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By: Joseph Contreras

June 24, 2020

Building owners and managers can attest that leaks caused by moisture infiltration through the building envelope is often not only a nuisance, but also a potentially expensive problem. In some cases, the origin of the leak is easy to find; in most cases, the source of the leak is not visible to the trained or untrained eye. If the proper due diligence is not undertaken, substantial work may be performed in an attempt to address the leak…without actually addressing the root of the problem! A leak remediation effort can be an extremely costly and frustrating mistake for all parties involved, if the approach is not guided by test results and first hand knowledge. In order to prevent unnecessary spending and headache, it is imperative to ensure the proper information is gathered and preliminary investigations are performed to validate repairs.

A common scenario will include a resident or tenant calling up their property manager to report a leak inside their unit or somewhere in their building. Surprisingly, this is a very crucial part of a leak inspection. Here, it is important for the property manager to obtain as much information from the occupant as possible, as this intel will be used for locating the source of water, as well as determining future repairs. A person’s memory of substantial details may become blurry and less accurate over the course of time, so the timing of the initial report of a leak has proven extremely valuable and often helps reduce the time it takes for a qualified building enclosure specialist to diagnose the source. All information related to the leak report should be properly documented so it can be easily passed on to additional parties that may help solve the problem.

Moisture infiltration originating from the building envelope can often be attributed to a deficiency in one of three areas: the façade walls and assemblies, fenestrations (such as windows and doors), and roofs. Most often, there is a direct correlation  between the location of the interior leak and a component or system failure on the exterior of the building, caused by deterioration or the absence of waterproofing. For example, if a leak is reported at the ceiling of a top floor apartment, there is likely a deficiency at the roof level.

In addition to obtaining the pertinent facts from residents, building managers should focus on the weather events that may have contributed to the leak. It is important to note if it rained before or during the time of the leak, the severity and duration of the rain, and factors including direction wind-driven events. This is especially important in New York City, as rain from nor’easters as well as weather anomalies from other wind driven storms can saturate the exterior elevations of buildings that may not typically be directly exposed to the elements. Less frequent weather patterns often result in leaks presenting themselves in locations otherwise that are not susceptible to water infiltration.

Below is a list of some questions that may be helpful when a building manager is gathering information about a leak in their building.

  • When was the leak first observed?
  • What was the weather leading up to the leak? Was it wind driven?
  • How old is the building?
  • What type of construction makes up the exterior walls and roofs?
  • Were there any recent repairs made to this general area of the building?
  • Are there any obvious façade or roof deficiencies in the adjacent area(s)?
  • Is the leak concentrated in an area where there is existing plumbing; such as a kitchen, bathroom or pipe chase?
  • Are there reports of a leak in the interior spaces above or below the reported area of water infiltration?
  • What color is the water stain along the interior of the building?
  • Have there been any previous attempts to correct the reported leak? If so, what was the scope of services?
  • Does the exterior wall assembly have a waterproofing system between the exterior and interior of the building?
  • If the leak is present at a window opening, is the surrounding interior wall damaged or is there only water adjacent to the window frame?

Although the above questions seem rudimentary to the seasoned managing agent, these questions can help to narrow down a lot of potential issues. A building enclosure professional can offer experience and value when identifying the source of a leak and providing proven solutions for repairs and comprehensive restoration. Correcting a leak without knowledge of the structure and proper diagnosis of the deficiency may lead to costly and misguided efforts.

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About Sullivan Engineering, A Rimkus Company

Sullivan Engineering provides high-quality building envelope restoration and compliance solutions.

We partner with facilities managers and account executives to provide technical expertise and project management for building envelope restoration, compliance, and maintenance.

Our solutions reduce the overall building life cycle maintenance costs by creating long-lasting, high-quality work for years to come.