How to Identify a Leaky Condo in Vancouver

David Fairbairn of Fairbairn Inspections gives insight into identifying a leaky condo in Vancouver, BC

Mark: Hi, it’s Mark Bossert from Top Local Lead Generation. We’re here with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver. How are you doing today David?

David: Hey I’m good, how are you Mark?

Mark: I’m good. So we weathered the storm of the Google Hangout, unpredictability and now we’re going to talk about how to identify a leaky condo in Vancouver. So are there still leaky condos in Vancouver?

David: Very much so, although a lot of them have been remediated by now, however, yeah, there’s still a good number of them out there and if you’re buying a condo, you’ve got to be careful.

Mark: So what years of construction are at risk?

David: Typically with the leaky condo crisis we’re looking at buildings built between 1981, 82, somewhere around there until around 1998 and the reason for those years is a mix of, you know, you’ve got different issues, such as code issues, building construction, it’s architecture methods, it’s really a perfect storm and it lasted for sixteen, seventeen years and by the time they finally figured out what was going on a lot of buildings were experiencing problems, so we’ve got this huge span, 1981 all the way to 1998.

Mark: So what style of buildings are leaky condos?

David: Leaky condos, the ones that you see in the news, these are the ones that cost people their life savings; they failed on a huge level. We’re talking about wood frame, low rise buildings, usually a low rise building of four stories or less and we’re looking at buildings that are stucco predominately, stucco clad buildings and of course, if you look at them you’re going to see that sort of California style building which was very popular around the time they were built and of course that style came up from California and people like it. It looks nice; it just doesn’t work with your average rain fall of 1,500 millimeters a year as opposed to California’s, I’m going to guess around 400. You really have to be careful with these things. Typically low rise buildings, altho it’s not a hard and fast rule, we do see a lot buildings that are high rises that are also failed as well. If you go to Yaletown in Vancouver you’ll actually see quite a few buildings that were built as leaky condos that were remediated or actually some of them are currently undergoing problems so it’s not just low rise buildings, but those are probably the majority of them, the low rise stucco buildings.

Mark: So buildings built for the desert, originally designed for the desert, foolishly in my opinion architected without proper overhangs or proper screening to try and deal with someplace that has a minimum of four times as much rain and often a heck of a lot more given California probably hasn’t had rain in seven years right now and especially.

David: Yeah, exactly and I’m glad you brought up the overhang points, that’s the thing is that a lot of these buildings have absolutely no overhang and no eaves coming off the roof, you got these flat roofs, they’re built straight up and down, they’re often a big box and this is where the rain is getting into the walls, soaking in behind walls, it’s rotting the structure, you’ve got stains inside your condo unit, you’ve got mold problems. I was in one just last week, you wouldn’t believe the amount of damage that can be done, and it’s probably one of the worst building related crises we’ve ever had. It’s never happened up until this point.

Mark: So we’ve touched on, so what causes leaky condo syndrome?

David: Leady condo syndrome is caused by a number of factors; first of all the California style building. If you look at a building, you know in 1950’s, in 1960’s low rise condo building, we’re going to see a huge amount of overhang, right, you’re going to see the roof projecting out of the side of the walls and that’s actually protecting the top of the walls from moisture intrusion so in building sides we have what’s called an interface. Now an interface is a change in direction or it’s a change in material, a balcony would be a great example of an interface, so a lot of these buildings have exposed balconies made out of stucco and the water can just get in at these interfaces. You have an inside corner like this, you know and you’ve got the top of the wall cavity, you’ve got a little tiny flashing protecting a four story wall, you know, it may not do that, especially windows, windows are really hard yet. If you’re looking at what you might think is a leaky condo, look around the windows, especially on the top floors, see if there’s repair work around them. You’re probably going to see a point where they’ve done some stucco repairs around the windows and so all these interfaces, we’ve tripled the number of interfaces in our buildings and all of a sudden we have these points where water can get in and we started using this California style stucco and of course the stucco is installed in such a way that it’s, we’ve got our sheathing, wood sheathing for the building, we’ve got our building paper and then we’ve got our stucco, right against that and there’s no cavity behind the stucco so once water gets in, it’s going to get trapped in that wall cavity and it’s not going to leave on its own and we have very few periods of drying here in Vancouver so we don’t get a lot of sun, it’s kind of a big city and it’s going to get held in there so basically it starts to soak through and it can rot out your sheathing and cause all sorts of problems. So that’s a big thing, you’ve got a lot of interfaces and you’ve got a style of material that doesn’t really work well with our environment.

