All buildings will eventually need reparations, even if they were designed and constructed according to code requirements. Things like pumps and air handlers will gradually wear down due to friction, and lighting fixtures generally have internal components that deteriorate with heat. In our local area, Florida and Miami area condominiums and housing cooperatives are managed by boards, often composed of volunteers who decide how to proceed with needed building reparations. Construction can be expensive, so ideally the board should find a contractor who solves the issue for a reasonable price.
There are two common mistakes when choosing how to proceed with a reparation: paying more than necessary and selecting an offer that does not solve the problem. Boards composed of volunteers have no guarantee that members have a technical background. And even if there are engineers or architects on the board, they may not have the free time needed to give their full attention to building issues.
Reparations conducted in single-family dwellings where the owner resides in the building are subject to more scrutiny due to the fact that the owner is present and bears the full cost. Consequently, reparations are diluted among each tenant as a maintenance fee, so the impact of a poor decision is not felt immediately.
The Role of Consulting Engineers
Consulting engineers assist in negotiations between condo boards and contractors as a neutral third party. A condominium board has the responsibility of comparing several building reparation offers and consulting engineers can help determine which ones have a reasonable scope and price.
It is tempting to choose the cheapest priced contractor when there are many offers, but an under-priced project could result in poor communication or calculation errors. In these cases, the final price ends up being much higher once you factor in the change orders that are required. Saving money by reducing the costs of building reparations is in the best interest of every tenant, but unreasonably low prices should be considered with caution.
However, the opposite can also happen. If a condo board chooses carelessly among the available offers, they can end up paying more money than necessary. This can result from an overpriced offer or one that includes unnecessary work. If building reparation is urgent, boards are more vulnerable to price gouging. Be mindful not to take the first offer that is available, because it could be overpriced.
Strict Adherence to Florida Building Codes
The Florida Department of Buildings does not require a work permit for minor projects, but larger buildings in need of reparation often exceed the established threshold. If a condo board does not attain a required work permit for a large reparation, they may soon be faced with a hefty fine from the Department of Buildings.
Engineering consultants are familiarized with Florida building codes and permitting requirements, so they are capable of easily identifying cases where a work permit is necessary. Work permits involve a great deal of paperwork and experienced professionals are able to complete it quickly, all while the condo board can avoid hefty fines. Boards can ensure that even minor work is code-compliant with the help of an informed professional opinion.
Inspecting Building Structure
Most building inspections will be conducted similarly, although the age of a building will come into play. Building plans are usually reviewed prior to the inspection to help with the process. The scope of what an inspector is looking for depends on the scope of a contract. For instance, a turnover inspection typically includes noting any visually observable defects and issues that may require further investigation. An inspection must identify any cracks, spalling or rebar corrosion that has occurred on masonry walls and balconies. Roofs, floors, windows and exterior finishes are evaluated for deficiencies or damages that may affect the stability and safety of the building
It is important to hire a qualified engineering consulting firm to inspect any potential structural problems that may occur in a building. These professionals have the expertise to advise on problems found and provide recommendations. Normally without the input of an engineering consultant, other inspections would only occur as a result of routine inspections by management, or something reported by a board member, resident or visitor and would be the focus for the inspection.
Prioritizing Condo Repairs and Upgrades
Issues that occur in buildings like water infiltration, cracks in the walls, damaged paint and noisy ventilation equipment are inevitable. However, many issues can go by undetected until they cause a malfunction in a key building system. Such issues can only be discovered if the building is inspected by a qualified professional. Aesthetic problems tend to receive plenty of attention because they are obvious, but the most urgent issues are often hidden.
Condo consulting engineers can suggest a priority list of maintenance issues after a detailed inspection of a building. Being proactive about solving problems is faster, less expensive and less disruptive than waiting for an equipment breakdown. For instance, you will want to avoid a broken air conditioning unit on the hottest days of summer- a much smarter option is to inspect ventilation systems before summer arrives.
Managing building reparations without the help of a professional third-party opinion is risky. Co-op and condo boards can end up paying for overpriced or unnecessary work. Consulting engineers can help boards to change their maintenance approach to one that is proactive- fixing issues before they occur often reduces both cost and disruption.