Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 11, 2018
A luxury 30-story condominium tower opened in Midtown East in 2008, just as the city’s construction frenzy was about to fizzle in the face of the Great Recession. Like so many buildings that went up in those go-go, pre-crash years, this 80-unit condo was put up in a hurry. As the unit-owners were destined to learn, building on the cheap has a way of getting expensive.
“It was built by the developer quick and fast and dirty,” says Joseph Fernandez, head of his eponymous architecture firm, who was hired by the condo board in 2013 to tackle multiple construction defects. “I soon learned that things on the drawings were not where they wound up on the finished building.” There were also problems with the HVAC system, including blocked lines and non-functioning motors. Then Fernandez discovered serious trouble with the building’s 80 concrete-floored, glass-walled balconies.
“I saw cracks on the undersides of balconies and chunks of concrete missing under the posts,” he says. The balconies’ stainless-steel posts fit into steel sleeves that were set in the concrete slabs that form the balconies. But there were two problems. First, moisture had infiltrated many of the horizontal railings and then fed into the vertical posts, and that moisture collected at the bottom of the posts, causing rust as well as problems with the concrete during freeze-and-thaw cycles. And second, the bottom of the posts were just one inch from the bottom of the balcony slabs, even though the building code called for two inches of spacing. (The code has since been modified to require three inches of spacing.)
“Once we knew how and where water was getting in,” Fernandez says, “we had to come up with a solution. Water could still get inside the railings and posts, so we needed to prevent water from getting to the bottom of the posts.”
The fix involved cleaning and priming the bottoms of more than 100 steel posts, then drilling two holes in the posts slightly above the floor of the concrete slab. A waterproof product called Sika, similar to caulk, was injected into the posts to a level slightly below the two holes. The holes would allow moisture to drain out of the posts. Compromised concrete was repaired, and the tops and undersides of the slabs were treated with a waterproofing compound. Finally, since two-thirds of the balconies were improperly pitched toward the building, the surfaces were modified so they slope outward and water runs off the edge of the terraces, where it feeds into the drainage system on the sixth-floor roof.
“We weren’t there to reinvent the wheel,” says Fernandez, noting that the positioning of the posts, which had won approval from a building inspector, were not modified to comply with the current building code. “If we had done that, a $600,000 job could easily have run up to $4 million.”
The condo board, which declined to be interviewed for this article, went after the developer aggressively and got him to cover the entire cost of the repairs. “I guess he figured it was cheaper to make that payment than to fight this board,” Fernandez says.
When new members joined the board last year, Fernandez’s retainer arrangement was replaced with an hourly fee. Regardless of the method of payment, he believes it’s important for boards in newly constructed buildings to have someone looking out for their interests.
“New construction, unfortunately, is often done at a pace where things get overlooked,” Fernandez says. “So boards need to have a relationship with a design professional who will look out for their interests and spot problems before they snowball. The cost of making repairs far exceeds the cost of nipping problems in the bud.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: Joseph Fernandez, Architect. MANAGEMENT: Douglas Elliman Property Management. CONTRACTOR: Skyline Restoration.
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