By: Mike Lopez
For many NYC building residents, the visible evidence of water infiltration is an all too often occurrence. Bubbling plaster, peeling paint, discoloration, apparent mold, and even actively dripping water are all signs that there is probably an inherent building envelope issue. There’s always the possibility that water intrusion is the result of faulty internal plumbing or a leaking embedded steam pipe leak; however, in most cases roof or facade deficiencies are the root cause. In any case, it’s important that residents don’t ignore these telltale signs. Simply adopting them as conditions of the home, or ignoring them based on the assumption that they will somehow disappear is never the right way to proceed. If left uncorrected over prolonged periods of time, minor issues can turn into much more costly ones. The reality is that water infiltration will not simply disappear, but rather will continue, worsen and ultimately cause more significant damage.
The good news is that we as building envelope consultants can assist you in investigating the cause of the leak, recommend a course of action, oversee the recommended repairs and follow up to confirm that the leak has been addressed. As they say, “water will find the path of least resistance,” which means there may be one or multiple underlying problems. It’s our goal to determine the source(s) of the water infiltration, to determine if and understand how the building envelope is contributing to it, and effectively remedy the problem.
In order to achieve this goal, we begin with the investigation phase. This consists of an on-site meeting, preferably with the resident present, to observe the interior damage and discuss the manner in which the leak occurred. Some may think that this information is irrelevant. However, knowing when the leak occurred, along with the frequency and magnitude of the leak over the past 6 to 12 months up to the most recent occurrence, are important pieces of the puzzle. Having this information allows us to compare leak history against inclement weather patterns, past or ongoing restoration efforts, etc. to help determine the underlying problem. We also consider the age and construction type of the building to formulate an initial hypothesis regarding the possible cause of the water infiltration.
Water testing to narrow down the possible leak sources is often the next step in the investigation. The building envelope consultant recreates the conditions under which the leak occurred while isolating specific exterior wall areas to determine if they are contributing to the leak. There are various ASTM standards that describe how to perform this test in order to achieve the proper conditions, as the goal is to recreate the leak and understand the area of infiltration for repair. The testing can be achieved through a number of methods including: directing a hose at a specific facade area, or using a spray bar or multi-nozzle metal/PVC pipe to spread water over a larger facade/roof area. Depending upon the extent of interior damage, the testing can evaluate areas as large an entire roof, or areas as specific as the decorative masonry elements above a window. Methodically, the testing seeks to identify, as well as eliminate, areas requiring waterproofing repairs.