By Sherri Hall
A parking garage can be a great convenience to a community’s residents. In fact, many may become so accustomed to having one, they might not really give it much thought. However, according to Scott Baryiewski of South Shore Construction in Roselle, New Jersey, it’s important for an association to keep parking garages included in their maintenance plans. Left neglected, a slew of problems can occur, some of which may lead to the need for costly repairs and lengthy repair projects.
According to Baryiewski, the materials to build a parking garage are the same as a building and the construction is similar as well, but they are laid out differently because they serve a different purpose. Therefore, they are more bare and are not meant to have architectural finishes. “They’re built to have a purpose and house cars,” he said. “They’re not meant to be livable.”
Baryiewski added that parking garages are designed to support a certain amount of “dead load,” which in this case is a large number of cars at any one time that weigh thousands of pounds each.
Therefore, it’s important that parking garages are maintained to avoid serious issues in the future, such as a collapse. With that being said, there are a few warning signs a property manager or board can look for in terms of potential issues.
According to Baryiewski, one of the most obvious signs to look out for are cracks in the concrete — whether in the walls, columns or ceilings. While cracks can occur for a number of reasons, he noted that it’s important to address them to avoid further issues. For example, cracks can allow for water intrusion which can lead to a number of problems such as deteriorated and weakened concrete as well as rusted reinforcements (rebar). In addition, Baryiewski also pointed out that cracks in load bearing columns can indicate a structural problem.
Another sign to look for is ponding around the base of concrete columns. Baryiewski explained that concrete absorbs water — and again, this will cause the rebar to rust.
In addition, another sign can be anything that looks out of the ordinary. “If something looks out of the ordinary, it’s something you should be aware of,” said Baryiewski.
“When such signs are noticed,” Baryiewski said, “it’s important to call a contractor to perform an inspection.” He explained that the contractor will prescribe a fix for the problems identified from the inspection — however, if the association is looking for tests and analyses to be performed, they should contact a professional engineering firm. The engineer will be able to provide a condition assessment, evaluate the parking garage and can work in conjunction with the contractor to obtain concrete samples for lab testing of depth, compressive strength and the amount of chlorides it contains.
In addition, Baryiewski noted that small, minor repairs can be handled by a contractor; however, more serious issues will require an engineer, especially if the problem is structural in nature and requires permits, drawings and a bidding process. “An engineer can help you resolve the issue before it becomes major, like a collapse,” he noted.
According to Baryiewski, a property manager or maintenance person should perform a walkthrough inspection of the parking garage at least annually. He suggests doing so in the spring, after the winter weather has subsided and checking to see if there are any cracks, stains, or concrete spalls.
With regard to a condition assessment, Baryiewski recommends having a professional engineer perform one every five years. The report will show the association what repairs must be done right away and what can be done at a later time as well as how much should be budgeted for and what type of maintenance the parking garage needs.
Baryiewski explained that parking garages are exposed to a number of things that can cause deterioration other than water such as oil, coolant, gravel and road salts. Therefore, it’s important to perform regular maintenance and continually make necessary repairs.
Baryiewski noted that concrete will need maintenance over time, especially with the impact that snow and ice has. He explained that when the snow and ice melt, the water picks up salts which dissolve into the concrete and rust reinforcements.
Baryiewski also said that if an association has traffic deck coating installed, it will also need to be maintained or it can wear away. This is a waterproof membrane that is meant to resist vehicular traffic and prevents water and salts from causing deterioration, he explained. “The cost to install and maintain is better than the cost to make repairs,” Baryiewski added.
During a parking garage repair project, boards and managers can typically expect to see certain things. For example, Baryiewski noted that the contractor will often use plastic from floor to ceiling in the area they are working to contain dust and debris from the rest of the parking garage. They may also use orange netting in the ceiling area to contain loose debris so that it doesn’t fall while work is being done.
As far as the impact to residents, there will be some vibration, noise, dust and dirt, and traffic pattern changes, Baryiewski said.
“The overall impact depends on the level of deterioration in your parking deck. So, if it’s not so bad and it’s not so widespread, it’s going to be less of an impact,” he noted. “But if this is a very large rehab project, you’re going to have a lot of jackhammering to take out the bad concrete, you’re going to have drilling, you’re going to have pounding, you’re going to have noise, you’re going to have compressors, you’re going to have skid steers driving through. There’s going to be noise and there’s going to be a large impact.”
Baryiewski noted that those residents who live closer to the parking garage will see more of an impact. He also said that the impact can vary depending on which level of the garage the repairs are being done as the noise can get muffled from the floors above when working on lower levels as opposed to the top level.
Baryiewski explained that even with the plastic coverings, some dust is still going to get out and settle on cars. “You can try to control it as best you can by using plastic, fans and air scrubbers, but you have to realize you’re never going to eliminate one-hundred percent of it, and the design of your garage is really going to dictate how much that affects you,” he said.
For example, if there are a lot of openings to the perimeter, Baryiewski said it’s easier to facilitate the dust outside of the garage, but if the garage is under the building with solid walls around, it becomes more challenging to eliminate dust.
As far as equipment goes, he explained that the contractor may use skid steers, shoring, air compressors, jack hammers, grinders, etc. “You’ll see different equipment depending on the scale of the work that you’re doing and what your particular facility requires,” said Baryiewski.”
He noted that it’s important for the association to plan for traffic disruptions during a parking garage repair project. For example, a certain number of parking spaces will be lost. “I don’t think that’s thought about enough,” said Baryiewski. “The only way to fix something is to shut it down. Typically, you need to shut down the level you’re working on and the level below. During that time, you need to relocate the cars. It’s important to know how many spaces you can give up and where the cars are going to go.”
In order for a parking garage repair project to run smoothly, Baryiewski said it’s important to have the right team. The association should ensure they are working with an experienced and qualified contractor to minimize traffic issues, dust, complaints, delays, and problems with the engineer. The engineering firm must also be experienced in this type of work and be able to identify the problems thoroughly enough so that there are no surprises that can lead to changes, additional time and extra costs. “You also need a strong property manager — somebody who can effectively communicate with the contractor and with the residents, keep them informed as to what’s going on, what they’re doing, where they’re going, and how long certain things are going to take,” noted Baryiewski.
Of course, the property manager is still going to get complaints, but he said they need to be able to know what they can address on their own and what needs to be communicated to the contractor. “The larger the deterioration and longer the disruption, residents get more upset,” said Baryiewski. “Therefore, a strong property manager who knows how to deal with the residents is very important to a parking garage repair project.”
He explained that project length can vary. While small maintenance jobs may take a month or less, larger projects can take between six and 18 months depending on how much work is involved and how many phases there are.
Baryiewski noted that most parking garage repairs in the New Jersey area take place between April and November, as it’s important to stay within temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit since that is the limitation for most materials such as caulk, expansion joints and epoxy. He also said this helps prevent the concrete from freezing.
Baryiewski acknowledged that it’s common for associations to neglect parking garages because they’re not something that typically makes money for the community and aren’t an aesthetic feature. However, he emphasized that not inspecting and maintaining them on a regular basis can lead to costly large scale repair projects for the association. “Attacking problems early keeps the costs down and avoids serious conditions,” he said.
In addition, associations also need to make sure to budget for parking garage maintenance and repairs. “At some point in time, the parking garage is going to need some sort of repairs,” said Baryiewski. “Even the preventative maintenance items need to be repaired.”