Posts by Ross Hardy

Innovations Transform the Building Inspection Process

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Emerging technology and innovation are continually transforming the building construction inspection process. Criterium Engineers evaluates and adopts appropriate new technologies to provide additional knowledge and information for our clients.

Two inspection innovations in particular—the use of drones and thermal imaging—have been change drivers for Criterium Engineers in recent years, reaching areas that were previously unattainable by our engineering team.

Drones

Remote-controlled drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, were first used by the world’s militaries to perform complex missions deemed too dangerous for humans. To achieve similar safety goals and reduce risk, drone use has been adopted by many industries, including Criterium Engineers 35 consulting engineering firms located across North America.

Using FAA registered drones operated by our licensed pilots, building inspections are now completed more efficiently, saving time and cost to our clients. They also help reduce health and safety risks to our engineers and technicians who no longer need to use ladders, scaffolding, and lifts.

At the same time, drones allow us to access and inspect areas that were previously impossible or difficult to reach building components, for example:

  • Entire façade of a high-rise building
  • Fragile terracotta or slate tile roofs in a multifamily housing development
  • Entire surface area of an industrial chimney stack
  • Views to exterior, difficult-to-access HVAC equipment and envelope penetrations
  • Building dormers, gables, skylights, cupolas, and other unique architectural features
  • Risk-prone areas that are common sources for water intrusion, like exterior transitions of materials from roof to exterior wall.

Our licensed, Professional Engineers inspect and document hard-to-reach areas for our clients and with each drone inspection we produce detailed written reports. The reports contain clear guidance on the current visual condition of building components, make recommendations, and may provide better accuracy on capital planning input. Inspection reports include high-resolution drone images and may include camera photos highlighting problematic areas that are taken during any related interior inspections.

Thermal Imaging

technology and innovations / reduce energy consumption

 

Another innovation originally developed by the military and used by our engineers and technicians is thermal imaging (also known as infrared scanning).

Thermal imaging is a cost-effective diagnostic tool that helps minimize the uncertainties in purchasing or maintaining a commercial building or residence. Thermography technology allows the certified technician to see the unseen and provide hard data to minimize the risk of difficult decisions. The careful interpretation of thermal images allows a forensic examination of a range of existing building components including:

 

  • Building envelope water intrusion
  • Exterior wall air leakage or infiltration
  • Missing or damaged insulation
  • HVAC equipment malfunctions
  • Electrical system component overheating/failure
  • Radiant heating or plumbing leaks
  • Flat roof moisture detection
  • Photovoltaic solar panel defects

Without thermal imaging, even the most experienced building inspection engineer is dependent on visual physical evidence such as water stains, surface warping, or building component failure before identifying a serious hidden problem.

When used in combination with blower door testing, which exaggerates building envelope component leakage, energy losses may be easily documented, and it is easier to discover thermal bridging in a building façade.

Thermal imaging is also used in quality control for buildings under construction or recently finished. It may discover a wide range of construction defects, identify potential sources for indoor air quality problems, mold, corrosion, and other moisture-related issues.

We’re Engineering What’s Next

The specific knowledge we gain with new technology and innovation allows our clients to review visual evidence and make informed decisions when purchasing, leasing, or repairing a building. As new technologies continue to evolve, Criterium Engineers will be at the forefront of studying and adopting the appropriate tools to continually enhance our work product for our clients. Learn about how you can become a Criterium Engineers franchisee.

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Pickleball: One Way to Repurpose Underutilized Assets

Is your HOA looking repurpose underutilized assets? Here’s is an engineer’s perspective on one way to utilize the tennis courts on your property and once again make them an asset for residents. The article takes a fun look at a fast-growing sport that may be a good fit for your community association.

Pickleball repurpose underutilized assets

An Addictive Phenomenon

I will take some of the blame, but in all fairness, I did not know it was addictive. I am talking, of course, about the sport of pickleball. Six years ago, in this section of Condo Media, I presented the article “Pickleball, Anyone?” My goal was noble; I wanted to provide a solution to the many idle tennis courts in condominium and HOA communities due to aging boomers with bad knees and arthritic limbs putting down their tennis rackets. This has resulted in unused common assets that were both expensive to maintain and difficult to convert to other uses given the bylaw restraints.

