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How to Avoid a Commercial Condo Disaster

October 20, 2021
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Whether you like it or not, winter is coming.

The most important factor to consider when staring down the barrel of at least 3 months of sub-zero temperatures is preparedness. Here are a few helpful tips that will keep you (and your property) on track and worry free as we move into the holiday season.

 

1. Know your roof’s maximum snow load

When it comes to the weight of snow, the type of snow is as important as the depth of the snow. Fresh powder snow is typically lighter than wet packed snow, and ice is heavier than snow.

There are several contributing factors to the acting load on your roof that include snow drifts from adjacent buildings or mechanical equipment, heavy rain on snow, and melting snow that refreezes.

If you don’t know your roof’s snow load, hire a structural engineer to verify the snow load threshold of the roofing system. This information will be important after an event when determining if there is too much snow on the roof.

 

2. Prevent plumbing from freezing

  • Inspect and seal or repair all cracks, holes, leaks, windows, doors, and other openings on exterior walls with caulk or insulation to prevent cold air from penetrating the wall cavity.
  • Insulate and seal around attic penetrations such as partition walls, vents, plumbing stacks, and electric and mechanical chases.
  • Make sure your pipes in hard-to-reach places like attics, crawl spaces, and along outside walls are insulated. Wrap pipes and faucets in unheated or minimally heated areas of the building.
  • Make sure your existing freeze-protection devices and alarms are in good working order.
  • Test freeze stats (low temperature sensing device) and valves before the weather gets cold.
  • Pipes leading to the exterior should be shut off and drained at the start of winter. If these exterior faucets do not have a shut-off valve inside the building, have one installed by a plumber.
  • Hire a licensed fire protection specialist to conduct routine maintenance on your sprinkler system. Discuss the systems exposure to winter weather and potential mitigation options.

 3. Winterize your landscaping and irrigation

  • Keep all bushes and trees trimmed and away from the building. Trees with branches near or hanging over your building can damage the roof cover, siding, and windows.
  • Pay particular attention to trees within falling distance of overhead power lines leading into the property. Avoiding a power outage can save a day or two of business interruption.
  • Shut off and drain irrigation systems and outdoor hoses.

 4. Maintain your HVAC system

  • Schedule preventative maintenance and make sure the system is operating properly and efficiently.  Be sure to change any air filters and check that exhaust gases are being ventilated properly.
  • Select a heating system repair service before an unexpected outage or maintenance issue arises mid-season. Loss of heat for even a few hours could significantly disrupt your business during a cold snap.
  • Have someone ready to come quickly – including after hours – and negotiate an emergency rate in advance.

5. Service your generator.

The time to maintain a generator is well before a major snowstorm or disaster strikes (when professional assistance may be unavailable, power lines are down, and access roads are blocked). Backup power can help maintain a consistent building temperature and reduce the risk of freezing pipes leading to business disruption and damage.

 Permanent:

  • Permanent generators should have a proper maintenance plan that includes weekly, monthly, and annual checks. See the manufacturer’s specifications for more information.
  • Run the unit weekly on its maintenance plan to ensure it is properly functioning in case of an emergency. Individual units may have a timer that allows a programmed test to be scheduled. Qualified personnel should oversee these scheduled weekly tests.
  • Check the generator enclosure for loose debris or other conditions that could cause the unit to not function properly.

Portable:

  • Store in a dry location.
  • Set up a maintenance schedule to include periodic test runs for the unit

6. Check your roof and gutters

    Water that does not properly drain off a roof has the potential to freeze, adding to snow load and creating ice dams. Ice dams can add significant additional loads to the roof and could cause interior water damage if left unattended. It is important for your team to maintain the roof drains and gutters.

    Low slope (flat) roofs:

    • Inspect roof and repair leaks before winter season.
    • Remove all debris and other items from roof and roof drainage systems that prevent drainage of water from the roof during the melting process.
    • Check that all flashing and seals are flush and secure.

    Steep slope roofs:

    • Inspect your roof and repair leaks before winter season.
    • Secure loose shingles.
    • Check roof-edge waterproofing and seal to prevent potential drafts.
    • Add extra insulation in your attic or surrounding areas.

    Gutters:

    • Inspect gutters and ensure they’re secured to the building. Replace any missing gutter fasteners.
    • Clean gutters and interior downspouts thoroughly, removing all debris and unclogging drains.
    • Run test of gutters and downspouts to be sure water does not back up. This can be done by using a hose.
    • Check downspouts to ensure they divert water away from the foundation.

