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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Reskinning an Albatross

Paula Chin in Building Operations on September 4, 2017

Lenox Hill, Manhattan

Reskinning I

130 East 63rd Street after it was reskinned (photo courtesy of JMA Consultants)

Sept. 4, 2017

The building had certainly seen better days. When the 15-story, 75-unit co-op at 130 East 63rd Street in Manhattan’s Lenox Hill neighborhood was constructed in 1960, its white-brick exterior – designed to make the structure stand out from the traditional red-brick masonry of its pre-war neighbors – was very much in vogue. But over the decades, those white bricks lost their luster, in more ways than one.

The property was one of many built in the 1950s and ’60s that were covered with glazed brick, which was supposed to keep the inner walls dry by repelling moisture. But as Ed Adler, the co-op president at 130 East 63rd, learned, things don’t always go according to plan.

“The reality is that moisture always seeps in, whether from behind, from the ground, or through the mortar joints,” he says. With the city’s freeze-and-thaw cycles of winter, the water trapped in the brick expands, putting pressure on the glaze. The result isn’t pretty. “The exterior surfaces crack and pop off, splinter, or chip – the technical term is spalling – requiring more and more repairs, not just aesthetically but structurally as well,” explains Adler. “Even a small piece dropping on the sidewalk could be a danger to pedestrians. We had to put aluminum sheeting on the parapet walls to make sure that didn’t happen.”

It was a makeshift solution for a much bigger problem. During a routine inspection of the building’s facade, which is required every five years under local law, the board’s engineer, Eugene Ferrara, president of JMA Consultants, delivered the bad news. Significant areas of brick, not just on the facade but also on the terraces and roof, had deteriorated to the point where they needed to be replaced, not merely patched over.

Ferrara suggested a radical fix – reskinning the building, which meant removing the entire exterior and replacing each and every brick with a more durable alternative, which would run into millions of dollars. “It’s a huge project, and it is expensive,” admits Ferrara.“But for glazed-brick buildings, where the problems just get worse and worse, it’s cheaper in the long run to do a total reskin rather than deal with the headache of constantly making spot repairs. It’s like getting rid of an albatross.”

The co-op’s board, however, needed some convincing. “Our first reaction was that we wouldn’t be able to afford to reskin,” says Adler. “Fortunately, we were under-leveraged and had only a $2 million mortgage, which made it easy for us to get a bigger one. We got a $7.5 million loan from National Cooperative Bank at just 5 percent, which allowed us to impose a modest maintenance increase of 13 percent, which was very palatable to our shareholders.”

With the money in hand, the board went ahead and reskinned the building. 

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