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A Little Preventive Care Goes A Long Way With Building Envelopes

Caitlin Maggiano gets up close to inspect a building.

Buildings might be crafted of steel and glass or brick-and-mortar, but property owners may want to treat them as though they are made of flesh and blood. Just as owners take precautions to avoid injuries, their buildings’ exteriors, too, need to be protected from wear and tear.

“The way I like to describe the building envelope — roofs, walls, windows, doors — is that it's like your skin or your jacket,” said Caitlin Maggiano, a licensed professional engineer and expert in building envelope repair who recently joined Klein & Hoffman’s Philadelphia office as a senior associate. “If you have a tear in your skin or your jacket, weather can get in. If weather can get in, what’s underneath is exposed and vulnerable. It's an analogy of how important the exterior is, and how making the building weather-tight can affect everything on the inside.”

Too often, she noted, building owners treat their buildings the way some people might treat their own health — they might not book an appointment with a doctor until a concern becomes unignorable. By then, of course, the problem might have worsened and spread. 

In the case of building design and management, focus tends to be on areas that are highly visible to the public, such as the lobby or a condo building’s community room, Maggiano said. Those high-profile locations, however, can be damaged by leaks through the exterior that are not readily visible.

One way to avoid expensive repairs is to follow a routine of regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance, including tracking and following up on tenant complaints whenever they arise and addressing them promptly. 

“The exterior of the building is a critical component and it’s prudent to perform preventive maintenance to keep the building functioning as intended,” Maggiano said. “It’s important to keep track of reported issues, investigate and follow up. This includes ‘annual checkups,’ just like you would do on your own body, which can go a long way in prolonging service life and minimizing risks for large and costly repair projects.” 

Klein & Hoffman provides building envelope services such as investigation, assessment, repair or replacement design of facade components, roofs, windows and waterproofing. The firm says its goal is to maintain the integrity and character of a building’s original facade, an area of focus for Maggiano since her days at Temple University, where she participated in a co-op work/study program that introduced her to the field of building restoration. She followed up several years later with a master’s degree in sustainable design, where she researched and merged the concepts of building restoration/preservation and sustainability.

Caitlin Maggiano worked on the exterior of Vassar College's Rockefeller Hall.

That experience got Maggiano her first job out of college, where she was involved in a series of projects at Vassar College in New York. Her work there ranged from dormitories such as the historic Rockefeller Hall, built in the 1890s, to the modern Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, designed by César Pelli and built in the 1990s. 

“Each project requires a dive into understanding the composition and construction of the structure,” she said. “Then you have to do the research and specify the most appropriate materials and repairs for that specific building.”

More recently, Maggiano obtained certification by the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians, which allows her to take a hands-on approach to her work — inspecting buildings up close as she rappels down their exteriors on ropes. This skill provides a cost-effective way to reach difficult-to-access structures and often allows an initial review of larger areas of the exterior walls.  

Whether it’s on rope, swing scaffolding or aerial lift, Maggiano stresses the importance of hands-on inspection to her clients.

“You're going out and you're touching the building, you're taking building components apart to see what's underneath,” she said. “In a sense, you're like a doctor, you're trying to figure out what is causing the issue and the problems. The distress that these buildings are showing on the outside is related to what's on the inside.”

Older buildings are her favorites — she praises their level of detail and craft — but often it is modern buildings that present challenging envelope issues. 

“Newer buildings are often constructed much thinner,” Maggiano said. “There's less tolerance for water management, and you have to get the details right. The speed at which they build these days doesn't always allow for the same level of craftsmanship you had in the older structures.”

Ideally, she said, an owner or architect will work with a building envelope consultant such as Klein & Hoffman to ensure things like flashing or waterproofing are accounted for in the building’s design and construction.

But even if the original designer went to that trouble, Maggiano urges owners to be proactive about the maintenance of their buildings’ exteriors. “It's about investment and performing inspections and repairs before deterioration becomes severe. Instead, do the preventive care and keep that jacket zipped tight!” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Klein & Hoffman and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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