Archives for Maintenance

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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How to Hire a Condo Engineer: 4 Steps

How to Hire a Condo Engineer: 4 Steps

Hire condo engineerMake sure you actually need one, too

They don’t teach you how to hire an engineer in school. Indeed most folks have never had the occasion to hire an engineer or an architect in their whole life. This is also true for most condominium or HOA board members. So how does a condo board go about successfully hiring the right engineering firm for their upcoming project?

1. Evaluate the Need

Perhaps the first question to be asked is ‘do we even need an engineer?’ Not all projects do. Some repair projects are so straight forward and obvious the board can hire a contractor with the proper skills and run the project by a committee chair or a property manager who has expressed confidence she’s managed many similar repair projects. Some projects requiring some engineering expertise, such as replacing the common HVAC equipment or upgrading the common electrical systems, do not need an engineer to manage it but rather the right choice by the board would be to seek an HVAC or electrical contractor capable of providing ‘design/ build’ services for both a timely and economically satisfactory project.

The complexity of the project and criteria needed to be complied will determine whether an engineer is needed. Typical projects in this category will include designing a new storm water drainage system for the entire HOA; performing a reserve fund study; or evaluating and design of a new foundation for one or more buildings in the condo complex. It should be noted, the term ‘engineer’ in this article refers to a professional engineer (P.E.) licensed in the state of Maine. Though other unlicensed engineers can work on the project, only a licensed engineer can stamp (preliminary and final) construction documents for town planning board review; building permits; and other municipal requirements.

2. Selecting the Engineer

Once the need is determined, selecting an engineer is the next major step. The process starts with defining the project with a clear and complete description of the scope of work. Many property managers have the resources to provide considerable assistance to the board in developing this scope of work. While the scope of work is being prepared, a list of two or three engineering firm should be created. Clearly this list should be made up of engineering firms providing the services needed for the subject project. Here again the condo’s property manager can be a good source of finding the right firms. Similarly, engineers listed in the Condo Media’s directory can make this task relatively easy because the engineers listed will be firms with experience in not only the technical issues involved but also are familiar with the world of condominiums and their special needs.

3. Preparing the RFP

Once the potential list of firms is developed, a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be prepared. This document will utilized the defined scope of work to ensure all interested parties are preparing their responses with a similar understanding of the board’s objectives. Typical RFP’s have four major elements:

1) General Information for the Engineer
2) Technical Requirements
3) Criteria for Selection
4) Scope of Work Statement

On some projects it may necessary to invite the potential firms to visit the site for a tour to outline the issues or special conditions impossible to clearly delineate in the RFP. Following the distribution of the RFP to the listed firms, the board will screen the proposal responses; select firms it wishes to interview; and schedule the interviews (45 minutes to 1 hour) to allow both the engineering firm and the board to clarify any questions or concerns arising during the proposal preparation process.

4. The Interview and Contract Process

This interviewing process is most important. Typically, the principal or senior member of the engineering firm attends the interview giving the board a first-hand impression of the firm’s approach to this project; a clear commitment to the technical resources available for this project; and past relevant experience predicting a likely successful outcome. The interview also allows the engineering firm a better understanding of how the board will be making decisions and committing adequate representation to ensure proper administration of the project.

Following this interview the board should select it first choice for the project’s engineer. At that time the contract is negotiated. Often the contract is a direct reflection of the requirements of the RFP and the conditions and fee found in the engineering firm’s proposal. These negotiations on occasion will result in changes to the scope of work and the fee. If agreement cannot be reached on issues acceptable to the board, the board can begin discussions with their second engineering firm choice in order to feel comfortable with their selection. It is critical the board feels they have selected a firm they can work with and have confidence future communications and project outcome will meet their community’s needs.

Awarding the contract to the successful engineering firm is only the beginning. A kick-off meeting to introduce all of the project team members on both sides; a review of everyone’s obligations; and establish a clear line of authority and communications. In starting any major project, the board should always remember that just like dealing with a lawyer or a doctor, the engineer’s job is to provide competent technical information and solutions but it is the board’s responsibility to make the business’ decisions. History has shown a well- defined scope of work coupled with a board making timely decisions is a recipe for a successful project.

