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Florida Condo Repairs - Costly Oversights

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By : Rob Thomson    99 or more times read
Residents of the Dolphin Tower in Sarasota are being evacuated after a reported crack was discovered in the concrete.

"The city said until it's stabilized, they want everyone out of the building," said Rick Mowery, a superintendent of the building at 101 S. Gulfstream Ave.

The fissure-like fracture was discovered within the 15-story building support structure. The 24 inch concrete slab on the fourth floor that sustains the upper floors had shifted. We're not talking a small pressure crack, this was damage that resembled the aftermath of an earthquake. The Mowrey's, live-in building superintendents, said the walls in their condo had buckled, cabinets were barely hanging on and the concrete floor was completely cracked.

After Karins Engineering was called in to evaluate the problem, it was estimated that repairs could take between three days and six months. Unfortunately that doesn't offer much consolation to residents, the majority of which are permanent, with about 20-percent winter residents.

Most concrete buildings exhibit some cracking, especially during the early years, but for this 35 year old building the causes are not always obvious. Over $1 billion a year is spent restoring concrete in Florida, and it's especially common to see cracking of concrete railings. In fact, in Miami Beach alone, 18 buildings have had unsafe railings and slabs that have had to be repaired. Some of these were built 30-plus years ago during the condo rush, when many buildings fell victim to shortcuts and hasty building practices in order to meet the high demand.

A common shortcut was to substitute beach sand with cement, resulting in an inferior grade of concrete. Containing over double the recommended amount of chloride, this material can rust the steel frame, whereby weakening it and causing spalling, or a breakdown of the concrete. In many cases builders didn't frame the steel with the required amount of concrete leaving it vulnerable to the effects of erosion over time.

Fixing these balconies is an expensive and timely process. Repairs in the Presidential Condominiums in Miami was a whopping $2.5 million. Although residents were allow to remain in their homes, all the windows and sliding doors were covered with sheet rock, blocking out any light or ocean views - thus turning there luxury condos into highrise dungeons where dust settled in every nook and cranny. The cost of builder negligence was then passed on to the residents after the condo fees were reassessed.

The owner of the Alden Hotel accumulated almost $205,000 in fines after the balconies had gotten so bad the railings had fallen away. Eventually the hotel was shut down and the guests relocated.

The Florida Building Code has since been updated with specifications that include: one inch of concrete covering the steel frame, ocean front areas should have galvanized steel and owners need to schedule regular balcony maintenance.

Helpful tips include: avoiding carpeting on balconies since it holds water and salt and increases the erosion of the concrete, and waterproof slabs before tiling. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid the inevitable, but be aware that what may seem like a reasonable condo fee, will increase over time with the age of the building.
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