At the time, I observed this trend while performing reserve fund studies and hearing the complaints from the board or property managers who requested options in dealing with unwanted tennis courts. My research of pickleball around the country revealed the sport provided a win-win solution. Rather than doing away with under-utilized tennis courts, the community could convert each court into two pickleball courts of 20 feet by 44 feet, each with an economical portable 34-inch-high net. The investment in personal equipment was minimal. Good athletic cross-training shoes were a must, but the clothing was anything comfortable and casual. The solid composite material paddle was inexpensive, being only twice the size of a ping pong paddle. Indeed, the sport has been described as playing ping pong while standing on the table. In fact, it is sort of a combination of ping pong, badminton, and tennis. The ball is like a thick skinned whiffle ball with a top speed of less than one-third a tennis ball.

RULES OF THE GAME

So as not to sound like a set of IKEA instructions, I will be brief on the specifics of the game. There are only 5 basic rules:

  • Rule 1: The ball must stay inbounds.
  • Rule 2: There must be one bounce per side.
  • Rule 3: You must serve at the baseline.
  • Rule 4: Serves cannot land in the no-volley zone (called the kitchen).
  • Rule 5: The game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points.

With all the serves being underhanded and the ball traveling at modest speeds, the players do not have to be exceptionally athletic. The underhanded serve must bounce once on both the serve and return, and then it only must be kept inbounds. Balls returned without a bounce (called a volley) must be at least 7 feet from the net to prevent spiking. Typical games are played to 11 points, and like most racket sports, a player must win by two points. Points can only be earned while serving.

Beginners can learn the game quickly at their own pace while experienced players can have quick, fast-paced, competitive games. Players can be of mixed ages. The average player across the country is 38 years old with 53% being male and 47% being female. Whole families—from the grandkids to the grandparents—can participate in the same game. It is a very social game. It is usually played with doubles and with games ending with a low number of points, the quick turnover of the games allows many people to play in a short span of time. As the games are usually played close together, it is an ideal activity for people to meet others on a casual basis, allowing new friendships to blossom.

ADDED BENEFITS

Given the demographics in many condo communities, perhaps the greatest gift of this sport is the health benefits to community members of all ages. It gives a boost to the cardiovascular system to help prevent unwanted aging problems such as hypertension, stroke, and heart attack. At the same time, it improves balance, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination without putting excess strain on the body. Perhaps this explains why in the last two years, pickleball has reportedly been the fastest growing sport in the United States with over 4.8 million players and tournaments and venues seeming to pop up everywhere.

As I said earlier, when I first recommended the sport, I had very little playing time and was not in a position to warn you of its addictiveness. Now with more experience, I must add this additional warning from the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA): pickleball is “highly contagious.” The consequences of introducing pickleball to your community may be irreversible.

 

Written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Senior Consultant Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media

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Why Plan a New Roof Now?

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Analyze Cost and Replacement Options

When was the last time you hired a contractor? When was the last time you checked construction material costs? You are in for a shock. With a shortage in skilled workers, supply chain uncertainty, and inflationary pressure on petroleum products (shingles, underlayment, etc.), just finding a contractor willing to commit to a schedule or budget will be a challenge.

Whether your community has a single roof or multiple buildings, your annual inspection by a qualified roofing consultant or engineer should provide a reasonably accurate roof surface replacement schedule. Often, a roof surface is one of the most expensive components in a building to replace. This makes the decision to resurface a roof a difficult one for building owners and managers. The temptation is to postpone the inevitable for one more year. A roof can be nursed along year after year, but this is likely to prove to be a false economy.

In the long term, it makes economic sense to replace a roof surface earlier rather than later. If the life of a roof is extended much beyond its useful life, maintenance costs are likely to increase beyond prorated replacement costs. There is also the danger water penetration (some of which may not be visible) will cause damage to the underlying structure or other building components. The reduction in insulation value of wet insulation and the resulting increases in heating and cooling costs are other factors that contribute to making roof replacement a good economic decision. Finally, the liability of a major failure must be considered.

Thus, roof problems are among the most frequent areas of concerns for condo associations. Here are a few helpful thoughts about roofs for your association:

Surface materials have been improved.

