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What is a 40-year certification Illumination Study?

If you are reading this blog, it’s probably because you have an interest in getting 40-year recertification completed for your property.  But then you also need to do an illumination study in addition to the 40-year inspection.  

Before I go into what an illumination study is, I must define that 40-year recertification is an inspection that an Engineer does to a property when a property is 40 years old and every 10 years thereafter.  Basically, the inspection deals with electrical and structural issues that a property may have that may be a safety issue for the property’s inhabitants. There are certain minimum items that a property must comply with including the illumination at the parking areas.

As of the writing of this blog, only properties in Dade County are required to have an illumination test 

Why do you need an illumination study?

We all know that dark areas at night can be a hazard.  There are many things that can happen in open parking lots such as car accidents, muggings, and robberies.  It is for this reason that Dade Country has required that parking lots contain a certain minimum amount of lighting.  It all comes down to a safety issue.  We all want to be safe.

Light meterWhat is an illumination study?

An illumination study is an analysis of the lighting levels at the parking areas of your property. At its most fundamental, your professional that you hire for your 40-year recertification will walk around the parking lot and measure the light levels at the different areas.  A light meter is used to measure the levels and at no time will the lighting levels be less than 1 foot-candle.  After the inspection, your professional should be able to let you know, through a written report, the areas where the lighting needs to improve.

What to do before the inspection?

There are many reasons why your lighting is at a level that is lower than those required.   But the fact remains that you should take certain steps before your professional performs the inspection. One of the main things you can do is to change the bulbs on the lighting that may have blown and are no longer working.  Another item is so cut down any branches or other vegetation that may be covering any lighting.  These 2 items are cheap, quick and easy to perform.  If the electrical current has been cut off to one of the light fixtures, it would be a great idea to get an electrician to repair it.  Once you’ve completed all the easy steps you can to bring your lighting up to snuff, then you can get your professional to do the inspection with the light meter. If you fail to take these up-front simple measures, then chances are that your inspector will do the inspection and then require you to perform the repairs and then will likely charge you for a re-inspection.

What to do to increase illumination levels in your parking area if you fail the illumination test?

You're professional that performed the inspection will be your first line of defense. They will guide you through the most feasible and economical ways to bring your parking lot to acceptable levels.  The best and most economical case is that your light fixtures can accommodate a brighter bulb and you can take care of it like that. On the other hand, the worst-case scenario is that you will need to completely re-do your lighting which will require new lamps, posts, and underground wiring.  Again, it is your profession that will guide you through the process and the possibilities.

It is important to note that this performing a lighting analysis is not as simple as it sounds. How can an engineer guarantee that by just changing the bulbs to a higher wattage will make the problem go away?  Also, how can an engineer know that by adding 20 light posts instead of only 10 posts will make the problem go away?  The answer to these questions lies in the fact that these engineers have computer programs that model the parking lot and are able to experiment with different types of lights and locations so that your entire parking lot has the correct lighting levels. Of course, this is a specialized engineering task and you will likely be charged for this service.  Again, it Is your inspection professional that will best guide you through the process.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Dade County requires that illumination studies be done in parking lots as a requirement to the 40-year recertification report.  After you make sure that the simple items are done, such as changing out non-functioning bulbs, you can call upon your professional to perform the test and ultimately rely on them to take you through the entire process as your consultant.

We here at G. Batista & Associates are engineers that have performed thousands of inspections and are ready, willing and able to help you on your 40-year recertification inspection and your illumination test.

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Are you getting ripped off on your 40-year recertification?

If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are one of those people that are in need of 40-year recertification.  In a way, you are in luck because the internet is full of information about what a 40-year rectification is and how to go about getting this needed inspection. Click here if you want to know what 40-year recertification is.  I will assume that you have already done that homework and you are past the initial shock phase and on to how you will go about getting your building certified without breaking the bank.

