Building Maintenance

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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Spring Into A Building Maintenance Schedule

With Winter drawing to a close, your residents are eager to replace their snow shovels with tennis rackets – it’s time to think about building maintenance! Now is the time to implement an ongoing building maintenance plan that will save your association time and money for many seasons to come.

View your association as a complete network with many important pieces working together, and ensure that each system is functioning properly.  Here are 10 building maintenance tips your community can do now to keep your association in spring-ready shape:Spring Into A Building Maintenance Schedule for Your HOA

Drainage pathways. Clearing out your drains on a regular basis will ensure they are free of debris when spring rolls around. Spring months are notorious for high quantities of rain no matter where you live!  Avoid the potential of blocked drainage systems by habitually cleaning them every other month.

Gutter and downspout repairs. Cleaning gutters is never an easy task but it’s a necessary one with spring rainfall! Try reaching into the gutter with a pair of large tongs to dig out leaves; placing a garden hose and turning on the water full-blast also works (but watch out below!).  If the gutters are dry, and the roofs are walkable, leaf blowers make fast work of any debris in the gutters.

While you’re on the ladder, inspect all spikes, straps, and clips to ensure that they are securely fastened.

Close the foundation vent covers until summer. In the Midwest and Southern states, foundation vent covers are often left open during the summer months to allow for ventilation and airflow. However, in the winter and spring, the vent covers should be closed to prevent the warm inside air from leaking out. Closing your vent covers during the winter will save on energy and heating costs.

If you have a basement, check your sump pump regularly to ensure its operation throughout the rainy season. Water run off can create an overload of moisture that your sump pump may not be able to handle. Perform monthly inspections of the pump by opening the sump pit’s cover to clear any debris out of the bottom of the pit.

Replace snow stakes. It’s a common mistake to replace the snow stakes only once a year, usually at the beginning of winter. The stakes can be the first thing to be damaged after a heavy snowfall, particularly if the payloader knocks it over!

Do not remove snow from roof. Snow removal can be the cause of more damage than the actual snowfall itself. Most buildings are designed to handle snow, and it is very rare that even a large storm will dump enough snow to cause damage that will seriously harm your homes’ roofs. Let the snow melt naturally with Spring’s rain and warmer temperatures.

Landscaping plans. For associations in more temperate climates, the landscaping can often take a hit during the cooler months. Recover quickly by bringing in your local specialist and discussing the various shrubs and flowers that will need to be planted in spring.

Sendout paint bids for summer work. The major advantage to getting your bid requests out early is the extra time and accessibility your vendors are likely to have. Outside work requests often drop during cold weather, and getting a head start will ensure your association is at the top of their list during the summer rush!

Security enhancements. Now is the ideal time for associations to make the security enhancements they’ve been thinking about all winter. Security fencing and an alarm system are two timely projects for the post-winter months.

Replace smoke detector batteries. The batteries in all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be changed at least twice a year. The changing seasons are the perfect reminder to replace all batteries throughout the association.

Many maintenance projects have a double bonus – they will improve the appearance of your association while preventing costly repairs or replacements down the road. By undertaking some maintenance tasks now, you can lessen the costs that many associations rack up in the rush to recover from winter.

From the HOA Leader site, here’s a HOA Maintenance Checklist.   Criterium-Hardy provides comprehensive HOA services, contact us to find out how we can help!

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