Mark: So, what’s a rain screen?

David: A rain screen is our solution to a leaky condo. So you’ve probably heard of this term, most people have, it’s on the news quite a bit. Rain screening is a process where we’re actually removing the stucco from the building in our exterior cladding and we’re installing it. You can use stucco but this time we’re actually going to put a drainage cavity behind the wall material so we’ve got these strips, and we’re going to put this cavity back there so if rain does get back there it’s going to be able to vent out or drain out and we’ve got these metal flashings at each fork and water’s going to be able to exit from each floor vs leaky condo, we call those face sealed buildings where it’s right up against the side. A face sealed building you would have, there’s not where for it to leak, it just keeps going down forever. I’ve seen a guy actually go down three stories before it even slows up. I’ve seen the water show up in a crawl space or basement and the whole basements rotted out and actually it started three stories up on a deck and that’s how insidious this problem is. It’s really quite problematic. So rain screenings going to give you that drying capacity and it’s also going to be a break between the floors and of course fresh air can come in there and dry out the wall cavity and rain screening as far as we know is working very well, so far, we haven’t had any real problems with it, of course it’s very expensive so if you have to take all the stucco off your building, rain screen your building, you can be looking at a few million dollars at least to get started with it and if you’re in a building with 38 units or 35 units, you’re going to split that three million dollars or two million cost by the 38 of you which I imagine is quite a financial hit.

Mark: Yeah, thus people walking away because they have a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar rain screen special assessment and their condo isn’t even worth that in some cases. That’s changed pretty radically over the last 10 years but when this first started that was a problem.

David: Absolutely, people just walked away from their mortgages. There is that one building in Port Moody, the bank basically bought it, we’ll do rain screening and resell it. I’ve heard stories about buyers back in the 90’s buying a condo for ninety thousand dollars and rain screening costs 150 so it doesn’t make financial sense so that’s why there was such an issue.
Mark: So, again identifying that leaky condo what are we looking for. Let’s just bring it back to what are the points that people should be looking for?

David: You’re looking at getting a quality home inspection, that’s number one, in some cases you know I actually have a blog post on my website that it actually shows you how to identify leaky a leaky condo from the street. The big thing would be to, if you’re standing on the street you’re looking at a condo, do you see three wall flashings between the floors; that’s a huge indicator that you may have a rain screen solve. You might want to, if you’re thinking about buying in the building, talk to the strata and say have you guys rain screened, is it a full rain screen. Sometimes they’ll just rain screen one wall of the building, for instance the east wall in our buildings fail first in almost in every case just due to our weather patterns and so ask them, have you guys just done one wall or are you planning to do the rest of the building. Is this a full rain screen, right? So that’s one of the things to look out for, another thing would be if you walk into the building and you see a bunch of repair work done to the stucco, very rare for a rain screened building to have any repair work to the stucco especially since they’ve been done recently and we haven’t really had a lot of failures. So if you see a bunch of repair work where the texture changes, the colour changes in some cases, you know that’s a big red flag and you want to ask about that with your real estate agent or your home inspector. Is this building at risk for a leaky condo? If you’re not sure make sure to ask, you know, this is a very important financial decision and it could end up saving you a significant amount of money.

Mark: So we’ve been talking with David Fairbairn from Fairbairn Inspections in Vancouver about leaky condos. Give him a call if you have any kind of questions about at the property you’re looking to buy. This guy knows just about everything, a lot of it so give him a call 604-395-2795. Thanks David.

David: Thanks Mark, talk to you later.

About the Author DavidFairbairn

Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email today!

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