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The importance of long-term preventive maintenance

The "A" word, ASSESSMENT, causes as much financial stress to most condo owners as an audit. Most condo associations lack the self discipline to put sufficient money aside (in the form of reserves) for future repairs and maintenance. Apart from roof repairs or replacement, the exterior of a typical condominium building requires the largest and sometimes the most frequent assessments over the entire life of the structure. There is now sufficient data available to support this fact resulting from an analysis of reserve studies. In fact, the cost of maintenance and repair of a building's exterior during its useful life is equal to, and in some cases greater than, the original cost of construction. This, of course, assumes that all aspects of the building fabric are kept in a reasonable condition for an average period of 35 years. This cost is necessary in order to maintain the value of your property and protect your investment.

For example, if you own a condominium, then chances are you own a car. Everyone knows that a car is a lousy investment, but you have to maintain it regularly to keep it in good running condition. And as much as you don't like it, you don't really question the cost of maintenance which, statistics show, can cost as much as two to three times the original purchase price, assuming you bought it new and kept it for approximately five years! Yet you know that all the time it is decreasing in value!

A condominium is one of the greatest property investments you can make, if you own one, why wouldn't you want to spend money on maintaining it if you knew that it would increase its value? Well, I'll tell you why. Because many condominium owners just do not believe that:

A) Major maintenance and repair are absolutely necessary, and

B) If "A" is true, then any money spent on major repairs will result in a good return on their investment.

The majority of condominium owners in Florida live in a coastal environment where salt and moisture are the major factors in considering the protection of the exterior of their building. This applies to both concrete and timber structures. Concrete structures suffer particularly because the steel reinforcement is so vulnerable to attack from salt in the atmosphere. But the vehicle for salt and for any other contaminants is the airborne moisture, and that is why waterproofing is such an important issue in Florida. Most people think waterproofing is about stopping leaks. Well, of course it is, but there is much more to it than that. Actually, leaks are fairly easy to detect and can be stopped and prevented from recurring fairly easily and inexpensively. What most owners don't understand, through no fault of their own, is that the primary purpose of waterproofing is to prevent deterioration of the exposed areas of the building fabric, especially the walls, walkways and balconies. These portions of the structure have to be protected from moisture intrusion to provide them with enough longevity to maximize their useful life. Again, using the car analogy, a schedule of regular service intervals will provide your vehicle with a longer useful life. And just like a car, various parts of a building require servicing at varying degrees of intervals. For example, stucco, concrete, brick and timber all require different treatments because they have different physical properties and their life-spans are not the same.

It is not just a question of "sealing" or "painting" the building. Unfortunately it is a lot more complicated than that. To an untrained eye, the symptoms of deterioration are not always obvious, or even visible, until the problem reaches a more serious level. The best examples of this are the deterioration of concrete and the rotting of concealed timber, both of which are a sort of hidden cancer. If only buildings could reveal their own pain we wouldn't have to wait until they were really sick and have to resort to surgery!

All exterior deterioration is a result of one or more of the following five factors, but only one can we do anything about.

1) Poor design.

2) Lack of quality control during construction.

3) The location with regard to weather and climate.

4) The inevitable aging of materials and

5) Deferred preventive maintenance.

The word "deferred" is a nice way of saying inadequate or insufficient. The key to long-term preventive maintenance is a function of time and knowledge, not dollars because it costs less to properly waterproof a building on a regular basis than it does to restore it after the waterproofed elements have failed. There is, in fact, an optimum time-cycle for long-term preventive maintenance which, if adopted correctly, will result in lower restoration costs. The time-cycle for optimizing these preventive measures is largely a function of:

1) The extent or scope of restoration and waterproofing as it applies to different elements of the building,

2) The quality of workmanship by select specialist contractors and

3) The proper selection and correct application of high-grade waterproofing and repair materials.

Historically, we have been conditioned to believe that buildings last for 50 to 100 years or more, but by today's standards that is just not true. In fact, the newer the condominium, the more likely it is to have problems! Why is this, you may ask? Because condominiums are now built to minimal base standards and minimal tolerances. Nearly all condominiums are speculatively built by developers using the design/build process. This project approach focuses on cost savings, low cost materials and speed of construction. Compared with the traditional approach of design/bid/build (which takes longer and costs more) there is much "compromising" involved. This often results in a structure which requires a high level of periodic maintenance. This is compounded by the climatic conditions and proximity to a coastal environment, as mentioned earlier.

So what should you do about long-term preventive maintenance? The answer is to plan ahead by developing a long-term maintenance plan. Remember the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It is possible to do this for up to 25 years, depending on the age of your building.

One place to start is by expanding on your capital reserve study by breaking down the building elements and comparing their remaining lives with their useful lives. If you do not have this information available, then you can hire a consultant who specializes in this field such as an architect or an engineer, or at least talk to some contractors who specialize in waterproofing and restoration. The time taken in getting this kind of valuable advice will save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. Just ask some of the associations who have been through enormous assessments and wish they had addressed this issue years ago. Or consult your board's attorney or accountant and ask them about the amount of money some of their other condominium clients have spent on litigation and "redoing" repair work which was totally inadequate, whether done in-house or by unscrupulous or inexperienced contractors. Never try to undertake a large restoration or waterproofing project without the proper supervision by an independent party. The fee for this service will be a small price to pay for the added insurance of getting a job well done.

As for board members, the implementation of a long-term preventive maintenance plan will provide not only themselves, but also most of the remaining owners with peace of mind in the knowledge that there will be no surprises.

Last modified: 2009-03-25            [Home] [Services] [Active projects] [References] [Emergency Response] [Maintenance] [Check list] [China &Ty]