Building Conception to Completion from an Architect’s Eye
Our Guest: James LaGreca with DSS Condo. DSS Condo is actually a sub-division of DSS which stands for Development Service Solutions. In this podcast, Paul talks with Jim about his professional experience as an Architect with DSS and some of the most interesting projects he has been a part of.
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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The Everything Building Envelope Episode Transcript:
Paul: Welcome back everyone to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. We have a very interesting show today that I’m excited about and our guest is James LaGreca with DSS Condo, welcome James.
James: Thank you. Good to be here.
Paul: I just want to tell everybody before we get into this and remind them that we have the Everything Building Envelope newsletter and if anybody’s interested in receiving that, they need to text the word buildingenvelope, all one word, buildingenvelope to 22828. So again,. text buildingenvelope to 22828. They’ll put you on the list. It’s a really interesting newsletter with some interesting technical articles and other general interests related to the building envelope. So anyway, James, you’re with DSS Condo and our firms have worked together on some projects already in fact quite a few I think.
James: Right, that’s correct.
Paul: We thought it’d be really interesting to the audience to hear it’s different than a lot of the stuff that we talk about, you know, a lot of times we are focused on new construction and things like that.
James: Mm hmm.
Paul: And we’re, you know, we’re working on existing buildings and, you know, a lot of times they’re 40 years old or older so I thought that’d be pretty interesting to talk about but before we get into that, could you please just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?
James: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Well, I’ve been involved in the construction industry since I was a child. I actually started out in the roofing and siding business working for my father. He was a roofer and sider which eventually he got into general contracting. At that point in time we got involved basically with all aspects of the construction trade and I did that throughout my early years and when I was about 33-years-old I decided to go back to school for architecture. I studied architecture. I got my Master’s Degree in architecture and shortly thereafter I started working with DSS, Development Services Solutions. In addition to that I actually wound up getting a teaching position at the university where I studied, FIU, and I actually teach structural systems and design for architecture students and we cover steel, wood and reinforced concrete and then throughout the last few years I’ve also managed to become certified in post-tension cables repair. I thought that would be pretty helpful considering all the work that we do. We do a lot of plaza deck repair architect repair and we know that there’s quite a few buildings out there that use post tension cable systems so that would help as well. And I’ve been working with DSS for about 3 years now so it’s been quite the experience. The work that we get involved in is never the same so it definitely keeps things interesting. I learn new stuff every day. It’s been a fantastic ride.
Paul: Some of the most interesting projects that we worked on with DSS, you know, as you say you gotta put your thinking cap on because you’re never gonna do the same thing twice.
James: Mm hmm.
Paul: And it’s fun and we really enjoy working with DSS and working on the projects. Can you tell the listeners more about DSS and DSS Condo?
James: Yes, absolutely. DSS Condo is actually a sub-division of DSS which stands for Development Service Solutions. Development Service Solutions was founded by Donald Kipnis. Donald Kipnis has been in the construction industry down here in Miami for probably the last 35 years. He is a construction guru and his knowledge and experience has enabled him to create this company which helps clients manage their construction projects from beginning to end. So basically, we’re owners represented as construction managers and as I said we help the client manage the entire construction process. DSS Condo in particular however caters strictly to Condominium Associations where DSS caters to commercial. DSS Condo what we do is we help out the Associations navigate through the lengthy and daunting process, associated with any large scale construction project. We take them through the design process, the permit process, bid solicitations, contract negotiations, construction management from beginning to end and we make sure that the project stays on schedule and within budget. That is our main goal.
Paul: How does DSS add value to the process for a Condo Association? I mean, why can’t they just use an architect or an Engineer to do all this?
James: Well typically architects and engineers first and foremost, they’re not construction managers. They are architects and engineers and architects will design how they see fit – what their vision is and while they might take input from the client, more often than not they do not design to budget. Engineers pretty much do the same thing. They will engineer things to make sure that it is being engineered to the point where, where they won’t get sued. So basically, yes. Sometimes they have a tendency to overcompensate and what we do is we thoroughly review the design whether it’s a design generated from an architect or it’s a design generated from an Engineer. We’ll review that. We’ll question it. We always question it. We question everything and more often than not we find ways to tackle the project that are more cost effective and can be done quicker so that’s the main benefit of what we do. In addition to that, I mean, of course we manage the entire project from conception to completion. We track everything that comes along with the construction project and we manage all the key players in the projects, architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers, sub-contractors, so on and so forth and we have to keep the client’s best interest in mind so basically we handle everything on behalf of the Association or the client in general so that they don’t have anything to worry about.
