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How to choose an engineer for your concrete restoration project?

choose an engineer

Introduction

Choosing the right engineer is vital to a concrete repair project.  You can compare your engineer to a head coach of a basketball team. The coach teaches and advises the team members on the best approach to compete.  He can also present a plan that will ensure ultimate victory.  Therefore, it is important to hire your coach at the very beginning of the repair process. Your engineer is the professional that is experienced and qualified to help you through all the complicated steps.

Many people begin with choosing a contractor. This is the wrong way to approach your concrete repair project.  A concrete repair contractor may provide you with a good report and quantifications, but these cannot be used to submit these repairs for a permit. Only an engineer can sign and seal the plans required for a permit.  If a contractor performs this engineering work for you, it will likely be a waste of time for him, since the inspection will have to be redone by an engineer.

Choosing the Engineer

Choosing the right engineer doesn’t have to be a grueling task. A written proposal to complete the job should suffice as a tool to compare candidates to each other. You should ask them to provide the following information with their proposal:

  • Past projects
  • References
  • Qualifications
  • Copies of their licenses
  • Insurance information (Errors & Omissions insurance)

Many Associations have found it helpful to ask the engineers to talk to the Board and introduce themselves and answer questions on the spot. But you must keep in mind that the cost of the engineer is typically a fraction of the eventual cost of the repairs.  All your energy should not be focused on hiring the right engineer. Instead, allot more time to finding a reputable and competent contractor.

Checklist for Choosing the Right Engineer

I have compiled a checklist as a guide for those seeking an engineer for their concrete repair project.  Ask for the following:

  • Florida Professional Engineer License Number.  Confirm if the license is valid by logging on to www.myfloridalicense.com. You can also verify if any complaints have been levied against the Engineer.
  • Years of Experience in Concrete Repair.
  • Amount of E & O (Errors and Omissions) Insurance. Also known as Professional Liability Insurance. This covers the Engineer (and thus the Owners) from mistakes or omissions made in the normal course of the work. $1  Million is the norm for established firms.
  • Amount of General Liability Insurance. $1 Million to $2 Million is the norm for an established firm.
  • Intangibles. Insist on meeting the licensed Engineer in person and any person that he will delegate your project to. Rate your engineer on his communication and interpersonal skills. Is the engineer approachable and accessible? Does the engineer exude leadership, respect, and confidence needed to lead the team?
  • Amount of Technical Staff to perform the work (including required inspections) when the project requires it.
  • Does the engineer have an established physical office? For how long have they had this office?
  • Has the engineer ever been sued or have any legal claims been made against him or the company with reference to his duties as an engineer? Are there any current and pending claims?
  • Always ask for past project references.
  • Does your engineer also have hands-on experience in concrete repair (Contractor) and is someone who can bring that dimension of experience to the table when performing the engineering facet of the project?
  • Memberships in Associations related to the concrete repair industry
  • Leadership Positions or in Professional Organizations (Is the Engineer respected in his field?)

Notes:

Choosing the Engineer1- Keep in mind that the cost of an engineer is typically a small fraction of what your construction costs are going to be. Make your main focus hiring the right contractor and helping your engineer stave off issues before they happen.

2-  This Checklist is to be used only as a general guide in order to help you choose the right engineer and to empower you to ask the right questions of those you are looking to hire.

Final Word of Advice

Engineering contracts for concrete repairs can be complicated.  On the simple side, an engineer can give you a contract that is only for him to provide you with plans for the repair.  On the complicated side, the engineer can provide you with a contract that could include additional services such as inspections and other administrative duties during construction.  Finally, you should always hire an attorney with some experience in the construction industry to guide you through the legalities.

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Guide on How to Hire An Engineer to do your 40 year Recertification

How to Hire An Engineer to do your 40 year Recertification

The Beginning

You have received your notice in the mail and are asking yourself “what is a 40 Year Recertification?”.  Before you proceed to read this blog, make sure you know what a 40 Year Recertification is first.  Once you know the answer, you can then proceed with the next step.  Obviously, you must find a qualified professional to do this work. This blog will provide you with some guidance.

