Engineering studies fall into a number of categories, from general condition surveys (such as reserve studies and pre-purchase inspections) to problem-solving investigations and forensic examinations. Within those categories, there are generally three (3) levels of need.
A heightened concern over residential wood deck failures has become prevalent with the recent collapses in the DC – Baltimore area and with the arrival of warm weather.
Several hundred injuries occur each year due to deck collapses according to published statistics. So, this is not a new phenomenon. The Building Code and local jurisdictions have required special details for connecting decks to buildings for many years. Often a lack of flashing or poorly installed flashing is to blame as, over time, water infiltration can result in the decay of the wood framing hidden behind the siding to which the deck is attached. We have also seen decks connected improperly (too few fasteners, improperly spaced fasteners) or to wood framing that lacks sufficient strength. Proper flashing and adequate structure must be present to ensure a well secured deck for the long-term.
FEMA has published this detail in their Coastal Construction Handbook for many years, which shows a robust flashing system.
Unfortunately, not all decks have not been installed with proper fasteners and flashings. So, we will likely continue to see these collapses from time to time in the news. Montgomery County, Maryland officials have provided this checklist for annual deck inspections of residential decks by homeowners.
It is a good practice to make an annual inspection of your wood deck, especially if it is 15 or more years old.
There’s something inherently appealing about buying something brand new, but newer isn’t always better, especially in construction. A dishearteningly large portion of our work involves problems in new buildings, ranging from shoddy workmanship to new technologies that don’t live up to expectations.
One advantage to buying a unit in an older building is history. Inherent or latent defects can take time to manifest and new structures are not time-tested. There are steps that can be taken to help determine the condition of a new building, the first of which is a professional transition or warranty study.
Most states (and The District of Columbia) have in effect statutes regulating the formation and governance of community associations (condominium acts) and they typically include provisions for the correction of construction defects by the developer. That amounts to a statutory warranty, which has nothing to do with other warranties that might be offered to buyers by the developer.
Each state sets the criteria as to what constitutes a warrantable defect but they generally include any condition that reduces stability or safety below acceptable levels, restricts the intended use of a building element and/or does not comply with standards acceptable within the involved industry. Warranty periods vary by jurisdiction, usually ranging between two to three years. The acts also define periods during which lawsuits could be filed (statutes of limitations) and some limit the time an association has to notify the developer of any defects, often within the warranty period.
Before a warranty claim can be made, defects have to be identified and to the extent possible, quantified. That’s the primary purpose of a transition/warranty study. A secondary purpose can be determination of replacement reserve requirements.
Depending upon the age of the property, such a study could have been performed; however, it may not be made available to potential buyers. If the Association is embroiled in a legal action with the developer, reports might not (for strategic reasons) be made public during certain aspects of the process.
If you wish to buy into a new community and no such study has been undertaken, it would be in your best interest to propose, promote, or support one. In many cases, the burden of correcting constructions defects falls on the association if they weren’t identified within the time frames imposed by statute. Consumer protection laws in some states provide protection apart from and in addition to condominium acts, but even then, early is better.
The intent of this series is not to dissuade you from buying a condominium. All systems age and must undergo periodic repair, rehabilitation, or replacement. As long as the association has properly planned for those, the related issues amount more to inconvenience than hardship. If plans are lacking, you could be faced with having to pay for things that weren’t your fault, in the form of a special assessment or elevated assessments to pay off a loan.
Buying a home in a condominium differs in a number of significant ways from buying one in an independent “neighborhood.” Condominiums (in fact all community associations) have by-laws, covenants, and budgets, to which you will be bound as an owner.
An examination of the associations’ documents (especially the budget) is essential. Operations are obviously funded by unit owners and your share could be considerable. Monthly assessments can approach, or even exceed mortgage payments.
A reserve study should have been performed within the last three to five years and they should have been provided as part of the sale packet given by the seller. If not, be wary. In some jurisdictions (such as The Commonwealth of Virginia) they are mandated for specific intervals. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requires reserve studies every two years for certification and they won’t underwrite loans for first-time buyers in uncertified associations.
Reserve studies can be difficult to interpret for the uninitiated. Nonetheless, there are things to look for.
- Reserve studies should be performed by qualified organizations, based on engineering or architectural criteria. Reports with discussion of the involved elements are preferred over simple tables.
- Most community associations fund by the “cash-flow” method, which should cover a minimum of twenty years.
- There’s no simple formula for funding reserves, but lenders have tightened requirements and may deny a loan if annual funding is less than ten percent of the total operating budget. There should be some discussion from the author regarding the adequacy of reserves funding.
There may also have been engineering studies performed to evaluate specific systems and/or investigate problems. Disclosure laws usually require that they be provided to potential buyers.
There are differences, beyond the obvious, between older and new condominiums. In Part 3 to follow, we’ll go over some that should be considered.
When you buy a condominium you’re also buying into the building that encloses it, as well as every other building in the association and everything else intended for common (and limited common) use. You’ll be paying to operate, maintain, repair, and (when the time comes) replace them.
With that in mind, it would behoove you to inspect those elements. Detailed inspections are not practicable and space doesn’t allow for comprehensive discussions of every possible element or condition, but certain basic principles apply. In essence, if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
A simple walk through the property can be revealing. If the grounds are littered with construction materials (shingle remnants, siding, sheet metal, brick pieces, etc.) there’s reason for concern. If buildings exhibit bulges, missing cladding materials, excessive cracks, or other conditions that seem out of the ordinary, there are questions that need to be answered.
