The industrial real estate market has been booming for several years and is anticipated to continue its upward trajectory for the near future. Fueled by increases in e-commerce, a strong economy and a heightened desire to keep inventory levels high, the demand for industrial buildings remains strong. In fact, Q3 2021 saw a record-breaking 448.9 million square feet of industrial space under construction in the United States.
A lesser discussed topic in the industrial market is that of continued maintenance. Concrete tilt-up buildings make up a large share of the industrial market, and while they’re relatively simple building systems, they do require maintenance over time.
Today, we will spend some time discussing the common maintenance items that building owners and users should keep in mind to keep their assets in premium condition.
1. Major Mechanical, Electrical, Fire Protection and Plumbing Systems
Every building contains some form of mechanical, electrical, plumbing & fire protection systems (MEPF), ranging from very simple to extremely complex. Best practice is to hire licensed contractors to perform routine maintenance on these systems, completing items such as filter and belt replacements on HVAC units; routine inspections on circuit breakers, and bulb replacements; fire alarm tests; sprinkler system flushing; and more.
Once a contractor turns over the building to the owner or manager following construction, the maintenance of these systems is no longer the responsibility of the general contractor (barring any contractual agreements to the contrary).
While it’s generally advised for the original vendors to complete the maintenance work, it is also possible to hire another company for this purpose. Remember to provide clear expectations to ensure you acquire comparable proposals for maintenance work and review the maintenance contract at regular intervals.
As part of the close-out process, a good general contractor will provide contact information for the installing subcontractor team so the owner can consider retaining them for ongoing maintenance.
2. Roofing Systems
Industrial buildings are commonly a shallow sloped roof structure with a built-up roofing membrane, a Thermoset (EPDM) roof membrane, or a Thermoplastic (TPO) roof membrane. Each roofing type has different specifications for installation and maintenance. These include details on roof penetrations, drainage and maintenance requirements for best practices and maintaining the roof warranty.
Regular roof maintenance programs will investigate and repair, among other items:
- The presence of debris, particularly in corners or drains
- Cracks or tears in the roofing material
- Soundness of the material at roof penetrations
- Soft spots signifying rot or structural failure
- Sheet metal cap flashing, scuppers and gutter inspections
- Pooling water
Finding these anomalies as early as possible lowers the cost of repairs. Some items may even be included in the base maintenance agreement.
Depending on the complexity of the roof system, the location of the building and the contractual agreement, roof maintenance will most often be performed on a quarterly or semi-annual schedule. It’s important to review the terms of the warranty documents for each particular roofing system. Neglecting roof maintenance will negate any warranties.
3. Exterior Painting and Caulking
Exterior paint and caulking are critical to maintaining a weather-proof building envelope. The specific type of paint and caulk will largely depend on the building’s geographic location and environmental conditions. For instance, here in the Pacific Northwest where wet weather is prevalent, we advise the use of elastomeric paint. This paint can help to bridge micro-cracking in concrete to prevent water penetration.
Caulking at panel joints, windows and doors, and other wall penetrations is another key part of weather-proofing a building. It’s critical that caulking be fit for the specific use, flexible enough to withstand some flex in the building and durable enough to withstand the local weather conditions.
As a general rule and especially in the Pacific Northwest, it’s advisable to review building caulk for defects and touch-ups, as well as to re-paint the exterior at five-year intervals, approximately. If your building is located in another environment, ask a trusted painting and caulking contractor what the recommended interval is for maintenance of these elements.
4. Interior Concrete Slabs
The quality of a concrete slab is primarily based on two factors: First, the quality upon installation; and second, the way it is maintained over time. Some recommended maintenance procedures include:
- Complete regular sweeping to remove all debris from floor joints and traffic aisles.
- Repair cracks or spalls as soon as they occur to avoid further degradation.
- Spot clean spills as quickly as possible.
- For polished concrete, utilize floor sweepers and cleaners at regular intervals, and utilize only manufacturer approved chemicals for cleaning.
- Ensure forklift tires and other machinery wheels are clean and smooth.
- Install chemical resistant epoxy coatings at all areas subject to regular drainage or chemicals.
It’s also advisable to caulk at all floor joints to prevent debris from accumulating. Regular forklift or machinery traffic traveling over debris-filled joints can quickly lead to damage. Without proper repairs, this damage can spread exponentially. Know that it is natural for concrete to crack. Strategically placed control joints and a firm foundation will help to minimize them. Minor cracking is not typically a structural issue.
5. Exterior Parking and Sidewalks
Parking lots are normally asphaltic paving or concrete paving, with asphaltic paving being the most common in the Pacific Northwest. These surfaces hold up well, but some maintenance over time is important to avoid the need for replacement. Below are some general tips to keep your exterior surfaces in tip-top shape:
- Ensure that grades are sloped away from the building, including sidewalks and landscaping.
- Install a seal-coat at regular intervals, particularly in heavily-trafficked areas.
- Patch potholes as quickly as possible to prevent further degradation. If potholes routinely re-occur, consult an excavator or civil engineer for a more permanent fix, as this is likely a sub-surface issue.
- Watch for ‘alligator’ cracking, where extensive cracking in a scale-like pattern emerges. This typically indicates a sub-surface issue and will need more than surface-level patching.
- Pressure wash surfaces to prevent accumulations of algae or chemicals, particularly if salt or deicer is used in the winter months.
- Consider installing bollards or parking stops to prevent vehicles from driving into pedestrian areas or damaging curbs.
- Plant trees with root systems that will not damage nearby sidewalk or asphalt and allow them plenty of space from hard surfaces. The City of Portland has an approved street tree planting list that provides some guidance.
While the cost for routine maintenance may seem high, the cost to replace areas of pavement or sidewalk is generally much higher.
No matter which piece of the building we discuss, proactive maintenance is far more cost-effective than reactive maintenance. Engaging specialty contractors to complete regular maintenance protocols from the time the building is complete and over the course of its lifetime will lead to lower costs over time, a higher quality space and, in the case of leased space, happier tenants.