When it rains, it pours: Why condominium corporations should enlist an engineer to best prepare for emergencies
Condominium corporations can diligently prepare for emergencies — a burst pipe, sewer backup, or power failure, to name a few — but catastrophic failures can stretch even the best of plans to the limit.
These types of disasters can affect the safety of building occupants and usually the livability of the units on a large scale. In some situations, the cause and/or full extent of the failure are not immediately known or complicated by extenuating factors, making the role of the corporation’s engineer crucial. Condominium corporations tend to rely on the engineer who is familiar with their building, often from previous services, so having immediate access to resources familiar with the building can be critical to reaching a timely resolution.
Condominiums typically can assign their preferred consultant to the file if there is an insurable loss, as long as the fees are at industry levels, but boards or property managers should confirm this with their insurer before engaging for engineering services. This benefits the corporations if, after the insurer determines fault, the insurance coverage for engineering services ends. It also means the same consultant can continue without discontinuity in the engineering services from when the cause of the failure is determined through to its correction, albeit at the corporation’s expense.
The following case study highlights the advantages of having the corporation’s engineer involved wherever possible, along with the procedures that led to a successful outcome.
A high-rise condominium corporation wanted to fix an ongoing water leak from the main roof, so the corporation hired a general contractor to conduct a series of repairs. The corporation left it solely to the contractor to determine the best repair method and materials to use, and the contractor completed the work without incident.
However, just days after the contractor completed the work, a major rainstorm swept the GTA, and within two hours of the storm, penthouse-level residents started calling management to report flooding in their units.
Management rolled out its emergency response plan, first contacting the contractor that did the roof repairs, and then a flood restoration contractor to attend the site over the weekend. It soon became clear that the problem was not isolated, and by Monday, management had brought in engineers familiar with the building.
The mandate for the engineers was to:
- Identify the cause of the leak quickly;
- Arrange for a roofing contractor to perform temporary repairs;
- Conduct detailed investigations and prepare a report for the condominium corporation’s insurance company;
- Prepare the design drawings and specifications for the required work;
- Obtain bids for the work; and
- Administer the contract during the rehabilitation.
The losses were adding up quickly, ultimately totalling several hundreds of thousands of dollars, so gaining a clear understanding of why the leak occurred was critical. It’s common for a property owner to repair leaking roofing, but the engineers had questions about the method of installation and material used. Here, it was also important to determine whether other factors contributed to the leak.
After consulting with the manufacturer of the patching material that was installed, the engineers established that it was inappropriate for the application. They then inspected the material as installed and determined that it had failed to adhere to the adjacent surfaces, before inspecting the remainder of the roof and perimeter walls to rule out any other factors that could have contributed to the flood. By having done the corporation’s reserve fund studies for the past several years, the firm had a solid understanding of the history of the common elements.