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A New Way to Cut the Cost of Facade Inspections

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 15, 2018

New York City

Buckets Up!
Aug. 15, 2018

Cyclical inspections of building facades – and ensuing repairs – have become a constant for New York City co-op and condo boards. A constant headache, and a constant expense. What’s not so constant are the so-called “soft” costs associated with facade inspections and repairs – such things as sidewalks sheds, scaffolds, permits, rooftop rigging, architects’ reports, and licensing agreements. Those costs, once negligible, can now approach half of the budget for a mandated cycle of work under Local Law 11

So smart boards are always looking for ways to soften the sting of those escalating soft costs. CTA Architects has come up with one. The Manhattan firm has begun using mobile boom trucks (sometimes called cherry pickers) to perform facade inspections – and select repairs – on a number of its clients’ buildings. The boom trucks do away with the need for costly, cumbersome rooftop rigging. 

“With a hanging rig, you’re limited to 20 feet of facade at a time,” says Christa Waring, a principal at CTA. “Sometimes to have to set up the rigging on private terraces – and nobody wants rigging on their terrace. Also, when there are setbacks, sometimes you have to do more than one drop. But a boom truck can go anywhere, so it gives you more flexibility. As a result, you’re up close and personal with the entire building, and you can save a lot of time. Nine times out of ten, it’s cheaper.” 

But there are limitations. The use of a boom truck requires a permit from the city’s Department of Transportation, which can be a problem depending on the width of the street and traffic volume. At some sites, boom trucks can be used only on weekends. And while Local Law 11 requires periodic inspection of buildings six stories or higher, a boom truck’s maximum reach is about 100 feet, roughly nine stories. They’re of no use on the upper floors of high-rise buildings. 

As a rule, boom trucks are a tool for inspections, Waring says. For example, CTA used them to inspect the facade of the landmarked cast-iron building at 54 Bond Street and the Bowery, but the repair job was so extensive that a pipe scaffold had to be erected from street to roof. 

There are exceptions to the rule. “We’ve had a couple of jobs where we could do the [repair] work from a boom truck,” Waring says. “But the work has to be localized, and it can’t be a huge job. We’ve also done probes from boom trucks” – a reference to the drilling that’s sometimes required to determine the condition of sub-surface materials not visible to the naked eye. 

Waring estimates that boards can trim 10 to 15 percent from the soft costs of a mandated facade inspection – not a huge saving, but smart boards are not likely to pass up such a chance. “If a board can save money,” Waring says, “they should take advantage of it.”

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