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Linda Palfi
CNC Properties
Box 47033 Creekside, Calgary, Alberta
P: 403-998-7732
F: 403-592-8002

Maintain your condo exterior


"Out of sight is out of mind" my mother used to say, and it applies all too easily to the exterior of condominium common property. In other words, it's easy to ignore deterioration of a building's shell, being the roof, the cladding and the caulking, which all serve to keep us warm and dry in our condominium homes. Don't let fear of an expense or ignorance of what's happening outside keep you and your Board from taking action. Catch these issues early and you'll save money. I also have a tip that could save you half the cost of some exterior maintenance.


First, though, let's look at issues that your reserve study might have identified. Roofs are primary, and they often don't last as long as your reserve engineer might have hoped, on your behalf. That study's role, by the way, is not to identify exactly when work must be done, but to help you to save toward having it done. Just because the report suggested re-roofing in 10 or 15 years does not mean you'll have no leaks before then. Maintenance is still needed to get to year 10 or 15. Replacement might be required sooner, regardless of the reserve fund needs study.


Don't let jurisdiction issues interfere with proper maintenance. For example, some townhouse Boards feel that individual owners who have or who use their fireplaces should personally clean and maintain their suites' chimneys; even above the roofline. But most bylaws clearly say that exterior elements are common property, and duty thus falls on the corporation of all owners to maintain them. You don't want a chimney fire or water penetration jeopardizing everyone's roof because one owner neglected maintenance.


Balconies act like roofs, but tend to be ignored because they seldom cover interior living space. In fact, these surfaces get wear and tear and likely need more attention than the off-limits roof over your heads. Perforated "duradeck" coverings are easily repaired shortly after damage takes place. But leave it a few years and you could be dealing with re-sheeting the entire deck, or even face rotted joists. In some cases painted plywood forms the deck surfaces, but this is never adequate. Do it right, stay on top of maintenance, and you'll avoid much larger bills down the road.


In high-rise buildings the exterior cladding is easy to ignore. Who's looking at the window caulking outside of the 10th floor? Yet even in brick-clad buildings wear will show, first in caulking, later in the mortar between bricks, and earliest in areas nearest the roof. I've seen towers with whole sections of brick sheering away, with not a soul being aware of the need for maintenance. By the way, don't think that steel studs last forever when exposed to moisture. They do rust, especially in exterior walls that aren't water tight, and in stucco-covered balcony walls without sheet-metal rain caps.


Here's where I offer that money-saving tip that I can sum up in one word: "rappelling". While estimates for exterior work are based on a scaffolding approach, a contractor hanging from ropes can do most exterior wall maintenance. Lucky for us, we live in a part of the world that has mountaineers, so it's possible to find such people. You can imagine that in re-caulking your high-rise building's exterior windows half the cost would be renting, assembling, and then disassembling all that scaffolding. Another option is called a "swing stage", but that also has to be brought in and be raised and lowered a few dozen or hundred times.


In my building's case (eight floors, 40 suites), a projected expense of $32,000 for re-sealing all exterior joints became a much more affordable $13,700 by employing a worker who rappelled off the roof. After each vertical run he simply walked inside and rode the elevator up again. His end-of-day routine was not much more than coiling up the ropes and taking off his harness and hard hat. As a bonus, there was no security concern with handy scaffolding providing access to upper floors. Shop around for such a versatile contractor.

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