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If You Had a Hammer


Can regular bolt-turning and screw-tightening really save you that much money? Absolutely.

In fact, communities often fail to realize the extent to which a scheduled maintenance and repair plan can significantly extend the life of common elements and reduce future repair costs. This is a two-stage process. Stage one consists of recording the type, location, and quantity of each common component that will require maintenance and repair, and assessing its condition. During stage two, you separate the inventoried components into those that require immediate vs. future repair and maintenance. You also figure out the frequency and type of maintenance or repair required.

These procedures apply to every type of community. Residents of smaller communities can carry out inspections themselves. The work is not difficult if you outfit yourself with such basic equipment as a flashlight, notepad, tape measure, and ladder, and if you use a suitable checklist to methodically investigate the condition of each component. If your community is large, with an overwhelming inventory, you might want to use the services of an engineer, chartered surveyor, or other qualified professional.

Once you’ve assessed the condition of your common elements, it’s time to identify needed maintenance and repairs. To do this, you should follow standard guidelines such as those found in RSMeans publications and on various construction industry Web sites. Some of those guidelines include the following:


Parking Lots

Inspect asphalt-paved parking lots at least once a year—more if you know of or suspect such problems as poor subgrade drainage, a history of pavement settlement, or high traffic loads. Evaluate your lots for cracking, depression, raising, and general deterioration of the surface.

If you find any of these conditions, make a note, monitor them, and act accordingly. Ongoing maintenance and repairs include:

Full-depth repair, seal coating, and crack sealing. Typically completed every five years, this involves cleaning the pavement surface, patching potholes and removing failed pavement, sealing cracks, installing a two-coat, petroleum-resistant emulsion, and re-striping.

Mill and overlay. This is usually completed every 15 to 20 years, depending on the use and design of the pavement. It consists of milling one to one-and-a-half inches of pavement and overlaying it with a new surface.



For most communities, sidewalks are an ongoing maintenance issue. Chronic problems include uneven sidewalk panels—caused by adjacent panels settling or heaving at different rates—as well as cracks, both of which can make for serious tripping hazards.

Inspect your sidewalks every two to three months. Replace them when enough panels are cracked to warrant hiring a contractor, or when settlement poses a safety concern. (In most cases, patching or filling isn’t an option, because sidewalks settle from below, and the only way to stop this is to remove the entire panel and compact the subgrade.)


Tennis Courts

Inspect your tennis courts prior to each playing season, evaluating the playing surface for cracks, depressions, and raising. Ongoing maintenance and repairs include:

Reapplication of color coat. Typically completed every five years, this consists of the application of a two- or three-coat acrylic emulsion seal over the tennis court, followed by the reapplication of line markings.

Resurfacing. Completed every 15 to 20 years, resurfacing usually involves milling one to one-and-a-half inches of the tennis court, removing failed subgrade, and overlaying the court with a new surface.


Swimming Pools

As with tennis courts, plan on inspecting your swimming pool before the start of the season. Be on the lookout for loose or broken coping stones and waterline tiles, deterioration of the whitecoat, and corrosion or inoperability of pump and filtration equipment. Typical maintenance and repairs include:

Reapplication of whitecoat. To help waterproof and protect your pool, apply a marcite whitecoat over the interior portions that are typically filled with water. You should do this every seven years, or more frequently if you leave your pool uncovered during the off-season.

Waterline tile, coping stones, and related sealants. To reduce labor costs, plan on replacing cracked or stained waterline tiles, resetting loose coping stones, replacing broken or chipped coping stones, and replacing sealants at the same time you reapply the whitecoat.

Pump and filtration equipment. Check the general pump and filtration assemblies for leaks and damage at the start of each season. Then, at the end of each season, have a qualified contractor service your pumps—a vital, life-extending practice that helps ensure their reliability.


