By: Kevin Duffy
June 24, 2020
There are approximately 900 buildings in Boston that are greater than 5 stories, or roughly 70 feet high. Why is that an important statistic? It’s important because those are the 900 buildings that fall into the Façade Ordinance within the City of Boston. The Ordinance, which was passed into law in 1995, officially goes by the name Ordinance 9.9-12 of the Boston Municipal Code. However, calling it the Boston Façade Ordinance is a little bit easier. The basis of the rule is the ASTM E2270, which is the Standard Practice for Periodic Inspection of Building Facades for Unsafe Conditions.
Similar to the FISP process in New York City, the intent of this ordinance is to keep the public safe from potential falling debris due to failure of façade components. The enforcement of compliance with the ordinance falls on the shoulders of the Inspectional Services Department, or ISD.
The rule breaks down the inspection into 2 categories that fall in line with the ASTM standard. These categories include anything within 70’ to 125’ tall and above 125’. Buildings in the first category of 70’ – 125’ tall only require a visual inspection. This means that an engineer or architect can utilize binoculars and/or a high-powered lens on a camera to conduct the inspection from the ground or roof level. Buildings that are 125’ tall or greater must undergo increased scrutiny in the form of a physical inspection. The extent of the physical inspection is outlined as being one full height “drop” from grade to roof level along each elevation of the building. These “drops” are often conducted utilizing suspended scaffolding, rope access, or a boom lift. Once the inspections are conducted, a report must be filed with the ISD within 30 days.
Although there are no specific requirements in the Ordinance that outline what the report must look like, the Engineer or Architect are encouraged to follow the ASTM E2270 standards. The ASTM E2270 standards state that the report should contain information ranging from the service history of the building and a statement of water tightness, as well as overall façade and specific detail photos of the deleterious conditions.
The inspections and subsequent reports must be filed with the ISD every 5 years after the initial filing, and a certificate of proof for the exterior wall inspection is issued to display in the lobby of the building. If the report is not filed every 5 years, the building owner is fined $100 per day for each day that the report is late.
Although the law doesn’t specifically state it, Sullivan Engineering recommends utilizing an architecture or engineering firm that specializes in exterior building components or building envelopes/enclosures when having your structure inspected. It is prudent to use a building enclosure specialist, as they know exactly what to look for and how to identify the conditions; superficial cracks and deterioration will not be mislabeled as unsafe, and more importantly, unsafe conditions that pose threats to the public’s safety will not go unnoticed and unreported.