     7. Create a business continuity plan

    • Have a plan for communicating with employees across multiple channels (text, email, phone).
    • Have an emergency/recovery plan that is communicated to employees, customers, clients, delivery, etc.
    • Create a snow and ice removal plan for all roofs and grounds.
    • Plan for emergency snow removal in event of heavy accumulation. Identify and supply proper equipment and check it in advance of predicted snow.
    • Some businesses rely on on-street parking, so develop a back-up plan for nearby off-street parking if the municipality imposes a parking ban on streets (for plows). This occurs more frequently in the north, even hours before snow is expected, so they can pre-treat the roads.
    • Purchase and be ready to add non-slip water absorption mats to all entrances for both your employees and customers to capture water and snow as they enter your business and to minimize slips and falls.
    • Test/practice the plan.

    8. Check your insurance coverage and inventory valuable equipment

    • Know what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t
    • Keep your insurance agent’s contact in your phone
    • If you have a loss due to a winter-related event, you’ll have to itemize your losses for your insurance company. Take a complete inventory of your home and store it somewhere safely offsite.

    NOTE: Check in with tenants regarding any maintenance requests or building concerns they may have. Living or working in your commercial property means they are on constant alert to their surroundings. If they see, hear, or smell something, ask that they say something.

    Rising real estate and construction costs have many entrepreneurs considering a commercial condominium as an alternative to a stand-alone building for their business. But watch out: The onus is on you to make sure a condo is right for your company.

    Sharing a building with other companies offers numerous advantages beyond a lower purchase price. Condo owners benefit from sharing the cost of such items as maintenance, insurance, property taxes and heating. And the building is often run by a management company, saving entrepreneurs the headaches of operating a building as well as their own business.

    But experts caution that entrepreneurs need to do their due diligence, with the help of qualified advisers, before purchasing a commercial condo. Condominiums are governed by provincial laws that vary across the country. However, they do contain many common provisions designed to protect consumers.

    Here are some things to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a commercial condo.

    1. Read disclosure documents

    Condominium corporations must provide you with disclosure documents covering such matters as the condo’s bylaws, rules and financial statements. For resale condos, disclosures will include such things as outstanding litigation and whether the owners are up to date on payments into a reserve fund for future repairs.

    In most provinces, condos need to have a periodically updated opinion from an expert—typically an engineer—on the adequacy of the reserve fund based on the age and condition of the roof and other common elements.

    It’s important to make sure your offer to the vendor is conditional upon getting those disclosure documents and having time to go over them with a lawyer or a notary who is familiar with condo transactions—typically 5 to 10 days.

    1. Ensure you can operate your business in the condo

    Some types of business may be excluded from operating in the condo you’re considering because of zoning or condo restrictions. For example, one condo that prohibited welding and open flames rather than incurring the expense of installing interior walls meeting fire code for that kind of activity. You will also likely need the permission of the condo board before making changes to common elements and even sign a contract outlining your responsibility for those changes.

    1. Know your neighbours

    It’s important to not only inspect the unit you’re thinking of buying, but to also look at your neighbours’ businesses and the outside of the building. Is there something that could potentially impede your operations or discomfort employees and customers? Examples might be noise, fumes or odours from neighbours or trouble spots on the property like garbage or abandoned equipment.

    1. Pay particular attention to parking and access

    Inadequate parking for employees, customers and other visitors is a key source of aggravation for condo owners. Find out what the situation is with the parking, Is it designated and adequate for your needs? At the same time, ensure you will have access for trucks taking shipments or making deliveries. Another issue is signage. Where and what can you put up to advertise your business? Finally, entrepreneurs should make sure the condo has an adequate supply of electricity if the business is a heavy consumer.

    1. Watch out for contamination

    Obtaining an environmental assessment is a good policy for all commercial property buyers. The activities of previous owners may have contaminated your unit or your operations may be incompatible with the condo’s location. For older units, you may also want to invest in a building inspection to know the state of the property you’re buying and any looming repair costs.

    1. Know your limits

    The roof, exterior cladding and parking lot are usually owned and maintained by all owners. But how about the windows and doors on your unit—are they yours? You should be aware of what your unit encompasses and what is commonly owned, we recommend the Canadian Condominium Institute to those who want to learn more about condo ownership.

    Want to know more? Contact Servis Realty Inc. for your free consultation.

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