Archives for Transition Study

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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Transition Study, Reserve Study. What’s the Difference?

Most home owners association board members understand what a reserve study is and the beneficial role it plays in managing the financial future of the community association.  Another study that comes up for recently constructed associations and is equally as important is the transition study.

A reserve study analyzes the capital items that the association is responsible for maintaining, which typically includeCriterium-Hardy Engineers - HOA Home Owners Association Transition Study & Engineering Services roofs, siding, and concrete.  The reserve study provides information regarding each item, including its life expectancy, and the cost to replace it in the future.  Specifically, a reserve study is looking to see if and when the item will deteriorate due to ordinary wear and tear.  A transition study, on the other hand, has a narrower purpose.

This type of study identifies and documents potential construction or design deficiencies.  The key word with a transition study is “defect.”  For example, a transition report would reveal such items as roof leaks, water infiltration, or concrete settlement caused by poor craftsmanship or design.  A cost estimate to remedy the defect is normally provided as part of the analysis.

Each study is also different in purpose.  The purpose of a reserve study is to assist the association in future budgeting for the cost to repair its capital items.  Throughout the life of an association, maintenance and repair is an ongoing issue that the board continually needs to address.  For example, even if a roof was just replaced, the association should immediately begin to budget for future roofing repairs and costs based on the life expectancy of the new roof.  On the other hand, a transition study, ideally just occurs once at the time the property transitions over from the developer’s control to the homeowner board.  At this juncture, some high quality developers will even order the transition study so that they can turn over the property with a “clean bill of health.”

More frequently, the association’s board orders a transition study when it takes over control of the association from the developer.  When transition occurs, a transition study should immediately be ordered.  The study then serves a twofold purpose.  First, it can be forwarded to the developer along with a demand to address and repair any deficiencies or construction defects.  Since an independent, unbiased evaluator performs the study, it generally has more leverage in pressuring the developer to voluntarily comply with correcting the defects.  If the demand and further negotiations prove unsuccessful, the transition study can alternatively be used as evidence in litigation to force the developer to pay for needed repairs.

By requesting a transition study, the board also ensures that it has fulfilled its fiduciary duty.  The study serves as an independent, expert analysis that the board can use to make sound business decisions in terms of properly addressing construction defects.  Just like with reserve studies, a transition study takes the guess work out of identifying repairs, the cause for repairs, and the costs.

Although similar in some respects, the reserve study and transition study serve very different purposes.  The reserve study can and should be ordered and then updated in the future to accommodate the ordinary wear and tear that the common elements will suffer, whereas the transition study looks back in time to discover defects caused by the developer or its contractors.

Learn more about Criterium-Hardy’s Reserve Study services.

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