Facade Investigations

Chris Matthews, Jason Bondurant & Shuana Serafini – GCI Consultants

  • About Shuana Serafini & Jason Bondurant
  • What is a Facade?
  • Facades & Waterproofing
  • Facade Performance
  • Facade Investigations
  • Identifying Problems
  • Due Diligence Work
  • Condition Assessments
  • Forensic Inspections & Reporting

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Chris: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews of GCI Consultants, and I’ll be your host today. I’m really excited to be joined today by two of our senior consultants here at GCI, Shauna Serafini and Jason Bondurant.

We’ve got an interesting topic that we all have a lot of passion for today, and we’ll be talking to you about facade investigations. So, first, let me let Shauna and Jason give you a brief introduction, and then we’ll get into this interesting topic. Shauna, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Shauna: So, hi, everyone. This is Shauna. I’ve been with GCI now for about 10 years. I’m a senior consultant here. I have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. I have a LEED Green Associate certification, and I typically work on new construction and restoration projects.

Chris: Great. Thank you, Shauna. Jason, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Jason: Hi, everyone. My name is Jason. I’m a senior consultant. I’ve been with GCI for about six years. These days I’m mainly working on the forensic side, so I’m dealing with problems with existing buildings and assessing the condition and performance of facade and coming up with plans to repair them.

Chris: Thanks, Jason. And we do a lot of teamwork here at GCI, and I get to work a lot with Jason and Shauna in a lot of the interesting projects that they get out there and help our clients with. So, our topic today is facade investigations. That may mean a lot of different things to different people. So, Jason, why don’t you kind of define what we at GCI mean by a facade investigation?

Jason: Well, I guess first we should define facade, which is basically the exterior face of the building and the facade performs multiple different functions, you know, one being the exterior face. So it’s, you know, essentially the overall appearance of the building, but it performs other functions as well, which is mainly what we’re concerned with, which is keeping water out of the building and controlling the interior climate, sound control, and a whole list of other functions.

And so, when we say facade investigation, typically what we mean is we are assessing the condition and the performance of the existing building facade. And for the purposes of this podcast, we’ll probably be using the terms facade and building envelope interchangeably, but basically just assessing the condition of performance, identifying problems and any dysfunctional elements with the facade. That’s generally, typically, what we mean.

Chris: Sure. Great. And so, Shauna, what are some of the different reasons that someone may call us out for a facade investigation?

Shauna: So, one of the main reasons is really due diligence work for a real estate transaction. So, either the client’s calling us because they’re wanting to buy a property or wanting to sell their property. And this is really where we’re doing a condition survey of the building to determine performing, basically.

Chris: Right. And what the condition of their exterior envelope systems are, and maybe if they’re either purchasing or selling a building, what some of the maintenance or upkeep requirements may be near-term and long-term. A lot of our clients are looking at these buildings as major investments. So, part of that equation for them is what are the upkeep and repair costs that they may have. So, we try to help them with those kinds of things. What are some of the systems that we might be looking at, Shauna?

Shauna: So, stucco is definitely a major one that we’re looking at. Large cracks, movement cracks, how do those get repaired? And there’s a lot of ceilings that needs to be reviewed? Wall penetrations, the glazing systems, you know, are they impacts, are they up to date? Do they meet code requirements?

You know, exposed waterproofing conditions, you know, how are the balconies looking? Do they have waterproofing? Are they exposed? Really, how does the concrete look on the balconies? Do those need repairs? The roof is a major area also, and the list goes on.

Chris: Yeah, sure. Even gets in sometimes to parking decks, a condition of those exposed areas of a parking deck. Lots of different aspects of the exterior of a building that can be big-dollar items if they’re not well maintained or if there are problems.

And then, Jason, we also get called for condition assessments that may not be specifically related to a real estate transaction. It may be somebody who has a building and just wants to know something about the conditions of their systems, right?

Jason: Right. So, we’re often hired by building owners, condo associations who own the building, and so own the building for a long period of time in the future. And even if there’s not necessarily a particular problem with the building at this point in time, it’s oftentimes very helpful for them to understand what the existing condition of the building envelope systems are.

And more importantly, what is the expected life of those existing systems so that they can basically plan for not only maintenance, but replacement of those systems when the time comes. And so, basically just to help them budget for future expenses.

Chris: And sometimes it may be as simple as someone has maybe a roof, Shauna had mentioned roofs, maybe a roof that they know is a little older. It may not be under warranty anymore. Maybe they’re not the original building owner, so they don’t have warranty documentation on the roof.

They’ve got some roof leaks, but they need someone to come in and say, “Is it time to replace my roof? Can I get five more years out of it with some maintenance? Is it worth doing maintenance? What are my maintenance options?” those kinds of things.

