7 Tips for a Better Condominium Building Envelope Project

Condominium building envelope projects can be some of the most rewarding work we do. We love connecting directly with residents, the people that live in the spaces every day, and helping them to make their buildings work better.

Condo projects also have their own unique challenges. We wanted to share tips from our experience to make your next condo building envelope project go more smoothly.

1. Communicate with the community.

The importance of communication during condo building envelope projects simply cannot be overstated. The community is the aspect of condominium work that sets it apart from most other construction projects.

You have to remember that you are working on people’s homes. Not only that, you are working on several people’s homes at the same time, in the same neighborhood, and not everyone even wants to be doing the project.

There will always be a range of opinions about a condo building envelope project, but the key to keeping things productive is communication. As a Board, your fiduciary obligation is to the property — to the buildings. But in order to properly take care of them, you need the community behind you.

Tell the community as soon as you’ve identified a building envelope problem. Let them know something needs to be done, and you’re working out how to deal with the issue.

Once some options are identified, present your work to the Community. You don’t necessarily need to formally ask for input, but we’ve found that community members generally appreciate knowing that the Board is evaluating different approaches.

Make a decision about how to address the building envelope problem and implement it. Communicate your decision to the community along with a thorough description of the steps you took to arrive at your conclusion.

Here’s the truth: we’ve never seen a condominium building envelope project sunk by too much communication. We have seen some pretty ugly situations where community members felt like they were being blindsided or left out of the process.

2. Have a discussion about funding.

There are all kinds of ways to pay for a condo building envelope project. We’re not going to pretend to be financial experts here, and we advise Boards to consult with appropriate financial professionals for their specific situations.

The thing to keep in mind is that different approaches may work better for some projects and community situations. There is not one right answer.

Some approaches to fund condominium building envelope projects include:

  • reserves
  • special assessments
  • shorter term bank loans (5-10 years), taken on by the association
  • longer term bank loans (15-30 years), taken on by the association

Each approach has pros and cons. Again, talk to a financial pro.

From the building envelope side of things, one aspect to consider is that building envelope repairs have a variety of different expected service lives. The Board may wish to explore financing options that match the expected service life of the repair to the length of time over which the repair is paid for. Often condo unit owners do not own their units for the full service life of a building envelope repair.

3. Choose the most reliable & durable solution the community can afford.

Building envelope projects are often disruptive, expensive and can be a challenge for communities. Once your condo community has completed a major building envelope project, you don’t want to be repeating it for a long time.

One way to extend the life of your building envelope repair is to select reliable, durable materials. Typically the up-front cost difference between less reliable and more reliable materials is trivial compared to the overall cost of the project and effort involved in bringing it to fruition. In our experience, it’s worthwhile to get the best materials you can afford.

In addition to durable and reliable materials, we recommend designing redundant systems and details to increase the resiliency of the building. This sometimes costs a bit more up front, but in our experience it pays off in the long run.

4. Work with a team of professionals.

You might call the neighborhood roofer to diagnose and fix the roof leak at your single family home and be done with it. But condominiums are not single family homes.

Condominium building envelope projects are significantly more complex than typical residential construction for several reasons, including:

  • large scale
  • large project budgets
  • often multiple buildings
  • incorrect repairs often repeated multiple times throughout the property (e.g. an association with several hundred window flashing details vs. a house with 12)
  • multiple decision-makers and stakeholders
  • the Board’s fiduciary responsibility to care for the buildings

There are professionals (e.g. property managers, contractors, Architects and Engineers) who work with condominium associations every day to solve their unique and challenging building envelope problems. We’re familiar with both the technical issues as well as the human issues.

5. Look 20 to 30 years into the future.

Too often, we see condominium associations approach building envelope repairs in a “band aid” fashion, electing to treat the symptoms rather than the root causes, and ending up in an endless cycle of building envelope problems that never truly go away. This is painful for everyone involved. The good feelings from “saving” money quickly fade.

It’s important to keep in mind that many properly-implemented building envelope repairs can have an expected service life measured in decades. Condominium Boards can take advantage of this fact and plan building envelope projects with a long-term mindset. This long-term outlook often results in cost savings when compared with short term quick fixes.

6. Protect your investment by observing the construction work.

Even the most robust design can be quickly undone by the rigors and vagaries of construction. After having invested so much in getting your building envelope project off the ground, go the last mile and have a professional involved on your behalf throughout the construction phase.

A professional experienced in construction-phase observation and administration can monitor the work to confirm it is being done in accordance with the design, contract and building code. In addition, the professional can assist with review of the contractor’s applications for payment and inevitable questions about unforeseen conditions.

7. Don’t skip the design phase.

Condominium building envelope repairs should be carefully tailored to specific problems at specific buildings. A typical repair may work fine, or it may not. The way to find out is to spend some time on design.

A well-designed and planned project also protects the association from risk during construction. With scope clearly defined, there is less opportunity for unexpected costs.

Ideally the whole project team will collaborate on the design as well as the construction of the project. Getting input from people with expertise in different areas is important at every stage.

Follow these tips for a better building envelope project at your condominium.

Building envelope projects at condominiums can be daunting undertakings. But they don’t have to be.

Like most things in life a little planning, communication and a long-term outlook go a long way towards creating a successful outcome.

Contact us to talk about your community’s building envelope needs or read more about our condominium building envelope consulting services.

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