New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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A New Way to Find Leaks Without Puncturing Roofs and Walls

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 21, 2021

New York City

Thermographic cameras, infrared cameras, building envelopes, Local Law 11, co-op and condo boards.

The bright diagonal bar in the right photo indicates moisture in the parapet wall (photos courtesy Kipcon Engineering Consultants).

April 21, 2021

A never-ending challenge for co-op and condo boards is the maintenance and repair of their building’s envelope and common areas. And the main enemy in this ongoing and costly struggle is a basic element of life: water.

Leaks in roofs, windows, parapets and facades can lead to interior water damage and the compromise of exterior elements, which has triggered deadly accidents and was the impetus for the city’s Facade Inspection and Safety Program, formerly known as Local Law 11. The conventional method of detecting leaks has been to penetrate a surface – a roof, parapet or facade – to seek what lurks within. Now some architects and engineers are turning to a detection tool that does not require any initial drilling or probing – and, in the bargain, can produce big savings for co-op and condo boards. The tool is a thermographic, also known as infrared, camera – which produces color-coded images based on temperatures and guides an investigator to the precise location of harmful moisture.

One user of this tech tool is Mitch Frumkin, the president at Kipcon Engineering Consultants. He was called in recently to a newly constructed New Jersey condominium that was experiencing leaks and loose stonework on facades of its multiple wood-framed buildings. He photographed all of the complex’s facades with his Flir thermographic camera – a $2,500 machine – and immediately pinpointed trouble spots.

“If there’s a leak in the facade,” Frumkin says, “the water in there will retain heat and stay warm when the facade cools off at the end of the day. When you take a picture, you see a lot of colors, which represent temperatures. A bright spot indicates a higher temperature behind the stonework. In one picture, you can see that water flowed down the vinyl siding, then got behind the stone because of faulty flashing. You can even see how far it’s flowing down behind the stone.”

The camera has pinpointed the source of trouble, a critical first step. “The next step,” Frumkin says, “is to determine if there’s damage behind the stonework. We’ll do that by drilling small holes and inserting moisture probes. The meter will tell us the percentage of moisture concentration in the wood framing. If it’s higher than 30%, there’s a high probability of damage. By localizing where the probes need to go, that saves a huge amount of money.” Once the extent of damage is ascertained, the pinpointed repairs will begin.

At another job, a 1920s brick building, the thermographic camera showed a bright bar along a diagonal parapet wall (see photo above). “Over the years,” Frumkin says, “The joints in the stonework on top of the parapet walls had failed and allowed water to get into the parapet wall. Years ago, there’s no way we would have found this without taking the whole parapet wall apart. We were able to narrow the leak down to a 15-foot section on a thousand feet or parapet.”

Brian Sullivan, the president at Sullivan Engineering, uses thermographic cameras primarily to troubleshoot roofs. He, too, has found the tool to be a money saver. By zeroing in on “hot spots” that indicate the presence of moisture, the thermographic camera allows the contractor to insert moisture meters only on trouble areas – rather than one per square foot, which can be a huge expense on a huge roof.

“You don’t want to start opening up a building envelope based just on an infrared image,” Sullivan says. “But the infrared image allows us to target where to insert moisture meters. That can save a significant amount of money. But even more important, a co-op or condo board is making informed decisions on whether to replace the roof or do patch repairs. If you make half a dozen patch repairs and then have to come back in a couple of years and replace the roof, you’ve thrown good money after bad. By making the right decision, a board could save several hundred thousand dollars.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – Kipcon Engineering Consultants; Sullivan Engineering.

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