  • Shingles:  These consist of a composite base (asphalt, fiberglass, etc.) and sand wearing surface. They are relatively easy to install and moderately priced. The thickness (weight) generally defines the likely service life. In other words, a thicker shingle will last longer. The weight is given as pounds per square (100 square feet equals one square).
  • Membrane roofs: These have become the primary way to cover flat roofs within the last 20 years. Membrane roofs are typically somewhat more expensive than the other alternatives for flat roofs. However, they generally last longer and have fewer maintenance problems.
  • Metal roofs:  Metal roofs are becoming more common in northern New England. There are a variety of reasonably good products on the market. Metal roofs are used on sloped surfaces. A successful metal roof is very dependent on good workmanship. Unskilled hands installing a metal roof will almost always lead to problems.

Flashing is at least as important as the surface.

The roof is a system that includes the sheathing, underlayment, flashing, and the roof surfacing. If you are having problems with your roof, it is important to understand there are several different components involved.

The roof flashing is as often the cause of leaks as the roof surfacing. Repairing flashing requires skill. Caulking flashing leaks is not adequate. If there is a flashing problem, the only effective repair usually requires installing new flashing. That work, to be successful, must be done by someone specifically trained and experienced with flashing work.

Workmanship makes the difference.

Roof problems are more frequently the result of poor workmanship than material deficiencies. While there have been some defective roof materials, our experience inspecting thousands of buildings in New England has shown us that workmanship is more commonly the problem. When you select a roofer, you should check their references.

Five steps to a better installation.

  1. When you evaluate your existing roof, make sure you have an independent consultant. If you ask a roofer to evaluate your roof, it is very likely the conclusion will be the roof needs to be replaced very soon.
  2. When you decide to install a new roof, you should prepare a detailed set of construction documents. The documents should:
    • Define exactly how you expect things to be done, what is the scope of the project, what materials are to be used, and what is the intended schedule for completion.
    • Be very specific about the materials to be used.
    • Be very specific about how waste material is to be handled.
  3. Retain the services of a consultant to prepare the construction documents and to monitor the work while it is underway. As an association, you need someone knowledgeable about the construction industry who does not have any direct interest in your project other than serving your best interests.
  4. You should choose time proven materials. You should not experiment with untested products and/or installation techniques.
  5. You should make sure there is a three-to-five-year guarantee against problems with both material deficiencies and workmanship backed with a bond.

Roofs are expensive and disruptive to install. Diagnosing problems objectively is difficult. You should always work with a good, independent consulting engineer or roofing consultant. That person can help evaluate problems, prepare construction documents for repair or replacement, and monitor the work to be sure it is done well. Using a consultant also means that the officers of the association are less vulnerable to liability from the owners.

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media

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Shine a Light on Safety

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Lighting Safety – Exterior Lighting Plans and Considerations

Condominium and homeowner associations recognize a need for security tools such as key fobs, Ring doorbell systems, cameras, gates, and guard houses. Of all these systems, perhaps the most important is well-designed lighting. The highest priority of any community is resident safety. When neighbors feel safe, the community value increases.

Exterior lighting is a common element found in every type of condominium complex, yet the permutations of light fixtures, placement, and site design make this item one of the community’s most unique assets. With the net age of condominiums increasing, capital repair decisions related to light fixture replacement, function, and location placement will be an agenda item for more and more buildings and grounds committees in the coming years. A new illumination plan is not just about switching to LEDs.

Lighting Design Plan

Space will not permit us to explore the new products and applications available, so instead, let us shed light on the goals and issues to be considered in making any lighting design plan. The first thing to do is inquire if your municipality has a policy governing site and exterior lighting. This code or design guideline will form the basis of any plan. All good lighting plans should have input from members of the community who know the site and its lighting problems.

Knowing some of the technical jargon is often helpful in reading local lighting ordinances and talking with illumination professionals. The unit of “foot-candle” is used for measuring the amount of light falling on a surface whereas the term “lumen” is a measurement of light energy emitted by a light source. The word “luminaire” is used to describe the complete light fixture including the lamp (bulb), lens, and wiring of the fixture. Finally, some municipalities require a photometric plan which lists not only all of the luminaires and their locations but also describes the horizontal illuminance on the site and the vertical light trespass around the perimeter of the site.

Whether or not your committee will have to deal with the submission of a photometric plan in your location, consideration should be given to several important issues in developing your lighting project’s objectives. These issues include controlling glare, promoting effective security, minimizing light trespass onto adjacent properties, minimizing direct upward light emission, and avoiding interference with the safe operation of motor vehicles.

