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Enhanced Maintenance Plan

Beyond The Reserve Study

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, January 2011

Winters can be hard in Maine. When condo components begin to wear out sooner than expected and need replacement, this capital cost is often not anticipated by the condo's reserve fund study. This traditional tool has served well for many associations, but more associations are now using a more sophisticated maintenance plan - an enhanced reserve fund study.
Boards once sought only the counsel of accountants and attorneys for their reserve fund needs. Now, more boards are seeking help from engineers, architects and contractors as well. The purpose is to add consultants who know what needs to be done to maintain a building - and how to get it done at the right price. In addition, with the use of an enhanced reserve study the board has more than a replacement in kind option to consider, but also upgrades to take advantage of modern materials or more energy efficient components.

Maintenance Considerations

Routine maintenance is something many of us put off until it's too late; it is easier to procrastinate and tend to things only when there are  significant problems. The pressure to keep maintenance expenses down, coupled with delinquent members or vacant units, means routine maintenance is often neglected. However, since the board has a fiduciary responsibility to manage reserve funds wisely, maintenance items should not be overlooked. Proper maintenance can often dramatically extend the life of common element building components. For example: tripping hazards and related liability, not to mention poor curb appeal to buyers.
  • Inadequate ventilation. This is a common problem. Inadequate ventilation causes moisture problems and overheating roof materials. Both are conditions that will lead to premature component failure.
  • Decks, railings and connections. Often, deck details such as improper ledger fastening or lack of flashing are such that they may encourage rot. Failure can be dangerous.

Because maintenance has a significant effect on the useful life of building components, it becomes an important consideration in the reserve study. So called "useful life" tables are helpful, but only provide average component values. Proper maintenance can affect useful life by 50 percent or more. This variability must be incorporated into any properly done reserve study. If building elements wear out prematurely, there may not be enough money to cover replacement. The implications of underfunding are obvious.

Reserve Study Variables

Similarly, if these same elements are expected to last longer than the average, the reserve may be overfunded, which is almost as troublesome as underfunding. It represents less than optimum use of association resources and property values may decline if maintenance costs are unrealistically high. A competently prepared reserve study can do more than prevent over - or underfunding. Enhanced analysis includes options for modernization, maintenance and repair planning. It means, although roofs may have an average 20-year useful life, certain exposures (e.g., southern) may cause surfaces to wear more rapidly than others. It may be more economical to schedule replacement in phases, thereby minimizing the outlay in anyone year.
An enhanced report also will contain suggestions for routine maintenance that will extend the useful life of various components. This can be developed into a complete maintenance plan, in coordination with management and maintenance personnel. Proper maintenance and appropriate reserves are intimately connected.
Though it may seem obvious, the most important aspect of a well-developed reserve study and its resultant maintenance plan is that it is used. Both the board and the unit owners need to buy into it and use it as a planning tool and a transition guide for future board leadership. Part of this process is to make the plan visible. Some associations post the plan on their websites. One association I know created a poster maintenance schedule with bar charts graphically illustrating the plan's various line items to communicate the status of all of the capital projects. The schedule is posted in the common laundry room for all to see. As projects begin, the progress is demonstrated by coloring in the bars so all can see and the work of the board and management company are eqnally visible.