What is MTBF? Mean Time Between Failures in the Real Estate Industry

By Hotel Tech Report

Last updated January 26, 2022

4 min read

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Ever get the sense that your maintenance team is reactively making repairs as they pop up rather than proactively preventing those problems during downtime? It can get frustrating -- especially when it affects the guest experience and your hotel’s ability to make money on all available rooms.

That’s why the Mean Time Between Failures, or MTBF, is an important maintenance management metric for hotel operators. This failure rate metric gives you a baseline prediction for how long mechanical and electrical systems will function in between repairs. These predictions put shape and structure around your near-term preventative maintenance plans and long-term capital expenditures.

In this article, we're going to help you understand the importance of MTBF for efficient and profitable hotel operations. You'll learn what MTBF is, how to calculate MTBF and how to use MTBF in your hotel. We’ll also equip you with two other maintenance and reliability metrics that will reshape how you approach maintenance ops at your hotel!


What’s MTBF (+MTBF Calculation)?

MTBF stands for the mean time between failures. It's the average period of time that equipment or electronic systems operate between failures. You can think of this as “uptime” or “useful time.” In other words, MTBF is a reliability metric!  

To calculate MTBF, pull a failures report for a given system and then calculate the amount of time or period of time between each failure. Then, add up the total time between failures and divide by the total number of failures. Here’s an example for an in-room HVAC system: 

-Starts February 1st, fails Feb 28th: 28 days

-Starts April 1st, fails May 19th: 49 days

-Starts May 23rd, fails July 4th: 42 days

MTBF = (28+49+42)/3 = 39.67 days

Most hotel systems will be calculated in days. For systems that require more precision, it may make sense to shorten the intervals to hours and minutes.  A perfect example of  the benefit of position is your laundry facility. A failure of one of your industrial-sized laundry machines during a peak period could really affect your ability to flip rooms and serve your guests. You could mitigate this risk by closely monitoring the MTBF of your machines to predict when they may need service outside of scheduled maintenance. 

One thing to note: MTBF doesn't include the time it takes to make repairs and re-enter service. It’s only the time between when the equipment or electronic system enters service and when it fails. Repair time isn't an important thing to include because you’re really trying to get at the functional uptime and reliability of individual systems.  The MTBF value is an important step to increasing the lifespan of your physical assets through smart building and equipment management - but measurement is only the first step.


How to Use MTBF in Real Estate and Hotel Operations

MTBF is an ally in optimizing your hotel’s operations. By monitoring the failure of mechanical and electronic systems, it keeps your preventive maintenance schedule on track, prevents problems from escalating, and extends the useful life of your capital expenditures.

Preventative maintenance: MTBF is a key component of data-driven preventative maintenance. Continuing the example above, if you know that your average HVAC failure occurs every 39 days, you can proactively schedule your preventative maintenance and take the room out of service to avoid a negative guest experience. You can also budget internal labor and external resources accordingly so that you are not surprised by “unexpected” expenses that could actually have been predicted by the data.

Identifying problematic equipment: MTBF also helps you optimize your operations by identifying areas of concern. If the MTBF of your in-room HVACs dips to 20 days, then that’s a problem! Either something is affecting your mechanical systems or they’re getting old and you need to allocate budget for upgrades. Either way, your profitability will quickly be impacted by overspending on repairs and taking too many rooms out of service. 

Safety: Some areas of concern may actually be related to safety. While it's inconvenient to have no air conditioning in a guest room, it could be a safety issue when an elevator fails or a hot water heater breaks. MTBF helps you keep an eye on mission-critical and safety-related equipment.

Extending useful life: Since it tracks the operational performance of mechanical and electronic systems, MTBF also helps you extend the useful lifetime value of your investments. The better you are at managing your assets, the stronger your profitability. It’s a simple fact that separates the best hotel operators from the rest. 

Evaluating new tech: MTBF is a helpful criteria when choosing systems for your hotel. You should ask vendors for this metric and dick into how they calculated it. Then, talk to other hotels to verify that number. As we all know, equipment may not last as long as vendors predict! Once you have an idea of how long a TV, door lock, POS terminal, or other system lasts, you can plan accordingly.


Can MTBF Be Used for Non-Repairable Items?

Great question! The answer is no. MTBF is used for items that can be repaired more than once. For items that must be replaced upon failure, such as light bulbs, we use Mean Time To Failure (MTTF). So if a light bulb fails every 5.6 years, then it's MTTF is 5.6 years. MTTF can be used for all kinds of single-use/non-repairable items across your property to make more precise expense forecasts, which then influence your forecasted capital investments and bottom-line profitability.


Other Maintenance Metrics for Hotels

In addition to MTBF and MTTF, there are two other key metrics for managing preventative maintenance and extending the life of your equipment:

MTTD is the mean time to detect, or the time that it takes your team to detect an issue once it's occurred. Thankfully, smart devices and connected systems detect issues in real-time, thus pushing MTTD  for certain systems to zero. Even so, you may want to encourage faster detection by tracking MTTD in your preventive maintenance plan,

MTTR is the mean time to repair, or the time that it takes you to fix an issue once it's detected. This actually has a very real impact on hotel operations, as having rooms and other equipment out of service affects the guest experience and bottom-line profitability.  As a metric of efficiency and proactivity, your maintenance team should always strive to shorten the mean time to repair.


Getting Started With MTBF

The first step is to start tracking failures. Your preventative maintenance software can do this for you or you can use a simple spreadsheet. These logs are essential to monitoring the time between failures; without that information, you can't optimize performance. If your team is not already in the habit of logging equipment issues, make it a priority to train everyone on the new system. They will need to log the time of failure and the time of repair completion so that you can calculate MTTR and MTBF. For non-repairable items, it would just be the time of failure for an accurate calculation of MTTF.


With those metrics, you’ll have much greater control over maintenance costs and repair times, which have a direct line to profitability and capital expenditures!