Questions Around Illumination

When considering these objectives, the levels of illumination needed for the various areas on your site will come into question. During these deliberations, there should be a constant mantra whispering in your ear, “less is more.” The human eye needs very little light to function. A sunny day on Old Orchard Beach has over 30,000 foot-candles while a cloudy day has 1,500, yet only 0.1 foot-candles is needed to read the fine print in your condo bylaws.

If one area of the complex is very bright, it will create the illusion of the properly lighted area nearby to be under-illuminated. Competing light levels detract from our sense of safety and security and defeat the very purpose they were intended to serve. In fact, for a feeling of security it is often more effective to be able to see far ahead with clearly defined escape paths than have extremely bright lighting.

Energy and Environmental Considerations

Reducing the level of illumination will of course save on energy, but there are many other means to this goal. Though the initial selection of lamp type, ballast, luminaire type, quantity, and location can have a significant effect on life-cycle costs, the control strategy can be even more important. Not all outdoor lighting needs to be on full light output all evening. Many methods are available to reduce the hours of lighting operation including timers, motion sensors, photosensors, curfew dimming, and step switching. Even infrared fixtures and cameras might be elements to consider for special circumstances.

The environmental concern of light pollution is getting a lot of visibility lately. The results of this ever-growing problem are glare, skyglow, and light trespass. Often these issues have common solutions. They arise from improperly directed fixtures and inadequate lamp shielding. Cutoff fixture is a term to describe a luminaire designed to focus light exactly where it is needed. When determining the height of a pole fixture, it is often better to have more fixtures at a lower level than fewer fixtures higher up. Tall fixtures tend to illuminate the area directly around the pole and not the area needing the light.

Glare can also be controlled by diligently locating fixtures. Uncomfortable and unneeded light can reflect off a wide range of surfaces such as building windows, wet pavement, and landscaping features. Glare and a lack of uniformly distributed light can temporarily reduce vision function and create a sense of unease or confusion. This will not produce the curb appeal to make the condo shine in this market.

With the current trend to use hardscape design elements on the grounds of many condominium complexes, care should be taken to avoid up lighting landscape features and to use shielded fixtures such as path lights, bollards, and post-top lights with minimum intensity levels. Effective lighting design is not only good for the environment; it also makes cents.

Lighting Safety Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Senior Consultant Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media

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Building Science: 101 Ventilation Best Practices

ventilation best practices

I am often asked what cold-weather planning the building committee should be considering. Surprise is expressed when I suggest the condominium’s attics and their venting. It is true an attic only needs one tenth the ventilation in the winter than in the summer to control moisture buildup and temperature, but the wintertime also has some unique issues.

  • First, if the building committee wants attics to be inspected by an engineer or contractor, it is a lot easier inspecting a cold attic than an attic on an August afternoon.
  • Secondly, if repairs are needed, it is better to prepare bid documents before the busy spring and summer construction season.
  • Finally, ice dams are caused by excessive heat loss through an inadequate attic insulation/vapor barrier. If the attic ventilation system cannot properly remove this hot air against the underside of the roof sheathing, a cycle of freezing and thawing of expanding roof ice may infiltrate through the roof surface, causing interior water damage.

There are a lot of myths about what makes good ventilation in an attic. One venting myth to dispel is the best natural ventilation is rising hot air venting solely through ridge or gable vents. This is sometimes called gravity ventilation. Tests have shown this chimney effect is negligible when compared to wind movement which has a much higher efficiency and allows for considerably smaller net venting area to be successful.

Maximizing Wind Movement

The difficulty with relying on wind movement is areas of high and low pressure will change with wind direction; thus, existing buildings are dependent on the structure’s design and orientation for determining the type and location of vents. The best designs have the outlet as high as possible, such as a ridge vent, and the inlet as low as possible such as the soffit area. To improve this airflow, air chutes are often installed during initial construction or later retrofitted. These chutes are formed plastic channels that are attached to the roof joists and are butted up to the soffit vents to act as a pathway conduit for air coming through the soffit vents. They also serve as a barrier to prevent the attic insulation from clogging the soffit vents.

