Winter is Coming

Preparing a building for winter from roof to foundation requires routine fall inspections

By Bob Gender

All photos courtesy of Buechel Stone.

Restoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building in Atlanta, Ga.
Restoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building in Atlanta, Ga.

Fall and winter are right around the corner. With the changing season comes freeze and thaw cycles, falling pine needles and leaves, organic growth, and harsh weather conditions that can wreak havoc on a structure’s exterior if it is not maintained properly. Conducting an annual fall building inspection will help to identify potential maintenance issues before they become problematic and lead to costly repairs.

Maintenance of buildings or structures – interior or exterior, horizontal or vertical, high in the air or low on the ground – is a necessity across the country. Many times, a quick check today on a property can help save property managers headaches during the harsh winter months ahead when getting repairs done can be complicated by low temperatures.

Buildings and structures can be protected throughout the winter – and for a lifetime – by identifying a few red flags early in the fall and addressing those problem areas quickly and effectively before the winter sets in.

Surveying damage to exterior masonry

The exterior walls of a building can be a significant source of unwanted water leakage. It’s easy to forget how many openings are required in commercial building walls – from plumbing and irrigation connections to lighting, HVAC system elements, exhaust vents, air intakes, joints around windows and doors, and fire alarms, to name a few.

Structure California facade damage annual fall building inspection identify potential maintenance issues before problematic costly repairs
Structure in California displaying facade damage.

Damage also can occur to the masonry of the building that would require re-pointing, such as unplanned holes caused by aging brick joints, vanishing sealants, damage from acid rain, and settling cracks. All exterior wall penetrations provide easy access for water, bugs, field mice, birds or other unwanted pests to enter the building and cause damage.

Checking for changes in a building since last year also is recommended. Check for abandoned pipe penetrations from a tenant upgrade or a new tenant demo. Or maybe just a deteriorated building joint, which can make the building joint vulnerable to the elements and unwanted pests.

If a building is seriously damaged, the wall system may need to be brought back up to its expected performance level. Regular inspections by a trained professional will help identify these potential problems early and save the owner money.

Protecting the roof

The fall often brings falling leaves, pine needles, and organic growth on building rooftops. A commitment to good roof maintenance practices can help prevent overflowing gutters, clogged downspouts, and excessive ponding water that can lead to costly roof, façade, and foundation damage. A weekly routine roof inspection is recommended during this time of the year.

Decaying leaves, pine needles, and dirt run-off all can contribute to ponding water and clogged gutters and downspouts, which is why it is essential that all roof drains remain clear of obstructions. In addition to the risk of water pouring into the tenant spaces should a breach in the roof occur, the freezing and thawing of ponding water during the fall and winter months can cause extensive roof damage.

Make sure that all organic debris is completely removed from gutters, downspouts, and drains before the winter arrives.

Restoration historic Mazza Castle facade Pacifica annual fall building inspection identify potential maintenance issues before problematic costly repairs
  Restoration of historic Mazza Castle facade in Pacifica,  Calif.

Repairing and protecting concrete

In the winter, freeze and thaw cycles can cause big problems with concrete structures. When water infiltrates concrete, it can freeze, causing the water to occupy nine percent more volume than in its liquid state. This expansion causes distress on the concrete, which can lead to fractures that will continue to grow exponentially as saturation of the material increases.

A wide range of restoration, repair, and reinforcing services are available to repair cracks, spalls, rust spots, deterioration, potholes, and heaves in concrete and masonry. More often than not, concrete repairs are made before they become a more serious or costly issue, but there are measures that can be taken to actually prevent future damage. Applying hot-applied or below-grade waterproofing and urethane or acrylic protective coatings to traffic decks, pedestrian areas or exterior facades will extend the life of the repair, protect adjacent areas that are currently in good condition, and significantly improve the aesthetics of the area treated.

About Western Specialty Contractors

Family-owned and operated for 100 years, Western Specialty Contractors is the nation’s largest specialty contractor in masonry and concrete restoration, waterproofing and specialty roofing. Western offers a nationwide network of expertise that building owners, engineers, architects, and property managers can count on to develop cost-effective, corrective measures that can add years of useful life to a variety of structures including: industrial, commercial, healthcare, historic, educational and government buildings, parking structures and sports stadiums. Western is headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., with more than 30 branch offices nationwide and more than 1,200 professionals who offer the best, time-tested techniques and innovative technology. For more information about Western Specialty Contractors, visit www.westernspecialtycontractors.com.


Bob Gender is a branch manager for Western Specialty Contractors (formerly named Western Waterproofing Company).

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