Engineering reports for strata properties - how they can save you thousands...

Written on the 2 October 2018 by Samantha Repice

Engineering reports for strata properties - how they can save you thousands...

 

  • Most people have a strong misconception that engineers are far too expensive. How much does a report generally cost?
  • What are the most common building issues you investigate?
  • What can be done to prevent these issues?
  • How often should owners corporations engage a professional engineer to inspect the building?
  • How much money can early detection save?
  • What recommendation do you have for owners corporations so that they can protect their building structure and for budgeting correctly to maintain it?
  • What mistakes have you seen in the past that serve as a warning to other owners corporations?
  • What benefits are there to engaging an engineer?

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend in ignoring building issues in the hopes that these problems will simply disappear.

Quite often we find when taking over new clients we are playing "catch up" in trying to resolve issues that have been there for more than a decade without action.

This creates major issues for budgeting purposes and as a result, owners are then forced to carry out emergency repairs which in most instances require that a special levy is struck. Staging works and early detection allow for better budgeting, especially in a building that is over 20 years old.

It is of utmost importance that the building is constantly inspected and maintained to reduce the number of reactive works carried out in order to protect the value of the asset. Reactive works are often more expensive than proactive works. For example, replacing a roof membrane before it completely deteriorates and crumbles is often cheaper as the new membrane can be placed over the old one. Waiting until the roof leaks to replace the membrane is not a wise decision. If the roof is already leaking, in most cases it would require removal of the old membrane - dramatically increasing costs.

There is a common misconception in the industry that Engineers are expensive and their services are often not utilised to identify issues and project manage repairs. To dispel some of these rumours our office sat down with Tom Belovai from Strata Engineering Solutions.

Strata Engineering solutions provide diagnostic reports for strata complexes and commercial buildings to identify issues, specify remedies, and provide peace-of-mind to building owners, residents, and managers. Their services range from assessment and reporting, through to the project management and certification of remediation works for strata building owners and property managers. They can also provide forensic investigations and expert reports on building defects for insurance and legal purposes. Expert witnesses, preparation of audits, schedules, and tender specifications.

We asked Tom:

Most people have a strong misconception that engineers are far too expensive. How much does a report generally cost?

The cost of a report varies depending on how many issues/areas are being expected. Respectively, this translates to more time required on site to inspect each item and additional time in compiling the analysis report and recommendations. Generally, a report addressing concrete spalling, water ingress or cracking would cost the owner's corporation between $1,500 $2,500 with more complex or larger scopes such as a large defects inspection etc. being assessed on a case by case basis.

In a lot of cases a $1,500 report can lead to repair work in excess of $200,000 - $300,000 so in comparison, the cost of a report to properly diagnose the problem and set you on the right path is a small price to pay in the long run. The savings the owner's corporation can make by having the problem correctly addressed the first time more than makes up for the initial inspection/reporting fees.

There have been numerous cases where the owners have decided to bypass an engineer inspection and go straight to a rectification process resulting in works that did not fix the problem and in some cases made it worse!

What are the most common building issues you investigate?

The most common building issues affecting strata titled properties that we investigate include:

  • Concrete spalling (typically to balconies and sometimes spreading into internal areas if left untreated).
  • Water ingress (generally due to failed flashings or failed waterproofing membranes.)
  • Cracking to walls (structural and non-structural usually related to the settlement of footings and foundations).

What can be done to prevent these issues?

Concrete spalling is a result of the steel reinforcement within a concrete structure starting to corrode. It is often only noticed once the corrosion process begins and therefore it is generally hard to prevent especially in older buildings. However, owners can be proactive to treat the affected areas immediately, to prevent the spread of concrete spalling throughout the structure. If magnesite is found above the flooring in any building (typical buildings built in the 1960s), it is highly advised to have it removed as soon as possible. Magnesite is known to increase the risk and exacerbate the rate of concrete spalling.

Maintenance of concrete structures can help prolong the structure's service life. This can include pressure washing of the façade, maintaining waterproofing over exposed surfaces, etc. The best maintenance schedule varies for all buildings and is dependent on the exposure conditions of the structure.
Water ingress due to failed flashings is often difficult to determine until water ingress is observed. If the flashings are found to be defective, they should be replaced. It would be prudent to undertake further investigations of the remaining areas of the building as generally, construction details do not vary and if failure is reported in one area, it is likely to fail elsewhere.  

Water ingress due to waterproofing membranes can be prevented by regularly inspecting the condition of the membranes and being aware of the service life. Waterproofing membranes are sacrificial sheeting placed on a structure to maintain the structural integrity of the building. Waterproofing membranes typically have a 10-20 year service life (based on product and maintenance schedule). Once the waterproofing membrane starts to fail it is recommended a pro-active approach is taken to remediate the damage and maintain the structural integrity of the building.
Cracking is also something that is only addressed after it is observed. If your building is cracking due to subsidence, a geotechnical investigation should be conducted to assess the underlying foundation conditions. Various methodologies such as underpinning can be used to prevent further cracking due to subsidence.