Soffit vents are probably the most important of all vents as they can act as both an inlet and outlet for airflow. That is why it is imperative they be kept free of debris or other material that could clog the vents. For this reason, attic inspection should ensure the attic’s floor insulation is not currently blocking the soffit vent’s air pathway. This blockage can occur as early as the initial installation of the attic floor insulation or after the insulation is disturbed by recent attic work on the sprinkler or electrical systems found in the attic. Without soffit venting the ridge or high gable vents would draw make-up air through the ceiling instead of from outside. For this reason, the soffit vent should have at least 50 percent of the net free area (NFA). This NFA rating is stamped on vent products. A rule of thumb is that the summer ventilation requirement can be estimated by determining the volume of attic space and dividing by two, which will produce the needed cubic feet per minute (cfm) of ventilation. Local building codes often require one square foot of venting for every 300 square feet of ceiling space.

When selecting replacement vents always seek vents that will have low airflow resistance. They come in either perforated or slotted. The slotted has a reputation of resisting clogging by airborne debris. Some ridge vents come with baffles designed to draw air out due to the suction developed.

Areas of your complex with cathedral ceilings can be more difficult to inspect for proper ventilation. These areas typically do not have attics. Instead, the ceiling sheetrock and vapor barrier is installed directly to the underside of sloping cathedral roof rafters. In these cases, plastic pre-formed rafter baffles are installed between the rafters from the soffit vent all the way up to the ridge vent to form an unobstructed airway and not blocked by the insulation installed between the rafters.

Problem Indicators and Solution Alternatives

Other visible signs your attics’ ventilation is underperforming are the attic ceiling is hot to the touch; mold growth is visible on the underside of the roof sheathing; or moisture droplets are detected on the roof rafters. If attic ventilation problems persist and ridge/soffit venting cannot be improved, other ventilation options could include the installation of roof turbine vents and electric or solar powered vents. These steps will improve indoor air quality, reduce energy consumption, and extend the life of an overworked HVAC system.

In the summer, of course, the main problem from poor attic ventilation is heat. Ninety-degree weather can create temperature of over 150 degrees in an attic. Heat kills. It can kill your air conditioning budget and reduce the lifespan of an asphalt shingle roof by one half its rated life. So, if you start having cabin fever, make sure you vent.

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media

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Liabilities and Risks of Ignoring Issues: An Engineer’s Perspective

Liabilities and Risks of Ignoring Issues: An Engineer’s Perspective

Repairs reserves

Question:

A recent reserve study identified a number of repairs/replacements that should be addressed in the community. However, while the reserve is being funded on a monthly basis, there isn’t enough in the current reserve fund for the repairs/replacements. With inflation and knowing that owners won’t be happy, the board decided not to increase condo fees or approve a special assessment and instead will wait to make the repairs/replacements when the money is available in the reserve fund.

Since the reserve study has indicated that these repairs/replacements should be addressed, how might the board’s decision impact our liability should one of these items fail and/or cause damage to the community or someone is injured by our failure to address the repair/replacement?

Answer:

Unfortunately, underfunded condo or Home Owners Association (HOA) reserves are a common occurrence in New England, especially in communities with buildings greater than 25 years old. Most New England states do not have specific requirements for the level of needed reserves nor even a requirement for a full reserve study. States’ HOA and condo statues do place an obligation of fiduciary duty on boards and their members. They must act in good faith and be prudent and faithful in furthering the association’s best interests. A current reserve study and a properly funded reserve fund are often key to protecting a community’s long term financial health and provide good risk management.

Commissioning a reserve study by the board is a good first step in planning for the future. Problems can arise when the reserve study reports underfunding the correction of current common asset deficiencies. In an ideal world, the board recognizes the importance of these reported deficiencies, initiates a plan to raise the needed funds, and orders repairs. But in reality, circumstances may occur when the board feels the community cannot afford an increase in assessments or will oppose a special assessment to fund the needed improvements. It is at this point the board should be aware it may be incurring significant known and unknown risks and liabilities.

Reputation and Building Risks

Some of these risks and liabilities fall in the “legal” category while others in the “quality of life” or “financial” category. That is, if a member of the community or visitor were to be harmed by tripping on an unrepaired sidewalk hazard or a broken deck component, litigation could ensue. Leaving aside the potential success of this type of litigation or the protection of board of directors by liability insurance, the long-term effect could be damage to the community’s reputation. One of the most important duties of the board is the protection of the owners’ net worth. If the community is seen by the real estate market as a dangerous or risky place to live, its future average unit sale value will be reduced. This situation will signal two red flags to potential buyers: First, it will raise doubts about the latent condition of other community assets; and second, it will underscore the significance of the underfunding and future need of special assessments or other emergency measures for future owners. These circumstances could impact the timing of future unit sales.