Finding a Professional

First of all, only qualified people can do 40 Year inspections.  Florida law says that it either a licensed engineer or architect can do the inspection. Obviously, there are many engineers out there than can do the inspection

G. Batista and Associates Books
Hard Hats and Books

and it is up to you to do some homework to find one.  A good place to begin your search is the internet. Although you can use the yellow pages or referrals, Google is the best place to begin the search.  Once on the Google page, you can type in “40 year recertification engineer Broward“. You can change the key words to include the place you live.  You should get several places that market this type of service.

Checking up on the Engineer

Now you are ready to put your investigator hat on.  The first place to check is the (DBPR) Department of Business and Professional Regulations  website.  You can click here to access the site where you can input the name of the inspector and/or the name of the licensed owner of the business.  This will let you know a little bit about the person and if there have been any complaints files against them or even if their license if active.  With this information, now you are ready to make the phone call and ask some smart questions.

Questions to ask the Engineer

Now you need to ask some questions and hopefully get some good answers.  You may want to have a paper and pen ready to jot down the answers so that after you speak to each, you can compare the answers.  Some of the questions may be as follows:

  • Do you carry Errors and Omissions insurance?  Needless to say, the more established and serious firms carry insurance to protect you and protect themselves. This is a good thing to have.
  • Do you have a written proposal that you can send me once I give you the information on my building?  Written proposals are very important.
  • How much do you charge for the inspection?  Do you include a second or third visit after you perform the initial inspection?  Read our blog on how much an inspection costs.
  • What are the payment terms? Can I pay you once the inspection is finished?
  • What is the time frame to do the inspection?

Signing the Contract

Finally, you have found your engineer and are ready to sign the contract.  At times it is important to have your attorney check the contract, especially

Signing the Contractif this is a large and expensive inspection.  The language in the contract should be plain and simple.  As such, you should be able to carefully read it and ask the engineer any questions you may have.  This inspection may be technical, but the contract language does not have to be.  You have every right to ask questions and get good honest answers.

Many contracts require payments up front.  It is normal to pay a portion up front, but try not to pay the whole amount until the inspection is performed.  Finally, you should monitor the progress  of the inspection. Engineers are licensed professionals and are held to a high ethical standard and as such you should not have problems.

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What is Concrete Spalling?

Choosing the Engineer

Florida is a great place to live.  First, you have the beautiful beaches. Second, you have great weather throughout the year.   Third, you have great architecture that includes art-deco to modern styles.  However, these positive traits come with their fair share of problems.  The high concentration of “salt air” can seep into the  concrete over time.

This is a sample of concrete spallingEventually, the salt air damages the steel inside the concrete and causes it to rust.  Ultimately, this rust causes the concrete to spall.   There are some complex chemical reactions that take place  for a spall to occur, but we will try to keep it simple for those non-engineering types.  As an introduction, the picture shown here is an actual spall.  The classical spalled concrete will show the reinforcing steel (or “rebar“) once the concrete comes loose.

Passivation Layer

Lets start at the very beginning.  When the original builder installs the rebar inside the concrete, it is typically in a pristine condition.  That rebar has a protective layer that is called the “passivation layer”.  Coastal areas have high concentration of salts (chlorides) that penetrate the concrete through microscopic hole in the concrete.  Next, these salts come into contact with the steel and damages the protective “passivation layer” on the rebar.  When this protective layer is gone, the rusting process will begin and will continue over time.  At this point there is very little one can do to stop the rusting.

Concrete Spall defined

Now that there is an expanding piece of steel inside the concrete, it will only be a matter of time until the concrete breaks.  This rupture causes both small and large pieces of concrete to become dislodged.  Those detached pieces of concrete is the spall itself.  Needless to say, concrete spalls are potentially dangerous and even life-threatening.   On high-rise buildings they can damage properties below or even make contact with a person.  Spalling concrete should be repaired as soon as possible since it will spread and get worse.  Eventually, the rusting rebar will render the structure unsafe.

There have been many instances where structural collapses have occurred and people have been severely hurt as a result. Spalling concrete is a sign that your structure is under attack and this sign should not be ignored. Many people kick the can down the road and leave the repairs for a future date.  The old adage of “a stitch in time saves nine” is most certainly true.  A concrete repair that costs $1,000 today, will cost $10,000 a few years from now.

