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A little goes a long way:

Why diligent maintenance
makes a difference

Posted by Engin Seyhan - 25 October, 2018

While small repairs usually don’t cost all that much, larger-scale repair work is a totally
different matter – a truism, yes. But with construction projects in particular, thinking ahead
can make a major difference: Attending to maintenance in time and on a regular basis
helps prevent major problems from developing later on – at which stage they will also incur
disproportionally higher costs. Thus, having a long-term maintenance strategy in place will
definitely reap its rewards..

Aging processes are a fact of life – people age, as do all man-made structures. Their
physically inevitable disintegration process is accelerated by various types of impact on the
structure, and simple usage is one of them. But this process can be slowed down: Making
the right decisions during construction can significantly extend the service life of the
structure, and after completion, maintenance plays a crucial role. A properly designed and
implemented maintenance strategy – including regular inspection and the timely execution
of necessary repairs – will go a long way to preventing sudden problems and cost
explosions at a later stage.

Cost increase exponentially

In this regard, Wolter Reinold de Sitter, of Eindhoven University of Technology in the

Netherlands, proposed a much-noted theory, known as the “Law of fives”. Put simply, the
theory states that, in the maintenance and repair of concrete structures, a single Euro –
invested in time and at the right place – can save up to 125 Euro across four stages.
Planning ahead and keeping a close eye on the project is essential to avoid having to deal
with unforeseen emergencies.

One euro invested saves five

In his calculation, de Sitter defines the following four stages for concrete structures:

Design, construction,
and concrete curing
Corrosion starts, but
2 has not yet
Deterioration begins
to propagate
Deterioration is
advanced and
substantial structural
damage is evident

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times its value in savings in the future: If maintenance during stage two is neglected, for
example, addressing the resulting repairs in stage three will cost five times as much; if,
during stage three, these repairs are again overlooked or postponed, the costs for then-
necessary refurbishment will again increase five-fold.

The problem of cost pressure from the outset

However, those responsible for the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure facilities
often find themselves in an all-to-familiar predicament: More often than not, cost pressure
is extremely high from the outset; accordingly, the most cost-efficient products are selected
despite the fact that those responsible know that higher-grade solutions would save
significant amounts of money in the long term. Similarly, also for cost reasons, necessary
maintenance and repair work is postponed again and again – resulting in a
disproportionate increase in future expenses.

The rewards of keeping a long-term perspective

This, again, is why planning ahead and keeping an eye on the condition of concrete
structures – by regularly inspecting them visually, for instance – is worth real money: A
small investment at an early stage can, in the long term, save that amount many times
over. Adopting a systematic approach helps keep track of everything and, in view of the
care and thoroughness required, saves time as well. Checklists provide valuable support
here: Serving as memory aid and highlighting details that may not seem particularly
relevant at first glance, such lists also make it much easier to detect developments – both
in general and in specific areas – across a succession of inspections.

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