Maryland Mold Remediation Services Act Beginning in July 2013, the State of Maryland will enforce The Maryland Mold Remediation Services Act, which will require all contractors that perform mold remediation on private homes (includes the interior, non-common areas, of Condominium units) must be licensed to perform mold remediation service by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC). This is a different license than a typical contractors license. Additionally, each employee who provides mold remediation services must be properly certified as a microbial remediation technician or supervisor by an organization such as the Council for Accredited Certification. Finally, any contractor that provides mold remediation services may not provide mold consulting or develop the mold remediation plan and vice versa. This eliminates the classic “fox watching the hen house” situation when it comes to mold assessments and clean-up projects. We would like to thank Susan White of Sussex Environmental Health Consultants for making us aware of this new requirement.
After the extensive power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy and the freak derecho storm in late June and with predictions of a rough winter, many people have purchased portable generators to keep the lights on and the beer cold in anticipation of the next big storm.
Although generators are a great way to provide some temporary creature comforts, they don’t come without hazards. Most people are aware exhaust fumes from gasoline-powered equipment are toxic and running a generator within or too close to your home can be lethal. Nonetheless, people continue to be hospitalized or killed by carbon monoxide poisoning due to generator misuse.
Exhaust isn’t the only danger. The method by which a generator’s power is utilized can also be deadly. Often people attempt to power the entire house by “back feeding” the generator output into an electrical outlet (such as a dryer receptacle). Not only is this illegal in most jurisdictions, it could potentially electrocute linemen working to restore electrical service.
If you feel the need to use a portable generator during the next power outage it’s best to be prepared and have the generator properly wired to a transfer switch by a qualified electrician. With a properly wired generator installed a safe distance from the house, you can relax in anticipation of the next power outage.
Over the last two years, we have found that local jurisdictions are more frequently requiring that concrete repairs, as well as other building restoration or retaining wall projects, are being classified as critical structures and/or needing special inspections. Special inspections have been included in the Building Code for a while, so this is not something new. A special inspections program involves additional paperwork (typically referred to as a Statement of Special Inspection) to obtain a building permit and requires that a Special Inspection Engineer of Record be used (in addition to the Structural Engineer of Record) on the project. All engineering consultants involved in the critical work, as well as the building owner, and contractor must sign the Statement of Special Inspection.
The Special Inspector can also be the one of the Engineers of Record, such as the Structural Engineer that designed the repairs. As you might imagine, the local jurisdictions have requirements over which portions of the critical work must be specially inspected and how often the inspections will occur. Additionally, the jurisdiction must approve who the special inspector will be. Sometimes the inspector (and not just someone in the company) must be a licensed professional, such as a Professional Engineer, or someone who is a certified inspector with credentials obtained from WACEL, AWS, or another recognized inspector certification entity. The contractor cannot retain the special inspector, as this could resent a conflict of interest.
During the project, inspection reports, signed and sealed by a Professional Engineer that performed or supervised the special inspections, are often submitted to the County at intervals during the project. Additionally, a project competition form must be submitted to the county and stamped by the Special Inspector.
The special inspection requirements can increase the cost of the field inspections on a project, but it does help ensure that quality work that complies with the Building Code and the project specifications is provided.
According to the 2009 International Building Code, a handrail is a “horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support”. We see these along common area stairways, ramps, and stair landings. They are often attached to guards (see previous posting on guards) to aid in day-to-day use, as well as in the event of a hurried emergency exit. Handrails are not intended to prevent someone from falling over the edge; this is the purpose of a guard. Handrails inside dwelling units have different requirements than those in the public areas of a building or grounds. This discussion is limited to those common area locations.
Typically, when a replacement stairway is installed, handrails must be placed continuously (no breaks or interruptions, which would cause you to let go of the rail) on both sides of the stairway, even though the original stair may have only had one railing. This squeezes the useful width of the stair down by as much as nine inches. We have found that exceptions can be made to this requirement, but safety usually trumps the desire to maintain the original stair width.
Another difference that you will find, if you replace a stair railing, is that handrails must extend horizontally at the top and bottom landing for a distance of 12-inches beyond the stairs. The handrail must also be closed or loop back to the wall or railing post to prevent objects (such as an open coat) from getting caught on the protruding end of the rail and causing someone to fall back down the stair.
Handrails must be placed at a height between 34-inches and 38-inches above the walking surface so that they can be used properly. In applications where a guard is not required, but a handrail is, such as on a ramp or stair that is not 30-inches above grade, the railing height does not have to be 42-inches tall, but rather can be at the handrail height.
Finally, the size of the handrail is regulated by the Code. Obviously such an important life safety related item cannot be too big to grab, so the Code says that the rail can be circular (minimum diameter of 1-1/4 inches, maximum diameter of 2 inches) or non-circular (perimeter dimension between 4 inches and 6-1/4 inches, and no more than 2-1/4 inches when measured from corner to corner of the cross section).
As you can see, there are many requirements for a simple rail running along a stairway. That is why using the services of a design professional to assist with a stairway replacement is so beneficial
Guards are generally vital elements that perform a life safety role. We see them along balconies, retaining walls, walkways, stairs, and terraces. Often these items are mistakenly called guardrails, but the Code calls them guards because the entire assembly and not just the top rail is what is intended to prevent a fall. Guards are different from a handrail according to the Building Code (see an upcoming post for a discussion of handrails). Guards are required when a fall from one surface to a lower surface of more than 30-inches is possible.