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media January 2020 edition
Download a PDF Version of this Condo Media Article

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Is Your Condo Breathing? Why Building Ventilation is Critical

Is Your Condo Breathing? Why Building Ventilation is Critical

If your condo board is planning for a re-roofing project, remind the board the project will not be a success without an in-depth consideration being given to the condition of the building ventilation under the roof. Inadequate attic venting will cause ice dams; energy loss; and moisture damage to the roof structure. Too often roof re-surface projects only repeat the mistakes of the past.

A proper roof project includes a review of the capacity of the soffit and ridge vents based on the new codes; reducing penetrations through the internal vapor barrier; and increasing the attic floor insulation to meet today’s energy standards. This review may best be done by an engineer familiar with the appropriate building science and not by the low roofing bidder.

Seasonal Considerations

We all need to vent. No, I am not talking about Monday morning venting about the bum calls the referee made during the big game. I am talking about venting the attic space in your condominium. I know, most folks think venting is a summer issue, so why talk about it when the snow is on the ground? It is true that an attic only needs one tenth the ventilation in the winter than in the summer to control moisture buildup and temperature, but the winter time also has some unique issues.

First of all, if you or the condominium building committee wants to inspect attics, it is a lot easier on all concerned to be inspecting a cold attic than being in an attic on an August afternoon. Secondly, if repairs are needed, it is better to plan in the winter so that your bid documents are ready for the spring and summer construction season scheduling flurry. Finally, cold weather brings ice dams and heat loss due to poor insulation which are both directly related to ventilation problems.

Building Ventilation Best Practices

There are a lot of myths about what makes good ventilation in an attic. It is not true that rising hot air venting through ridge or gable vents is the best natural ventilation. 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.

See the source image

Soffit vents are probably the most important of all vents as they can act as both an inlet and outlet for air flow. That is why it is imperative they be kept free of debris or other material that could clog the vents. 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 vent 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 2 which will produce the needed cubic feet per minute (cfm) of ventilation.The difficulty with relying on wind movement is that areas of high and low pressure will change with wind direction thus existing buildings are dependent on the design of the building and its 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 air flow, 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.

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

As we discussed, venting needs in the winter are often different for the summer. Winter ventilation is needed to remove attic moisture arising from the living space. It has been found that a great deal of moisture from as low as wet basements and crawlspaces can travel through the house’s floor penetrations serving plumbing and electrical piping. This moist air can then cool its water vapor and condense onto roof sheathing. A well ventilated attic will produce a more uniform temperature across the roof sheathing and thus minimizes warm spots near the eaves that create ice dams from cyclical refreezing of snow or rain on the roof.

In 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 December 2019 edition
Download a PDF Version of this Condo Media Article

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Solar Panels – Right for your HOA?

Solar Panels — Right For Your HOA?

Solar panels may be an option for your community. Legislative incentives are available in states around the country. 

There is a growing consensus that climate change is real and its consequences will have significant impact on our quality of life and regional economic future. While the cause of climate change may be debated, its potential impact on future generations should not be. So the real question should be, what are we going to do about it?

If part of the solution to climate change is living more sustainably with a goal of zero-carbon power production, condominiums can take a key role in this effort. By the very nature of community living, condominiums reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient use of the land and reduction of construction materials with multi-family building designs. Many urban condos are developed by recycling old buildings that are re-purposed thus avoiding the wrecking ball and waste generation.

Condominiums can take a leadership position to promote more environmental friendly municipal projects ranging from efficient public transportation; avoidance of the consumption of fossil fuels in favor of sustainable electric generation for heat pumps or electric powered vehicles; and waste recycling.

Not only has the price for these PV solar panels been dropping rapidly over the past few years, the methods of maximizing their usefulness in a community environment is becoming more viable with the newest technology allowing both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity and by use of power inverters so electric power can be directed into batteries or the utility grid to sell back excess electricity. These PV panels can be grouped into arrays called micro-grids that can collect electricity and distribute to not just one user but a community of users.

These micro-grids can be located in a wide range of locations. They do not have to be on top of roofs which are objectionable to many. Instead, they can be located in empty areas around the condo complex. As an example, one of these ‘solar farms’ can feed two buildings with four units in each. Buildings such as these are fueled today by shared propane tanks in the backyard, why not solar arrays?

