Dear Maintenance Men:

Last Updated: March 4, 2019By


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have heard the terms “Preventive Maintenance” for as long as I have owned apartments.  But, I’m not sure how it applies to me.  I own a small four-plex, I’m handy and just fix things as they come up.  Preventive maintenance just sounds like more work and expense to me and no doubt invented by a hardware store owner!


Dear Tom:

On the surface “preventive maintenance” may sound like a hardware store owner’s dream and it may in fact be, we don’t know!  But, whoever came up with the idea was pretty smart. Both on a large or small scale, preventive maintenance or “PM” for short is a huge money saver not only in parts, but also in time.  An unplanned breakdown is never convenient.  Surprisingly, chances are high of a breakdown happening on a Friday evening after hours or over the weekend.  Planning for a breakdown is the first step in avoiding an unplanned breakdown.  Look at your apartment building with a critical eye and list everything that might go wrong at some point in time.  This list would include:  water heaters, hot and cold water supply lines, faucets, drains, garage door springs, heating and air conditioning, etc.  At minimum you should have on hand repair parts for all the items on your list along with the tools to do the work.  If you want to get ahead of a potential breakdown, figure out the estimated lifetime of each item and schedule either a service date for the item or replacement of the item before a potential breakdown.  As an example:  A one hundred gallon water heater without maintenance may last between six and eight years.  The same water heater with yearly maintenance of cleaning out the calcium buildup in the tank, inspection of the Zinc rod and burner assembly might last as long as ten to fourteen years.  Another less extreme example might be cleaning out the main drain lines once a year before the big holiday season.  It is much cheaper to have a plumber service your building on a Tuesday morning than on Thursday Thanksgiving night

Dear Maintenance Men:

My apartment building was built in the 1950 and has no insulation in the walls or ceiling.  What do you recommend as the most cost effective method of insulating the building?


Dear Sam:

It is very common for older buildings to have no insulation whatsoever.  As for where the best bang for your buck is concerned; ceiling insulation is the winner.  For single story or top story units, ceiling insulation is very easy and inexpensive to install.  Wall insulation is much harder and involves a more invasive approach.   To illustrate the differences; ceiling insulation can be either batt insulation or loose fill insulation.  The batt method is a bit more labor intensive and is less effective than loose fill.  If you decide to use loose fill, be careful not to block ventilation holes or cover any through the ceiling light fixtures.  Insulating existing walls typically involves drilling holes just below any fire blocks and blowing loose fill insulation into the wall cavity.  Repairs to walls will be needed after the work is completed.  The best of all worlds would be to do both wall and attic insulation.  But if you must choose one over the other, we recommend doing the attic first as we have found this to be the most effective at cutting heating and cooling costs.  You may want to check with your city or utility supplier; they often have low cost energy saving programs, or rebates. 

Dear Maintenance Men:

I’m planning to rehab all the upstairs bathrooms in my apartment building.  This is starting to be expensive and in order to save money, I am thinking of using heavy-duty shower curtains instead of the more expensive sliding shower doors.  What do you think of this idea?  


Dear Shelly:

We highly recommend that you try to save money elsewhere and install the more expensive sliding shower doors.  In the long run this will save you more money in the form of avoiding water damage to the flooring, walls, and in the ceilings of the unit below.  Not to mention possible rot of structural members and floor joists below the tub. Shower curtains invite water damage, because it is so easy for water to escape onto the floors and beyond.  A little water can do a lot of damage. 




WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!!    If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to:

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at 714 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance & construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer & educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel.  Frank can be reached at (714) 956-8371 For more info please go to:

Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President of the Apartment Association of Orange County .and past Chairman of the association’s Education Committee.  Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.


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