The Importance Of Low Maintenance Design

First, there is no such thing as no maintenance anything. So, if that’s the case, then what about ‘low maintenance?’ How can it be achieved and why is it important?

Propel Studio in Portland, Oregon has a history of bringing sustainable design to the forefront of their projects. Selecting materials and designing for minimal maintenance is certainly a component of that sustainability. 

According to Nick Mira, a Partner at Propel Studio, low maintenance design is “design that’s thoughtful; that understands fully its user and exposure … knowing when something is appropriate and when something is not appropriate.”

Designing with these things in mind is important because of reductions: 

  • in operating expenses
  • in disruption of schedules
  • in negative environmental impact 

Low maintenance can have a positive economic impact for communities because:

  • it keeps maintenance costs low
  • it maintains higher property values
  • it maintains the quality of public and retail spaces

Having a smaller footprint on the environment maintaining property values are important, but does designing and building for low maintenance cost more?

The problem with the question of cost is that most of the time when we ask it, we aren’t keeping the big picture in mind. According to Nick, low maintenance design can cost more “upfront, with a short timeframe in mind.” If we consider material replacement, renovation, disposal and the disruption to our business or home life, the question of cost can be much different. There is a “trade off for doing things the right way the first time versus the life cycle costs of doing things cheaper to save money upfront.”


Champions Barbering Institute in Portland, Oregon      Photo Credit: Josh Partee

Champions Barbering Institute in Portland, Oregon      Photo Credit: Josh Partee


For Nick Mira and the team at Propel Studio, it’s a question of balance that involves all aspects of the design and construction of a project. They consider finish materials, exterior building materials, structural systems, mechanical systems, even landscape materials. They all have a place when designing for durability.

If you’re interested in a project that’s designed for minimal maintenance, Nick suggests asking architects and contractors a few questions:

Do you have any certifications related to low maintenance design?
Do you have a large network of material suppliers so that we can get the appropriate materials for any situation?
Can we tour one of your projects that’s at least 10 years old? You’ll want to walk around and see how everything is holding up and talk to the people using the building. How’s it working out for them? 

When interviewing builders, ask for architect and client references. When interviewing architects, ask for builder and client references.

If you ask Nick Mira, he’ll tell you building maintenance “effects the environment, the budget, the economics, even the way we feel in a space. We’d rather keep money in a place where it can be invested in other places.”