Again, can be big-dollar items for a building owner that we can help with. And then, Shauna, for our listeners, can you kind of explain our role as that independent third-party when we come in to do that assessment versus maybe someone who has an interest in installing something on the building?

Shauna: So, we’re basically performing a leadership role in sort of a non-biased opinion. You know, we have no sort of vested interest in really who or what, you know, does the work. So, you know, basically we’ll go out and we’ll perform an initial investigation, do sort of a comprehensive report on what we find, provide that to the client with schematic recommendations on how certain systems can be repaired or, you know, for recommending replacement.

You know, we can help the client select contractors and go through the whole bid process with them. And then if they actually decide to do the repair or replacement work, we can be on site as a third-party sort of inspector to make sure the work is getting done in accordance with, you know, the way we want it done and manufacturer recommendations and industry standard, basically.

So, that could mean, you know, being on site full-time during the restoration process or repair process, performing some testing on certain elements of the envelope to make sure the repairs are done properly and really just seeing it through to the end of the repair process.

Chris: Right. And that can be a repair of a specific problem or you’ve been involved…well, both of you, and, Shauna, not long ago you were involved with a major restoration project at a big hotel where we were…I think that wasn’t specifically repairs, right? That was just that they had all kinds of exterior systems that they were bringing up to date, bringing current, and we were involved for probably over a year out there. Isn’t that right?

Shauna: At least. Yeah. Yeah. We had a big project in downtown Hollywood, and we were there probably a couple of years actually, but it was a lot of sealant repair work. You know the sealants have been on the building 20-plus years. They needed some replacement, a lot of delaminated stucco issues.

So, there was a lot of stucco repair work. Some of the exposed balconies, you know, needed sort of minor concrete restoration. We did a lot of water testing on the glazing systems after they did all the sealant work and the sealant repairs. And that was when we actually were there from sort of the beginning through the end of the construction process, full-time, right. And now we’re done.

Chris: Sorry. So, that starts with kind of a facade investigation to…they’ve got a hotel, it’s looking a little run down. It’s a high-end property. We want it to look good. We want our people to come and visit our hotel. So, they’ve set aside some funds to do some work, but they contact GCI and say, “Can you come in, look at my exterior envelope? What’s the condition of these different systems here? Where should my money be spent?”

And then they can assess, “This is what we have available to work with. These are the systems. And we can kind of prioritize what needs to be done to make the building look as good as it can and perform as well as it can for as long as it can.” And I think that was a very successful project for them and for GCI. All the parties were really happy with the results.

Shauna: That same client actually led us to a project in Houston that they were looking to buy some property there, then they asked us to come in and do a sort of a condition assessment of the building before they decided if they were going to buy this property or not.

So, we did some leak investigation out there, some survey work and basically the results, you know, showed that, you know, they had this masonry veneer system that really wasn’t properly draining or really designed to drain. So ultimately, you know, they decided not to buy the property based on our evaluation of the building.

Chris: So, and obviously they have lots of things to consider, you know, beyond just the building envelope. But in that case, input that we provided, steered them in another direction because they didn’t want to take on what they saw as a potential big-dollar exterior envelope situation in a building they were considering buying.

And that’s probably the most dramatic. And I know, Jason, you’ve done a lot of these due diligence real estate transaction inspections. Usually, it’s not that dramatic, but we may be more looking at kind of assessing systems and what may be coming up soon. Isn’t that kind of more typically what we would be seeing?

Jason: Yeah. I mean, I think that the main reason why we’re there is, essentially, to let the client know if they’re buying into a big problem that they’re not aware of. And, you know, it’s not always the case. But I think it’s important, you know, with these types of real estate transactions that you have someone that’s knowledgeable about the building envelope that can look at these things.

Some of these things that we’re talking about, like if the roof needs to be replaced, you’re talking about a huge expense and the project [inaudible 00:12:35] the wall system, you know, it’s a very expensive repair that would need to be done there. They want to know that before they get into those kinds of situations.

Chris: For sure. And then the other thing that you work on a lot, Jason, which is maybe more problem-oriented, and then repair oriented from our standpoint, may not be a due diligence situation, but it may be clients who have a specific problem with a building that they need help with. That’s a big part of what you work on as well, isn’t it?

Jason: Yeah, so, and I would say that’s probably most of these types of facade investigations that we become involved with is they’re calling us because they have a specific problem. Not everybody in the world is as proactive as they probably should be with some of these types of issues. But, so normally they’re calling us after they have a specific problem.

Actually, most of the time it’s not only do they have a specific problem, but they’ve already tried and failed multiple times to fix this specific problem unsuccessfully. And so, they’re going to an expert now to have us investigate and tell them how to fix it.

