Thursday, August 09, 2007

Construction Quality - a 1970's Landmark Building

The following is excerpted from an email I sent to a relative a few months ago when she was searching for a condo in East Van. My "preliminary inspection" was really just a quick walkaround the building to see if it was worth a second look. I figured I'd to my relative a favour and try to save her from her unscrupulous realtor and her lack of basic construction knowledge. I have to apologize for the weak photos-- they were taken on my cell phone. As to my qualifications: I'm a mechanical engineer with experience in mobile equipment and marine construction, and minimal knowledge of residential construction.

Hi A-,

I stopped at #### Wall St quickly to have a look at the building. The condition of the walls raises questions. Two of four walls have been replaced, probably in different years by different contractors. At a quick glance, the building has been painted recently, had a new fence, and looks in good shape, but questions were raised as I walked around the building. Here are my notes:

The North wall looks decent, and looks like the balconies still have the original stucco.

The East wall was replaced with a rainscreened wall at some point, probably within the last 10 years. The rainscreen is evident by the gap at the bottom of the wall, and by the flashings at each floor level. Curiously (I've never seen this before), it looks like the gap at the flashing at each floor level is sealed, which entirely defeats the purpose of a rainscreen-- air is supposed to be able to flow into the wall cavity to dry it out, and water should be able to drain out, but this is only possible for the bottom floor. I would recommend that somebody more experienced than myself look at the construction of this wall.

The South wall looks decent, and looks like the balconies still have the original stucco.

The West wall had the stucco replaced with an Exterior Insulated Face Sealed (EIFS) wall, the same type as the building was built with, and which is generally implicated in leaky-condo problems. This was probably done 5-15 years ago. EIFS wall assemblies have to be tightly sealed, because if water gets in, it can't drain out, and air doesn't pass through the wall quickly enough to dry it out. Since it's impossible to seal rain out completely, water gets in, stays in, and causes rot. This replaced stucco looks to be of a poor quality, as can be seen by the cracks radiating out of a window (which have since been caulked). There's lots of caulking around the door, which implies that the wall has had water problems. Also, where the fence meets the wall, there's a line of old caulking from where the old fence used to sit. From this, I infer that they had water problems with the wall, but were unsure where the water was coming in, or if there were cracks behind the fence, so they caulked the fence to the wall. This is evidence that water problems existed in that wall, even after they replaced it.

Sooo... Two of four original wall assemblies were so poorly built that they had to be replaced. One of the replaced assemblies shows evidence of continued problems. The other assembly was built in an unusual manner, which raises questions. The two original walls, built by the same contruction workers that originally built the two failed walls, have not been addressed. The building may not necessarily be leaking right now, but there's a considerable risk of future problems due to deficiently built original walls and the deficiently-built West wall.

I'll have to retract anything that I may have previously said about Landmark buildings-- I've looked at a couple before, which were decent, but evidently not all their work was done to a high standard.



Fencesitter said...

Regarding the qualifications, if you are a Mech Eng in the marine indurty, I would think you would be quite qualified to assess the conditions of the walls. Just think of a rainscreen system as an IP 14 specification.

The building codes and those who follow them are limited to interpretations. the wall you've shown likely meets all BC building code requirements, however as you've pointed out, the sealing of the lower flashing defeats the purpose of the rainscreen system.

Thanks for the post, very insightful.

solipsist said...

Thanks for the pic's m-. Did your relatives run in the other direction?

M- said...

Yep, on one building that she had an accepted offer on, she backed out. Her realtor was angry at me =P. On the other buildings, she declined to make any offer despite her realtor's reassurances that there were no problems with the building and that I was a nut.

I did okay one building. The seller was asking $299, and the unit had been on the market for a few weeks. She offered $290, and the seller told her she needed to bump it up to $306, because he wasn't willing to sell for less than that. So she walked, and bought into a brand-new low-rise concrete building in Burnaby.

I haven't had an opportunity to check out her new building yet, but at least she's got 5 years of warranty left. Anything I find there should be warrantable anyhow-- or at least their strata could go to the insurance company (and the builder) and seek a guarantee that they will extend the warranty as it relates to that particular concern.