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Seeking a Maintenance-Free Life

Exterior Changes Must Address Initial and Lifecycle Costs

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, May 2014

People buy condominiums for a variety of quality-of-life reasons: downsizing, entry level home equity, retiring, etc. But if there is one phrase that might be a common denominator, it's "maintenance free." Another common denominator is why you and others were persuaded to join the association board or building committee and that of course is "protect your net worth."
 
Those two phrases sort of go hand in hand. So it is not unusual for condo complexes turning 25 to 30 years old to have this issue of maintenance-free exteriors begin to surface because this is about the time the condo's facade's curb appeal begins to fade and suggestions of replacement and repairs begin to rise. As a board member, you have a fiduciary responsibility to use the association's resources prudently in both the short and long term. Therefore, planning for thc condo's exterior changes have to address not only the initial costs bt the lifecycle costs as well.

Options to Consider

This article won't address all the options available, as that could fill this magazine, but let's consider the more common items potentially needing change. After setting these limits, let's also set aside some personal preferences. I am a wood lover. Nothing pleases me more than seeing a beautiful wood exterior deck made with ipe or faux-mahogany, but those products would not pass the test of maintenance free, so the synthetic composite deck products would be the more likely choice.
 
Here again there are many siding materiaJs to consider, such as:metal, engineered wood, stucco-type (EIFS), masonry, etc. For now, we will focus on synthetic siding. We are all familiar with vinyl clapboard siding but what might come as a surprise is the advances in this basic siding. Some of the thicker vinyl products are much more durable and can incorporate foam insulation, providing energy savings of more than 30 percent. To fool the eye even more than the wood grains incorporated on their surface, the product comes in shakes and panels that almost have to be touched to confirm they are not the real thing.
 
This search for a composite siding having the closest appearance to wood clapboards leads many to the cement fiber sidings. These cementitious products come in the form of clapboard and panels with a variety of styles, including tongue-and-groove connection and beveled-edge features. Their thicknesses can range from 7/16 to 5/8 inches with board widths up to 7 inches and panels even wider. Modern facades utilizing a board-and-batten appearance are also a possibility. Cement fiber products come with a factory-applied paint lasting 15 years, with repainting needed only every 10 years, as opposed to wood siding needing paint every five to seven years.
 
Speaking of painting, wood trim is always a maintenance headache with all the sidings available, including masonry. One of the answers is cellular PVC trim for corner boards, window jambs, soffits, and roof rakes. Like cement fiber products, they can be cut like lumber and painted to add a more "real" look. PVC lasts longer than almost any exterior product available, and property managers have been using it whenever they replace rotting wood trim.
 
Though PVC is a great choice for window trim, I still prefer real wood window replacements over solid vinyl for both the look and lifetime satisfaction. Of course, the wood windows should be covered on the exterior with a cladding of aluminum or vinyl in keeping with our maintenance-free theme. These types of windows typically have useful lives of more than 30 years.
 
When it comes to exterior doors, the new insulated doors covered in a thin skin of fiberglass with a wide variety of designs provide a door with three times the energy efficiency when compared with a solid wood door. These fiberglass doors usually have a lifetime warranty compared to a five-year warranty with a standard wood door.
 
For those properties with fencing, it is hard to argue against the advantages of vinyl for paint-free planning. Though more expensive,
consideration should be given to solid PVC rather than the thin hollow vinyl products when curb appeal is a must. But whatever exterior product chosen, always look at the total lifecycle costs, including future maintenance in making major capital expenditures for a truly maintenance-free life.
 

 
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