Paul: We collaborated and worked with DSS on a project in Coconut Grove a couple years ago that was a major 40-year re-certification that involved concrete remediation, redoing big time plaza decks that were over a parking garage, we replaced windows, we restored handrails, we, we did a lot of stuff and I have to say it was brilliant the way Donald brought everything together and, you know, they were way over budget. They had an engineering firm originally involved that put together this budget that was just not realistic. Donald came in and kind of sliced it and diced it and broke it all up into parts and pieces and then brought in a team of contractors or subcontractors to basically accomplish the same thing in a much more efficient way and our firm was involved in helping with that – re-engineer it and, and that re-engineering brought them within the budget and then we had had a full-time inspector on the project for – which, which lasted over a year and it was a very successful end result to customer, financially was within their budget and they were happy and technically everything was done to a very high level of quality and level of care and really a great experience for something that was quite frankly off the rails when, when DSS and when Donald got involved with it.
James: Yeah and as a matter of fact there’s so much money left over in the budget that the Association actually was able to take that money and apply it to changing all of the windows, the corner windows on the building.
Paul: And that’s really adding value obviously.
James: Absolutely. Absolutely. That was a great success story.
Paul: Yeah. So that was the building called building recertification. You know, it was the impetus for getting that started was this requirement for a 40-year recertification. Can you kind of talk about what that requirement is?
James: Yes. Absolutely. Uh, well basically it’s a two-part inspection that caters to the structural and electrical components of the building. And it is imposed by the Florida building code and it states that all buildings 40 years of age must undergo an electrical and structural inspection by a licensed architect or engineer. This must take place in order to be recertified by the building department. Subsequent to that forced recertification the building is also required to obtain an additional recertification every 10 years thereafter. So this process is again imposed by the Florida Building Code and it’s ultimately the owner’s responsibility to make sure that when their building is approaching that age of 40 years that they have to get this process done.
Paul: So when you say there’s a structural portion and an electrical portion, what exactly is looked at with regards to those two big subcategories.
James: Okay well, for the structural portion the structural engineer who is gonna be inspecting the structural components of the building, they’ll take a look at everything structurally related and they’ll go – they’ll inspect the foundation, the floor systems, the framing systems whether it’s steel, concrete, wood, what have you, they’ll look at the masonry walls, the roof systems, balconies, windows, etc. and they’ll basically write a report which states the current condition of those structural elements and if they are in need of repair then they will write a report which will dictate the repairs needed. As far as the electrical is concerned, they’ll look at the electrical service the circuits, the conduits, the lighting and generators, the fire alarms, smoke detectors meter electrical and mechanical rooms, electrical panels, etc. The electrical engineer will cover all that.
Paul: So does this have to be started on the 40th birthday of the building or does it have to be something that they need to look ahead and have it completed by then, how does that work?
James: Well, it, it’s actually supposed to take place 40 years after the building receives it certificate of occupancy when it was originally built so that is when it’s supposed to take place. Could you do it a little bit before that? Absolutely, and it’s actually recommended to start the process a little bit sooner. Uh, you can’t start it too many years in advance however you can start it within let’s say the year prior to its 40th birthday and you can start the process by vetting engineers and because the process of selecting an engineer is in it of itself can be a lengthy one.
Paul: Yeah and obviously you’ve gotta start with the engineer and then find out where you stand. Now with your experience with these 40 year recertifications. Do the engineers ever go out and look at the building and say everything’s good or what do you typically see coming out of that initial survey?
James: Well I wouldn’t say typically the building is deemed okay or not. Nothing is – seems to be typical these days so anything can happen but more often than not they’ll find a few things that might need some repair. Hopefully for the owners’ sake that it’s not too much that needs a tremendous amount of repair but there are some instances where the damage is, is quite severe and then that usually triggers a much bigger project – a remediation project.