Therefore, it is important to inspect your guards periodically to ensure that a fatal accident is not looming at your building. We often find that guards are loose when shaken, due to missing or severely corroded fasteners, loose material surrounding the posts cast in the concrete, posts that are corroded through, or broken welds. The Building Code has requirements for the load capacity of guards and if these defects exist, your guard could be non-compliant with the Code.
In addition, pickets or the material that serves to fill the space between the posts must be able to resist a certain amount of load according to the Code, so if you have loose pickets or degraded wood panels the guards are likely out-of-Code. Often wooden guard systems are problematic as they have pickets with nails that work loose over time. Missing pickets are also a Code violation and a hazard.
Currently the Building Code requires that all guards be a minimum of 42-inches above the walking surface and have spaces that will not allow a 4” ball to pass through. The rails must be able to resist either a 200-pound point load or a 50-pound per linear foot load, whichever is worse. Railing infill materials must be able to resist a 50 pound when placed on a one square foot area.
Anytime that a property retains a contractor to perform repairs or maintenance, the parties involved (typically the Building Owner and the Contractor) have certain responsibilities. Under most contracts, like those of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), it is required that the Contractor be solely and totally responsible for:
Supervision of the work and the activities of all employees;
The specific “means and methods” that are used to complete the work;
Safety of all work areas as well as the public that may pass through or near work being performed.
It is vitally important that the Building Owner not interfere with the work of the contractor in these areas or specifically direct the Contractor how to perform his work in regards to these matters. It is reasonable to discuss issues with the Contractor, review contract requirements, etc. However, if the Building Owner specifically directs the Contractor to perform work a certain way, the Building Owner may become directly responsible for any undesired consequences.
As always, check with your legal counsel regarding this issue and be careful about what you tell a contractor to do.
When someone obtains a building permit to construct, alter or repair a structure, certain obligations become the responsibility of the permit holder. This includes the responsibility to complete the work covered by the permit properly, in compliance with the applicable code provisions, and in a safe manner.
If problems occur, the local code authorities look first at the name of the entity that obtained the permit. This would also apply to the individual who files a complaint with the local code authority regarding the work being performed.
Therefore, it is often in the best interest of the building owner that all permits be obtained by, and in the name of, the company actually doing the work at the property. This can provide a “first line of defense” against any potential work-related problems, especially any “nuisance” claims.
If permits are issued in the name of the contractor, building owners should require verification that the permit is properly “closed-out” with the issuing code authority when the work is completed. The satisfaction of this requirement can be a condition of final payment to the contractor for the work preformed
Consult with your attorney for legal advice regarding this matter and understand that requiring the contractor to obtain needed permits may not relieve the building owner of all legal obligations related to the work being performed.
With the upcoming International Building Code (IBC) update, individuals and companies should take note of the new requirements, which will become adopted by the local jurisdictions in 2012. One of the significant changes will require that only a certified individual may install adhesive anchors in concrete structural elements where continuous tension is applied, such as for pipe hanging systems, hanging signs, ceiling supported mechanical equipment, and awnings. For these applications, an inspector specifically approved by the building official must also continuously inspect the installation of the anchors. The contractor’s personnel must be certified under the new ACI/CRSI Adhesive Anchor Installer Certification program. The requirement was prompted by a 2006 “Big Dig” incident, in which two people in a car were killed when a heavy panel fell from the tunnel ceiling.
If you default on payment to a contractor for work performed, there are things he can do to compel payment, one of which is to place a lien against your property. The particulars (time limitations, notification requirements, etc.) are governed by statute and vary from state to state, but one constant is that a lien is an encumbrance that must be satisfied or excused before one has clear title to real or personal property. If the work is performed for a condominium or homeowners association, the attachment usually extends to individual units.
A lien initiated by a contractor is a concept most people understand. What may not be as widely understood is that subcontractors or material suppliers could also obtain liens against your property if the primary contractor doesn’t pay them, even if you paid the contractor in full. There are a few ways to protect yourself against this and they should be in place when the contract is ratified.
A payment bond (often obtained along with a performance bond) is primarily a guarantee that the contractor’s subs and suppliers will be paid. We routinely recommend payment and performance bonds for major construction projects.
Another way to help reduce the potential for attachment by subcontractors and suppliers is to require lien releases from those parties before final payment is made to the contractor. Those terms would have to be established in the contract and the practice is normally associated with retainage. Some amount (typically ten percent of the contract amount) is withheld until all work has been completed, and closeout documents (warranties, special instructions, etc.) have been issued, along with lien releases from all involved parties. Ten percent may not cover all eventualities, but it would help.
We are not attorneys and the information presented here should not be construed as legal advice. The one bit of legal advice we do offer is, “consult your attorney before entering into any construction contract”.
We have currently experienced a new trend with several of the local jurisdictions within the DC Metropolitan Region with regard to the time frame it takes to obtain a building permit for rehabilitation projects. In the past, it was assumed that permits would be reviewed, approved and released within 2 to 4 weeks. Just recently, we have been told by the permit offices that it could take anywhere from 9 to 16 weeks to obtain the permits due to downsizing of their departments. Based on this information, we recommend that Owners be aware of this issue and plan accordingly as to not delay the start of upcoming projects if permits are required.