by Mike Mitchell — This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of FMJ
There is an old saying that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Few realize that this quote 1) can be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, 2) was in regard to fire safety, and 3) almost exactly represents the cost savings a facility can accrue by utilizing a preventive maintenance plan for their parking lots and paved surfaces.
If we utilize the 16-ounces-equals-one-pound ratio, the case can actually be made that Ben Franklin undercalculated the value of prevention. A properly designed pavement maintenance plan can save you US$16.25 per square yard. That’s US$357,000 in savings for every 400 parking stalls. Put another way, an average big box home improvement store can save US$357,000 every 15 years just by taking care of their parking lot.
Many of us can remember our math teacher telling us to “show our work,” so let’s take a quick second to do just that. In the United States, the average cost to tear out and replace a parking lot is $3.42 per square foot.1 If, after 15 years of no maintenance, a 22,000-square-yard asphalt parking lot is ready to be replaced, the cost to do so is approximately $677,160. Now, if that exact same parking lot had preventive maintenance performed over the course of 15 years, the cost is approximately $319,660. This calculation does not include the additional savings of having a parking lot that remains in good shape beyond year 15 with continued maintenance. Those savings are much harder to quantify, so for this exercise we can stick with 15 years.
If the savings are so clear, why are so many parking lots in such poor condition? Maybe it’s because asphalt is boring. It seemingly only matters when it’s failing or when everyone is inconvenienced during a construction project. The industry has done a poor job of communicating the importance of maintenance, how to properly perform that maintenance, and the cost savings of said maintenance. Finally, poor workmanship, low quality products, and unscrupulous contractors ruin the reputation of the industry. Sadly, too many people have been burned by a fly-by-night contractor. All that makes it easy to see why many facility managers have chosen to focus their budgets on other areas.
What is Preventive Maintenance?
If not properly educated, it can be hard to tell exactly what condition paved areas are in and what treatments should be utilized. The Federal Highway Administration utilizes the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to evaluate the current condition of pavements.2 Fortunately, the PCI is fairly user friendly and can be used to make an educated assessment of pavement condition. Properly assessing the asset is the first step toward identifying what treatment to use to protect and preserve the pavement.
Many facility managers opt to work with civil engineers or pavement consultants to help them identify pavement defects and the appropriate treatment. This is a great option for those that have the budget and it is a familiar process to those who have responsibility for roof maintenance. However, not everyone can afford to hire an outside consultant. Utilizing the PCI can prove to be a straightforward way for FMs to build the foundations of a preventive maintenance program.
Without diving deeply into each stage of the PCI, the 2 most important aspects of pavement maintenance are:
- Crack sealing
Five Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Pavement Maintenance Contractor:
- Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? Can you provide documentation of that with your bid package?
- Do you have other similar projects in the local area that I could go look at or referrals from other Facility Managers/Building Owners?
- What material are you using and can I speak with the manufacturer?
- What warranty are you including on this work and what does the warranty entail?
- Do you have a local, physical address for your shop?
Asphalt is considered a “flexible” pavement and is designed to flex under loading. Asphalt parking lots are built in layers with the surface layer (what cars drive on) being the weakest structurally. Over time, small cracks form in the surface of a parking lot. Keeping those cracks from reaching the lower layers is vital. Crack sealing prevents further expansion of the crack and keeps water from intruding into the lower layers of the asphalt pavement. A good preventive maintenance plan should include crack sealing as often as needed (typically every one to two years). Costs to crack seal can range from US$1 – $3 per linear foot, depending on the depth, size and total amount of cracks to be sealed.
Much like sealing and waterproofing a wood deck, asphalt also needs to be sealed every three to five years. Sealcoating is a protective coating that reduces oxidation, fills hairline cracks and keeps asphalt in prime condition by locking in the fine particles of the asphalt mix. While sealcoating won’t prevent all deterioration from occurring, it will significantly reduce and slow down the process. As the sun beats down on asphalt, it causes the asphalt to become more brittle. Sealcoating puts a thin wear course in between the original asphalt and the harmful UV rays. The cost to sealcoat can vary drastically, but are typically between $0.18 to $0.30 per square foot.