Parking garages with excessive and/or displaced cracks, exposed steel reinforcement or broken tendons (usually characterized by “cable” loops at the undersides of slabs) will probably require some degree of rehabilitation in the near future. Gutters in garages are almost always installed to collect water from leaks through defective waterproofing systems.
One thing buyers frequently fail to consider is noise. If you inspect the unit at a time when nobody is home in neighboring units, it could be misleadingly quiet. It might annoy your realtor, but try to arrange multiple (at least two) visits during hours when the neighbors are likely to be home and active.
While detailed inspections by prospective buyers are not usually possible, detailed professional inspections have likely been performed and reports would have been generated. In Part 2, to follow, we discuss documents you should review to help inform your decision.
It’s hard to find a building today without concrete surfaces stained by rust. Rust stains can adversely transform the aesthetics of a beautiful building. How can rust stains be removed? Let’s find out!
Once rust staining has occurred, it is important to remove the stains without altering the color or finish texture of the concrete. Two techniques which can be implemented are dry methods (i.e. sandblasting, wire brushing, grinding, etc.) and wet methods (i.e. waterblasting, chemicals, etc.). If surface texture is not a priority, the dry methods can be a quick and cost-effective way to remove stains. If the final finish is important, as is commonly the case with architectural concrete, chemical treatments are recommended.
Mild stains usually can be removed with an oxalic acid or phosphoric acid solution, applied to a water saturated concrete surface. Deeper stains typically require a poultice, which absorbs the chemical solutions and then forms a paste over the stain. Older buildings require more attention with stain removal because the chemical treatments may remove other contaminants in the concrete, creating a lighter color than the adjacent concrete.
The rule of thumb when putting a cleaning solution on your stained carpet or clothes applies with concrete. Be sure to test different chemicals on small, inconspicuous areas to evaluate the treatment. Also, the longer you let a stain sit, the more difficult it is to remove, so seek help quickly when rust stains appear!
This is not a radioactive fluid spill! We just used a fluorescent green biodegradable dye to see if water was flowing under, rather then through the culvert. It turned out that water was flowing under the pipe through the gravel setting bed. We have more dye left if you need to know where water is coming from or going to.
Alfred Hitchcock had bird issues (especially seagulls), but in the Baltimore-Washington area, the most common pest birds are pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings. These birds are undesirable if they land, roost, and nest on or in our buildings because they bring unwanted noise, odor, and often disease. Plus, no one likes their deck, patio, lawn furniture, or other belongings adorned with bird droppings.
If you’ve ever tried getting rid of pest birds, you probably know that they annoyingly adapt to many control methods and won’t go away without a fight. After all, they’re called “pests” for a reason. So how do you win this battle and get them to leave for good? You have to think like the bird. Birds seek flat, unobstructed roosting surfaces and they are looking for food. If you take these two things away, they’ll find somewhere else to go.
To reduce or eliminate surfaces on which pest birds roost (i.e. ledges, railings, parapets, awnings, etc.) you should consider installing one or more physical barriers, which typically include spikes (plastic or metal), netting, and electric barriers. Physical barriers are humane, eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions that have high success rates. Spikes and netting are inexpensive and easy to install, but are best suited for hidden areas or where building aesthetics is not a priority. Wires and electric barriers (low-voltage, non-lethal) are less obtrusive and often virtually invisible.
Another great way to make flat roosting surfaces unavailable is to cover them with wood or metal sheathing at a 45° or steeper slope. If you are considering a roof or façade repair/replacement project, this would be the perfect time to implement these methods.
Other bird control systems like sound, traps, aversion chemicals and killing are inhumane, expensive, temporary, and/or ineffective options. We and the Humane Society do not recommend them. As for plastic owls and hawks, they only work on the stupid birds. Savvy city birds aren’t fooled.
The last thing to do to keep birds away is limit availability to food. Implementing better trash management and asking residents to not feed them are two ways to encourage birds to inhabit other areas.
Since every building has its own unique roosting sites and bird access, there is no “one size fits all” bird control option. Be sure to have a qualified professional discuss with you which options are the most appropriate for your building and goals
RCI, Inc. is now IIBEC.
Today, a nonprofit association originally incorporated in 1983 as the Roof consultants Institute (RCI), officially becomes the International Institute of Building Enclosures Consultants. (IIBEC; pronounced eye-bec) This refreshed brand has been designed to accurately represent the services and value of the organization, and in turn, that of its members.
Nothing like a rainy day to see how one of our drainage projects is performing. The channel is not done. We still need some plants to finish the step pools to make the swale look even prettier.
We have found paving fabrics to be very useful in pavement rehabilitation. However, it’s important to apply a proper thickness of asphalt over the fabric or premature failures can occur.
The photograph illustrates what often happens when a thin layer (less than an inch and a half) is applied over paving fabric.
Ron Brookman, our pavement expert, would be happy to discuss any pavement concerns you many be facing this Spring. Send him your questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever seen that yellow sign before driving over a bridge that says, “Bridge Ices Before Road” and wondered why? A major reason is that cold air surrounds the bridge from above and below, which means that heat within the bridge deck is lost from all sides. Roadways, however, are protected by the ground below which helps trap in heat.
Another reason is that bridges are often constructed with concrete and roads are typically paved with asphalt. Asphalt pavement is much less dense than concrete which means that the asphalt absorbs heat much better than concrete because the heat can penetrate deeper into the pavement. Additionally, asphalt pavement will retain the heat better than concrete and lose trapped heat more slowly than concrete as the ambient temperatures fall.