Simple upgrades for winter resilience

Jim Mandeville, Senior Project Manager, FirstOnSite
Thursday, January 28, 2021

What are some simple and cost-effective upgrades a condo corporation can implement to make their building more resilient in winter?

When we think about resilient buildings, we often think of the worst-case scenarios: catastrophic flooding, wildfires, wind or tornado damage. What we often fail to consider is that sometimes it’s the little things that can cause the biggest issues, especially over time.

Similarly, we are all guilty of thinking, “winter is not like it used to be” and, “it really doesn’t get that cold anymore.” While our changing climate certainly makes these statements feel true, often it is extreme fluctuations in temperature that can cause larger issues for our condominium buildings than a sustained deep freeze.

As winter approaches, consider the little things around your building that can add up to major savings. Condo corporations and property managers should focus on building envelope issues, heating and ventilation and access/entry controls.

When we think about our buildings, we must remember that in some places the protective skin of a building can be weak and require regular attention. Simple things like clearing gutters, drains and catch basins of leaves and debris can dramatically reduce the risk of flooding later in the winter, especially when the spring thaw comes. Another weakness of that protective skin is often the sanitary drain lines. Installing back-flow preventers can be a relatively simple and economical way to minimize the risk of flooding, while at the same time often warranting a discount from insurers or even potential grant funding from the government.

An additional enhancement that may be eligible for discounts and funding is upgrading windows. While this seems like a major endeavor (and it certainly can be), if properly planned and managed, these projects can be done in small segments over time. This not only makes it more affordable from a budget standpoint but also less intrusive to the owners and occupants. Remember, upgrading to the latest in thermal window technology can result in more than 15 per cent in annual energy savings.

Often when we think about the heating and ventilation in our buildings it is because something is wrong. Additional maintenance (especially during the pandemic) can go a long way toward having a cleaner, healthier environment for everyone inside. Consider not only enhanced duct cleaning but also upgrading the filtration to remove additional airborne allergens and particulates. Simple things like ensuring the system is properly balanced, providing even heating to all areas, can help toward the health and comfort of a building. Even something as simple as uneven ventilation can lead to condensation issues in the winter. While this may seem innocuous, it can often lead to water damage and mould issues if left unresolved.

The often overlooked and generally overused front door of a condominium is another area that can always use an upgrade. With high traffic, and the moving of goods through a single-entry point, comes additional maintenance. Given enhanced cleaning protocols and a focus on energy efficiency this is another great area to investigate.

In older facilities, there is often only a single stage entry (without a vestibule) and some simple winter floor mats. This allows for a great deal of heat loss as well as considerable mess from wet feet in the winter. Adding a second set of doors, automation to control them and a walk on/walk off system, can greatly increase energy efficiency, security and accessibility for everyone, not to mention eliminating the hourly mopping of the entire lobby. This can also help with that “clean feeling” we are all striving for, with less hands touching the doors and glass.

While complete replacement and redesign of these systems can be costly, simple things from replacement of weather stripping and caulking, to adjustments of the hardware can make a big difference on energy efficiency for a very marginal cost.

Building resiliency into our homes and businesses sometimes seems like a mammoth task. When we take the issue apart and address it in smaller pieces, the road to resiliency gets a lot smoother. Having a plan (and a good supporting cast of contractors and responders) can help make every building more resilient and, in the case of something catastrophic, allow it to bounce back much faster and more easily.

Jim Mandeville is the senior project manager — Large Loss North America at FirstOnSite Restoration.

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