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Be Prepared – Emergency Response Best Practices

Emergency Response Plan

You don’t have to be a weatherman to notice storms are more frequent and fierce. Nor do you have to be a news broadcaster to recall all of the reported residential damage from fire, floods, and wind. Nor do you have to be an accountant to recognize the cost of building repairs are skyrocketing up. What you do have to do is …be prepared.

Being prepared means your community has an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) in place. Disaster planning is all about saving lives; reducing suffering; and minimizing damage. These ERP plans are a group of strategies to protect both community members and their property. Key elements of the plan are Mitigation; Preparedness; Response; and Recovery:

  • Mitigation includes identifying threats and eliminating potential danger with preventative maintenance to reduce vulnerabilities.
  • Preparedness requires well documented and trained evacuation routes; established muster points; and a system to account for everyone with an emergency contact system.
  • Successful Response in an emergency is greatly improved with a quick and decisive response requiring knowing the location of the key shut-off valves and safety features both within and outside of the units. It also includes updated lists of qualified repair contractors.
  • The Recovery element of post-disaster management is often overlooked yet vital to the overall success of the community’s future. Recovery is not simply the clean-up after the disaster but a pro-active real estate marketing plan.  Whether the disaster issue is a simple sprinkler pipe leak causing flooding and mold in an empty unit or a fire destroying a wing of a complex; the planning is critical knowing what should be done after the final repair contractor’s truck is off the site.

ERP Planning Steps

So how do you start? The board should create and appoint a disaster team made up at a minimum a member of the property management staff and a board member. Residents with skills in insurance; legal matters; electrical systems; HVAC; plumbing; emergency response should be sought to join the team. There are many sources for general outline for an ERP. Your insurance company may have pre-prepared templates of these types of plans for easy customization for your community’s needs. This is very important as we all know every condo community is unique in its own way. High-rise communities will require a more detailed evacuation plan than a community with duplexes or townhouses. Urban condominiums will have different needs than rural or suburban communities. Amenities, special equipment, and landscaping may be important issues in the ERP. Demographics must always be considered as a community of young professionals may not present the same safety challenges as an association with a more senior population.

The written plan needs to be approved by the board. The plan should be easy to access in multiple locations. It should be periodically reviewed and rehearsed. A good plan will have a checklist of steps to be taken; procedures to follow; and basic supplies to have on hand. Your insurance carrier or property manager may also be able to provide disaster training guidance and other resources. Just ask. You may also want to consider seeking training grants or funding through CERT (Community Emergency Response Training).

The basic Emergency Response Plan outline should consider the following:

1. Assessment of disaster risks – both experience and potential
2. Planning – budget and financing
3. Property management coordination
4. Safeguarding important condo documents
5. Ledger of assets – written and digital
6. Communication plan – elderly and special needs; absentees; etc
7. Emergency equipment available – condo and resident owned
8. Lines of authority
9. Evacuation plan
10. Insurance audit
11. Vendor and contractor call list
12. Recovery plan

Future storms will not reduce in intensity. Weather related power outages will increase. Unit owners are becoming more reliant on reliable power for medical safety, home business needs, and family education. If emergency power sources are not currently available, the association should consider how emergency generators might be introduced into the community. Providing suggestions for unit owners’ personal protection during severe weather events can be in the ERP including recommendations for maintaining an inventory of flashlights; batteries; charged phones; a supply of food; and medical supplies/ prescription drug availability.

Post-Disaster Market Value Perception

The common denominator need of all condo unit owners is protection of their net worth. Therefore, it must be repeated, after any disaster, the impact on market value and sale potential must be considered. It should never be assumed just because everything has been brought back to ‘as good as it was’ before the disaster, that the real estate market perceives this to be the case. The association may need to take very positive steps to approach the local real estate professionals to clearly demonstrate the physical state of the current condo complex. This could include certified inspection reports or lab test results or whatever it takes to make market perception the reality.

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Sound Off: Noise in Communities

Noise

Good friends of mine just retired and decided to move into an upscale condominium community. I asked if it was difficult to adjust to downsizing after leaving the “big” house, and interestingly enough, I was told the size of the living space was not the problem, it was difficult to adjust to the surrounding sounds. They would wake up to the adjacent unit’s alarm clock and kept up at night to the neighbor’s stereo speakers. During the day, they could even hear upstairs neighbors’ dog’s nails on the hardwood floors above.

