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Water Damage - Keeping Commercial Buildings Safe
buildings are different, but each is at risk for water damage.
From a minor roof leak to violently destructive hurricanes,
any unwanted water intrusion can significantly impact the
value of a commercial property. Protecting the roofs, walls,
windows and other components of the envelope
is essential to reducing the likelihood of water damage.
Use the enclosed Operations and Maintenance suggestions
and handy checklists to help protect your building envelope
against the risk of water damage.
of Building Elements
Ensure that the maintenance program pays special attention to
building envelope elements that are near - or beyond - their expected
useful life. Conduct a detailed review of your building envelope
to estimate when owners will need to update or replace the roof,
window sealant joints, flashings, etc. This review will help prioritize
capital expenditures over time.
Occupant complaints are often indicators of impending building
envelope problems. Are there reports of mustiness or a moldy smell
in an area? The human nose is very sensitive. These complaints
are often early warning signs of a problem.
establishing a Tell Maintenance drop box where occupants can
easily report concerns to building management and maintenance.
conducting an occupant survey to help identify potential water
Whether flat or pitched, asphalt or composite, every roof is an
at-risk location for unwanted water. Many commercial building
roofs are laden with HVAC equipment, vent pipes, skylights and
other building system elements, which are all holes
in the worst possible place directly overhead.
are walked on, have tool boxes and test equipment placed on them,
catch leaves and branches behind parapets, have sand and abrasives
blown over them constantly, or carry billboards or occupant signage.
All of these rooftop elements conspire to make this zone especially
vulnerable to water intrusion.
all rooftop penetrations regularly from inside and out.
the seals intact around HVAC systems?
the flashings around skylights, stack vents and other
rooftop elements in good condition?
inspecting from below, do you see daylight where it shouldnt
you see any water stain marks?
Flat Roofs Frequently
The roof drainage system on a flat roof is critically important.
Inspect all roof drains monthly. Sound excessive? Not if you consider
that even one clogged drain can result in thousands of dollars
in damage from the next rain storm. And, one windblown plastic
bag can cause an immediate clog. Be sure the drains are free of
rooftop or vegetative debris. This simple check will increase
life expectancy of this essential and expensive building element.
The exterior walls of a building can be a significant source of
unwanted water leakage. Its easy to forget how any openings
in commercial building walls are required from plumbing
and irrigation connections, to lighting, HVAC system elements,
exhaust vents, air intakes, joints around windows and doors, and
fire alarms, to name a few. Then, there are the unplanned holes
the aged brick joints that need re-pointing, sealants that
have long ago vanished, damage from acid rain, or settling cracks.
All wall penetrations provide access for water, bugs, field mice,
birds, or other uninvited guests. If a building is
seriously damaged, specialists may be needed to bring a wall system
back up to its expected performance levels. But, regular inspections
will help identify potential problems early and help minimize
costs for needed repairs.
- Check all
wall penetrations for proper flashing and sealant integrity.
- Check all
major wall joints at windows, doors, electrical and plumbing
Treat window systems like every other element of the building
envelope.Periodic inspection should be part of your maintenance
plan. Do the operable units shut tightly? Are the weather-stripping
elements in place? Are the exterior joints and flashing systems
in good shape? Are there broken panes of glass that have gone
unnoticed but could become a water and safety concern? Are any
of the units fogged indicating a seal failure?
window joints and flashings on the exterior for continuous
seal integrity. If the windows are part of a drainable
wall system, check to ensure that flashing opening and
weep holes are not clogged.
windows from the inside for glass and air seal integrity.
test all locks, cranks, and other mechanical elements.
interior walls around windows for water damage.
a Regular Inspection Routine
The components of a commercial building envelope are as varied
as its occupants and uses. Brick and glass, bitumen and composite
panels, marble and stone, all can be used. And, all respond differently
to the forces of wind, rain, snow, and ice. Ideally, the envelope
ensures that the weather stays on the outside, where it belongs,
and that the people and property inside are protected. One of
the best ways to minimize a buildings risk of water damage
is to develop, maintain, and follow a systematic Operations and
Maintenance inspection routine that includes all elements of the
Plumbing, Drains, Irrigation
Where the wall meets the ground is a notoriously high-risk area
for damaging water intrusion. Building components such as hose
bibs, roof drains and landscape irrigation systems can put a lot
of water in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even a small leak
can turn into a major headache like a flooded basement or parking
garage. Make regular inspections.
- Check all
at-grade plumbing systems.
- Check all
at-grade drainage systems.
- Test basement
flood control and sump systems.
any leaking fittings or drains immediately, even if small.
- Does the
irrigation system spray water against the foundation wall?
- Are roof
drain outlets clear of debris?
- Are any
water elements at-risk for vandalism?
- Do downspouts
direct water away from the foundation?
the source of any standing water.
Remember, below-grade building elements are a significant part
of the building envelope. Basement walls and floors play crucial
roles in protecting the building from water intrusion, and can
provide important warnings of water problems above. Also check
for signs of effervescence, a condition where moisture boils up
through the surface of the concrete, evidenced by flaking of mortar
or concrete. A landscape irrigation line leak may first
manifest as mold on the basement walls.
- Check basement
floor drains and drainage system.
- Check all
basement walls for signs of water staining or damage.
If found, track the source and repair immediately.
to Water Damage Events
Even the most carefully operated commercial building will likely
experience a water damage event sometime in its lifetime. Building
staff should have a well-practiced emergency response plan. Like
childhood school fire drills, everyone hopes never to need to
use these plans. However, they can help ensure a more rapid recovery
from a major roof leak, flooded basement, or soaked office carpets.
Often the speed of response to a water damage
event is the most vital key to getting back to normal day-to-day
emergency response plan includes:
- Quick shut
down of water supply lines.
- Safe shut
down of electric and gas supply lines, as appropriate.
- Easy access
to appropriate tools.
telephone numbers for fire, police and emergency personnel,
water extraction companies and HVAC and plumbing specialists.