I’m not an engineer but common sense consistently trumps education and I’m a “common sense kind of guy“.
I’ve been working on publishing my upcoming book “Crisis in Condoland” which I was designing to highlight the inherent deficiencies in the way condos are sold, only to come with as damming conclusions on “how” they are built.
Condos today are simply concrete frames on which these walls of glass (“Window Walls“) are clamped.
This is a bit of an oversimplification but when you boil it right down, this is actually a pretty good analytical explanation.
So, the logical question is, “what if they are not installed correctly and all that is separating you from the outside are clamps that hold these wall frames onto the concrete“?
Today I’m going to introduce some photos taken on active Condoland construction sites that clearly show that this question is not some arbitrary concept, but rather a “reality“!
Ontario has a serious problem with its “Underground Economy“, and as intriguing as this concept sounds, it boils down to developers building these buildings based on “the lowest bidder getting the work“.
This is not because of any shortage of money though. It all boils down to a bunch of greedy developers wringing out every nickel to optimize their profits.
And when the goal is to build a building to meet “MINIMUM STANDARDS“, (if buildings were students they’d all be optimally striving to get just a “C” grade).
According to Dr. Ted Kesik, PhD., P.Eng, a Professor of Building Science, at University of Toronto: “there simply aren’t any “A” buildings“!
So, despite prices skyrocketing over 250% in around a decade, developers are still striving to achieve minimum standards.
I fought for over a year with a developer’s ruthless litigator after having published truthful commentary on the deficient manner by which they built a condo and in the end we settle but the settlement limited them to having to restore the unit to “minimal standard” required under the Building Code (an outdated and fundamentally useless measuring stick).
So, if they are shooting for minimum standard, and hiring unskilled, uneducated and untrained workers to try to meet that standard, you can see the likelihood of failure.
The first photo in today’s blog is a commercial installation showing how the “envelope” of the building is attached to the concrete slab.
Of significant importance, from my perspective is the area that I’ve circled in blue.
You see, the exterior of a building expands and recedes with temperature and the elements.
These clamps shown in the blue circle, serve as shock absorbers on a car allowing for the motion introduced by the weather.
This will introduce more relevance in a minute, but for now let’s just acknowledge that the envelope of the building has got to be responsive to the elements.
The second critically important subject matter of this photograph is shown in the red frame at the pictures lower left corner.
That black material is there for the specific purpose of separating the aluminum clamping system from the “curing concrete“.
The chemical reaction I am told, of the chemicals that make up the curing concrete will have a reaction to the aluminum, that leads to corrosion.
With these clamps there, holding the building envelope onto the concrete, it seems obvious to me that serious trouble may arise should any of these brackets fail. Imagine if they weren’t there at all!
We’ll talk about this shortly as well.
The second photo shows an actual installation of a Window Wall in a Condoland development presently under construction.
You will have to excuse my rather “layman” explanation on all of this, but I have no university degree accreditation after my name. I’m simply an entrepreneur who writes a blog while representing consumers spending their hard earned money to buy their homes or make an investment.
In this photo you will see an orange strip running down the centre of the photo. This is a roughly 1/8″ thick piece of aluminum frame called a “starter line” or “sill track” and serves as the bracket that aligns and affixes the wall to the building structure.
Photo number three is a close up view of it, showing how it is attached to the concrete. Note: there is no separating material between it and the concrete (earlier I referred to issues resulting from “curing concrete chemical reactions with aluminum“).
Again, in my “layman’s” perspective this may be or cause a serious problem down the line.
And if that chemical reaction transfers onto the bolts (shown) holding the Window Wall in place, it seems logical to assume that all sorts of damage could occur.
A good question here is: “who is liable“, the condo corporation, the unit owner, the insurance companies, CMHC, the mortgage holder, Provincial Government?
The red circle on photo 2 shows where the 800 lb. – 1,000 lb. wall overlaps the sill track where there is approximately 1/4” overlap with the frame of the window wall.
This is important because of the “environmental movement of the wall” (extreme heat in summer and cold in winter)
In photo 3 note the hole in the red circle, enabling the installer to screw the window wall in place to the sill track.
It seems logical to assume that there will NOT be any movement allowed with this type of attachment!
You may want to go back to photo 1 of the commercial installation and recall the blue circle and what it was to do (answer: allow for expansion and retraction brought about by weather).
So now, in photo 2 we can see in the red circle, the “lip” of the 800 lb. – 1,000 lb. glass Window Wall overlapping sill track with approximately a 1/4″ overlap, allegedly to allow for movement, but having it screwed together leads me to wonder just how much movement is really there.
That leads to the question: “What happens to the screws when the window wall expands or contracts“?
The window wall itself is sitting on “shims” (shown in the red circle – 2 small brown plastic pieces) and apparently little else other than the 1/4″ overlapping aluminum lips of the track and wall system.
The solid red dot shows the installation of “backer rods” with structural silicon (again as I am told as this stuff is outside of my pay grade) to the outside edge of the window wall system.
Photo number 4 shows how the window wall module is attached at the ceiling. Again I see the potential for corrosion from the “curing concrete” interacting with the aluminum clamps.
There obviously isn’t much structural support at the top of these window walls as I can see only a Tap Con (long cement screw) through a small aluminum clamp (metal screw, on aluminum, on curing concrete – are you seeing what is making me nervous!). It seems more to restrict movement of the frame and not a very good long term solution.
I understand that some may find this a little confusing if not outright dismaying, but I am bringing it to you to hopefully “wake up Condoland” and all its various players.
Understanding that developers are profit driven and the residential condo industry being “unregulated” and wholly dependent on “lowest bidder contracts” by developers hiding behind “numbered companies“, and the consumer being the only one putting up all of the money, it is difficult for anyone not to see the inequity in all of this!
I welcome and ask for your comments as I see optimum value to my global readers, in sharing their perspectives on the topic.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I am shocked at these findings! We the consumers seem to have no protection. A couple of months ago, large pieces of glass fell from a building near my apartment! Thank god no one was hurt. I will be putting in my complaints. Thank you for taking the time to research this, interesting blog you have here, Charles.
I’m a construction guy myself. Worked in the curtain wall installations just under 20 years myself. But, man, the pictures you’ve posted show crazy things. I try to figure out how this could be accepted.
The companies I used to work for had volumes and volumes of installation manuals, where all the steps of the process are described. Very creative on the floor should have the shop drawing in the end. And I want to see that engineer who would put His stamp on the bs shown on your picture.
And then there levels and levels of inspections: engineer, architect, project manager, general contractor, city inspector….
Wholly Christ! No wander balcony glass is pouring downtown!