When used in conjunction, crack sealing and sealcoating form the foundation of a good preventive maintenance plan. This is not to say that other pavement maintenance procedures won’t be needed. Pothole patching, remove and replace (also commonly referred to as a mill and overlay), and full-depth repair are all parts of the pavement maintenance system. Interestingly, many Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and industry research have discovered that it is best to allocate budgets towards pavements in good or fair condition and letting more distressed pavements continue to deteriorate. This option may work for DOTs, but it might not be an effective strategy when it comes to maintaining a facility where budget isn’t the only concern.
More Than Just Life Cycle Costs
Imagine an intersection with two competing pharmacies on opposites sides of the intersection. Potential customers can easily see the exterior of both stores from the stop sign. As they consider which store should get their hard-earned money, isn’t it likely that the condition of the building plays into the decision process of where the customer will spend their money? The good news is, we don’t have to speculate on whether the appearance of a business matters, as marketing research firm Morpace Omnibus has done the research.
In 2011, Morpace found that 52 percent of consumers avoided a business all together because it looked dirty from the outside. That same study found that 95 percent of all shoppers say that the external appearance of a store is an important factor when choosing where to shop. Of course, not every facility manager is worried about retail spaces and the traditional definition of a “customer,” but isn’t everyone who comes to a physical property a customer, including colleagues, vendors and associates? Is it a large leap to think that the exterior of a building sets the tone for the perception of its brand?
One large big box retailer found that when their parking lot was well lit, marked, free of litter, and in good condition overall, the average receipt went up by US$2.17. They didn’t change anything else about their location other than deciding to keep the exterior of their building in good, clean condition. While $2.17 may not sound like much, it certainly adds up quickly over the course of thousands of transactions per day.
Liability also shouldn’t be overlooked when maintaining the parking lot. Recently, Walmart was found negligent in an accident that occurred in its parking lot.3 The jury found that Walmart did not have the appropriate markings and signs for safety. Ultimately, the jury awarded the victim of the accident US$43.6 million. That may be the extreme, but what about a normal slip-and-fall in a parking lot? A Springfield, Mo. hospital system budgets US$40,000 for any slip-and-falls on their property that results from a pothole. It certainly doesn’t take too many incidents to justify the cost of preventing potholes from forming in the first place.
Getting What You Pay For
As mentioned, too many facility managers have gotten work done on their pavements only to find that the work didn’t last, and the contractor was nowhere to be found. It should be made clear that there are thousands of great pavement maintenance contractors around the world. However, as one bad apple spoils the bushel, so does one bad contractor experience. So, how is a facility manager supposed to navigate the waters of contractor selection and bid comparison?
One of the best resources available is IFMA itself. A quick search in the membership directory can provide you with a number of other FMs in your area who can provide referrals and recommendations. Knowing that a fellow FM speaks highly of a contractor carries a huge amount of weight in selection process. The IFMA community remains one of the strongest and most tight-knit industry group of the many that are out there.
Beyond word of mouth referrals, putting together job specifications is vital. Civil engineers, pavement consultants, and local manufacturers are all great resources for finding and writing specifications. Specifications not only help ensure FMs get the right type of work done but specifications also make the comparison of bids easier. Many reputable manufacturers are able and willing to make contractor recommendations as well.
Having a friendly relationship with a local sealcoat manufacturer can help in the evaluation of pavement, recommendation of products, contractor referrals, and response to any issues that may pop up after the work is completed. Many manufacturers are more than willing to help guide FMs and building owners through the process of pavement maintenance. Some manufacturers have regular educational sessions for FMs to help them learn the basics of pavement maintenance.
No matter how old your pavement is, it’s not too late (or early) to start the preventive maintenance cycle. If the cost savings associated with a proactive maintenance program aren’t enough, the branding and liability aspects should be considered as a total cost of pavement assets. Finally, FMs should use all available resources (manufacturers, word of mouth referrals, IFMA directory, internet) to make sure they are getting high quality materials applied by reputable contractors.
Mike Mitchell is Director of Pavement Maintenance Product at Vance Brothers, Inc. Prior to that, he was the Product Development Manager at Vance Brothers. Mitchell has been working with Engineers and Facility Managers for 10+ years in his roles at Vance Brothers and Honeywell. He has an MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and proudly serves on the boards of multiple charities in Kansas City.