Leaky Condos

Leaky Condos – Some History in BC

leaky condos victoriaHaving a leaky condo is no fun. Just ask thousands of folks in BC who got stuck with this problem. Some blame the provincial government who in the late 1980’s began requiring air-tight building systems. Before that, homes could breathe more easily, allowing moisture to escape. As an architect I know once said, “it’s almost impossible to keep water out of a home, so you have to allow it a way to escape”.
 
In contrast, in 1998 the Barrett government established a commission on leaky condos and placed the blame on poor design and construction including the following:
  • The need to effectively manage drainage and importance of air barriers in a complete wall system
  • The misuse of face-sealed systems and lack of rain-screen provisions
  • Inadequate roofing design
  • Penetration through poorly designed open walkways and balconies
  • The absence of roof overhangs
  • Complex design components such as visually appealing  joints and arched windows which are prone to failure
Certainly changes in building design from the more traditional west coast features like wider overhanging roofs which kept rain away, to California style architecture – including flat roofs – that were less suited to our damper climate had an impact. Combine this with changes to the building code and a recipe for the current disaster was created.
 
So what can you do to protect yourself if you are considering buying a condo today? In a study conducted in 2002 that was partially funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, real estate agent Nancy Bain came up with the following checklist:
  • A Property Disclosure Statement
  • An inspection by a professional property inspector
  • Minutes of strata corporation meetings
  • Since July 2000, a Form B Information Certificate
  • An engineering report
However, Ms. Bain notes that “All of the investigative tools have shortcomings, individually and collectively.” Therefore it is crucial that you do your research carefully. I would add a couple more items to her list: use a qualified and experienced realtor with knowledge of the buildings in the area, and talk to current owners to find out if they have had any water issues with their condos.
 

New Techniques to Prevent Leaky Condo Syndrome

Thankfully, there are new techniques gaining in popularity that can prevent ‘leaky condo syndrome’. One example is rain screen technology. It works like this: the exterior wall deflects most of the water that contacts the wall. However, a cavity is provided behind exterior cladding so that if water penetrates, it reaches the cavity and cannot move further into the wall assembly. Instead water in the cavity will drain down on the inside face of the cladding or on the waterproof membrane at the other side of the cavity, to be deflected outside. The rain screen acts both as a moisture break and an air space, preventing water from becoming trapped inside the walls, and making sure the frame dries completely after the water drains off.
 
Some buildings may employ varying types of rain screen technologies depending when they were built or remediated. Some older buildings may employ a combination of exterior systems. Many older buildings with exterior stucco siding appear to be standing up well to our environment. It depends on the design of the building, flashing details, how well the exterior has been maintained over the years etc.
 
Your building inspector or home inspector should be on the lookout for visible signs of problems. If concerns are raised, further evaluation may be recommended. However, some buildings do not show any visible signs of moisture intrusion yet they develop problems. This is why buildings in question require ‘destructive testing’ and monitoring by specialists, usually over several months or even years to evaluate their condition. This is not a job your building inspector or home inspector can undertake.
 
If you are buying a new condo, ask your developer and building inspector or home inspector if they are employing rain screen technology. And if you are considering purchasing an established condo, ask your home inspector or building inspector if there appears to be a rain screen in place. Do your research carefully and seek qualified advice before you purchase. It could save you considerable emotional and financial cost.

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