-to-access features into the design of a commercial building, maintenance teams will be able to quickly and efficiently complete their work, helping to minimize downtime and disruptions. In addition, easy access can also help to improve safety by reducing the need for employees to enter cramped or dangerous spaces.

Using high-quality materials:

This may seem like an obvious point, but low-quality materials are more likely to break down or degrade over time, necessitating frequent repairs or replacements. In contrast, high-quality materials are designed to withstand greater wear and tear, reducing the need for costly repairs and downtime. In addition to using high-quality materials, it is also important to consider the maintenance needs of the building during the design phase. Similarly, specifying materials that are easy to clean and repair can help to keep costs down over the lifetime of the building.

Using technology to your advantage:

Technology can play a big role in making commercial buildings function more efficiently. Automated systems can help to reduce the need for manual labor, while also improving the accuracy of building maintenance tasks. For example, using sensors to monitor building conditions can help to identify potential problems before they become expensive repairs.

In addition, building automation systems can help to optimize the performance of a building’s systems, resulting in lower energy costs. Finally, remote monitoring and diagnostics can help building owners and operators quickly identify and resolve problems, even when they are off-site.

Planning for the future

When designing a commercial building, it is important to consider the building’s future needs. This includes everything from anticipated changes in occupancy to the need for future expansion. Planning for the future can help to avoid costly mistakes and disruptions down the road.

For example, by incorporating features such as extra wiring or plumbing connections, building owners can save time and money when making changes or additions to the building in the future. Similarly, designing a building with the flexibility to accommodate different types of businesses can help to ensure that it remains relevant and valuable over time.

Consider acoustics:

Properly planning for acoustics can reduce noise levels inside a commercial building, making it more comfortable for occupants and reducing wear and tear on the structure itself. In addition, good acoustics can help to improve communication and collaboration among employees.

Optimize lighting:

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of commercial building design. In addition to providing a comfortable working environment, good lighting can also help to reduce energy costs.

There are a number of ways to optimize the lighting in a commercial building, including using natural light, installing energy-efficient fixtures, and using controls to minimize wasted light.

Working with a reputable firm

When it comes to commercial building design, working with a reputable and experienced firm can make a big difference. An experienced multidisciplinary firm will have the knowledge and expertise to help you navigate the design process, while also providing valuable insights into building code requirements and industry trends.

In addition, a reputable firm will have a strong track record of delivering high-quality buildings that meet the needs of its occupants. This means that you can be confident that your building will be functional, efficient, and safe.

By working with a reputable firm, you can be sure that your building is designed for long-term success.

How does designing for maintainability benefit building owners and operators?

Designing for maintainability benefits commercial building owners and operators in multiple ways.

First, it can help to reduce the amount of unscheduled downtime, increase the useful life of equipment, and lower maintenance costs. By its very nature, scheduled downtime is disruptive and expensive. Even brief periods of unscheduled downtime can have a significant impact on productivity. Designing for maintainability helps to minimize unscheduled downtime by making it easier to identify and correct problems before they cause equipment failures.

In addition, well-designed systems are easier to keep in good repair, which helps to extend their useful life. In fact, research has shown that properly designed and maintained systems can last up to twice as long as those that are not well designed or maintained.

Furthermore, fewer repairs mean lower maintenance costs. This not only saves building owners and operators money but also frees up resources that can be used for other purposes. It also reduces the environmental impact of disposal and the need for new raw materials. 

When commercial building owners and operators take the time to design for maintainability, they reap the benefits. 

In conclusion, maintainability should be given equal weight to aesthetic concerns when designing a building. By taking a proactive approach to maintenance, operation, and repair, building owners and operators can minimize downtime, extend the useful life of their building and equipment, and save money. 

About Acuitas: 

Acuitas Caribbean Limited is a multidisciplinary firm that specializes in commercial building design. We have a  strong track record of delivering high-quality buildings that meet the needs of their occupants.

Contact us today to learn more about our services.