So, and that could be anything from, there are leaking rustication where there’s water that’s getting through the envelope of the building and causing damage to the building. But it can be other things, too. Like, recently we looked at a project in Indiana where the roof deck was deteriorating. It wasn’t necessarily leaking, but it was obviously failing.

We’ve been involved in other projects that have had sound intrusion issues, issues with concrete and topping slabs, we’ve even gotten into. So, yeah, I mean, each project is completely unique, and we get involved in all types of different issues with the facade.

Chris: And what our focus is is to try to provide value to our clients by coming up with practical and achievable solutions. We’re not there to provide a pretty report that leaves them not much better off than they were to start with. We identify the problem, and then we help them to come up with a solution.

And as Shauna was talking about with some of these restoration projects, it’s similar in the repair work as well, right? You’ve got many projects right now where you’ve identified the problem, helped them determine the solution, and now you’re out there confirming that the work has been done correctly. Isn’t that also a big part of what you do?

Shauna: Yes. That’s right. Yes.

Chris: Okay. Shauna, too. We all are involved in that, but I know we’ve got some projects right now where they’re not as large scale as this hotel project we were talking about, but it may have been a specific problem. And then we’re out there once we’ve determined the solution for them, also doing the follow-up testing and making sure that the repair is done effectively so that we leave them with a building that performs like they want.

I think one other thing that I wanted to cover and have you guys talk about some is that there…obviously use our expertise in helping our clients with these issues, but there are some ASTM standards that are a guide for us and professionals in our industry in that regard. One for building assessments, and then one that we use a lot for leak investigations. Jason, can you talk to us some about the ASCE standards for building assessments?

Jason: Yes. So, the most relevant standard when it comes to assessing the condition and the performance of building facades, it’s called ASCE 30-14, which is published by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Standard is called Guideline for the Condition Assessment of the Building Envelope.

And basically it just takes you through the process from start to finish from, you know, initial contact with the client in defining the scope of the assessment through the actual assessment process, which includes reviewing documents, performing visual inspections, interviewing relevant parties, doing more detailed steps, including leak investigations and destructive testing, and all the way through the analysis and the final report preparation. So, this standard basically guides the investigator or the evaluator through the entire process from start to finish.

Chris: And then, Shauna, that leads into as far as specifically leak investigations, there’s an ASTM standard that is recognized in the industry, and we use as a guideline in our work there, correct?

Shauna: Yes, that’s right. So, we follow ASTM E2128, which is the Standard Guide for Evaluating Water Leakage of Building Walls. And typically, you know, this is the standard we follow when a client calls and says, you know, “We have water coming in our building. We don’t necessarily know where or how.”

So, this standard, like, the ASCE standard follows sort of a certain sequence of events that you need to do or should follow in order to do, like, a complete evaluation, including, you know, the reviewing of the document and, you know, determining how the building was designed and how the walls should be performing.

You know, are they barrier? Are there drainage? You know, talking to building personnel on where the leaks are occurring and, you know, when do they occur? Do they occur during a rain event? You know, are they still leaking? Up through the inspection of the location and, you know, mainly the investigative testing, and then sorta the analysis and sort of a final hypothesis of, you know, where and why the water’s coming into the building.

Chris: We point it, and then, again, give our solutions, which is mentioned in the standard and is really important to us as I said before at GCI, is that we want to come up with solutions for people. Most times when they contact us, they’ve tried some lesser measures with some, you know, we call them band-aid fixes, or maybe had different contractors out there trying to do different stop-gap measures to resolve their problems.

And once they contact us, they’ve kind of, like Shauna said, they may have thrown their hands up and said, “We don’t know what’s happening here. All we know is we have a problem, and we need you, GCI, to help us resolve it.”

So, and not to get too deep in the weeds with these technical standards, but it’s important for clients to understand that we go through a scientific process that’s recognized in the industry, that our reports are based upon that process, that they’re defendable reports. No matter who may question our methods and results, that they can rest assured that we’re doing things to the state of the art and the highest standards in our industry.

Well, I want to thank Jason Bondurant and Shauna Serafini for joining me today. As you listeners can tell, we all have a great interest in this topic and spend a lot of our work lives on these kinds of issues. Hopefully, some of this information is useful to you. And if you have a problem with a building, or need assessment work on a building you own, or are considering owning, we would be happy to assist.

You can contact us at gciconsultants.com. There’s lots of information on our website about our services, about ways to contact us. There’s an interactive chatbot on there that you can communicate with us in that way. And you can also reach out to us directly and any of us will be happy to respond to you. So, thanks again to our guests and thank you to you our listeners for joining us on this podcast today.

You can also, in addition to the website that I mentioned, reach us at 877-740-9990 to discuss you or your building envelope needs. Thank you once again, and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.