Engineering Your Association to Success

Engineering Your Association to Success

By Casey Ward, P.E., Senior Engineer / Published June 2020

Photo by Paul David Herring

Serving on a board of directors is often a difficult task. This can be true specifically for new board members who are tasked with taking certification classes, learning proper meeting procedures, and handling past and current association issues. Even for the most seasoned of board members, this can often be a daunting task, especially if you fail to rely on the proper people to assist you. Having a great team surrounding you is the key to any business’s success, and that is exactly what your association is, a business. The proper team isn’t just composed of your active board members, but also your management professional, accountant, legal advisors, engineering firm, and insurance professional, just to name a few. When you have the right professionals on your team, all of these individuals have the association’s best interest in mind and can save your association a great deal of time, money, and headaches when navigating the many responsibilities that the board of directors is asked to handle.

Damaged Plywood — Photo courtesy of Forge Engineering

As a member of the board of directors, you are always concerned with your fiduciary responsibility of being a good steward of your owners/shareholders’ investment in the association. For this reason, it’s often thought that doing something in the fastest amount of time and for the least amount of cost to the association will be the best option and generate a positive response from your shareholders. In this article, we’ll dive into how cutting corners to “save” time or money rarely results in the association coming out on top in the long run.

Being an engineer, in this article I am going to speak from an engineering perspective. Whether it’s an up-to-date reserve study or a job-specific issue, a qualified engineer is one of the most valuable assets your board can hire. In Florida, deferred maintenance and hurricane claims continue to be at the forefront of most associations’ agendas after being neglected for such a long period of time. Now more than ever, it is important to look at some of the common pitfalls associations often make. Engineers can give experienced guidance on how to avoid these.

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A capital expenditure many associations have recently gone through or may be still currently working through is roof replacement. Whether this capital expenditure has been put off by your association or you recently discovered storm damage, the process is nearly identical from an engineering perspective. For this example, we’ll be discussing an association that consisted of 20 low-rise condominium buildings with tile roofs that have extensive damage related to Hurricane Irma. This way we can cover the process from start to finish for any association actively involved in either scenario. Since this association must make an insurance claim, having an engineer make an initial site visit is one of the most critical steps your association can take. The engineer’s report and expertise will hold significant weight when working through the insurance claim process. This could also help expedite the claim process with insurers who are still overwhelmed with claims coming in.

Fascia Painting — Photo courtesy of Forge Engineering

Moving on, we can now assume the claim has been approved and paid to the association in part or in full, allowing this project to move forward and mirror that of a standard capital expenditure project. A common pitfall for associations at this point is having the contractors come in to bid the project prior to having the engineer develop specifications for the job. Associations can be under the assumption that waiting for an engineer to develop the specifications will cost them a significant amount of time in getting the project underway. An association can’t begin to fully grasp the scope of work or bids from contractors until everyone acknowledges the full scope of work outlined by the engineer. Thus, you’re just spinning your wheels until an engineer develops the proper specifications for your roofs. Examples of work often left out of contracts for associations hiring roofing contractors without engineered specifications are as follows: replacing damaged plywood, fascia damage, fascia painting, the use of improper roofing materials, improper contractual protections for the association, and a multitude of other items/concerns.

As shown on page 47, damaged plywood is often replaced as the job progresses, and the replaced plywood is numbered accordingly, allowing the contractor to keep an accurate count of how many pieces have been used for accurate billing purposes.

Roofing replacement also includes evaluating and addressing any fascia damage as seen on the opposite page. Contractors may often replace the damaged sections of fascia; however, don’t assume they’ve included painting the replaced fascia in your contract.

While there have undoubtedly been storm-chasing contractors knocking at your door promising new roofs whether you had storm damage or not, engineers have local knowledge of which contractors are trustworthy and perform quality work. The bid process is a significant step in ensuring that the scope of work outlined in the engineer’s specifications is performed properly. Allowing the engineer to send the project out for bid shouldn’t be overlooked in the process.

Improper Distancing — Photo courtesy of Forge Engineering

The engineer’s specifications are the most accurate way for an association to gauge the cost of the project and properly fund it via insurance or reserves. The oversight an engineer provides over the project is their best way to save time and money. It is important to have an experienced engineer who works with associations regularly and understands the timeframe a contractor will need to complete the job based on the size of the roof, quantity of roofs, complexity of the job, and the size of crew a contractor is offering. The oversight of the project by the engineer allows for the workmanship to be checked continuously and potential issues to be immediately addressed at a time that won’t delay the project’s completion. In the photo on page 49, you can see why allowing the engineer to check the quality of work during the process shouldn’t be overlooked. The picture shows exposed foam adhesive in addition to an excessive gap/spacing between the roof tile and the headwall. The maximum spacing allowed by the Florida Building Code is one inch away from the walls.

When you leverage your association team’s expertise around you and increase your knowledge, it will minimize your liability as a board of directors. It is the board of directors’ obligation to surround themselves with a great team of professionals that have the association’s best interest in mind. As the board of directors, it is your responsibility to be good stewards of your shareholders’ physical and financial investment in their community. This team, including an engineer, is there to navigate the nuances that arise at any given time and enables the board of directors to be well informed and educated when making key decisions. Simply stated, engineers are providing these types of consulting on a daily basis and on numerous types of projects, providing them with a tremendous amount of experience from learned lessons, whereas most association board members have only experienced working with contractors on one or fewer of these complicated and expensive projects. Use experienced and qualified experts to mitigate your personnel, board, and association’s liabilities on these projects. The cost of these services and disruptions will be far less than if you go it alone and end up in a dispute with your contractor. 

Casey Ward, P.E.

Senior Engineer, Forge Engineering

Forge Engineering, established in 1996, is a locally owned, multi-disciplined engineering firm based in Southwest Florida. Our professionals, with over a century of combined engineering experience, specialize in delivering unique, sound, and innovative engineering solutions associated with all aspects of the built environment. Our staff is dedicated to making sure associations have the resources and knowledge needed to make sound financial and physical decisions for their shareholders.
     For more information, call the West Coast office at (239) 514-4100 or the East Coast office at (754) 800-4150 or visit