I like to think of spalling as a type of cancer.  In the same way that a cancer can grow until you die, the same is true of a spall.  The exception is that there is no “chemo-therapy” that will cure the spall.  The truth is that the only way to take care of the spall is to remove it using special techniques.  These methods that are employed by contractors to fix spalling concrete is varied and a little complex.  The ICRI (or International Concrete Repair Institute) has very specific guidelines on how concrete spalls are to be repaired.

Structural Engineering 101

Pantheon Dome
This is the pantheon dome

Concrete has been used for thousands of years in various forms. The Romans built magnificent concrete structures that survive to this day, such as the Pantheon, with its impressive concrete dome. The Pantheon (see picture), however does not have any reinforcing steel in it because of its design. The dome’s concrete was always compressed under its own weight. Concrete by itself, without any steel rebar inside of it, can withstand a tremendous amount of this compressive force. On the other hand, concrete cannot withstand a large amount of tensile force, which is the force that wants to pull it apart. Because domes are hardly built these days, the structures that we build today are subjected to both tensile and compressive forces.  Around the turn of the century engineers noticed that if you include reinforcing steel inside the concrete,  it could  withstand  a  tremendous  amount of  tensile  forces in  addition  to compressive forces. This meant that one could now design and build all sorts of structures without being hindered by concrete’s structural limitations. This is how the era of building modern concrete structures began.  As such, without including steel inside your concrete to support the structure, you would not have a soundly-built building.  The reinforcing steel (rebar) inside the concrete literally keeps your entire structure from crumbling to the ground.

Conclusion

To conclude, concrete spalls are a fact of life in Florida where there is a lot of “Salt air” in the atmosphere.  In reality, there is very little one can do to avoid any spalling to happen in a structure.  However, if one follows a typical building maintenance routine, the chances that spalling can be found and identified increases.  Buildings that are painted frequently and are maintained suffer the least from this malady.

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How much does a 40 Year Recertification cost?

G. Batista and Associates Books

If you are reading this blog, then you have received your notice to perform a 40 Year Inspection.  Simply put, a 40 Year Recertification is an inspection that is required by the State of Florida when a building turns 40 years old.  Additionally, you must to inspections every 10 years thereafter.  You can find a lot of information on the web that will help you understand what a 40 year recertification is.  However, this blog is about the price of a 40 year inspection.  But in order to talk about the cost, one must realize the reason for the existence of the 40 year inspections to begin with.

Beginnings of the 40 Year Recertification

The 40 Year Recertifications were put into law primarily for the public safety.  Building owners perform upgrades and renovations to buildings without pulling permits. Also, Owners many times do not maintain their buildings properly.  As a result, many properties contain unsafe conditions for its occupants.  Examples of these unsafe conditions are as follows:

  • Faulty or exposed wiring
  • Spalling concrete
  • Hidden structural problems
  • Failed roofing systems
  • Possible fire hazards

The law requires that a licensed architect or engineer take the responsibility of the inspection and submit a signed and sealed report.

The Cost of a 40 Year Recertification

The best way to find out how much a 40 Year Recertification will cost you is by calling around and getting proposals.  Of course, a simple search on the internet will yield  lots of information on available professionals in your area.  Each engineer or architect has their own way of calculating how much they are going to charge you for an inspection. The following are the items that most affect the price of a 40 year building inspection (in order of importance):

  • Size of the building (i.e. number of units)
  • Complexity of the structure
  • Accessibility

Size of the Building

As you may have guessed, the size of the building is the factor that most affects the price of a 40 Year Recertification.  Lets take the example of an inspector that has decided he must visit 50 apartments in the case of a high-rise building.  An inspection like this could take most of the day.  Depending on the inspectors findings, the report could be lengthy.

Complexity of the Structure

As an extreme example, lets say that the inspector is to do a 40 year inspection of an electrical plant for FP&L.  On the structural side, there are many unusual structures such as towers and trusses which are difficult to inspect.  On the electrical side, there are high-power devices and mechanisms that are not typical to a regular inspection. Naturally, the inspector will have a very difficult time looking into all the details unless he has much experience with these types of structures.