These types of PV solar arrays can provide electricity to fuel common elements such as the club house; street lights; and hallways light fixtures. Unit owners could opted into becoming a member of a solar farm and own a portion of the panel array (called a share) or they could opt out. Those owners who become members of the array can then improve their current old heating system by converting to an electric, ductless mini-split system producing both heating and cooling which they never had before and adding value to their unit. With inexpensive electrical power available condominiums can consider adding fueling stations for battery driven automobiles further reducing fossil based fuel consumption and fostering cleaner air.

Those condo communities with an interest in using solar power in the future should be following locallegislative events.  It is not too early to form an exploratory committee to review all of the special issues condos will face to implement solar power, as compared to an individual home owner. This research should reach out to other states who are ahead of Missouri’s solar curve.  One good source is A Solar Guide for Condominiums Owners and Associations in Massachusetts easily found on Google.

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Vinyl Siding – or Not

Vinyl Siding ProblemsPerhaps you are on the Building Committee which has been charged by the Board to recommend a replacement siding material for your 35 year old condo. Perhaps you are a property manager whose in-basket is filled with unit owner complaints about vinyl clapboard siding problems in the new condo complex. Whatever the vinyl façade issue is, the future solutions may surprise you.

Vinyl siding materials are everywhere. It is probably the most common façade material in all its forms used on condominiums across the nation, and for good reason. It is quick to install; it is relatively inexpensive; and has an estimated useful life of over 40 years. Most of its negatives are well understood: it can crack or break in the winter time from hail or your grandkids hockey pucks; it can make noise when it’s windy or too hot; colors fade or become chalky over time; and frequent cleaning is required. However, these may not be the issues you may need to face with the current vinyl siding problems.

Solar Attack

This problem can fall in the unintended consequences category. With the issuance of the new building energy codes and the drive to reduce our heating costs and carbon footprint, we are melting our vinyl siding. This is happening due to the installation of the new low-E, highly insulated glass windows being installed in both new buildings and replacement windows.

The thermal layers and reflective properties of these high-tech windows cause sun rays to bounce off and reflect onto vinyl siding causing the siding to buckle; warp; or melt. These new window surfaces act like magnifying glasses concentrating the solar energy on a vinyl surface that cannot tolerate heat over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. This condition can occur when a window on the south elevation of the building is near a right angle corner wall covered in vinyl siding. It can even occur when a new commercial building is built across the street and its new glass wall façade faces the sun and reflects across the street to your vinyl sided property.

So what are you to do? This problem was rare in the past but now solar damage is occurring with increasing frequency due to the drive to install low-E windows. The Vinyl Siding Institute suggests placing awning or shades over the windows and even changing the landscaping to create shade trees to block the light. Some vinyl siding manufacturers are addressing this type of solar damage by adding a ‘thermal diffusion agent’ to the vinyl mix at the factory to help reflect and resist the heat build-up.

Manufacturers are also responding to the problem with vinyl siding by excluding solar refection or melt damage from their warranties. Their warranties always excluded damage from heat sources such as gas grills placed too close to the exterior wall, but now damage from reflective windows is recognized so it would be wise to read the fine print before selecting a siding brand.

Color Fading

This increasing problem is a sub-set of the solar melting problem. Whether it be due to window reflective energy; climate change; or changes in manufacturing, this color fading complaint is becoming more prevalent. In the past, color fade was protected with a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer. Color fade was measured by a maximum of a Delta E of 4 Hunter units in accordance with ASTM standard D2244.

In the past, this warranty issue would be handled by a siding replacement policy. Now, some manufacturers are offering a ‘restore’ process instead of replacement. The ‘restore’ process would allow the manufacturer to paint the siding with an acrylic paint often applied by specialist painting contractors. This restore process comes with a 10-year warranty, down from the prior ‘limited-lifetime’ color warranty. Here again, read the fine print before signing the contract.

Installation

Vinyl siding may be quick to install, but it is not easy, if it is done right. Vinyl siding has an integral vinyl tab at the top in which an oval hole is punched at set intervals along its length to allow a nail to be driven through this hole and into the sheathing. Sounds simple, but it is not. The manufacturer specification requires the installer to drive the nail head within 1/32th of the vapor barrier/ sheathing surface so as not to bind the thermal movement of the siding.

Keep in mind the fasteners are being driven by an adjustable nail gun requiring a level of skill to properly set the nails in each slot hole without touching the vinyl. This accuracy requirement, coupled with today’s reduced numbers of skilled construction personnel, makes this a quality control challenge. If fastener binding does occur, the siding will not properly move with thermal expansion and buckling will soon appear on the surface.