This blog will not get into the details of how to hire a professional to perform your 40-year inspection.  There is another blog that deals with this specific issue. You can Click here to see this blog.  This blog deals more with avoiding spending more money than you have to when there are repairs that need to be performed on your building in order to pass the inspection.

Related: How much does a 40 Year Recertification cost?

For starters, you must know that the 40-year recertification is not a tool to bring your building up to the current code. It is, however, a tool to repair items that are more of a safety hazard that pertain mainly to electrical and structural issues.  If buildings were required to be brought up to current code,  then practically all of the 40-year-old buildings would require millions upon millions of dollars of work done.  One small example of a common misconception is the apparent requirement to replace a roof that is leaking.  If a roof is leaking but is in acceptable structural condition, your roof does not have to be upgraded to a roof that is up to current code.  Another common example is if your railings do not meet all of the current code requirements, but are currently in acceptable structural condition and were allowable at the time the building was originally built, you do not necessarily have to incur in the huge expense and change all of your railings.  There are many more cases of issues that are not necessarily a requirement to be repaired and/or upgraded in order for your structure to be certified.

In reality, your Building Departments that impose this 40-year inspection requirement do not expect that your building is completely brought up to current code.  So why would you want to self-impose spending more money than you would want to? The key is to make sure that the professional that you hire does not perform the inspection and produce an all-encompassing “wish list” of items that they want to get done.  There are many reasons that an engineer or architect would want a large list to be produced. Some of these reasons include the following:

1- Your professional is being conservative in their assessments.  At times, professionals tend to err on the safe side and tend to require more than what is needed.  There is actually nothing wrong with this except that if you are an owner that is strapped for money, then you may want to leave some repairs for after the building is certified.

2- Your professional is ignorant of the requirements of the 40-year inspection and/or has little experience in dealing with the detailed inspection requirements.

3- Your professional is purposely trying to obtain more work.  The reasons vary greatly on the reasons for this. It is beyond the scope of this blog to go into the details on this.

In order to avoid being required to perform repairs that can potentially be outside the scope of the 40-year recertification, you should thoroughly investigate your professionals before they are hired.  Some steps that you can use are as follow:

1- Ask your professional how many inspections have they done in the past to gauge their experience.

2-Ask your professional for references on the last 5 inspections that they have performed.  Note that I did not state 5 inspections that they have done in the last year.  Get references from those inspections that they have done within the past week or very recently.

3- Ask them in a direct fashion if they will ever require an issue to be repaired that is not necessarily a requirement in order to pass the 40-year recertification.

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

 In conclusion, it is easy to get caught in a situation where you will be asked by your professional to perform repairs that you will not necessarily need in order to pass.  The reasons are varied and most of the time has very little to do with your professional being incompetent or wanting to take advantage of you.  After all, it is our job to guard public safety.  The best you can do is do your homework and find a company that has good references and tracks record.  It is also a good idea to go to Florida’s DBPR (Department of Business and Professional Regulations) website and search for any complaints against the professional’s license.

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Concrete Repairs on Parking Garage Structures

Sample of a Parking Garage

Introduction

Parking garages are very distinct structures form all the other structures out in the world. These structures have large beams and columns and thick slabs that are designed to withstand the daily weight of thousands of heavy vehicles. Furthermore, the vast majority of parking structures are open which means that they are in direct contact with the open air.  The weather and chlorides that are present in the air can lead to long-term effects on the concrete. Due to the aforementioned, owners of concrete parking structures should take special care in monitoring the state of their structure.  Naturally, timely corrective measures  significantly add to the longevity of structures.

Cracks on your concrete parking structure

Cracks on concrete appear due to many different reasons. These reasons range from pouring a bad batch of concrete, to improper curing during the construction process. In other words, its those cracks that are caused by the constant movement, expansion and contraction of the structure and the vehicle traffic.

