Saturday, November 14, 2009


As noted in a previous blog "Looking for Unbiased Information" I had some unit owners from a Connecticut condominium community ask me toevaluate the condition of their cedar siding. This request was prompted because the community's board of directors had hired an out-of-state engineering firm to inspect the siding and provide a report that would strongly recommend removing all the cedar siding from 54 units and replace IT with vinyl siding. The project had bids ranging from $830,000 to over $1,000,000 so this was no little home improvement project. This engineering firm had done their inspections and reported that the siding had deteriorated so severely that the only recourse was removal and replacement with vinyl. They asserted that the cedar was of inferior grade, had been installed incorrectly, and would result in moisture and water infiltration problems unless dealt with immediately. When I arrived at the site and walked around the buildings I thought I must be in the wrong place because whatever these engineers were describing was hardly the case here. I had to go back a couple of times to look over the buildings because I could not believe their report could be so wrong or that I could have such an opposite opinion.

Questioning myself, I was fortunate to be able to consult with the foremost authority on Western Red Cedar siding in the eastern USA, Edward Burke. This expert offered to drive three hours to the site for no charge just to see the buildings for himself. With his experience and authority he insisted that there had to be some ulterior motive for the engineers' report because he felt it was blatantly and deliberately wrong. He was able to quickly refute every assertion the engineers made.

Now comes the tricky part. The board of directors had hired these engineers, accepted their report, bid out the project, and negotiated a bank loan for the project. The only step left was for a vote of the community to accept the loan. So they had invested their time, many thousand of dollars, and their credibility in the work of these engineers. The two unit owners I was serving believed that most of the unit owners were going along with the board. Could this be turned around?

The board scheduled an informational meeting for all unit owners to attend to listen to the board's engineer, property manager, attorney, preferred contractor and vinyl siding salesman and to ask questions. Three unit owners gave me power of attorney to speak in their behalf and ask pointed questions. It was very awkward and the board's chairman limited me to only a few questions with which I tried to sow seeds of doubt for other owners. My clients and I came out of that meeting not thinking we had made any great inroads.

Next, my client owners invited all the other owners to their own meeting where I was able to make a full case for not believing the engineers. We reinforced the argument with a report from the cedar expert and an evaluation from a home improvement contractor. About 20 unit owners showed up and the meeting lasted about three hours. They all seemed convinced to vote no to the loan and the project. We encouraged them to spread the word to other owners.

Finally, the board scheduled a day for the vote. My clients called on other owners imploring them to review the facts and turn down the project. But all along it was very difficult to know if we were really having an impact.

Well, the vote was held yesterday. Last night I could stand it no longer and sent an email to my clients asking if they knew the results. Late at night they wrote back to me that the vote was an overwhelming 40 - 18 to reject the loan and the project! Sometimes the truth prevails!

So the project will likely be changing the making the minor repairs to the cedar siding where needed, replace pine trim boards that are in worse shape than the cedar, and putting the buildings on a good rotating painting schedule. But I wonder about those engineers. They market their services to lots of condominium communities and they claim to "investigate roofing and exterior siding systems, of all types, for specific analysis of defects, installation techniques and replacement or repair alternatives." If their work for other communities is as shoddy as what they did here then there are lots on boards wasting engineering fees and construction costs on unnecessary and ill-advised work. As I wrote in a previous blog about some architects: How do they get away with it?

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