In light of the tragic condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida, earlier this year, condo and co-op boards, as well as rental building landlords, are taking a hard look at their building system inspection policies. While all mandatory inspections exist for a reason and should be taken very seriously, among the most critical is façade inspection. How often should a façade be inspected? Should that inspection be done by a hired professional? A local government official? By a private agency? By one of each? If something troubling is found, what remediation should be required and how quickly?
Causes & Effects
David Katz, an architect and project manager with Katz Architecture based in New York, says, “Most damage occurs incrementally over time. If spotted early, the conditions can be corrected, and the damage addressed. If not, the results could be catastrophic. Something as small as a hairline mortar crack will invite moisture. And because water expands when it freezes, the crack will grow larger during freeze/thaw cycles. Left unchecked, that crack may lead to steel corrosion, structural compromise, and, in a worst-case scenario, masonry elements separating and falling to the street.”
Giulia Alimonti, an architect with CTL Group, also based in New York, concurs. “It’s important to monitor the condition of your façade to prevent deterioration. We also must be able to prepare for capital projects before they become critical, and to arrange their financing without complications resulting from neglect.”
“In our experience,” adds Katz, “the worst damage and deterioration has been the result of deferred maintenance—either due to a lack of knowledge regarding city compliance requirements, or to financial hardship. We always advise our clients that the longer issues are ignored, the costlier repairs will be.”
Who Should Conduct Inspections?
“Façade inspections should be completed by a regular licensed architect or engineer who specializes in the exterior systems of a building,” says Alimonti. “In the United States we refer to these systems as the envelope. In Canada, they are referred to as the enclosure. Professionals are registered by the state, so it’s important that the professional is licensed in the state where the building is located. Some jurisdictions require more certification. In New York City, for instance, inspecting engineers must be registered with the New York City Building Department, as well as with the State of New York.”