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The Problem: Crazing

White-brick buildings face special leak problems that their red-brick counterparts do not. But there is another kind of white brick called white-glazed brick that has its own challenges. Can you explain?

White-glazed brick has a ceramic coating that aids in waterproofing as opposed to unglazed white brick. Unfortunately, as the glaze ages, spider cracks form, which is known colloquially as crazing. Bricks with crazing can still be sound. But sometimes crazing is an indicator that the brick face is on the verge of failure.

We worked with a white-glazed brick building where, over the last 15 to 20 years of facade inspections, we have found a combination of sound and unsound bricks. We had been stressing to the co-op that a full-scale intervention is needed. Otherwise, it would have to perform mid- to large-scale projects every five years, and at some point, the Department of Buildings may not accept widespread crazing as anything other than unsafe. So the co-op decided to convert its street facade from white-glazed brick to red brick. This is a nine-story building, and the project cost was approximately $1.3 million.

What is the danger posed by crazing?

Typically, when you start getting cracks in white-glazed brick, the inner brick retains its integrity, but the brick is not sound in terms of waterproofing. And the face will actually pop off, which is very troublesome. In the eyes of the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), it is no longer considered safe.

So now you are replacing every single brick on the building’s entire face. How is that done? 

Fortunately, this is a prewar building with structural steel supports. The demolition part — taking the white-glazed brick off and basically skinning the outer face of the solid masonry wall — is just working from the top down, because if you did it from the bottom up, you’d have to shore it and you could cause a failure. Once you have skinned the outer brick, it needs a waterproofing layer. We installed self-adhering membrane at all of the new steel support shelves we installed, and all of the AC openings throughout the entire elevation. After that, you work from the bottom up when you install the red brick. The project took about 10 months. We haven’t completely unveiled yet because there are some ancillary things we’re completing, like the caulking and some sealant work, but the building looks dramatically different than it did before. It’s like the difference between a white dress and a red dress. 

Does removing the white-glazed brick make the apartments colder? 

There are some issues with drafts. Generally, masonry is not a good insulator, so just taking off the brick isn’t going to substantially change the temperature inside the apartments. But if there are any voids in the wall, or if there were some type of interior construction in the past where something was opened up and was not filled in, you can start to get drafts. So this was just a communication item with shareholders that we had to deal with through the super. If there was an issue, shareholders would tell the super, “Oh, it’s cold in this apartment,” and we’d have to take a look. In some cases, we had to add temporary insulation to cut down the draft. But generally, it did not change the interior temperature. 

Getting back to costs, how much had the co-op been spending on facade repairs, and how does that compare to the $1.3 million price tag for this job?

Through the years, the average FISP repairs would be between $300,000 and $500,000 per cycle, so the investment is really worthwhile. The other big thing that the co-op is saving on is all of its soft costs, including scaffolding and mobilization. Those are typically between 20% and 40% of the cost of a project. So every time you have a project, you’re going to have these sunk costs that add no value to the work. Five years from now, the co-op would have to pay about $300,000 for the soft costs alone if it had not undertaken this comprehensive work. The board is no longer throwing money away.

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