Most professional property managers will agree ignoring important repairs or putting off needed improvements typically will only increase the damage and costs over time. Not only will the community’s curb appeal be diminished but so will the desirability of banks providing unit loans or refinancing. Responsible communities recognize it is in their own best interests and will not kick the can down the road but face their current and future fiscal needs. Banks and real estate agents often review reserve studies to understand their investment risks. Having the need for future repairs and improvement projects is not the problem. The problem is not having a plan to carry out or fund the repairs and improvements.

Written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Senior Consultant Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media

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Moisture: The Root of all Maintenance

Moisture: The Root of all Maintenance

Moisture maintenance

One of the primary issues in building science is the study of how moisture damages buildings and reduces the quality of life of its inhabitants. Moisture penetration can cause mold, rot, and interior damage. Serious moisture problems and their cure are often hard to solve as the physics of air flow, dew points, and vapor transmission can be complicated even with invasive inspections and the introduction of modern tools such as infrared scanning and moisture meters. As these more difficult problems will need a longer article to fully explore, let us focus instead on the more common problems faced by homeowner association and condo boards.

Leaking Foundations

Foundations are usually constructed with poured concrete or concrete block. Modern foundations are protected with a waterproof coating on the exterior surface and a foundation drain around the foundation perimeter at the base of the footing, often with an under-slab drainage system with an associated sump pump. With these operating properly, basements should be dry. If a modern foundation (less than 30 years old) experiences water infiltration, something is not working right and the source is probably surface water. If someone tells you it is due to rising ground water, be skeptical. Keep in mind the water table is the depth in the earth that is permanently saturated with water. According to the building code, modern foundation basement slabs are built above the water table. If the water table is too high, then the building will not have a basement but rather it will be built on a slab on grade. If you have any question about where the water table is, the municipal code officer or a local foundation excavating contractor can help.

Two-Step Approach

If your foundation is leaking, you need a two-step action plan. First, fix the wall problem allowing water to infiltrate into the basement and second, minimize surface water reaching the exterior of your foundation wall. As it will prove difficult and expensive to re-apply waterproofing to the exterior wall, the typical repair is a pressure injection of polyurethane or other type of foam product into cracks in the wall. The second step is just as important.

Surface water comes from a variety of sources. It can be rain or snow melting on the roof, rain falling on the soil near the foundation, or water from nearby sloping land. Roof gutters are supposed to divert water away from the building, but often they are the primary source of water to the ground around the foundation. Gutters are often poorly designed – either they are undersized in handling the flow of water off the roof area, do not have enough downspouts to handle the quantity of run-off water, or the gutter/downspout is broken or incorrectly placed.

If gutters are installed too low at the roof edge, steep roofs will create a velocity in the laminar flow of water to overshoot the gutter during heavy rain events. Downspouts often discharge their water near the foundation rather than diverting it away from the wall. I recommend adding a minimum six-feet extension to the end of the downspout. Furthermore, you should treat the drip edge area along the foundation wall as a ‘secondary’ roof. By this I mean, you should seal the drip edge from allowing water from the roof or other source to enter the soil near the foundation.

Keep in mind the soil has been cultivated and it absorbs water readily. Newer homes also have the problem of the soil along the foundation being backfill soil that is not compacted well, allowing easy water passage, in effect creating a short circuit from the roof to your basement. This soft soil also is susceptible to settlement, creating a place for water to pool or cause erosion allowing even more water to enter the soil.

To prevent this problem, you must first create a positive slope on the surface away from the foundation. A good rule of thumb is to create a slope dropping three inches over six feet. Once the proper slope is in place, cover it with 6 mil poly plastic approximately 18 inches wide along the foundation perimeter. This is your “secondary’ roof preventing water from entering the soil. Cover this waterproof barrier with stone or other suitable material to prevent the poly sheet from moving.