On the other hand, a much simpler inspection would involve a one-story four-plex apartment building.  Typically, these buildings are constructed of concrete and block and a have a roof structure that has trusses and a shingle roof.  This simple building will also likely have 4 electrical meters and an electrical panel for each unit.

Accessibility

Although this does not tend to be an issue, accessibility can be a big problem. An example of difficult accessibility is the lack of authorization to enter the units of an apartment building.  Another example is where the inspector cannot easily see possible structural problems at the exterior of a 50 story high-rise building.  Accessibility issues can be easily overcome by coordinating with the Owner by planning ahead.

Conclusion

Although the cost of a 40 Year Recertification can vary widely from professional to professional, there are certain basic items that can affect the cost.  Either way, it is a good idea to understand what these potential issues are so you can discuss these with your engineer.  Your engineer can provide you with a proposal once he has a good understanding of your building.  Some engineers  provide a price “per door” or per apartment. Prices can range between $10 per door to $300 per door (depending on many factors).  Others provide a price based on square footage.  Still others take into consideration the location or the structure, its age, and even if it has a crawl space that he may have to squeeze into.

Be ready to provide answers to your engineer.  The better information you provide, the better proposal you will get.  Let G. Batista & Associates provide you with a proposal.

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Is Your Curtain Wall Leaking?

This is a Glass Curtain wall system

What is a Glass Wall?

What is a Glass Wall? Glass walls (or Curtain Walls) is a system of glass panels that cover a building.  The featured image on this post is an example of a Curtain Wall system.  Curtain walls differ from regular windows in that they fit to the outside of the building instead of fitting inside a concrete opening.  These glass systems are designed to be strong and to keep the weather out.  Most significantly, they are designed to keep the people inside safe and comfortable. Many modern buildings have glass that are made of special materials that allow light in and at the same time keep the heat outside.  This way, energy savings are increased as costs are kept to a minimum.

Can Curtain Wall Leak?

Curtain walls have been around since the 1950’s. This means that there has been enough trial-and-error in order to develop this system to where it is today.  Glass systems these days are complicated mechanisms that are comprised of hundreds of different pieces.  These window systems now have built-in  waterproofing and water-diverting systems that keep these from leaking to the interior. However, these are man-made objects and it is a matter of time until there is a failure that will allow water to enter.  Therefore, the short answer to the question above is “yes”.

Main Reasons Why Curtain Walls Leak

In my experience, these are the main reasons why curtain walls can leak:

  • Curtain walls have sealants, plugs, and diverters that directs water along a vertical stem.  The stem then leads the water to the exterior of the system.  Sometimes these items break, loosen, or are installed incorrectly.  Consequently, leaks will occur.
  • Water can enter at the top of the glass and then find its way to a failed gasket.  Gaskets are the rubber parts of a glass system.  Rubber can crack and fail as time passes.
  • In addition to gaskets failing, these rubber parts can also dislodge.  In order for gaskets to work properly, they must be constantly compressed.  Parts of the system may loosen over time and cause for these gaskets to create a breach in the wall.
  • Finally, these glass wall systems are typically made many pieces of aluminum that are fastened together.  Many times these parts are glued or screwed together.  Leaks can occur when the spliced pieces are poorly sealed.

What Can You Do About a Leak?

It is often very difficult to find the source of a leak.  A water stain can appear on a ceiling tile on one area, but the water can actually be coming in from an entirely different area.  When water enters a break in the building “envelope“, it travels by gravity through the path of least resistance.  Many times, it takes a little investigative know-how to find the source of a leak.  Other times, it proves to be much more difficult especially when the suspect is a curtain wall system.  It is not the intent of this post to go over every leaking scenario, but to steer you in the right direction.  Many curtain wall experts may be available in your area for hire.  You should seek out an experienced professional to help you out with your issue.  You can:

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What’s New?

After more than 10 years at its previous location, GB&A has moved to its offices to Town of Davie, Florida. The main reason for the move is so that it will allow us to attain a Federal HUB Zone certification. This certification will allow us to have an edge in obtaining federal contracts.  Our new offices are approximately 3,500 square feet and includes an area to house our construction equipment.