The official start of spring is just 3 weeks away, and for me it’s not a moment to soon. For the past 4 months. subfreezing temperatures, elevated wind speeds and significant snowfall have abused the building envelope. The resulting deterioration will soon be compounded by the typically heavy rains of spring. So it’s time for building Owner’s to perform a seasonal building envelope inspection to assess any damage resulting from this winter’s particularly harsh weather and prepare for the April showers. I recommend getting out there on the first sunny, 60°+ day and taking a 1 – 2 hour walk around the building. Bring a camera, binoculars and of course pen and paper.
Start the inspection by taking an overall view of the facade and windows, without the assistance of the camera or binoculars, to avoid not seeing the forest for the trees. Look for large issues and patterns of deterioration. Then using the binoculars, follow a logical, methodical pattern to perform a more detailed inspection, taking photos of all significant or questionable conditions.
The following are a few of the key items to look for:
Cracks in masonry and mortar – The numerous freeze\thaw cycles experienced throughout the winter may have created new cracks, or increased the size of existing ones, throughout the facade. In the heavy rains of spring these cracks may allow water infiltration in to the facade.
Stains – New stains that have occurred over the winter may indicate new water migration paths as a result of cracked masonry or mortar. If new efflorescence is observed, look closely at the masonry above the stain for deteriorated masonry and mortar.
Deteriorated or hardened sealant – Cold winter weather causes many sealants, particularly older caulking, to become hard and develop cracks. Furthermore, they may lose adhesion to the substrate. As a result increased air and water infiltration may result.
Temporary fixtures – The weight of snow, ice and icicles can have a dramatic effect on temporary structures and fixtures. Window mounted a\c units, signs, canopies, awnings, and all temporary structures attached to the facade may have experienced movement or failure at attachment locations due to the added weight.
After examining the facade, inspect all roofs and setbacks. Again start by standing back and looking at the overall condition of the roof(s). Then walk around the entire surface feeling for soft spots in the roof while looking closely at the roof seams, drains, gutters, penetrations, mechanical equipment curbs as well as chimneys, bulkhead and parapet walls
Open seams – Heavy, wet snow can open seams in the roof membrane, particularly at slope transitions near expansion joints, equipment and pipe penetrations, as well as, parapet and bulkhead walls. To thoroughly inspect all suspect seams use a roofer’s seam probe as shown in the photo to the right.
Pitch pockets – Similar to the sealants on the facade, the pourable sealer at pitch pockets may have hardened and shrunk. If not addressed water infiltration at these penetrations may result.
Membrane punctures – Roof membranes can be torn by the introduction of foreign objects resulting form winter storms. HVAC panels, gutters, etc. displaced by wind and snow loads can create voids in a membrane as they tumble across the roof surface. Likewise, the end of a metal shovel can do the same during well intentioned, but improperly performed, snow removal.
Temporary fixtures – Similar to the facade, the winter’s increased burden may have damaged temporary fixtures at the roof level. Scuppers, gutters, leaders and coping covers may have become loose. Walkway pads, drain domes and clamping rings may have shifted as a result of the significant snow and subsequent removal.
Upon completion of the inspection compile the notes and photographs into a report for use in developing a repair plan or for comparison purposes during the next inspection.
These tips were provided as a courtesy to our friends and colleagues in the industry. Proper safety plans and building maintenance schedules should be in place for all buildings. For more information on this topic or to discuss any issue further please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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