Inspect Your Building's Envelope Annually to Detect Problems Early

April 28, 2022  • Nick Fortuna

Some building owners and managers are taking exterior inspections to new heights—literally.

Real estate groups with large property portfolios have begun using drones to take photos and video footage of their exterior building systems, including the roof, windows, doors and walls, according to John Corbin, national project director for BluSky Restoration Contractors. Based in Centennial, Colorado, the company has offices nationwide and specializes in restoring buildings after property disasters.

There’s a good business case for getting photographic documentation of building exteriors annually and storing it long term, Corbin said. Yearly inspections alert building managers to signs of damage and deterioration before they get out of hand. By catching a problem early, they can take corrective action, avoid extensive repairs and extend the life of those exterior systems, he said.

In addition, when you have years of photo documentation on file, that might make the difference in a dispute over an insurance claim or a product warranty, Corbin said.

“If there’s a question about when a certain condition started, now that ownership group has that information,” he said. “Otherwise, they might not have any idea.”

Corbin said owners and managers should view a building’s envelope as a single system “from the roof to the ground” made up of various components. Failure to maintain any one element, such as the roof or doors, could result in water penetration or damage affecting the entire building. That’s why it makes sense to conduct yearly inspections of the entire building envelope and document the findings, he said.

When roofing and exterior contractors perform inspections, they should provide building managers with recommendations for extending the life of their exterior systems. Corbin said some owners may not fully understand the different components of their roof and vertical building elements, but an experienced contractor can provide that information, including the materials used, the expected life of the product and the maintenance requirements.

It’s common for a single building to have multiple roof systems in place, for example, and owners need to know how each one is holding up, Corbin said. Different exterior systems will require different kinds of paints, coatings and sealants, and exterior contractors can help building managers establish a maintenance schedule tailored for those systems, he said.

“In our industry right now, there’s a huge growth and expansion in the technology around paints, coatings and sealants,” Corbin said. “There’s an awful lot of science going into those new products. Having those vertical building elements set up on a maintenance schedule is going to prolong the life of those elements.”

Different exterior products will react differently when exposed to a full year of weather, from the hot summer months to the snow, hail and freezing rain of winter, Corbin said. Following a severe wind or weather event, building managers should perform an exterior inspection promptly, even if the most recent inspection was only a short time ago, he said. An inspection also may be warranted if building managers notice a sharp uptick in service calls associated with any exterior element.

Another tip for building managers: Don’t underestimate the power of a good cleaning. If leaves, dirt, debris, mildew or anything else is covering part of your building’s exterior, you might fail to recognize problems before they get worse. The same goes for trees and landscaping that have grown out of hand and now obscure your view of the building’s exterior, Corbin said.

Elements such as windows and doors should be cleaned annually, and maintenance professionals should take note of window glazing that has failed or surfaces that have dried out or cracked. Forensic engineers can test windows and doors for resistance to wind and water and help building managers determine when these costly exterior systems will need replacement, Corbin said.

“Gathering that information and making those observations can empower you to make business decisions on how you maintain those systems, how you repair them and how you budget for them in the future,” Corbin said.

“Regular cleaning is going to allow your systems to work and function properly,” he added. As an example, he pointed to weep holes located on the bottom edge of storm-window frames. If they become blocked by dirt and debris, rainwater that can’t drain properly may seep into the sill, causing rotting or other damage.

Although annual inspections of building exteriors come with an expense, Corbin said they can pay off in the long run for building owners and managers.

“I do think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “The best thing that a building owner can do is to understand their systems, get professionals engaged that can provide recommendations, and then make good, educated business decisions for those systems.”