Preparing for the Future: O&M Manuals

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Operations and maintenance manuals
image: courtesy of IndypendenZ at

We have all seen that new project or development get constructed, and have initial community impact and luster, only to see it become dilapidated and run-down over time. The truth is a project’s success is not determined by only the initial product or outcome—on-going maintenance and upkeep needs to be adequately addressed by designers and owners alike to ensure a project remains a success into the future.

Proper time and planning is needed to ensure operations and maintenance (O&M) manuals aren’t an afterthought or get thrown together on minimal time at the end of the project. Controlling future maintenance costs, knowing what to replace and when, troubleshooting technical products, and understanding maintenance intervals are a few aspects project owners need to be well-versed in and where O&M manuals are essential. Without adequate O&M manuals and requirements to produce them, project owners are likely set up for failure and not given the tools to make their project a continued success. A tight package of project specifications is often vital to a project’s initial success, and including complete O&M requirements is crucial for understanding perpetual maintenance and the continued success of a given project.

First things first, what is an O&M manual? An O&M (operations and maintenance) manual is generally a series of documents produced by the contractor to help the owner in perpetuity properly maintain, understand, and address key maintenance milestones and other project aspects. It is key for the design professional(s) to ensure steadfast contractor requirements in producing complete and informative O&M manuals for project hand-off.

Catch basin maintenance / image: Ace Asphalt Inc.

Common topics covered can include, but are not limited to:

  • Product data cut sheets
  • Maintenance techniques and timing
  • Emergency procedures
  • Troubleshooting
  • Preventative and corrective maintenance tasks
  • Warranty information
  • Part lists
  • Manufacturer maintenance literature

O&M packages are generally drafted and completed by the general and/or sub-contractor at a project’s substantial completion or warranty close out period for use by the project owner moving forward. For example, an O&M manual may specify irrigation system winterization requirements and steps to prevent pipe bursts from freezing or recommend pond dredging maintenance procedures to ensure proper long-term performance. Complete and informative O&M manuals are crucial and something every designer needs to take seriously. Without the time, effort, and planning put into these manuals and their directives, projects are certain to falter at some point. O&M manuals are also not exclusive to new construction only; many existing facilities embark on an O&M process to understand their own operations, maintenance, and costs to more efficiently manage their facilities into the future.

Pond dredging / image: Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

It is key for designers and owners to think about the products and techniques they decide upon in the design development phase and how those will be maintained moving forward. Adequately addressing maintenance and the specifics of a specialty product or proprietary install technique can make all the difference in a project’s success now and in the future. Does that specialty model have an adequate written manufacturer’s manual accompanying it? Has that unique install technique been used before and what have others done to ensure its success? Sure, pervious pavement systems are better for the environment and use point-source stormwater infiltration…but what about their on-going maintenance needs and costs and overall longevity over standard paving systems? It is key to address and answer questions like these in initial design phases so O&M requirements can be looked at early to facilitate a smooth hand-off from contractor to owner. Maybe a different, more mainstream product is chosen because there isn’t enough information to address maintenance concerns for a specialty product. Maybe that safer validated install technique is specified instead of a new or special method that doesn’t have enough historical maintenance information to vet success. Initial success does not always mean prolonged success and it is key for designers to think outside the box and years down the road for each product and install criteria they specify.

Asphalt road work / image: courtesy of dvrcan at

Designers cannot just think about ribbon cuttings, that shiny new product, and happy faces. Directing the contractor and giving the owner the tools needed through the use of O&M manuals is often as important as that big toy being used for the first time or that interactive exhibit seeing its first users.

Author photo
Nate Lowry

Nate Lowry, PLA, ASLA, is a licensed landscape architect for MacKay Sposito Engineering in Federal Way, WA. He has over 16 years of experience predominantly in the Puget Sound area. He is also a City Councilmember and member of the Pierce County Regional Council planning body.

2 thoughts on “Preparing for the Future: O&M Manuals

  1. Deirdre E Toner September 24, 2019 / 12:04 pm

    Great article! Any idea where I could find an O & M template for public or residential projects?

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