So the answer to today’s vinyl siding problem is: do your research. Read the manufacturer’s specifications and warranties; ensure your contractor is committed to good supervision of the installation of this important building envelope element; and finally, follow up with your own quality verification program, either through your building committee or project engineer. The siding is only as good as it is installed.

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Foundation Forensics

Crack in a foundationCracks in foundations are by far the most common structural complaint raised in either reserve fund studies or transition studies.   They can occur in the youngest or newest condo building. As condo documents usually assign the maintenance responsibility of their repair to the association, board members and property managers take them very seriously.  Missouri condo buildings have many types of foundations including concrete block; brick; and mortared stone with the most common being poured concrete.

Most basements and garages have 4 to 6 inch concrete slabs and unless this is a slab-on-grade foundation, the slabs were poured independently of the foundation walls.  They are said to be ‘floating’.  Often the construction joint between the slab and wall can easily be seen.  The common slab crack complaint is hairline cracks appearing in spider web-like patterns.  These cracks can show up shortly after construction and are normally caused by shrinkage during the curing process.  The key point here is this type of slab cracking is rarely a structural problem, for after all, the slab could be completely removed leaving a dirt floor while the foundation walls and columns with footings will easily maintain a stable building.

Therefore, slab cracking is often more of a cosmetic problem.  Cracks are often repaired with a variety of grout, caulk, or epoxy products primarily to prevent groundwater penetration, insect entry, or radon gas infiltration.  Cracks showing differential movement on opposing surfaces can be a tripping hazard but more importantly an indication of serious sub-surface conditions needing further investigation.

Regarding foundation walls, the most typical problem with concrete walls are vertical hairline cracks, often starting at the top of the wall and traveling down to the floor slab.  A sub-set of these types of cracks are those that propagate often in a diagonal direction from stress concentration points such as the bottom corners of basement window openings.  The key point to remember is these types of cracks, even when they penetrate the entire thickness of the wall, normally do not constitute a structural problem as the loads from above pass unobstructed on both sides of the crack to the footings below.

However, when the wall surfaces on both sides of the crack are moving out of plane or the structure above shows stress in the form of movement or cracking sheetrock walls and ceilings above, further structural evaluation is warranted.  Foundation cracks should be sealed if periodic water infiltration occurs.  Repairing cracks from the outside if often the best method, but due to the excavation costs involved, repairing the crack from the interior by injecting a crack filling material has become a routine solution.

When horizontal wall cracks; multiple closely spaced vertical cracks; or large diagonal cracks in basement corners are observed, these conditions may indicate more serious problems related to settlement or other structural problems.  Similarly, a single vertical crack that is much wider at the top of the wall may indicated foundation settlement problems stemming from poor soil conditions; hydrostatic groundwater pressures; or frost heaving.  These problems should be directed to a knowledgeable consultant.

Regarding concrete block foundation walls, most of the guidance above can be used with some exceptions.  By their nature concrete block walls are often not well reinforced and are subject to inward movement from various soil pressures causing these types of walls can bulge inward.  Ice lens forming about 3 feet below the ground surface can expand and push concrete block walls inward.  This can even occur from a vehicle’s weight being too close to the foundation, such as oil delivery truck.  When horizontal cracking is observed in block walls, steps should be taken quickly to prevent further movement.  These types of walls are also very susceptible to water penetration even when foundation drains are present often requiring serious water proofing repairs.

The key to maintaining a sound brick or concrete block foundation is periodic vigilance to ensure loose or dislocated masonry elements are not ignored.  If you observe a ‘stair step’ patten crack in the mortar joints of a masonry foundation wall, it typically means settlement has occurred under the ‘step’ section of the wall. .  Any observed bulges or horizontal movement, as well as new cracks, should be quickly addressed.

Many Missouri condominiums have been converted from old multi-family apartment buildings with mortared or un-mortared stone foundations, some with brick foundation walls above the ground surface.  These foundations have stood the test of time and are more than 100 years old and if well maintained can last another 100 years.  They are more likely to allow the entrance of ground water due to their porous nature and the necessary steps should be taken to protect the structural elements and indoor air quality of the building if high moisture is a problem.  Old foundations are like people.  As they age, they need some extra care but they have already met the test of time.

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HOA Fees Going Up?

