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Modern Building Designs, More Problems? Why Engineers Worry About Newly Built Condominiums Corporations, and What Modern Architecture Means for Reserve Fund Studies

Updated: Apr 13

Modern designed building on sky background

As the world continues evolving, so do buildings and their aesthetics. Nowadays, there are more condo buildings with modern design twists making them more appealing to the eye; however, are these architecturally modern buildings functional and effective or can they cause new problems for condominium corporations?

We had the opportunity to attend the “Rapid Fire Engineering: Better than Adequate” session at the ACMO-CCI’s Condo Conference (2022), where panelists shared ways to better understand reserve fund plans (what is critical, and how to fund the RSF accordingly).

For the purpose of this insight, we will divide the post into two sections, starting with this section, where we will be discussing architectural upgrades that are affecting condominium corporations and areas that require priority.

This year, we saw a variety of buildings of all different shapes and sizes being built across the Toronto's rapidly changing skyline. While some buildings have kept a very simple architectural design, other buildings have dazzled with their unique and contemporary designs. But what do all these literal twists and turns mean?

Sally Thompson (M.Sc, P.Eng, Managing Principal at Synergy Partners) stated that as buildings are modernizing, they are losing their functionality (specifically to carry out maintenance and repairs). An example of this includes balconies, where in newer buildings gaps are left in the facade to give it a modern look, which makes them harder to reach in case of a repair.

Ian Miller (P.Eng., LEED AP, CCCA at Pretium Engineering) explained that a combination of different materials are being used on the facade, (ex: brick mason, metal panels) and the problem is that different materials will require different maintenance, scope of work, and schedules. This is impacting newer condominium corporations (where mixed materials are used) because it’s not like an older all-masonry building where vendors for property management can seal all the brick or a window wall (where they are caulking every two years). Condominium corporations end up having a number of medium-sized projects instead of one larger project, which can really add up the cost and difficulty of project management.

Another example is that newer buildings meet a lower level of roof anchor certification (for window cleaning only). If it is not certified for construction, the condominium corporations must upgrade the roof anchor system, which can cost $100,000 for a typical building. Managers should look at the roof anchor certification report to avoid any delays in case there’s a project coming up that requires the roof anchor system.

There are areas that are overlooked even though they are in plain sight (such as parking garages, stairwells, retaining walls, and drains). Since people usually just passing by these areas, they don’t pay much attention to them. People usually think that the parking garage is typically dark, wet, and dirty, however the parking garage is holding the rest of the building’s structure and absolutely it's imperative to be maintained. Areas that can’t be seen or are not the face of the building are still critically important. Areas such as retaining walls are also often neglected and ignored. Wood-retaining walls start deteriorating over time and need to be maintained to avoid a collapse. Drainage is also a considerable area that needs to be looked at, because it often becomes an issue when it rains (and since it's not raining everyday, people aren’t always noticing issues). The main problem is the water has nowhere to go and it ponds in areas that could later affect walls, asphalt, sidewalks, etc.

Construction workers

Hiring an engineer to regularly look at these areas and including them in the reserve fund study is essential. Sally commented that for specific areas where there is noticeable damage, a corporation can opt to have a condition survey. A condition survey is a hundred percent review that focuses on a specific issue, where there is further testing to fully evaluate the issue, whereas the reserve fund study is a one day visual review of everything. A condition assessment provides the corporation with options to consider on how to approach the issue.

A proper condition assessment analyzes the condition of the structural elements of condominium corporations. It’s important to know the specifics of the problem in order to address it accordingly.

In 2015, the previous building code was changed to allow wood structures up to six stories; since then, there has been an increase in timber framing for condominiums escalating from townhouses to mid rise buildings. “We are starting to see some pretty alarming failures”, added Stefan Nespoli ( P.Eng., BSS at Edison Engineers Inc.). Specifically, engineers are seeing damages caused by water penetration that can lead to bigger problems. Stefan gave some examples that demonstrated water infiltration: rotting wood, poor sealant, drilling holes through the membrane, and materials such as composite wood joists (which rot quickly compared to a standard 2x10’s). All these issues need to be fully repaired that can cost condominium corporations hundreds of thousands of dollars, and performing frequent inspections is the best prevention to maintain integrity and avoid paying high repair/replacement costs. Unfortunately, the really bad news is that soon, the building code will allow developers to build wood structures up to 12 stories, Stefan warned.

Ian remarked that as time goes on the condition gets worse, some of the options condominium corporations initially may have to repair the issue can disappear. Stefan added there are options to perhaps plan small repair interventions and defer major repairs - until it is actually needed. He also added that with a condition assessment, there might be areas that are overdue theoretically, however when analyzing them they could be performing fine and it could just need maintenance instead of replacement.

It is crucial to take into consideration all of the aspects that can affect the reserve fund study, the issues that arise and what we can do to prevent bigger damage. One clear concept is to be aware of the structure elements that each corporation has in order to better understand what the correct approach is: repair or replace? Additionally, proactive measures will help ensure the safety and the prosperity of the corporation in the long run.

-Stratastic Inc.

Authored by Nabiel Ordonez, edited by Stratastic Inc.


“Rapid Fire Engineering: Better than Adequate” dealt with the risks and impacts buildings experience, and how to better plan and understand the elements that need maintenance. This session was moderated by Andreé Ball (Director of Client Relations for Keller Engineering) with panelists Sally Thompson (M.Sc, P.Eng, Managing Principal at Synergy Partners), Ian Miller (P.Eng., LEED AP, CCCA at Pretium Engineering), and Stefan Nespoli ( P.Eng., BSS at Edison Engineers Inc.)

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Updated on April 13, 2024.


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