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Façade Inspections: Part 1

By Craig E. Barnes, P.E., SECB

Every engineer in the world must be aware that a piece of a building that falls from above may have disastrous results to passersby below.  It goes without saying that those cities in the U.S. with an older population of buildings and with taller buildings are more prone to this potential.  Boston is one of the older cities where objects falling from building facades have made the news nationally and locally.  Clearly after that, it makes sense for façades to be evaluated on a periodic basis in an attempt to prevent such occurrences.  Boston has ordinances in place to detect problem areas before the public is put in danger.

On the surface, a façade inspection seems simple to implement.  Prepare a generally worded ordinance for the professional and then let that professional establish a program to fit a particular building situation.  The City ofBoston Ordinance9.9-12, in capsule form, states that the façade of high rise buildings (over 70’ in height) must be inspected by a registered architect or engineer at least once every five (5) years, or once a year for unoccupied buildings.

Buildings 125’ high or less may be inspected with the aid of binoculars or from adjacent structures, while buildings greater in height than 125’ must be closely inspected through the use of swing staging or window washing equipment.  Within 30 days of the inspection, a report must be filed with the Inspectional Services Department.  This report must list the address of the property, name and address of the owner and the architect or engineer performing the inspection, as well as the date of the inspection.  The report includes a description of the building, including height, type of construction, use and occupancy, and the existence of any appurtenances, as well as a description of the method of inspection, documenting any recent structural or envelope repairs and describing the conditions found (i.e. structural condition, weathertightness of the façade, condition of flashing, sealant, locations of cracks, displacements etc.), recommendations for repairs, if any, and the degree of severity.  Upon receipt of the stamped report from a registered architect or engineer reporting a safe condition, the Commissioner will issue an exterior wall certificate, without which a building cannot be occupied.

Simply stated and straightforward in implementation, what could the bump in the road be?  In fact, is seems so straightforward, why bother to write this article?  The bump in the road is that old bugaboo that bedevils structural engineers across the country: cost and competition.

This topic will continue next week with Façade Inspections: Part 2