Walls are vitally important to the safety of just about any building imaginable, but they’re particularly integral to ensuring the longevity of households and residences. We sat down with Steven Lang of The Falcon Group in Bridgewater, NJ to discuss some of the key characteristics of sound, safe walls, how to ensure your buildings are up to code, and the importance of snuffing out potential hazards before they create long-lasting safety issues.
According to Lang, the governing documents of an association tell all. There are variations in the relationship between association and homeowner responsibility in different regions, but a common rule of thumb is that the association is typically responsible for the structural components of walls, as well as any common lines—“areas where there’s shared plumbing stacks, mechanical lines and things of that nature, that service multiple units,” he explained. One particularly prevalent issue in communities with older homes, he said, is that of eroding plumbing risers. As they get older, they can fail and clog like an artery and can be extremely expensive to replace.
Lang said that the two calls his company most often receives are for cracks and water stains. Cracks typically indicate some sort of internal structural damage—be it from faulty or hurried installation, or settlement damage from a recent incident. Water stains are good indicators of water damage or leaks within. Of course, small cracks or imperfections don’t always spell trouble (Lang said that in older, wooden homes, cracks may be a sign of seasonal changes), but it’s important to be cautious, and to consult a professional nonetheless. As an association manager, he said, careful monitoring of even the smallest cracks or stains can help provide valuable information to the company that comes for repairs.
Odor and acoustic issues are two very common indicators of hidden issues, according to Lang. He said that in many cases, neighbors may complain about smelling cigarette smoke or food odors from another person’s nearby residence. This could be a sign that there’s a problem with the air sealing, or the way the walls were put together when the building was constructed. Hearing too much noise from neighbors and nearby residents could indicate a similar issue, and Lang explained that invasive work may very well have to be done to get to the root of the problem.
Lang said that the most prevalent defect his company encounters is the faulty construction of fire-rated assemblies. When entering attics or basements, he said that you can actually observe these assemblies, and his company often finds that there are gaps, holes, pieces missing, and spaces that could prove dangerous if not corrected. Additionally, he said that in building living spaces, some developers will cut corners by not using the right materials, often opting for cheaper knockoffs that could be hazardous. Framing defects are also common. Lang said that, “construction companies will sometimes frame corners and headers incorrectly, and the sequencing of the work may block these areas from being properly insulated when the time comes for the insulation subcontractor to perform his work from the interior. These types of deficiencies can result in voids in the insulation and disrupt the temperature consistency of a room or building.”
How To Address Problems
By keeping detailed records of complaints (particularly in regard to odor or noise), Lang said that association managers can make an engineer’s life a lot easier when it comes time to fix potential issues. As for physical tools, he recommended investing in thermal cameras, to identify areas where insulation may be missing, or to gauge temperature differentials in the walls themselves, along with specialized acoustic equipment that can be used to “measure ratings across a wall assembly for testing.” But if all else fails, he was adamant that keeping detailed, comprehensive complaint records could be the biggest tool of all, as this information can be used by his team to identify patterns and typical deficiencies throughout a community.
According to Lang, wall issues can sometimes be as innocuous as a draft in the air—which can often make them hard to identify. Aside from odor and noise, he recommended that anytime something seems even remotely odd, managers should make a point to get it checked out by a professional. Because we’re not always as conscientious of potential wall issues as, say, ceilings or floors, he said it may also be a good idea to have an engineer run routine checkups on an annual basis to make sure everything is up to code.
Any issues where health and safety are potentially at risk are always the ones you want to tackle immediately, according to Lang. Things like cracks and water stains could indicate very serious problems and, as is often the case with water, soiled wall sections could encourage mold growth, which could be detrimental to occupants.
Walls are arguably the most important structural components of any building, and careful monitoring of potential problems could save associations and homeowners alike a lot of money. If there are ever issues, be they one-off occurrences or systemic, it’s always best to refer to a trained professional.