Integrating Resilience into Condo Building Repair Projects
We hear the term “resilience” in our everyday lives more often now than ever. Resilience is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. The term is typically used in the context of the ability of a person or persons to adapt to and quickly recover from difficult and stressful circumstances. Resilience is a trait that can also be associated with buildings. This article addresses what makes buildings resilient and some of the ways that condominium corporations can integrate resilience into their building repair projects.
In Canada, the realities of global temperature increase, and climate change are all around us. We hear of more frequent flooding, extreme weather events, sudden wildfires, droughts, and permafrost melt. Here in Ontario, we have experienced more high intensity, short duration storms causing wind velocities and rainfall amounts that exceed historical values. These events can result in significant costs that go beyond building and contents damage. The cost of losses can include direct business interruption, additional living expenses, indirect business interruption (meaning business losses because of damage or loss of function to other locations), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insurance premiums, urban search and rescue costs, environmental and historical value, and the value of government services.
Research and scientific data have proven that climate change is not a short-term trend. It is happening, and it requires our attention. There is a need to adopt a culture of resilience now which will support the current and future health, safety, and prosperity of the global community. A culture of resilience begins with an understanding of past climatic conditions and developing tools to predict how they will change in the future. It requires probabilistic assessment of how the changes will affect the infrastructure systems around us including transportation, communications networks, energy transmission, water/wastewater treatment and buildings. All these systems are prone to damage and loss if they are not designed to withstand the effects of climate change.
Fortunately, science and research provide the tools and standards that help us adapt. The National Research Council (NRC), through the Climate Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure (CRBCPI) initiative, has collaborated with more than 200 partners over the past five years to establish codes, standards, guidance and life-cycle-based decision support tools for buildings and core public infrastructure. The research conducted through this initiative is based on research by the U.S. National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). The NIBS study found that significant savings could be realized by adopting loss mitigation strategies that involve retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand the effects of the environment. Although the magnitude of losses in the US differ than those in Canada due to different environmental and economic factors, the U.S. methodology for the benefit/cost ratio associated with retrofitting existing buildings is transferable to any location. Thus, the U.S. methodology was used by Canadian researchers.
This research has resulted in the creation of new building standards, updating current standards and proposed changes to Building Codes for new buildings. In Ontario, future changes to climatic data (i.e., wind, rainfall) will have an impact on design for structural sufficiency and flood proofing. In fact, one of the more significant proposed changes for the next version of the Ontario Building Code involves constructing houses and small buildings to reduce the likelihood of severe damage or total loss in high wind events, specifically from an EF2 tornado.
Two examples of Canadian building standards that have been recently updated to improve building resilience include CSA Z800-19 “Guideline on Basement Flood Protection and Risk Reduction” and CSA S478-19 “Durability in buildings”. Both standards were updated in 2019. They reflect the current “state of the art” for designing resilient buildings and are intended to evolve as more information on environmental loads and the impact on buildings becomes available.
So…a few important questions arise from this discussion. Do Ontario building regulations require upgrading of existing buildings to address the effects of climate change? Can a condominium corporation voluntarily undertake retrofits to address these effects? What are some of the retrofits that a condominium corporation should consider as part of a strategy to improve building resiliency?
The response to the first question is a simple one. The Ontario Building Code currently does not require upgrading of existing buildings (also known as “retrofitting”) to withstand the effects of increased climatic loads. Historically, provincial building regulations have only imposed regulations for retrofitting of existing buildings where a significant life safety risk exists. For example, the Ontario Fire Code introduced retrofit legislation in 1987 which made building owners responsible for the mandatory upgrading of fire protection systems in certain classes of existing buildings.
Notwithstanding that there is no legislated requirement for retrofitting to improve building resiliency, a condominium corporation can (and should) consider retrofits when repairing and upgrading building components. Not doing so represents a missed opportunity. The leaky condo crisis in British Columbia and its aftermath is an example of a missed opportunity in terms of upgrade potential. According to the National Research Council: “Of all the 159,979 condo apartments built in British Columbia in the 15 years up to 2000, 45 percent had leak problems (Stueck, 2008). The repair of the building envelopes could have been a significant opportunity to upgrade these buildings – not just in terms of moisture ingress – but also in terms of improving their energy efficiency. The building envelope already had to be opened up to repair and prevent moisture penetration, which would have been the ideal time to consider upgrading the building's energy efficiency – thereby minimizing the incremental cost of the upgrade”.
There are several opportunities for resiliency retrofits that a condominium corporation will encounter during the life of its buildings. The retrofits represent an upgrade from the current minimum requirements of building codes. Low-rise wood framed buildings constructed to OBC Part 9 requirements are good candidates for retrofitting. Condominium directors are encouraged to work with their reserve fund planners and engineering consultants to identify these rare opportunities and analyze the associated benefits and costs. Here are a few examples of some potential “high payback” opportunities:
1. Consider upgrading the fastening of asphalt shingles from a “four-nail” pattern to a “six-nail” pattern when replacing asphalt roof shingles on a sloped roof. The increased
resistance to wind uplift resulting from additional nailing is significant and the incremental cost is relatively low. It can avoid catastrophic loss and insurance claims during high
wind events. It may also result in reduced insurance premiums.
2. Consider upgrading the performance class rating of windows above the minimum Code requirements when undertaking window replacement projects. The incremental cost
over the service life of the windows is small in comparison to the increased structural performance and resistance to air and water leakage.
3. Consider upgrading the attachment of building components to the building structure to resist higher wind loading than mandated by current codes. For example, decreasing
the spacing of fasteners from 24 inches to 16 inches on an exterior cladding system can significantly reduce the risk of blow-offs during high wind events.
4. Consider adding plywood wall sheathing when replacing cladding on a wood framed building if your building does not currently contain wood-based wall sheathing material.
This will provide racking stiffness during extreme wind events and prevent significant cracking and damage to interior drywall finishes.
5. Consider increasing the size of stormwater drainage piping when undertaking asphalt pavement replacement in paved areas. This requires consultation with a drainage
These are only a few examples of opportunities that may exist when undertaking the next major repair or replacement project in your condominium. Retrofitting requires an understanding of building systems and engineering calculations using climatic data to determine loading on the building. A qualified designer can assist with technical details. Although there are currently no government financial incentives for retrofitting existing buildings to increase resiliency, there are many loss reduction incentives as mentioned in this article that condominium directors should consider.
Mina Tesseris, Arbitech Inc.