Parking Garages

Perhaps more than any other building element, your parking garage can realize substantial benefits from periodic maintenance for a relatively small amount of money. Inspect your garages quarterly for the presence of cracked and spalled concrete, exposed reinforcing steel, water intrusion, deterioration of sealers or coatings, and evidence of poor drainage. Typical maintenance and repairs include:

Cleaning. The parking garage surface should be swept clean on a monthly basis. Power-wash it twice a year to remove any contaminants that may be on the concrete, such as grease, oil, and de-icing salts.

Drainage. Perform a drain-flow survey twice a year, preferably after power-washing, to ensure that your drains are operating correctly. Drains that are clogged or otherwise not working as intended should be snaked or repaired to allow for surface water to drain properly.

Expansion joints. Perform a visual inspection of the joints at least twice a year. Look for tears or hardening of the rubber expansion joint filler, and note any evidence of water penetrating through the joint system.


Exterior Walls/Balconies

To keep your buildings watertight, it’s crucial that you maintain your outer wall systems. Inspect your exterior walls, windows, doors, and balcony elements twice a year, or more often if you have water-intrusion problems. Look for cracked or spalled bricks and concrete, missing mortar joints, split or loose siding, broken or leaking windows and doors, corroded lintels, and missing, hardened, or cracked sealants. Typical maintenance and repairs include:

Brickwork. Tuckpoint cracked or spalled mortar and brickwork joints every eight to 10 years—sooner if you’re dealing with old or deteriorated walls. During this cycle you should also replace spalled or cracked bricks and, if necessary, clean any stained bricks.

Wood siding and trim. The most effective maintenance for wood siding and trim is to keep it sealed with good-quality, exterior-grade paint. Complete this every three to five years, depending on the degree of exposure, at which time you should also replace any deteriorated wood.

Balconies. When you inspect concrete balconies, take particular note of cracked or spalled concrete at the base of railing posts and on balcony surfaces and ledges. If you find any, it might be prudent to ask a qualified engineer to conduct a comprehensive survey of your balconies and recommend repairs. It’s safer, of course, never to get to this point. To minimize the need for concrete repairs, apply a cementitious coating over balcony decks and ledges.



Inspect your roof systems every six months. Be on the lookout for open seams, loose tiles or shingles, and blocked drains or gutters. Maintenance and repairs vary according to the type of roof:

Low-slope. Maintenance for low-slope roofs typically includes keeping drains free of blockages and membrane seams sealed. If you’re dealing with a ballasted system, make sure the roof ballast is well-distributed. If your roof has an aluminized coating for protection against ultraviolet rays, inspect the coating for cracks and deterioration. Remove any debris you find that might puncture the roof system.

Sloped. Maintenance for sloped roofs includes keeping gutters, soffit, and ridge vents free of blockages, and replacing loose, damaged, or missing shingles and slates.

Furnaces. Again, aside from performing periodic servicing as needed, you should have your furnaces reconditioned every 10 years. This includes repairing controls and replacing the fan motors, automatic vent damper, and burner.

Air conditioners. Overhaul your air conditioners every 10 years. This should include repairing controls and replacing the supply fan and bearings, compressor unit, condenser fan, condenser fan bearings and motor, heater igniter, and refrigerant.

Chillers. You should also overhaul your chillers about every 10 years, repairing controls and replacing the fan bearings and motor, compressor, and refrigerant.

Cooling towers. Overhaul your cooling towers every 10 years. Repair the controls, and replace the fan bearings and motor and the float valve.

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Just as you have your car serviced at regular intervals, you need to take consistent care of your buildings, amenities, and other facilities. The main point to remember is that you can extend the useful life of your common elements and safeguard the well-being of your community by spending a modest amount of time and money on regular inspections, maintenance, and repairs.

The choice is yours: Spend a few dollars today to unblock a roof drain or fix a leaky window. Or, ignore it, and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars tomorrow to undo the damage that results.


Author: Benjamin J.M. Dutton, MRICS, RS

Benjamin J.M. Dutton is a chartered surveyor and Reserve Specialist for Facility Engineering Associates, P.C., in Fairfax, Virginia.