By: Rebecca Reilly
Published: 27th February, 2020
Buildings that are subject to the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) in New York City must be 6 stories or higher. In the course of the cyclical inspection, as per 1 RCNY §103-04, a building’s façade must be classified as Safe, SWARMP (Safe with Repair and Maintenance Program) or Unsafe. If a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) recommends a SWARMP condition to be repaired within one (1) year, the condition must be classified as Unsafe. There are additional changes that have been implemented for the 9th cycle FISP to further protect building owners, occupants and the general public.
The New York City Department of Buildings defines an Unsafe condition as: “a condition of a building wall, any appurtenances thereto, or any part thereof that is hazardous to persons or property and requires prompt repair. In addition, any condition that was reported as SWARMP in a previous report and that is not corrected at the time of the current inspection shall be reported as an unsafe condition.” The classification of each condition on the building is subject to the professional judgement of the QEWI performing the façade inspection. When conditions are being classified, the wellbeing and safety of the public must be considered. For example, if the QEWI observes loose brick that has dislodged from the façade and can easily be removed by hand, it should be removed during the inspection to prevent hazardous debris from falling off of the building.
There are two parts of the FISP Inspection: the visual and physical inspections. The physical inspection portion of a FISP inspection is extremely valuable when determining if conditions are SWARMP or Unsafe. The physical inspection is achieved by the installation of a supported or suspended scaffold, use of a boom lift, rope access or access from a fire escape. This allows the QEWI to touch the building elements and get a tangible idea of the conditions, such as the severity of deterioration, spalls, and the formation of cracks in the building materials. In some cases, stains or discoloration may appear to be physical damage from the ground floor. One way of further evaluating a building condition is through sounding a building element with a hammer; this method can provide a way to better determine if the element is delaminating from the building and will likely become displaced or if the damage on the building element is superficial. If concrete sounds hollow when hit with a hammer, it should likely be classified as Unsafe. If there is no hollow sound, the damage is likely less severe. Sounding the substrate material can also be used to evaluate brick masonry and terra cotta elements. Inspectors should keep in mind that terra cotta units often have hollow cores and therefore, may not require repair if it sounds hollow.
Identifying conditions as Safe, SWARMP, or Unsafe sounds ready-made on paper, but there is often a gray area between Unsafe and SWARMP conditions. In some cases, the cause of a condition may not be apparent upon an initial inspection. Identifying the underlying conditions can be helpful when classifying if a condition is SWARMP or Unsafe. Investigative probes are a great option for classifying a condition with a high degree of certainty. This is especially useful for locating structural reinforcement within a masonry wall and further determining the cause of displacement of masonry elements.
There is another way that a condition that may normally be considered SWARMP, but then is downgraded to Unsafe. Occasionally, building owners do not complete repairs within the timeframe specified by the QEWI in the FISP report. In this case, those conditions that are classified in the FISP report as SWARMP become Unsafe. As per the building code, the Owner is expected to address the Unsafe condition(s), immediately.
Ultimately, it is important for building owners and owner representatives to retain a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) to inspect buildings and file a FISP report for each cycle. Qualified inspectors can make realistic judgements on the conditions of deteriorated building elements. Sullivan Engineering has a staff of Qualified Exterior Wall Inspectors that are prepared to inspect many of New York City’s Buildings for the FISP 9th Cycle.