Condos in precarious spot if small repairs sit idle

Five maintenance issues that could become emergencies during COVID and beyond
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
By Brian Bosscher

Condo communities have had to make several operational adjustments since the beginning of the pandemic. The majority of corporations have successfully moved communications, payments and even AGMs online. But some things simply can’t be done virtually. Maintenance repairs are one of those things.

In less extraordinary circumstances, condos usually follow a maintenance schedule and take care of small repairs as they arise to ensure minor issues don’t spiral into big problems. However, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Ontario has been in a constant cycle of lockdown and easing restrictions. Temporary orders have created some additional issues for condo corporations that were planning to have important maintenance work completed at the beginning of this year.

How long can maintenance work be put off? And should the corporation move forward with certain repairs if the issue has the potential to become exponentially worse? The answer will vary depending on the unique circumstances of each situation, but keep in mind that delaying routine maintenance for too long can cost the corporation more in the long run.

Virtually everything from the elevators to windows to machinery will inevitably break down at some point. Proper maintenance can extend their functionality and minimize the amount corporations spend on major repairs or replacements. The five maintenance issues listed below should be taken seriously and completed as soon as it is safe to do so. Check currently enforced local rules.

Elevator malfunctions

Condo buildings take elevators for granted, until they stop working. The average elevator can last about 20 years, but upgrades are often required after about ten years; maintenance is recommended at least once every year.

Preventative maintenance is not just about ensuring that elevators undergo regularly scheduled inspections. A professional should be called on-site as soon as doors have difficulty opening and closing smoothly, the ride is jumpy or the car won’t align with the floor. Some of the most common elevator issues can be traced back to bearing malfunction, power failure or worn sheaves.

A sign of the first issue is noisy bearings, which can cause motor vibrations. Though variable frequency drives can help decrease energy; they also introduce a common mode current, which significantly increases vibrations. As a result, it’s best to use an inductive absorber. This absorbs currents while protecting against system breakdowns.

The amount of power that elevators use puts pressure on the condo’s utility systems. But instead of seeking a voltage upgrade, get a power quality survey first. Using infrared thermography, this survey looks for temperature changes that could indicate issues that will lead to system failure.

Worn sheaves lead to rope wear, which in turn wears down the sheaves even more. The best way to avoid this damage is to have sheaves re-grooved.

If the first two issues are not addressed, then there is a strong probability that one of your staff members or residents will get stuck in an elevator car. Though this generally won’t endanger anyone’s health or wellbeing, it can be very scary. The third issue could cause real harm, and in very rare instances, be potentially fatal if several of the ropes are worn out.

Dirty windows

Residential windows can last anywhere from 35 to 45 years. However, they may require replacement in 20 years depending on the quality of the design, fabrication, installation, and wear and tear the windows have experienced.

Window cleaning may not seem all that relevant when it comes to maintenance, but it plays a more significant role than you may think. Construction dust, water, dirt, pollen, and bugs all end up on condo windows. Dirt accumulates fast, and the debris can build up over time. If windows don’t receive a good cleaning at least twice a year, they may become permanently stained.

Aesthetics aside, environmental contaminants like hard water and oxidation make the glass weaker, making windows more susceptible to chips or cracks. If this happens, the corporation is generally responsible for replacing the window before the crack becomes worse.

Furthermore, dust and dirt increase allergens or mold growth that can cause respiratory issues for residents.

There are a number of reasons to replace windows, but the costs involved in this process are steep. Good maintenance can lengthen the life of your building’s windows.

Cracks in the roof

Even the most stable condo structure can’t compete with a bad roof. Leaks and water damage can occur because of a few stubborn cracks.

At some point, the roof will become vulnerable due to rain, snow, cold and heat. Moisture penetrates the roof, which is how issues begin. Similarly, the sun’s heat oxidizes materials in the roof, causing it to break down. Even sloppy snow removal can cause unintended damage.

The most common areas that require attention include the rubber boot around plumbing vents, chimneys, skylights, drains, leak barrier ice and water shields, and kick-out flashings.

A roof should be professionally inspected every few years to ensure any potential issues are addressed before the roof’s integrity is jeopardized. If a leak gets severe enough, a resident’s ceiling could literally collapse. Having good information about the health of the roof allows corporations to plan properly for when a big repair will be required. As a general rule, boards should start looking at making a full replacement when the cost of repairs reaches 5 per cent to 7 per cent of replacement costs in a calendar year.

Corporations should also perform a visual inspection of the roof at least once a year (twice a year if the roof doubles as a BBQ area or shared outdoor space for residents). With harsh Canadian winters and hot summers, a quarterly inspection would be justified in a province like Ontario. Keep an eye out for warping, and also check the floor below the ceiling to ensure water isn’t seeping in.

Clogged kitchen drain stacks

Plumbing is an area where preventative maintenance can make a big difference. The building’s kitchen drain stack is exposed to all of the food, waste and oil that comes down each resident’s kitchen sink. It needs to be cleaned out at least once every two years; otherwise, that disgusting sludge may come back up and seep out into owners’ sinks. Not only is that unhygienic, but fixing this issue creates extra work and costs for the corporation.

While newer condos can add this maintenance task to their list without making many adjustments, older buildings may need to take an extra step and install access doors to get to the kitchen stack. Condos that were built three or four decades ago are probably concealing the stack in drywall, making it very hard to reach.

Weakened moisture protection systems in parking garages

Reinforced concrete parking structures can suffer when their moisture protection systems break down. When the barrier is compromised, water and salt find their way into the structure. Weakened structures may struggle to support the weight of a parking deck. The eventual result is structural integrity problems, and the potential for a collapse becomes greater.

To ensure your parking garage never reaches this point, remove salt from the parking deck and minimize absorption into the concrete by power washing parking decks twice a year. Inspect moisture protection systems annually, and make a note of leaks, excessive wear or signs of standing water. Don’t forget to clean the floor drains and drain pipes at least twice a year. Replace the moisture protection system before it has started to erode. Doing this early could save the corporation thousands of dollars.

Best condo maintenance practices

Keep track of inspections

To avoid fines or infractions, complete all inspections using guidelines set out by your governing documents, municipality or province. Condos might have to move inspections and repairs around a bit this year, which is why it’s even more important to be organized. Developing an inspection calendar can help you stay on top of deadlines. Having an online system allows you to pre-schedule repairs, update ongoing repairs and attach relevant documents to maintenance activities.

Discourage misuse of shared elements

Rules and regulations are established to ensure residents and the property are treated correctly. It’s essential that condo owners adhere to those rules. In order to prevent potential problems, communicate rules and treatment of property (think about garbage rooms, gyms, outdoor areas) with residents regularly.

Lead by example

By conducting regular maintenance and keeping equipment in good order, you also encourage residents to take good care of their units. Regular maintenance keeps the entire condo building running smoothly. In most cases, it results in fewer costly repairs and more happier residents. While the pandemic makes it harder for corporations to perform maintenance repairs according to schedule, make it a priority to have these tasks completed as soon as possible.

Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control, a leading software company that provides web-based communication, management and security solutions for condos and HOAs of all sizes. He is also a board member, having served more than 12 years as both treasurer and president.

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