How to Sell the Results of a Reserve Study Without a Revolt

While the importance of associations building a strong reserve fund is no mystery to you, raising fees or assessments is often a sensitive subject with homeowners. Every association needs a long-term planning goal, and a reserve study creates an accurate timetable for all major improvements. Learn how to address those sensitivities and sell the results of a reserve study with a revolt.

FIDUCIARY DUTY

One of the primary business duties of community associations is maintaining and preserving property values of the associations’ common property. To do this properly, associations must develop funding plans for future repair or replacement of major common-area components.

A reserve study is a budget-planning tool that identifies the current status of the reserve fund and establishes a stable and equitable funding plan to offset the anticipated future major common-area expenditures. Being prepared for non-annual expenses allows your association to change the unexpected to the expected. Reserve studies are one of the best strategies for financial and physical health at the association’s disposal. In order to keep the replacement costs current, the reserve study should be updated (with a site visit) every three to four years.

COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIPS

It is our belief that fundamental to the accomplishment of any of these objectives is two basic premises: communication and relationships. Communication is multi-faceted – between the board and the owners, between the board (and/or subcommittee) and the consultant, and between the consultant and the owners. To ignore these opportunities for effective communication will result in diluting the effectiveness and ultimate success of the implementation of any reserve study on the books for your association.

Relationship nurtures trust and confidence. Through effective communication, greater trust and confidence can be developed between the various parties involved. As a result, it is more likely (although certainly not guaranteed) that the recommendations of a reserve fund study can be effectively implemented.

AN OUTLINE FOR SUCCESS

It is imperative that the scope of a reserve study be clearly defined before even seeking proposals from consultants. The following are a variety of options to be included in the scope of any Request for Proposals:

  • Define the project – From the table above, define exactly what is expected of the consultant. This should be as a result of discussion by the board and/or building subcommittee to determine what is needed. It is particularly important to decide whether the reserve study is to be based on simply replacing existing components or if upgrades and improvements should be considered.
  • Interview the consultant – The RFP should include a paragraph such as follows below. Getting to know the consultant, the people involved on your project and their approach to the project is imperative to a successful relationship.
    The board will select two to three consultants it believes to be qualified for the work and then conduct interviews. The objective of the interview is to meet the people who will be specifically working on our project, discuss a variety of questions, and generally understand the procedures the consultant intends to use for the project. A final choice will be made within one week following the interviews.
    A reserve provider’s objectives are threefold: to provide a broader perspective on reserve studies; to assist property managers with a successful presentation of reserve fund studies; and to create opportunities for more meaningful reserve studies and effective implementation of recommendations.
  • Pre-project meeting – The board (or building subcommittee) should meet with the consultant before actual work starts. The objective is to refine and finalize the scope of the project. This is also an opportunity to determine what will be expected of the association (or management company) and what will be expected of the consultant throughout the project. Suggested language for the RFP is as follows:
    The first step after selection is a meeting with the board (building subcommittee) to review, refine, and finalize the scope of this project. At that time, the items to be covered, the procedures involved, the on-site protocol to be used by the consultant, and any special concerns of the board (building subcommittee) will be discussed.
  • Conduct an owner survey – The intent is to give all of the owners the opportunity to express any particular concerns they might have about the project. While this may seem risky, it has been our experience that it is actually quite effective. Such a survey would be accompanied by a letter from the association providing all of the owners with the scope and limitations of the reserve study to be conducted and encouraging them to respond to the survey. It has been our experience that there is a very high percentage of response. Often the response to these surveys will reveal patterns that relate to association responsibilities as well as giving owners the opportunity to note areas of concern. The following is text for the RFP relative to this point:
    The consultant is expected to participate in at least one meeting with the board (building subcommittee) prior to commencement of the project.
    The consultant is expected to distribute a survey for use by all unit owners and compile the results of that survey as a part of the reserve fund study.
    The content of the survey should be reviewed and modified for each specific project. Also, a letter should be distributed to the unit owners, along with the survey, explaining the purpose and logistics of the reserve study and the survey. That letter should be on the association stationery. The survey would be on the consultant’s stationery.
    The final report would include a summary of the survey findings as well as any specific recommendations or observations related to the survey.
  • Follow-up meetings – It is important that the consultant be willing to discuss the findings of the study with the directors, building subcommittee, and unit owners. This is especially important if the study includes an evaluation of upgrades and improvements. Ideally, there will have been ongoing communication with the directors (building subcommittee) throughout the study process. A meeting with the unit owners will be a logical extension of that process. The following is language to be used in an RFP for that purpose:
    The consultant is expected to attend at least one meeting to which all of the unit owners are invited. This will occur after submittal and acceptance of the final report. The consultant will be expected to provide an overview of their findings and to respond to questions from the unit owners.
  • Report format – Effective communication means effective distribution of information. In larger associations (more than thirty to fifty unit owners), distributing the complete report is impractical, cumbersome, and usually unnecessary. However, a condensed “owners’ report” is a valuable tool to distribute information. Typically, the owners’ report would include an executive summary and the financial projections that are part of the master report. To achieve this purpose, the following language is suggested for the RFP:
    The consultant will provide (enough for the board or building subcommittee) copies of the complete final report. This will include photographs highlighting areas of concern and/or special interest. In addition, the consultant will provide a single reproducible copy of an owners’ report which will include a brief (two to three pages) overview of the findings of the study and the reserve fund projections.
  • Review draft report – For the association, directors, and building subcommittee to be comfortable with the work of the consultant, it is important that there be interaction throughout the process. Generally, we recommend that the consultants meet with the directors/building subcommittee regularly throughout the process of developing the study and submit a draft report for review and comment by the directors/building subcommittee. Recommended RFP language is as follows:
    The consultant will provide a draft report for review by the board (building subcommittee). The board (building subcommittee) will provide comments within two weeks of receipt of the draft report. Following that, the consultant will provide its final report.

