Modern building codes and structural engineering have made our buildings extremely safe places to live and work. However, without the right maintenance and attention, little issues can grow into large safety concerns which carry high costs, as demonstrated by the recent Surfside Champlain Tower collapse.
The total effect of the collapse on the construction and insurance industries has yet to be seen, but industry experts are already speculating which industry changes are sure to ensue. For one, inspection reports will likely be given greater consideration. Underwriters will ask more questions about the structural integrity and maintenance of a building before writing coverage to avoid large payouts after disasters. Similarly, property coverage valuations are likely to be further scrutinized, and homeowner’s associations will be held responsible for more than they bargained for.
Here are three steps building owners can take to avoid structural damage in their building and manage the inevitable structural improvements required to maintain a safe and long-standing building.
1. Perform regular inspections to identify risks early — before they become major problems.
The most effective way to keep your building structurally safe is to perform regular inspections, beyond what is required by most county laws. Consistent, annual inspections of your building’s structure can identify issues, big and small before they lead to expensive and dangerous problems.
Inspectors conducting building assessments should:
- Review any changes following renovations, additions or any other change that affects the building’s structure such as adding loading to a roof or moving walls.
- Conduct post-event inspections following major weather events to identify any damage, including seemingly insignificant things such as blocked drains which can lead to water ponding.
- Identify any concrete spalling or wall cracks whenever they appear.
- Beyond the yearly inspection, the building should be assessed after any renovation, addition, or change affecting the building’s structure. For example, structural engineers should be included when adding loading to a roof or moving walls within a building to ensure the structural integrity of the building remains intact.
2. Train building management staff on how to monitor for damaged building components.
Training building management, maintenance staff and leadership to recognize potential signs of risk may help identify issues prior to these more formal inspections.
Train staff to notice:
- Loose and falling bricks
- Rust stains
- Pooling water on the roof
- Cracks or separation around doors and windows
- Sloping doors
3. Budget for annual maintenance and capital improvements.
The importance of building capital improvements into your budget can be found in the Surfside collapse. Years before the collapse, the association board of directors was warned of “major structural damage” that threatened the safety of the building’s residents. However, the extensive construction projects required to fix this damage cost in the millions, an expense the building was not prepared to pay at the time.
Beyond general upkeep expenses, owners need to plan and save for these larger, capital improvements that will inevitably arise over time. These could include work to the structural integrity of your building’s roof, walls, landscaping or insulation.
Damage to a building’s structure never gets better on its own. In fact, it’s guaranteed to get worse over time. While cosmetic repairs can serve as temporary solutions, they are nothing more than a band-aid to a spreading wound.
Taking care of the structure of your building today means it will be well insured tomorrow.
About the author:
Kerri Sisson is Area Vice President, Leading Edge Benefit Advisors, LLC, a HUB International Company. She joined Leading Edge Benefit Advisors in Fort Myers in 2004 and most recently served as managing partner. Leading Edge was acquired by Hub Florida in November 2020. Kerri earned her B.A. in Mass Communications from the University of South Florida in 2003. She became a licensed insurance broker in 2004, and completed her Series 6 license with FINRA in 2006. In 2017 she received her Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®) designation.
Over the years Kerri has served in many leadership roles for a number of trade organizations and associations. She is currently serving on the Small Group Advisory Council for United Healthcare as well as the State Insurance Council for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. She has also served as the Chairperson for Women in Business with the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and was the Education Chair for the Charlotte County Society for Human Resources.