You may also have to slope the land nearby to prevent your neighbor’s land from contributing to your surface water. This can be done with shallow surface ditches called swales or buried ditches called French drains. This type of drain is a trench at the foot of a slope shedding water toward your home designed to intercept surface water from reaching your foundation wall. Buried in the trench is a perforated pipe to divert water. Your landscaper or property manager can provide details on available options. With a logical plan, you can have the dry basement you deserve.

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Hidden Structural Flaws

Like people, no two condos are the same. Establishing methods of managing all types of condos by the same rules and standards is fruitless. A 40-year-old high-rise condo on the beach in York County needs a different maintenance plan than a community of new wood-framed duplexes in Franklin County. Following the collapse of the Champion Towers in Surfside, Florida, state legislators and condo industry leaders across the country have been scrutinizing past best practices of condo capital repairs with mixed results. As an example, earlier this year Florida signed into law the “Florida Condo Safety Act.”

This well-intentioned Florida legislation will require structural inspections by licensed engineers of all 25-plus-year-old condo buildings of at least three stories and within three miles of the coast as well as 30-plus-year-old buildings everywhere else. The law also will require all condos to have enough money in their reserves by 2025 to maintain these buildings’ structural integrity. At first thought one might think, “what’s wrong with that?” The problem is 2 million Floridians live in these 30-plus-year-old buildings, and Florida has 1.5 million condo units and 28,000 community associations. Where will these condo boards find the engineers or architects needed to fulfill the law’s goals? Needless to say, changes will need to be made in the next Florida legislative session.

Finding & Diagnosing Flaws

So how can Missouri condos avoid Florida’s dilemma? Missouri’s condo inventory is beginning to age. Older buildings can hide their structural flaws, which only can be revealed by looking for them. Whether it is water infiltration, spalling concrete, crumbling brick, or cracking wood, it is only a matter of time for some of Missouri’s aging condos to need similar inspections and repair. The villain in most façade or structural frame failure mysteries is typically water. It causes corrosion, erosion, internal leaking, paint peeling, rot, settlement, and a host of other building woes. If your building has concrete elements suffering from spalling or cracking it might be due to the reinforcing steel in the concrete becoming heavily corroded due to water penetrating the surface. Ordinary rust scale expands with incredible force per square inch when confined, think bulldozer power.

Many absorptive façade materials (concrete, sandstone, mortar, fired-clay masonry) can be seriously damaged by cyclical freezing and thawing of water entering the material through natural porosity or surface hairline cracks. These pockets of moisture can become trapped in façade walls whose freezing can expand causing further cracking, spalling, or displacing adjacent masonry by a phenomenon called ice lensing.

This spalling can create dramatic loss of structural integrity to parapet walls, retaining walls, and cantilevering decks, not to mention the safety hazards from falling façade components. Complicating the diagnosis problems and the repair solutions is that spalling concrete can be caused by other forces other than water. Similar concrete failures can manifest themselves by compression, tension, or vibration overloading.

Materials Matter

Equally important in a façade or frame investigation is understanding what materials make up these structural elements, as looks can be deceiving. Most of the old brick buildings in major cities use the exterior brick to support the interior floor framing and are thus called “bearing wall masonry.” These heavy walls were designed to prevent moisture from entering into the building’s interior spaces by the brick absorbing water in its multi-layers of brick and drying out when the weather improved. Over a hundred years ago, steel framing was introduced, allowing the building designer to hang the exterior façade skin on the perimeter of the frame to produce more lightweight and cost-effective buildings. Today’s brick building uses brick as a veneer in which the brick is only the first line of defense against water infiltration. The brick actually shields the true water barrier sheathing behind a cavity space. This cavity acts as a drainage channel with weep holes at the bottom of the brickwork.

Similarly, many older buildings are covered with a stucco façade surface, which is a cement parge coating over a steel lattice similar to plaster placed onto wood lathe strips. Modern buildings use an exterior insulation finishing system (EIFS) seen on many condominium and retail building exteriors. An EIFS façade depends on interior drainage surfaces and is totally different in repair methods than stucco.

Investigative Techniques

In addition to judging the cause of the façade problem, it is important to determine its seriousness and whether immediate repair steps are necessary or whether it is not an “active” problem that can be set aside to allow other more pressing issues requiring capital outlays from the reserve fund.

