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Review the Engineer’s Specs

Michael J. Wolfe
President, Midboro Management

Review the Engineer’s Specs

Setting the Scene

In 2013, because of the unfortunate tragedy of somebody falling through a loose balcony that was not secured properly to a building, the city included railings, balconies, fire escapes, and catwalks in Local 11 inspections. We had a property undertaking a large Local 11 project. In this project, an engineer examined all the balconies and catwalks, and he discovered what looked like hairline cracks. The projected cost for all these repairs was more than $1.5 million.

Following the Action

The cracks could have been real cracks, or cracks on welds that may have occurred 50 years ago when the balcony railings were put in. To find out what the structural stability of the railing actually is you have to do a “pull test.” The city codes say that a typical balcony has to be able to withstand 50 pounds per square inch on the pull test. We decided to engage an independent firm to test the railings at 200 pounds per square inch, four times the code requirements, to ensure the safety of our residents.

It was determined that many of the so-called cracks were not cracks at all. They were either surface defects or a tiny crack on a weld. By doing the pull test, we were able to prove that almost every single catwalk and balcony railing – in excess of 400 – were safe and in very good shape, eliminating the need to spend over $1.5 million. The repairs that we did do – because some were cracks that had to be addressed – were probably in the neighborhood of $300,000, thereby saving the building $1.2 million.

Doing It Right

What this tells you is that although you hire engineers or architects to specify work, it is imperative that your managing agent, as the owner’s rep, reviews the specifications’ details. Safety is No. 1, but we have to ensure that specifications are right and proper. In this particular case, it was a complete victory for our client, the cooperative. Not only did it save money, but we went over and above what the city code required, ensuring that all the railings and catwalks were safe for our residents.

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