From the Outside In A Look at Exterior Building Inspections

There are potential dangers all around a condo or co-op that no resident wants to consider a realistic concern: a chunk of hanging concrete above a balcony can be life-threatening; a section of delaminated masonry, wood shingles or siding, can rot, crack or create serious issues; and water intrusion problems can cause or worsen structural problems, among a wide variety of other hazards.

The purpose of such inspections is twofold: not only do they check for cracks, settling and other signs of serious damage, but also give boards and managers vital information about the condition of the property that helps them budget for upcoming maintenance needs.

The requirements of facade inspections vary, depending on the municipality to which the building belongs. The City of Chicago has some of the strictest guidelines; the surrounding towns tend to emulate them, in one form or another. “Any building over 80 feet needs to get a study every two years,” explains architect James Collins, AIA, NABIE, LEED AP, the president of Criterium-Collins Architects & Engineers in Oak Park, “Every second study, you can do from a distance, usually with binoculars.”

The less stringent exam (i.e., the ongoing exam), completed every two years, positions professional judgment in the hands of the architect who conducts the study. “The ongoing exam is a one page form and doesn't necessarily require a close inspection. The Department of Buildings leaves it to the discretion of the architect; any Chicago building with a height of 80 feet or above must submit to these inspections by a qualified architect or engineer.”

The city’s minimum requirement for an adequate inspection of a facade is an analysis of at least a 24-foot section of the facade on the sides of the building that are exposed to public sidewalks. “The city is less concerned about elevations above an alley; they're more concerned about a city sidewalk…the first priority is the public way,” says Rhocel Bon, an associate at Klein and Hoffman, a Chicago engineering firm with 60 years of experience.

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