Now That You Have the Results, Where Do You Go From Here?

In the first half of this article, we discussed reserve studies and selling the results of the report to your association (without a revolt!). Now that you have the association on board with the report, how do you go about implementing the actual findings?

Click here to download the full article and a complete look at next steps…

 

Note: these resources are provided for consumer guidance only. To have a licensed, Professional Engineer inspect your deck, contact Criterium-Hardy Engineers.

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How Safe Is Your Deck?

May is National Deck Safety Month® and your spring maintenance checklist should include a thorough inspection of your deck and railings. It’s important to ensure their safety before the outdoor entertainment season begins with family gatherings and neighborhood barbecues taking place on your deck.

Here are a few items to consider as you check your deck:

  • Check Connections: make sure all railing connections are secure. Anchorage points for wood railings often rot and may fail. Perform a stress test by cautiously pushing on the railing to make sure it doesn’t give at any point.
  • Stair Railings: stairs with two or more stair risers should have a railing.
  • Guardrails (railings): are required on “open-sided walking surfaces” higher than 30 inches from the ground, including decks. On single family homes, guardrails must be 36 inches high for decks (measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail) and 34 inches for stairs, measured vertically from the tread nosing.
  • Strength & Spacing: both guardrails and handrails must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force applied at any point and in any direction. The balusters should withstand 50 pounds of pressure exerted over a one-square-foot area. Spaces between balusters cannot exceed 4 inches to prevent children from getting their heads stuck in the openings or falling through them.
  • Benches: a bench installed around the perimeter does not serve also as a guardrail. The bench may be the required distance from the ground (36 inches), but without a guardrail behind it, which both the building code and common sense require, there is nothing to prevent someone from toppling backwards off the deck.
  • Touchup with Paint: repaint or stain the wood, if necessary (the experts suggest at least every five years). Consider using paint with slip-resistant additives for the deck and stairway riser surfaces.

With regular inspections of handrails and guardrails, you can identify and correct problems before they become an accident you could have prevented. Ensuring that your deck, handrails and guardrails are safe will help to ensure the safety of all who use them from toddlers to seniors.

Related Resources:

  • Your Home – a Criterium Engineers publication “Stairways and Decks Aren’t Safe Unless their Railings are Secure.” This document outlines building code requirements for guardrails and handrails, as well as design elements that may cause problems such as rail height and benches along the perimeter.
  • The State of California has a new extensive law that went into effect January 1, 2019, requiring the inspection of Exterior Elevated Elements (Decks and Balconies) and waterproofing elements for buildings with 3 or more multifamily dwelling units. Information on this bill and its history may be found on CA.gov.
  • The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) provides tools for consumers to Check Your Deck® for the upcoming season.

Note: these resources are provided for consumer guidance only. To have a licensed, Professional Engineer inspect your deck, contact Criterium-Hardy Engineers.

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