Paul: If a Condominium Association, you know, gets to the 40th year and they had their report done and it turns out they have to, you know, do concrete repair on, on the balcony which his not inexpensive. Or they have, you know big system problems to the elevators or something like that that looks, say you had a seven figure repair bill, that can be pretty much something that they’re not prepared for – what, what can they do to make sure when they get to 40 years they don’t get smacked?
James: Well, that’s where we come in. So what we do is we will look at the scope of work that was created from the inspecting engineer and based on the repairs that are needed that will determine which professional needs to be hired in order to remedy the situation and we’ll go through the entire process on the owner’s behalf and we’ll vet all the professionals, we’ll vet all the contractors, we’ll put together an entire team to remediate the work and then we’ll manage the process and make sure that the owner is getting the best value for the work that’s needed.
Paul: Let’s say that I’m living in, in a building that’s, you know, is 38-years-old and really starting to understand that this is coming up. Regardless of whether the building – you think the building is in great condition or not how does one go about getting this done?
James: Okay. Well, the owner or the owner’s representative needs to hire a registered architect or engineer to perform the electrical and structural inspections for that building and then submit a completed report of the inspection to the local building department for their review and approval.
Paul: So what if the report contained items that were not passed on some of the inspection items that says that there’s deficiencies. What goes on at that point?
James: Okay at that point then the architect or engineer writes up a recommended scope of repair based on his or her reports. The building owner will need to hire the appropriate contractor to perform said work. Once the work is complete, the architect or engineer will inspect the work performed and approve the recertification assuming the work was performed as required.
Paul: So what’s the main items that show up? I know every – every – every building is different but what’s some of the typical items that show up on these recertification inspections that need to be remediated?
James: Well if there’s a lot of issues with the building envelope more often than not and it might be a low level repair where there’s some stucco delaminating or it might be a lot more expensive where you have some spalling concrete. Obviously here in Miami a lot of these buildings have balconies and over time the, the steel reinforcement corrodes, the balconies – the spalling process starts and the concrete starts to break off it becomes a very unsafe condition and those balconies will need remediation. The extent of the remediation of course depends on the extent of the deterioration but in any event those are pretty typical. You’ll have issued with the windows and the openings around the windows. Sometimes you’ll have issues with the foundation or structural elements of the building columns, beams and so on. In the instance where the building has elevated decks for parking, full decks or plaza decks – those decks need to be remediated as well when there’s deterioration taking place and depending on the system will determine the type of repair basically getting down to the steel and removing the corrosion from the steel in order to remediate those areas of, of the deck per say but also then in, in the event where it’s, uh, it’s a post-tension cable then it, it’s a different type of repair but, but nonetheless those are the types of repairs that we typically stumble across throughout the 40 year recertification process. And in addition to that, in addition to the remediation of course comes waterproofing systems that will need to be implemented after the repairs are done.
Paul: So, like, this building – the one that we talked about in Coconut Grove, basically that involved concrete remediation which was, you know, pretty invasive. I mean, people weren’t allowed – obviously allowed out on the balconies and all the bad materials had to be removed and the steel had to be replaced and then the balconies had to be tied into the **** and then the, the balconies had to be rebuilt and in conjunction with that there was repairing the railings, there was a whole inspection of the stucco. You mentioned stucco delamination. I’m really glad you did because that’s something I think that we see a lot of.
Paul: Not just in Florida but everywhere and that involves, you know, it’s a pretty comprehensive inspection and you gotta basically determine often times by sounding it with a hammer or other some type of device you have determine which stucco needs to come off and be repaired. Now when that’s being done how do you make sure that what needs to be repaired gets repaired and what doesn’t need to be repaired doesn’t get repaired. Does that make sense?
James: Absolutely. Yeah, and that’s where you guys come in. So we’ll reach out to a company like this – like yours, and we get an engineering firm like yourself to come and do that preliminary inspection and basically to write a scope of work for us and, you know, by method of sounding it’s pretty typical. Visual inspections as well and sometimes there is some invasive inspections that take place, but nonetheless more often than not we’re very confident at the end of this process that the scope of work is as accurate as it can be. As far as making sure that the repairs get completed as per the specifications from a firm like yourself.