To address these questions, there are a variety of invasive and non-invasive techniques to investigate the problem. If the concern is corroding imbedded steel, there are firms providing chloride ion content testing of concrete or mortar to gather quantitative evidence of corrosion potential. Simple stain gages can be placed over cracks to detect active movement. Infrared thermography can discover unseen façade connection failures, delaminations, or thermal “short circuits” due to wet insulation. There are a variety of water moisture content meters available at building supply stores and woodworker hobby shops that can accurately detect and measure moisture in a variety of materials including wood, drywall, and concrete.

So the good news is there is plenty an observant building committee or property manager can do to prevent small structural problems from growing into something major.

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5 Ways to Prevent Water Pipes From Breaking

5 Ways To Prevent Water Pipes From Breaking

Ice forming inside of pipes often is not the cause for pipes breaking.  Rather, water pipes typically break when an ice blockage occurs and the freezing and expansion causes an increase in pressure between the ice blockage and a closed faucet downstream of the blockage.  Pipes that are protected by heat or insulation are typically safe, while pipes in crawlspaces, attics, and outside walls are vulnerable to freezing.  Extremely cold weather and holes in the exterior for things such as telephone wire, cable, gas lines, etc. can allow cold air to come in contact with water pipes.   

  1. The water in pipes freeze when heat is transferred to subfreezing air.  Cracks and holes in outside walls near water pipes should be sealed with caulk to keep cold air away from the pipes.   
  2. Kitchen and bath cabinets can prevent heat from reaching the pipes.  It is a good idea to keep the cabinet doors open during a cold spell to let warm air circulate around the pipes.   
  3. Letting a faucet drip during extreme cold weather can help reduce the risk of a pipe freezing.  Pipes can still freeze with running water but by opening the faucet, pressure is relieved between an ice blockage and the faucet.  Even if the pipe freezes the risk of pipes bursting is reduced.   
  4. With exterior piping the best solution may be to have a plumber re-route piping to better protect the piping.  Other options include using electric heating tapes and cables which can be applied to the pipes to keep the water inside from freezing.  Pipe insulation can also be installed to slow the transfer of heat and better protect the pipe.   
  5. When away from the house be careful how low you set the temperature in the house.  Consider draining the water system during extreme weather if leaving the house or during a power outage with no heat source.  Turn off the main water valve and open all the fixtures in the house until the water stops running.   

If you open a faucet and no water comes out you should call a plumber.  If a water pipe bursts turn off the water at an isolation valve or at the main shut off valve usually located where the main enters the house.  Leave the faucet open until repairs are complete.  You may be able to thaw a pipe using handheld hair dryer.  With the faucet open begin heating near the faucet and work upstream on the pipe.   

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Your Roof: 8 Things to Consider!

Your Roof: 8 Things to Consider!

Image result for roof picture
If your house, condominium or commercial office building is like most built in the last 50 years, it probably has a sloped roof with one of the following roofing materials:
  • composition shingles
  • composite tile
  • cement or clay tile
  • wood shingles
  • metal roofing

Each type of roofing has its unique characteristics. However, there are also some common considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Life – The actual service life of a roof varies according to the location and exposure to sun and weather. You should not assume that the age determines its condition.
  2. Leaks – These are not usually the result of the roofing itself failing. Leaks usually occur due to the failure or improper installation of some related component such as flashing or underlayment.
  3. Resurfacing – When resurfacing a roof, you should strip the existing material to the sheathing to allow for a visual inspection of the sheathing, and replacement of all of the related components.
  4. Stains – If you have dark stains on a composition roof, it is probably mold. Diluted chlorine cleaners and products such as Shingle Shield are effective at removing the growth. New shingles are more fungus-resistant than some of those manufactured in the 1980s and ‘90s.
  5. Trees – Cut back overhanging tree limbs. They can wear a hole in your roof from the wind blowing through the trees.
  6. Gutters – If you have gutters, keep them clean. Gutters full of debris are far worse than no gutters. Debris encourages fungus, which can infect the roof sheathing. Rot and mold are the result.
  7. Wood – If you have wood shingles, make sure that they are treated for fire resistance and that the treatment is kept current.
  8. Clean – Keep your it clean, especially the details around skylights, dormers and valleys, and take note of any change in shape – this is where leaks start.

Your roof has an important job to do—to keep you dry in all kinds of weather. If you take care of it, you will get the most reliable protection and longest life.

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