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Maintenance and repairs: Are we ever caught up?
By Kirby D. Payne, CHA
Friday, 11th May 2007
 
Maintenance is something that never ends in a hotel and just when one thinks it is under control either something expensive breaks or it is time to remodel or upgrade!

Maintenance seems to fall into four categories:

1. Preventive room maintenance
2. Preventive equipment maintenance
3. Routine repairs based on work-orders
4. Emergencies.

Each has its distinct time element, relative priority and level of interest from management and the maintenance staff.

Clearly everything stops for emergencies. A burst hot water pipe on an upper floor or a dead washer when occupancy is high will get everyone's attention. No one but a neighboring guest seems to care about squeaky hinges on guest room doors. How to keep all this balanced is a challenge to managers and owners alike.

Maintenance Saves Effort
The first thing that should be obvious is that routine repairs and, to a lesser degree, emergencies will be reduced significantly if preventive room and equipment maintenance is taking place. The problem for many managers and maintenance people is how to get out from under the ongoing repairs and emergencies in order to conceive and implement preventive maintenance programs.

The answer I always suggest is that they should look at preventive maintenance as a tax which is payable weekly in hours. No matter what, the tax must be paid. Even three hours, three days a week in an 80 to 100 room hotel is a significant start. In a smaller property its more than enough, in the long run. In a larger hotel one is dealing with a different scale, sometimes one or more persons spend full time on it, but the principal is the same. Two of those three days can be spent in guest rooms while the other can be spent on equipment and public spaces.

Guest room preventive maintenance is very straight forward and there are a multitude of check lists available. The place to start is not by being delayed coming up with the ideal checklist, but rather by coming up with a work cart for the maintenance staff. The cart can be an old maid's cart cleaned up and painted or something developed from a two wheel dolly with tool kits bolted to it and some shelves built for common spare parts. Just start with something inexpensive; one can replace it or improve it next month.

Maintenance: Just Do It
The key thing: get started. Go to the lowest numbered room in the hotel and start anywhere. Maybe the maintenance person likes to fix lamps and light fixtures so s/he starts there and checks all the fixtures in the room by tightening switches, adjusting harps, checking the security of the plugs and outlets (while down there) and making notes of any that need new shades. Next the maintenance person might cheek for dripping in the bathroom and replace or clean faucet aerators, and tighten knobs. While in the bathroom, tighten the toilet seat and shower rod. Look for grouting that needs repair and make a note so that several rooms can have their grouting and tile worked on at once.

Continue this process for an hour, then go to the next room and repeat exactly the same checks. In a small hotel, three or four rooms is a great start for the first day. Out of the effort several work orders will have been written for subsequent follow-up. The key to guest room preventive maintenance is in actually getting some things in the room fixed or adjusted, not in making big lists and certainly not in undertaking on a big project.

If just six rooms are done a week all the rooms in an 80 room motel will be done in 14 weeks. The second time around will go faster and more things will get done.

The best guest room preventive maintenance checklist for your hotel may be the one the maintenance person develops after going to 20 rooms. It can be improved on the second time around, along with the cart.

Remember, work orders and project lists are a byproduct of this effort and these are being worked on continuously. There should be plenty of time as I only suggested nine hours a week (three hours a day, three days a week).

Equipment and Public Spaces
Along with the guest room preventive maintenance tax, add in a schedule of maybe four hours, two days a week for equipment and public space preventive maintenance. The total tax at this point is only 17 hours. With the remainder of the maintenance work week, work orders and emergencies are dealt with.

Equipment and public space preventive maintenance is a little different than the guest room program. Most pieces of equipment come with maintenance instructions. These should be researched and organized on to cards or into a notebook. If the manuals have been lost, a vendor can usually help get them or at least a photocopy of very old equipment manuals.

Start with simple but important things, like keeping the machinery and equipment clean followed by servicing anything with moving parts. Get back to the machinery every two or three months or according to the manufacturers directions, if they are located. Some equipment needs more frequent servicing. A good example are older circulating pumps for domestic hot water. Some used to need their bearings oiled weekly. Modern equipment needs less and less servicing, but anything with air circulating through it needs filters and coils cleaned just as much as they ever did. Failing to do so causes them to overheat and breakdown prematurely.

Public spaces such as lobbies, halls, stairwells, restaurants and meeting rooms need continuous attention. Chairs, tables, doors, carpet and wall coverings all get heavy use and abuse. Without regular attention these items can cause a hotel to start looking shabby and unkempt. More importantly, some items become a safety hazard. By getting around to these areas weekly and inspecting them the person or persons working on maintenance can correct unsightly tears, fix loose legs and keep all the parts of the doors properly adjusted.

Work Orders and Organization
Work orders are a great tool for examining where preventive maintenance is failing by looking at the frequency, location or type of items that appear on the work orders. Except for damage caused by a guest or employee, many work orders are a result of poor preventive maintenance.

Many maintenance people do not organize their work orders. Organizing them might include batching work orders together by location, similar projects requiring the same tools and supplies, etc. It is also appropriate to put low priority work orders off until s/he is going to that location for an additional reason. Time is money and time spent walking to and from different jobs, getting supplies and tools and just checking things out is wasted money.

Work orders should be at least two part. Our company uses a 2-Part Repair Order Book (Z8V 1731 from American Hotel Register Company, page 1523 in the 1995-1996 catalog.) This leaves a permanent record of the work order for later reference. The maintenance staff simply stops by the reception desk to note completed work orders on the permanent copy. Problem work orders are discussed at staff meetings or with the appropriate department head. Most hotels use a three part slip where one comes back to the originator when the repair is completed.

Emergencies Caused by Inattention
Emergencies have been defined by someone unknown to me as, "your poor planning becoming my crisis." A lack of preventive maintenance and attention to detail lie as the root cause of many emergencies. The definition of emergency in a hotel is subject to frequent changes of interpretation. The owner coming and the front door closer that s/he has complained about for three months still not being fixed is not really an emergency, but will be treated as such. Anything that is a safety hazard, or is causing further damage, or is going to impact revenue now is truly an emergency. You might think of some others, but this covers most emergencies.

After each emergency situation is resolved take a few minutes to examine it. Was it really an emergency? What could have been done to prevent or at least mitigate it? Finally, what are we going to do to keep it from happening again?

Lower Costs in Long Run
In summary, I want to emphasize that whatever is spent on preventive maintenance is going to lower maintenance costs in the long run, enhance the guest experience (read that as increase repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising) and improve the hotel as an attractive and safe place to work.

About the Author:
Kirby D. Payne, CHA, is president of Tiverton, RI-based HVS/American Hospitality Management Company, a full-service hotel-management company with offices in South Florida and staff in Minneapolis, MN. The company has operated hotels throughout the United States and served a multiplicity of clients, including lenders, airport authorities, law firms and individual investors.

Payne, a 30-plus-year hotel-industry veteran, served as the 2002 Chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), is a former director of the National Restaurant Association, and currently serves as a commissioner on the Certification Commission of the AH&LAs Educational Foundation. For more information about the company, visit www.HVSHotelManagement.com
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