If you are in a parking garage and you stand still while cars are passing by, you will likely feel yourself vibrating. Of course, this is normal and you shouldn’t be alarmed. The heat and cold cycles of day and night cause the structure to expand and contract.  All these items come together to cause fissures in the concrete on a long-term basis.  It is normal for a concrete parking structure to contain cracks.   Small cracks typically do not constitute a serious structural problem although a review by a structural engineer is always recommended.

In any event, any type of crack should be filled at a minimum.  Your structural engineer will be the person who determines which cracks are serious and which are not. Additionally, the engineer will be the professional that will not only quantify the amount of cracking, but will also provide you with the best method of repair.  Needless to say, engineers have the training and the experience to provide you with guidance on dealing with cracks.  Furthermore, it is beyond the scope of this blog to instruct the regular lay person on the ins and outs of  analyzing a structure.

Concrete spalls on your parking garage

As mentioned above, cracks can pose an immediate serious threat to the structural integrity of the parking structure.   However, cracks can also cause long-term damage to the parking structure in the form of spalling.  This spalling occurs when chlorides seep into the concrete and cause the reinforcing steel inside the concrete to rust, expand, and then rupture the concrete.  Click here for our blog on the definition of a spall. This is of particular note in a parking structure that is not only open to the elements, but also contains cracks where these chlorides can easily access the reinforcing steel and make it rust.

Damage to beams

Parking structures tend to have wide open spaces.  Engineers design parkings to have as few columns as possible so as to avoid any collisions with automobiles.  This means that the engineers must design long beams that span from column to column.  As you might have guessed, the longer the beam, the more stress it takes from the vehicles driving over it.  At times, these beams show outward signs of stress by sagging and cracking.  Concrete beams are critical structural elements in a parking garage.  If you see widespread cracking on a beam, do not hesitate to contact a local structural engineer to inspect it.  Depending on the size, location, and direction of the crack, it could be a tell-tale sign that there is a serious structural failure lurking.

Other types of repairs

If I were to provide a comprehensive list of all the issues that can arise in a concrete parking structure, this blog would be many more pages long.   Cracking and spalling are by far the most common and prevalent issues in a concrete parking garage.  To further illustrate, there are several other types of repairs that are typical and these are as follow:

Water Intrusion

Although parking garages are open structures, we still like to walk to our car without getting wet while we are still inside the structure.  If cracks are large, they will let water seep down into the concrete slab and the water will eventually find its way downward by the force of gravity.  Water that goes through concrete picks up chemicals that can consequently damage the nice paint job on your car.  Furthermore, parking structures also have construction joints and caulk joints that can fail.  If these joints are not properly maintained, they can also fail and cause water to seep to the interior of the structure.

Rusting plates

steel embed
This is a steel embed

Some parking structures are what we call “pre-cast” where many concrete pieces are brought in and welded together in the field.  Each one of these concrete pieces has an “embed” which is a small steel plate where the different pieces make contact and where the welders make the connections to build the structure.  These embeds can rust and sometimes fail.  Needless to say, these failures can lead to catastrophic problems and even collapses.  Although collapses are rare, the owners of these structures should be vigilant and have a professional make periodic inspections on the embeds.

Conclusion

In conclusion, parking structures are very unique types of structures.  They are constantly exposed to the ravages of the weather.  Also, they are subjected to extraordinary stresses from the vehicles that day-in and day-out travel through it. Eventually, failures in the form of cracking and spalling will appear and it is up to the owner of the parking structure to ensure that a maintenance regimen is applied in order to identify these anomalies and cure them.  As mentioned above, a structural engineer is your best line of defense in providing guidance.

This guidance is on the form of an inspection to identify any cracking and spalling that has occurred.    In fact, this professional can also help you in providing you with plans, specifications, and a protocol to perform these repairs.  Engineers that specialize in concrete repair, such as G. Batista & Associates, can guide you through the entire process. This includes obtaining a suitable contractor to perform the repairs.