A condo is only as strong as its metaphorical foundation – the people who live there, in other words – and their dedication to building a vibrant, functional community. But the literal, physical components that comprise the structure are vital too, of course. Sometimes large components like a facade or a building envelope can feel like an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ concept until a major capital improvement project is due, but materials, technology and ideas are constantly evolving. Condo boards, denizens, and developers should all be aware of what’s new and notable.
To zero in on just one aspect of construction and maintenance that’s on everyone’s mind as fall turns to winter, it’s worth taking a look at materials, methods, and technologies aimed at helping multifamily buildings optimize their energy efficiency – both to save money, and to minimize their impact on an already-stressed environment.
The Built Environment
Of all the various concerns regarding the constitution of a property, one particular issue stands above most others: water infiltration, in all its nefarious forms.
“Ninety percent of all problems – and that might be a low estimate – in the built environment are associated with water, in one form or another. So it’s all about the building envelope, and that’s where a lot of effort is being spent; to keep those intact,” says Jack Carr, a senior vice president at Criterium Engineers in Portland, Maine. “A lot of architects want to get into fancy new facade materials – there are all kinds of things going in the market. But at the same time, in conflict or parallel to that, buildings are being made tighter and more insulated because of energy code requirements that are being forced upon the industry all the time. The result is a conflict between what people would like to do with their facades, and what can be done to keep water out of the building. So it’s all about keeping materials that are dissimilar from allowing moisture, air infiltration, or water vapor infiltration to penetrate the envelope of the building, either from the roof level, the sides, or even underground.
“And meanwhile,” he continues, “whether anyone wants to talk about it or not, you have climate change going on – and with climate change, the different design criteria in different parts of the country keep modifying. Trends move north, because north is going to be the new south. Nobody used to have air conditioning in condos in Maine or in Minnesota 20 or 30 years ago – you were dependent on mountain or sea breezes. However, today’s all-new inventory of condos all have AC. So it creates a disparity in the real estate market between the old and new condominiums. How do you convert the existing building, with all its flaws, to put in modern HVAC systems that would meet today’s market requirements? That’s why there’s a big push to put mini-splits in retrofits; because they don’t cause much of a disruption to the common elements. The board doesn’t want to damage those common elements, while unit owners are trying to get themselves air conditioned. There are a lot of interesting dynamics going on today in condo building, with people trying to balance out their needs for a controlled environment.”