James: Yeah and that’s where you come in again and your inspectors who inspected the work product in the process of the repairs is a very important part of the overall process. Having that third party inspector represent the owner is a very helpful tool to make sure that the work is being performed properly.
Paul: So once we fix the – we do the concrete remediation and we fix the stucco, typically what happens I think on many of these 40 year recertifications is they then get resealed, they get repainted, re-caulked and basically make everything look brand new again.
James: Right. That’s right.
Paul: So what can buildings do… say people are out there that have buildings that are 20-years-old, you know, 10-years-old, 30-years-old, what can they do along the way to not have this huge repair scope when they get to the 40 year required recertification.
James: Well, maintenance is the key and what a lot of building managers don’t realize and what a lot of Associations don’t realize is that they need to maintain all parts of their building throughout the entire course of the year. The elements here in South Florida in particular are very harsh elements. The sun, the humidity the salt in the air and so on and so forth and if the building is not being properly maintained, painted every so many years maintaining the waterproofing membranes, maintaining the roof membranes, maintaining any elements of the envelope most importantly. These are things that they sometimes just put on the back burner and if to many years pass then it comes back to bite them. What they could do also is prepare for these big ticket projects is they could have a reserve study performed and this will help them start to save money for things that have an expected lifespan whether it’s a mechanical system in the building or something dealing with the building envelope. At least it enables them to prepare financially in advance. They can prolong the life of these systems within their building through the maintenance that I was mentioning a minute ago.
Paul: So like with the exterior facade, you know, I think a lot of buildings are more into keeping up with their roof than other parts of the building because it’s easy you can, you know, a lot of times you just ride the elevator or walk up a flight of stairs and then and walk around and they can keep up with that and it’s pretty normal to do regular roof inspections and if you do, you know, repairs and maintenance along the way it clearly extends the lifespan of the roof. You might get 25 years doing it that way then you got 15 if you didn’t do it but what we don’t see and I’d like to hear it from you are seeing that people don’t really inspect their facades so if you have a stucco crack on the 13th floor, nobody ever sees this ’til stucco starts falling off.
James: Right and that has been our experience as well. We will come into a building to take a look at Items A through E and none of those items are dealing with stucco delamination – it’s things that they’ve managed to overlook more often than not we’ll see it and we’ll let them know that, hey listen, you have an additional issue here let’s, let’s do a proper inspection so we know what we’re up against because if you leave it too long it just, it worsens exponentially. You have to maintain the building envelope, you know, and if you have to – to have regularly scheduled painting performed every call it 10 years and more often than not they don’t and it just leads to bigger issues down the road. What typically happens is they don’t want to spend the money, they don’t have the money so they put it on the back burner but it winds up being so much more expensive down the road. You can’t keep kicking the can down the road. You, you gotta address the issues as they come up and actually be proactive and have a maintenance schedule for every single part of your building if you want to stay ahead of the curve.
Paul: So instead of throwing in X dollars per unit every year in keeping up with things you end up with this sometimes multi-million-dollar repair bill which involves assessments and causes extreme hardship to residents that may not have the financial means to cover an $100,000.00 bill out of nowhere because they didn’t spend a little bit every year along the way to prevent that.
James: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Paul: Yeah. So James, really interesting. I, I think, um, great information for the listeners. It’s just insightful and I, I think it’s thought provoking and I really appreciate you coming on today so we’ll have to do it again sometime.
James: Yeah absolutely. Thanks for having me. It’s definitely, a pleasure I appreciate it. Thank you.
Paul: Great. So I want to remind everybody again about the Everything Building Envelope newsletter and texting the word buildingenvelope, all one word, buildingenvelope to 22828. Again that’s buildingenvelope to 22828 for our newsletter which contains technical articles and other things of interest to those who are in the Building Envelope community or interested in it so thank you everyone for listening to the Everything Building Envelope’s podcast. This is Paul Beers saying so long ’til next time.
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