All matter breaks down over time. The structures that surround us today are no exception to that law of physics. Some building materials are more durable than others, like stone and steel, but unfortunately the days of structures surviving thousands of years, like the Egyptian pyramids and Roman cathedrals, is over. Most of the structures erected today have a life expectancy of less than 100 years. Therefore, preventive maintenance of building exteriors has become more important than ever.

"Every building or structure should have a preventive maintenance program in place for its exterior components," said Mark Sheehan of Western Specialty Contractors Facades Division. "How extensive the program needs to be will depend directly on the size of the building, number of different materials and components, geographic location and personnel available to keep it updated."

A preventive maintenance program consists of two major parts - the inspection and the execution, said Sheehan. During inspection of a building's exterior, some of the more complex structures may require special access and assistance from a contractor, however, for most structures, an in-house maintenance crew – with a little bit of training – is capable of doing the job.

"When performing the inspection, it is extremely important to document the findings and keep them in a consistent format from year to year. This can be achieved by simply using a three-ring binder with notes and pictures or a multi-layered spreadsheet. It is also necessary to inspect any work that has recently been performed as those repairs may still be under warranty," said Sheehan.
Some specific items to inspect and document regarding a building’s exterior condition include:

  • Gutters, drains, downspouts, drainage, roof - Decaying leaves, pine needles and dirt run-off can all contribute to ponding water and clogged gutters and downspouts, which is why it is essential that all roof drains remain clear of obstructions. In addition to the risk of water pouring into the tenant spaces should a breach in the roof occur, the freezing and thawing of ponding water during the fall and winter months can cause extensive roof damage.
  • Perimeters of doors, windows and other wall penetrators - The exterior walls of a building can be a significant source of unwanted water leakage. Many openings are required in commercial building walls for plumbing, irrigation connections, lighting, HVAC system elements, exhaust vents, air intakes, joints around windows and doors, and fire alarms, to name a few. Unplanned holes may also be present caused by aging brick joints that need re-pointing, vanishing sealants, damage from acid rain and settling cracks.
  • Walking/driving surfaces - When water infiltrates concrete, it can freeze, causing the water to occupy nine percent more volume than in its liquid state. This expansion causes distress on the concrete, which can lead to fractures that will continue to grow exponentially as saturation of the material increases. Cracks, spalls, rust spots, deterioration, pot-holes and heaves are all signs of damage.
  • Building control and expansion joints - Like any other element of a structure, its controls and expansion joints can become damaged. Evidence of damage includes warping, cracking, leaking water, loosening screws and building settlement or moving.
  • Copings and flashings - When surveying the roof, be sure to inspect the copings and flashings. Water damage to exterior and interior walls can be significant if these important elements are not maintained properly.

The second part of any preventive maintenance program is the execution. The data collected during the inspection should be put into a budget for needed repairs. Depending on the condition of the structure, repairs may need to be prioritized. It is also important to evaluate the need for protective measures such as scalers or coatings. A specialty contractor with experience in facade maintenance and restoration, such as Western Specialty Contractors, can itemize each inspection item and offer specific recommendations for repairs.

"If you are in charge of a structure that does not have a preventive maintenance program in place for its exterior, you should think about implementing one immediately," said Sheehan. "Preventive maintenance keeps the building off of the deferred maintenance path, which usually results in exponential restoration costs. A maintenance plan will prevent structural failures and promote safer structures, plus a well-maintained exterior helps to attract and keep tenants. Preventive maintenance for any structure’s exterior is a must."