Professional facility managers, entrusted with the proper operation and maintenance of buildings, are by nature detail-oriented, prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure the quality of life within the facility and the longevity of the facility itself. But on occasion, even the most experienced facility manager is faced with a situation that warrants more than customary attention. Here are some guidelines of what to watch for.
1. Stains can signal a deficiency in the building envelope
When the exterior of a building begins changing color or develops a stain of any type, some deficiency in the building envelope is the likely culprit. Stains on brick, called efflorescences, are an indication that excessive water has entered the system. Masonry is designed to absorb water that, in turn, eventually evaporates due to thermal cycles. If an extraordinary amount of water enters the system, however, it must exit and often brings with it very fine particles of calcium, salts and lime from the mortar that remain on the interior of the wall. These particles in due course accumulate on the surface of the brick as white stains. If white stains are visible, it is time to investigate a water leak in the adjacent area as the water is likely doing more damage to the internal structure of the building than is evident from the exterior. The appearance of green or black stains also indicates excessive moisture in the wall assembly—this can become a breeding ground for organic growth on the surface of the material. This condition should be investigated.
2. Exposed wood may need more than just a new paint job
It’s both good and bad news that modern paints do not contain lead. Good from a health standpoint, bad from a performance point of view. Modern painting systems last no more than five years, so unless your entire campus is on a five-year repainting schedule, you are not keeping up with the protective coating necessary for exposed woodwork. Anytime you see peeling paint, and exposed wood substrate, what you are actually witnessing is wood in the process of decay. Wood is an inexpensive and easy-to-install material, but it requires more maintenance than other materials. All exterior wood elements of every building you oversee must be placed on a periodic painting schedule so that they are coated every five years—this recommendation cannot be underscored enough.
3. Beware of rusting steel
When steel is exposed to water it corrodes and expands. Steel can expand up to seven times its original thickness during this process and there is no material used in modern construction that can withstand those forces. Steel encased in masonry and concrete will eventually swell and expand, moving out all the material around it. Steel has been known to lift entire sections of buildings. When the mass of a structure is top heavy it can move outwards causing bulging and, in some cases, can push material out onto the sidewalk. You’ve heard news accounts of people getting killed in Chicago and New York City from falling bricks. Many times this is prompted by rusting steel over windows or in the building structure. Any time there are visible cracks in the building, an investigation into its source should be initiated. If rusting steel is involved, the steel should be exposed, treated and waterproofed.
4. Plans and Specifications
In order to receive bids for any construction project, regardless of size, it is important that each bidder receive the complete scope of the work and parameters of the job in the form of plans and specifications. These need not be overwhelming documents, but their importance cannot be overstated. Asking three roofers for a price on a replacement job will not result in apples-to-apples bids unless they are each looking at the same document and bidding on the same products. It becomes difficult for any facility manager to sort out individual contractor quotes that are not uniform. With a consistent set of plans and specifications, uniform bidding documents and bidding forms, each of the contractors’ proposals can be evaluated equally.
5. Get Professional Help
As a facility manager, your job is to act as the owner on the project, representing the interests of your company, institution or church. Usually you are not expected to be the architect or the engineer, whose job is to evaluate the technical aspects of the project and prepare scope documents that will define the work for the contractor. Your focus should be on building management. You cannot be expected to know all the technical aspects of every part of the building. Calling in the right consultant to assist is part of the job. Finding a consultant that you are comfortable working with, one who responds in a timely manner, and who is foremost concerned with your needs are the elements to look for. Again, don’t be afraid to call an expert. After all, you wouldn’t go into court without an attorney, and you certainly wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself. Why begin a construction project without the assistance of a professional?
6. Green Buildings Need to be Maintained
The green building movement is here to stay. Sustainable concepts include healthier building materials that do not outgas, but do provide more natural light and additional exterior views. Energy conservation measures include high-tech HVAC systems and water saving measures that are critical to high performance buildings. These sustainable concepts, however, require building personnel who are trained to operate and maintain the equipment on a periodic basis. Without ongoing attention to the systems, the benefits of “green technology” will be lost. The follow-up to every green building must be the training and maintenance aspects of the system to guarantee the long-term success of each assembly.
7. Hazardous Materials Are Everywhere
Not so long ago, prior to beginning a building project, testing was performed for lead paint and in some cases asbestos, particularly in “usual suspect” materials such as pipe wrap. These days, there is a greater awareness of the various hazardous materials that exist in every building. It is now imperative that preceding any project that may involve demolition—even the removal of windows—a thorough environmental assessment report should be performed by a qualified consultant (one who is heavily insured in that market). All existing paints and coatings, including masonry coatings, should be tested for lead, asbestos and PCBs. Sealants and caulking should be tested for asbestos. An inventory of exiting systems throughout the building, including fluorescent light ballasts, fire extinguishers, air conditioning refrigerants, and even old paint cans should be inventoried in advance so that any aspect of the construction addressing these materials will be covered by a specification that directs the contractor and references all the appropriate codes and regulations on the local, state and federal level. This could be the single most important way to protect yourself and your church on a building project.
8. Code Analysis
Before any project starts, a thorough code analysis should be performed regardless of the scale of the project. New buildings require a zoning analysis to determine the maximum area and height of any new structure as well as its proximity to neighbors. The building code has much to say about types of building construction, and whether or not the structure must be protected in ways other than fire protection. Parenthetically, we recommend every building have fire protection sprinklers, from a life safety standpoint as well as a way to reduce insurance costs. Renovation projects require no less diligence in the code analysis process. Many states require that the renovation of a space or system meet current codes while the rest of the structure may remain unchanged. There are also codes that mandate the implementation of certain systems, such as handicap accessibility, seismic bracing or sprinklers following a specified construction threshold—spending $100,000 or 1/3 of the building’s value, for example. Even roofing replacement must address the code for current energy conservation requirements, wind uplift resistance and fire ratings.
As a facility manager, your goal should be a maintenance-free facility … without question difficult but not impossible to attain. Whenever repairs are implemented and/or new materials used, maintenance must be considered. For example, new windows that have an exposed wood finish and therefore require painting must be placed on that aforementioned five-year plan. Consider options such as covering the wood with a painted aluminum or selecting windows made of fiberglass or a vinyl product that requires little maintenance. If your facility has the funding, the resources and the will to maintain the renovations currently being implemented on the various parts of your real estate inventory, this is not an issue. Regardless of the funding situation, maintenance is an enormous concern that every institution and you as its facility manager must address.