How often should owners corporations engage a professional engineer to inspect the building?

The owner's corporations should engage a professional engineer as soon as they suspect something may be failing within the building. Some tell-tale signs can be bubbling paint and mould alluding to water ingress, cracking, rust stains or crumbly concrete on balconies and floor slabs resulting from early onset of concrete spalling and hairline cracking to elements such as walls which may be early signs of settlement.

Additional regular inspections (yearly) of roof membranes and façade membranes should be maintained particularly towards the end of the products service life.

How much money can early detection save?

It is difficult to quantify and depends on the source of the problem. Damage from water ingress can manifest in many different locations in some cases far from the point of failure, and point of initial ingress.  However, the earlier water ingress is addressed the less damage it can cause and therefore more money can be saved.

Similarly, concrete spalling repairs can become quite costly if the damage is left untreated as the concrete spalling will spread through the building. Proactive remediation will ensure the initial sources of concrete spalling are treated and prevent the spread from these locations.

What recommendation do you have for owners corporations so that they can protect their building structure and for budgeting correctly to maintain it?

As they say, the best cure is prevention. Every building will need an individually tailored maintenance schedule based on the type of building, its use and location. Having a professional inspect the areas which require ongoing maintenance and identifying potential issues early can save significant money down the track on repairs. It is also important for the owner's corporation to understand buildings have a finite service life after which the ongoing maintenance and attention to details is imperative in preserving the structural integrity of the building, and can help keep remediation costs down. Records should be kept of remediation works undertaken to the building and special attention should be paid to the warranty and service life information of products provided by manufacturers and contractors. This will allow the owner's corporation to predict and make considerations for future maintenance and remediation costs.

What mistakes have you seen in the past that serve as a warning to other owners corporations?

A common mistake made by owners corporations is to generally undertake remedial works to the building without a qualified engineer to superintend the works or at the very least prepare a detailed scope of works. This can cause tender prices to vary significantly from contractor to contractor as they price the works according to their own methodologies, often leading to faulty repairs and/or works that do not follow the Australian Standards and product specification. In some cases, the owner's corporations have had to pay up to 2-3 times the initial costs to rectify poor workmanship by other contractors.

What benefits are there to engaging an engineer?

There are multiple benefits to engaging an engineer to complete property inspections, prepare the detailed documentation and superintend works which will save the owner's corporation funds and unneeded stress.

With an engineer to prepare the detailed scope of works and manage the tender process, the owner's corporation can be sure they are getting the correct methods and materials in accordance with the relevant Australian standards and BCA requirements to rectify the issues. This also allows for contractors to be impartially evaluated based on the price for the same methodologies, materials and requirements.

Once works have commenced, having an engineer to Superintend the project ensures all works are carried out in accordance with the specification. It is also important to note, during works many unforeseen issues may arise and in these cases, alternative approaches and changes to the contract specification may be required. Review of variations by the engineer can ensure reasonable action is being taken onsite to rectify the issues in the most feasible manner.

An engineer superintending the works also assists in assessing and quantifying progress claims ensuring the owner's corporation are only paying for works completed and not overpaying for works in advance, providing security to the owners should a contractor not be able to complete the works.

In addition to the above having an engineer onboard for the duration of the works allows all other miscellaneous items related to the works to be tracked and managed and the works to progress and remain on schedule by being a direct point of contact for the contractors in answering technical requests for information. An engineer as a superintendent also provides the link between all interested parties (contractors, strata managers and owners) to ensure the relevant information is circulated and all concerned parties are on the same page throughout the process.

SES Scope of Services:

With a team of qualified civil, structural and remedial engineers with over 40 years' experience we can assist with all or any combination of the below:

Listed in order of precedence:

  1. Initial site inspection and reporting with causation and recommendations for remedial action.
  2. Coordination and organisation of further investigations by third-party contractors (builders/surveyors/geotechnical engineers/arborists etc.).
  3. Detailed design solutions to structural problems, with CAD drafting capabilities.
  4. Preparation of Development Applications (DA) and submissions to Council.
  5. Preparation of detailed scope of works and specifications for remedial works.
  6. Preparation of tender documentation and tendering to the market.
  7. Recommendations of suitable and reputable contractors.
  8. Management and coordination of tender processes including review of tenders and recommendation for appointment of suitable contractors.
  9. Preparation and management of contract documentation.
  10. Superintending duties and acting on behalf of the OC as their agent for the duration of contract work in respect to all contract/construction matters.

We hope this article prompts managers and owners to undertake inspections to allow for better Capital Works Fund planning and ensure the building is always safe and maintaining its value.


Samantha RepiceAuthor: Samantha Repice
About: Samantha Repice has over 13 years' industry experience in managing residential buildings, government sites, mixed use schemes, commercial buildings, industrial sites, Building Management Committees, Strata Management Committees and Community Associations. Calling upon her experience in facility management and industry insight across a broad range of sectors, Samantha Repice established her own company in order to provide flexible options for full-time and part time facilities management as well as cleaning services, to a portfolio of key clients.
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