Community living in Maine has many benefits. It also involves certain compromises. One of the more challenging aspects for owners to come to grips with is noise pollution. Residents, often moving from single family homes, are not used to hearing their neighbors. Sound transmitted between units, or sound from outdoors, can be extremely annoying and disruptive. And while many features of the unit can be appreciated during a walk through, the amount of sound transmission is not always apparent.

Identify Noise Problems

If there is a perceived noise problem in your community, one of the first questions to ask is where is that noise coming from? Is the noise coming from the outside? Examples would be transportation related noise such as highways, airplanes or rail noise. It might also be transitory, like construction noise. And it might be seasonal, like outdoor activity, especially when windows are open.

Internal noises may be transferred between units or from common areas into each unit. Transmission between units may be via walls, ceilings, or floors. It may also occur as a result of mechanical chases or through the actual piping or ductwork itself.

When addressing noise issues, it is important to determine whether the problem is localized or omnipresent. Certain orientations may be more susceptible to noise issues than others. Certain parts of a building–those near fans or mechanical equipment, recreational areas, etc.–may be more prone than others to experience problems. We have even found a variation between units due to construction inconsistencies. Field modifications in another area of the same building created a problem.

Any building may experience sound transmission issues, but the biggest determining factors are the physical location, type and quality of construction, and the age of the building. If a development is built near a highway or a flight path, the resulting potential problems may be obvious and hopefully were addressed during the design stages. Older buildings, especially ones that were conversions from factories or warehouses, can present particularly difficult problems. Structural components may abet sound transfer allowing it to pass unobstructed from unit to unit.

While some wall and ceiling assemblies are more effective than others, all must be assembled correctly with plenty of attention to detail. Care must be exercised to avoid “flanking paths” that allow sound to get around sound deadening assemblies.

Measure Noise Level

In a world where perception is reality, the first task is to define the problem. Is the noise that is causing complaints louder or more frequent than the occupants might reasonably expect? It is important to recognize that much of this is subjective. Different people will have different tolerances. The type of noise is also a concern – music, conversation, toilets flushing – each carry with it a relative level of acceptability.

There are, however, some relatively objective standards that have been developed by engineers and scientists to both quantify sound transmission and define acceptable levels.

The Sound Transmission Class (STC) is a value derived from creating and measuring the sound attenuation at various frequencies and comparing that to a standard reference. Whereas the STC measures sound transmission between areas separated by a common surface (walls, windows, etc.), the Apparent Sound Transmission Class (ASTC) is a more comprehensive measure in that it incorporates other pathways of sound transmission such as beams, columns, and chases for mechanical and electrical equipment, and is generally the basis for field testing.

The STC and the IIC (Impact Insulation Class) have been incorporated into local codes. Typically, the code specifies values of 50 (or 45 if field tested). However, codes are typically minimum levels and may not be high enough to produce comfortable noise control in many attached residential units

Address Noise Concerns

Sound energy, like thermal energy, is best disrupted by creating breaks between spaces. Mass also plays a role in overall comfort.  Generally, to improve Transmission Loss (the ratio of the sound energy striking the wall to the transmitted sound energy, as expressed in decibels), designers should seek to increase the weight of the surface layers and/or increase the distance between the surfaces.

Fiberglass insulation is often used, even in interior walls, to reduce sound transmission. Caulks and sealants are often used as well. Building walls in which the studs are offset and penetrations like electrical boxes and medicine cabinets are sealed can go a long way to improve the conditions. Drywall can be attached with resilient channels.

Dampening the source should also be considered. Many associations are beginning to establish minimum coverage of hard floors with carpeting, restrictions on hard soled shoes, and setting limits for sound levels from audio equipment. Other, more sophisticated strategies like baffling can be employed.

Reducing sound transmission in an existing building, whether old or new, is much more difficult than including good sound transmission practice as part of new construction. Reduction of sound transmission in wood framed buildings is generally more difficult than masonry or steel structures.

If problems arise, the first steps are to determine the existence of a real problem, attempt to quantify it, inspect to ensure that components were actually built as planned, and, then, hire a qualified consultant to recommend improvements. Most irritating noise issues can be resolved with some sound evaluation and thinking.

 

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

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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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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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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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