Reaching New Heights

The following article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Condominium Manager Magazine

Anyone who has been to Toronto knows, high-rise building construction is booming. Most new construction involves building envelopes that are utilizing new technologies and designs to minimize maintenance of the exterior finishes. For the thousands of other older high-rise structures, exterior maintenance is a costly and complicated concern.

Eventually, all exterior façade finishes lose sheen, colour and coating integrity. Caulking and perimeter sealants typically have a service life of 15 years. After 5 years, colour retention on aluminum framing and panels is affected. To best utilize resources, sealant replacement and painting should be coordinated and executed by the same contractor. With advances in coating technologies, recoating the exterior of a high-rise and replacing the sealants has become a viable and economical option for condominium corporations in their efforts to beautify the exterior of the building, and maximize the service life of the building envelope as compared to panel, window or curtain wall replacement.

High-rise exterior projects are extensive and before any work begins, there are important aspects that must be addressed:

  • a comprehensive health and safety plan
  • building access for trades and tenants and other staging logistical issues
  • proper coating system specifications

In 2011, a high-rise exterior coating project at 1 James Street South—exterior curtain wall restoration on a 15 storey office tower in downtown Hamilton involving swing stage work—was contracted to ArmourCo Solutions. The James Street project became a classic example of how complicated exterior restoration projects can be.

Health and Safety

With the mention of swing stage work, the first thing that comes to mind is safety. Chris Linkert, ArmourCo’s Health and Safety Officer, explains, “Since the tragic events of Christmas Eve 2009, where 5 workers lost their lives after their swing stage collapsed 15 stories up, the Ministry of Labour has paid special attention to all workers working at altitude. This accident highlighted how terribly wrong things can go when no preparation, training and proper supervision are present on a high-rise site.”

Reaching-New-Heights-2Health and safety concerns are paramount and the launching point for successful project planning. The major difference between work at altitude and other painting projects are the consequences involved. It is critical that strict observance of Health and Safety plans be maintained. Swing stage crews and supervisors must be WHMIS certified and IHSA certified in suspended access.

For the James Street project, a mandatory orientation program was implemented. A comprehensive orientation binder covered all aspects of the project (health and safety rules, responsibilities of everyone involved, applicable legislation related to working at heights). The most important aspect was the daily jobsite inspection.

Prior to the start of the project, a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) was completed itemizing the specific hazards, the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and inspection specifications. Each worker completed a daily PPE and Job Site inspection, re-enforcing their training. Supervisors inspected all lifelines, harnesses, and swing stage and suspension cables confirming the worker’s inspection. With two layers of inspections, workers, supervisors, and owners could rest assured that the site was safe.

Access and logistics

Swing stage projects have specific rigging requirements.

No challenge was more pressing than Mother Nature. The building on James Street is in downtown Hamilton, directly across from the Ministry of Labour, and more importantly, in the middle of a wind tunnel. Weather conditions were monitored daily; ground level work was left for days when it was too windy to be on a swing stage.

Rigging requirements demand specific access and maneuverability parameters; James Street’s issues were two-fold. First, the roof was crowded with multi-level mechanical rooms. Engineers developed a site specific suspension system to accommodate the space and anchor restrictions. Secondly, access for rigging the east elevation was impeded. A mobile crane was required to lift two 30 foot swing stages and motors onto the neighbouring bank building roof.

Public access was vital. Contact with and clearance from municipal and federal governments was necessary. Street permits were needed for erecting overhead sidewalk hoarding around the building. Canada Post moved mailboxes. City sidewalk garbage cans were relocated and sidewalk hoarding was designed to allow access to a bank depository and garbage pick up. Appropriate signage helped make all public access clear and safe.

By managing the project well, maintaining strong lines of communication, partnering with quality suppliers and installers, and having contingencies in place, the project was able to stay on schedule

Coating system specification

Pairing the right system to a substrate is crucial. A paint failure on a 15th storey panel is an expensive warranty issue and mass failures can be catastrophic.

Sourcing the coating system takes expertise regarding substrates, conditions, and application limitations. Engineering firms can be a source of information, but most are not coating specialists. Paint manufactures with their regional coating specialists are typically the primary source of information on high performance coatings.

Rick Williams, the Corrosion Specification specialist with The Sherwin-Williams Company, consulted on and assisted with developing the appropriate coating system. Due to the troubling condition of the existing coating, applied only eight years earlier, and after their testing, Sherwin-Williams concluded that 1/ the primer used was not specified for the topcoat applied and 2/ painting had occurred late in the season when the dew point & temperature can negatively affect the coating integrity as it cures. An environmentally friendly striper was recommended to remove the existing failing coating.
This first product attempt at stripping a panel failed. The paint remover dried too quickly in the summer heat, neutralizing its effectiveness. For the next week, in an exhaustive effort to secure a solution, multiple tests of paint removers and other preparation techniques were executed. Taking into consideration what had occurred at the building eight years earlier, the ownership group was apprehensive and cautious. Finding a solution and coming in on budget was vital.
In the end, every square inch of previously painted panels and window framing were scraped and mechanically sanded to remove all loose and failing paint. Finally, the panels and framing were scrubbed with TSP and rinsed clean.

A new non-solvent based coating system was tested, passed multiple adhesion tests, and client approval. The project moved forward with stunning results. Being solvent free, the new coating system removed the risk of chemical degradation of the existing coating. At the end of the project ArmourCo offered a 5 year warranty on the project.

Restoration of high-rise exterior finishes and sealant replacement might seem daunting for most owners, directors and property managers. The projects are complicated with many technical nuances. By using trusted and experienced contactors and carefully planning for all possible challenges and contingencies, high-rise painting and sealant replacement can be completed successfully with minimal risk and inconvenience to residents. The results can beautify, maintain, and protect a high-rise building envelope at a fraction of the cost of window panel replacement. As skylines across the GTA continue to change, so will the technologies and techniques necessary to maintain these high-rise structures that more of us than ever are calling home.

In the spring of 2012, ArmourCo began a two year building envelope restoration project at The Granary in Oakville. 

By John Margaritis

John joined ArmourCo Solutions in 1995 and brings 20 years of project management and chemical coatings experience to the firm. John’s extensive knowledge of paint application as well as his experience working inside the condominium industry instills confidence in our maintenance clients. 
John manages operations of ArmourCo. focusing primarily on estimation and project management for exterior and interior condominium maintenance and painting clients.


Read the original article as it appeared in Condominium Manager magazine: Reaching New Heights

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