What Is Deferred Maintenance?

May 23, 2022

What Is Deferred Maintenance?

Deferred maintenance is maintenance work that is postponed due to limitations in available resources, such as time, staffing, or funds. 

Both planned maintenance tasks and unexpected breakdowns result in downtime. However, the root cause of deferred maintenance is most often insufficient company resources. Long-term delayed maintenance may result in system failures, equipment deterioration, and higher long-term maintenance costs. 

Deferred Maintenance

Common Reasons for Deferred Maintenance

A facility manager’s worst nightmare is a majorly deferred maintenance backlog. This snowball effect of delayed productivity happens for several reasons: 

  • Budget Limitations: Maintenance budgets are often tight and do not necessarily account for breakdowns or expensive repairs. If funding is already low, it’s not uncommon for other operating costs to be prioritized. This means that maintenance often gets put on the backburner. 
  • Insufficient Manpower or Lack of Skills: Sometimes, there simply aren’t enough people available to fix an issue, especially in the case of an unexpected breakdown. Additionally, the company may need to hire a third-party contractor who has the necessary skills and expertise for more complex repairs. Outside technicians aren’t always immediately available; this dilemma also leads to postponed maintenance. 
  • Inadequate Maintenance Equipment (e.g., tools): Companies may not have the necessary tools and parts in inventory to tackle a specific issue—and may need to order them, also putting maintenance on hold. 

Examples of Deferred Maintenance

1. Deferred Maintenance for Public Schools

Due to funding limitations, the public sector is particularly vulnerable to deferred maintenance backlogs. Shrinking budgets lead to maintenance delays, and repair work is often postponed for subsequent budget cycles. This can lead to increased safety hazards and reduced quality of services if not correctly handled. According to the State of Our Schools report, there’s an annual gap of $46 billion between the current spending and the funding necessary to modernize and upgrade U.S. public school facilities.

2. Deferred Maintenance for Real Estate

In the real estate sector, postponed repair work is also grouped under the term “deferred maintenance.” Usually, these are minor cosmetic repairs. Examples include peeling paint, broken windows, vegetation stains on external walls, water damage, etc. Property managers can implement preventive maintenance programs once a new building is completed to avoid accumulating a deferred maintenance backlog. 

3. Deferred Maintenance for Facilities

Deferred maintenance is also common in facility management. This may shorten assets’ life cycle, lead to asset failure, or cause unscheduled downtime, which can be extremely costly. For example, say a worker is fulfilling a planned maintenance work order when a critical asset suddenly breaks down. They will likely abandon the task at hand to address the more urgent equipment emergency

It’s worth mentioning that the postponing of maintenance isn’t reserved for mechanical equipment. Roofs, parking lots, and other non-critical building infrastructure also must be examined for signs of deterioration. Also noteworthy, the term “deferred maintenance” is used in the accounting world. While technicians differentiate between maintenance and repairs, accountants do not.

How Are Maintenance Backlogs Created and Cataloged?

Maintenance departments record deferred maintenance tasks in maintenance backlogs to ensure outstanding projects eventually get done. 

Maintenance backlogs are created with a simple procedure: 

  1. A technician discovers an issue and signals it to management by phone, email, or CMMS.
  1. Management examines the issue and creates a work order. 
  1. If the work order cannot be handled immediately because of limited available resources, they add it to the maintenance backlog. 

Deferred maintenance backlog tasks can be categorized by:

  • Frequency of use of the equipment
  • Necessary resources 
  • Eventual risks and future costs 
  • Level of importance and urgency

How to Decrease Deferred Maintenance

1. Log All Maintenance Activity

All maintenance activities need to be tracked so management can maintain a clear overview of which tasks are currently being done and which assignments remain. For example, work orders can be organized by asset, due date, available resources, and costs. A good CMMS platform, like MaintainX, will organize these KPIs into user-friendly and actionable audit reports. 

2. Implement an Automated Preventive Maintenance Program

When it comes to maintenance, planning ahead is crucial. A solid preventive maintenance plan in place helps keep a deferred maintenance backlog manageable. In addition, an automated preventive maintenance program can significantly reduce the number of outstanding deferred maintenance tasks. 

3. Rally for Additional Resources

Unfortunately, maintenance competes with other operating costs. This means the department is sometimes overlooked in upper management’s attempt to stick to a tight budget. Operational managers may find it difficult to convince upper management they need additional resources. In this case, gathering enough data to support funding requests and demonstrate that deferred maintenance is often more expensive than preventive maintenance is paramount. A free or low-cost CMMS solution with advanced reporting capabilities can help. 

How Do You Prioritize Maintenance Orders?

The best way to implement preventive maintenance, and reduce backlogs, is to prioritize work orders. Here are the steps involved:  

1. Conduct an Audit

To prioritize maintenance orders, maintenance managers first need to conduct an audit to see how much they actually have on their plate, what resources are needed for each problem, and what tasks have the highest return on investment (ROI). Conducting a maintenance audit will also help clean the maintenance backlog of duplicates, completed tasks, or irrelevant orders and identify the root causes of deferred maintenance orders. 

2. Prioritize Tasks with High ROI

To calculate the Return on Investment (ROI), determine the expected maintenance costs on your organization’s most important assets. Next, analyze the potential costs of not addressing common issues as soon as possible. In this way, you can calculate how much you’re saving by tackling pressing issues now. 

For example, lubrication is a crucial maintenance task for any facility with rotating equipment. Failing to do so on time may result in serious equipment failure. After evaluating the numbers, it’s clear the low cost of lubrication delivers a high ROI compared to equipment failure repairs. For this reason, lubricating rotating equipment should be added to the top of the company’s PM list. 


Delaying maintenance is sometimes inevitable—prioritizing specific tasks over others is a must when operating with limited resources. However, postponing upkeep for too long can create a stressful situation for technicians and an expensive one for executives! Stakeholders must work together to minimize deferred maintenance, determine top asset priorities, and execute realistic PM programs

Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
Go to Author’s Page

Get started for free

It’s time to let MaintainX
do the heavy lifting

Control the daily operations of your business

Assembly Line