Property Condition Assessments – Technical


Physical assessments of buildings include:

  • Property Condition Assessments for commercial due diligence, typically over a 10-15 year time frame
  • Facility Condition Assessments of institutional buildings for planning over the short- and the long-term
  • Reserve Fund Studies for condominiums, which have a minimum evaluation period of between 20 and 30 years in Canada, as regulated by Province.

This article addresses, in general terms, the life-cycle cost of building repairs and maintenance in relation to the building’s use and operation. The article identifies the building components most relevant to long-term recapitalization and discusses the durability of these components - and their assessment.

The Big Picture – Life Cycle Analysis

When assessing the condition of buildings or other infrastructure it’s worth understanding the facility’s purpose, and how changes in function and condition affect its value. For example, an owner’s priorities may be improving the aesthetic appeal of the exterior and interior finishes, and/or indoor environmental control of thermal comfort and lighting, and/or improving durability and long-term cost management. These aspects affect the standard of acceptance for components, and the type of refurbishment to be included in the maintenance plan. There may also be changes to functional criteria, e.g., revised highway loading criteria; conversion of laboratories to study areas, which affect the timing and scope of refurbishments.

A financial life cycle analysis will include the cost of maintenance and refurbishment, the cost of operation – including heating and cooling energy, and the value of the occupancy. For most buildings the life cycle cost of operation exceeds the original cost of development. The cost of maintenance and refurbishment may exceed the cost of the development, depending on the quality of construction, expected life of the facility, and functional changes over its life. 

For existing buildings, the quality of the indoor environment and the energy efficiency of the building are important factors in any long-term maintenance plan.

Reducing Recapitalization Costs - Durability by Design

As noted below, the recapitalization of many components exceeds initial construction cost over the life of the building. For example, asphalt pavements, roofing, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) components may be replaced more than once during the life of a building; also, the cost to maintain cladding systems of high-rise buildings may approach the cost of their construction even where major refurbishments or replacements are not required.

Durability is a design consideration which is included in the Canadian and U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation system for building and home construction. The durability management process involves planning – including risk evaluation and responsive design, construction quality management, and third-party verification. The process may also identify where exceeding minimum design standards may reduce the risk or frequency of deterioration and repairs.

Recapitalization – Key components

A property condition assessment (PCA) identifies the deferred maintenance or other deficiencies of a facility, and the refurbishments which may be anticipated over a specific evaluation period. 

Recapitalization costs – the cost of refurbishments to preserve the facility’s functional value – vary with the design, construction quality, age and standard of upkeep of facilities. However, the most significant costs are characterized by the type of facility: these usually deserve the greatest attention. The following table notes which components are likely to have the greatest financial impact in the long-term.

Strip Malls Institution - Medium Rise MURB - Medium Rise Commercial/Res. - High Rise
Asphalt Pavement Interior Finishes and Equipment Roofing Interior Finishes and Equipment
Roofing Roofing Windows & Doors Cladding
HVAC Adaption Exterior Walls Mechanical
- Mechanical Interiors Roofing

Table 1 - Components with Greatest Impact on Recapitalization, by Building Type

Numerous property condition assessments for commercial, institutional and residential buildings lead to a conclusion that the components noted above represent 80% or more of all recapitalization over the life of the respective type of building. Also the magnitude of recapitalization costs for a building are, in general, quite predictable: this may inform design or acquisition decisions. However, not all of these costs may be represented within the evaluation period of the property condition assessment.

Asphalt Paving

asphaltFor strip malls and Condominiums with exterior parking, the asphalt surfaces may be the first part of the facility observed by the customer or potential owner, and its condition is often reflective of the overall property condition.

Its useful life depends on a wide range of factors, including design, sub-base and construction materials, construction quality, environment, use, maintenance wear, maintenance, and standard for condition acceptance. The typical range in its useful life is 15 to 50 years.

Deterioration may include cracking or break-up where the construction is inadequate for site conditions or the surface is worn. Settlement may occur in areas of poor sub-grade or locally at parked wheel locations or changes in construction due to deficiencies in design and/or construction. In general, repairs are made where there is a potential for a safety issue, and the surface is replaced before there is an operational issue. The writer’s opinion is that full-depth replacement, including the re-compaction of the sub-grade, is the most cost-effective refurbishment in the long-term, and it is better to manage costs by carrying this out in the most critical areas first than to top-coat or seal.


roofingRoofing is a major recapitalization component for all building types. The expected useful life of most roofing materials is small relative to the overall useful life of the building: the majority or roofs currently in service have an actual useful life of 15 to 30 years, though improvements are being adopted.

Most standard exposed or stone-ballasted near-flat roofing membrane systems have an expected life of 20-30 years: failure may be through deterioration of the membrane or edge details, or of the connection the membrane or sub-strate to its adjacent layer in the assembly. There may also be deterioration in roofing insulation by vapour transmission.

Protected membranes, e.g., ‘inverted roofing membrane assemblies’, vegetated roofs and podium roofs, may be expected to out-perform exposed membranes. For current assemblies, failures occur after several years through exposure at edge details, or unexpected wear or stresses in the membrane due to design detailing or site conditions. Well protected, drained and detailed, the assembly may have an indefinite life. However, there may also be deterioration in roofing insulation by vapour transmission.sloped roof

Older podium roof assemblies, may not meet current standards for materials or design, frequently have active leaks which are difficult to locate and repair. The standard for acceptance before repair or replacement is often lower because of the added cost of replacing the protective layer and revising details to improve performance.

The performance of sloped roofs with exposed shingles or cladding assemblies varies considerably. Properly designed and installed, the life of the assembly is limited by the surface material or connections: 

  • Coated sheet metal roofing may be replaced because of surface wear or corrosion at edge connections.
  • roofingThe life of standard residential asphalt shingles is varies considerably with building and roofing design details, construction, exposure, wear and the quality of shingle used.  Deterioration is accelerated by poor ventilation.
  • Composites, wood and advanced asphalt shingle materials may be highly durable; life may be limited by the corrosion rate of fasteners.

In all cases, the overall durability may be compromised by deficiencies in the design or construction of details at edges, changes in profile or roof penetrations.

Exterior Walls and Cladding

exterior walls and claddingHigh rise curtain wall and window wall refurbishments include the replacement of glazing or spandrel panels with failed seals, the inspection and repair of gaskets and edge sealants and fasteners within the system, damage repairs, and weather protection at edges of the system.

Properly constructed and with appropriate maintenance, the overall system may have an indefinite useful life. However, access by swing staging is costly, and has an impact on maintenance programming and acceptance criteria before and after refurbishment.  Detailed maintenance inspections may be indicated every 15-20 years for curtain wall systems and more frequently for window walls.

‘Punched window’ systems, balconies and balcony doors present a challenge for most exterior wall systems: deficiencies in the building envelope’s protection of the indoor exterior wallsenvironment typically occur at these locations; they are in the form of details which are inadequate to provide a warm-side vapour seal and drainage of the wall system to the exterior. 

For medium-rise buildings, most of which are multi-unit residential building or mixed-use buildings, the exterior walls, windows and doors are the largest uncertainty and potential cost to long-term maintenance.

The service life and maintenance requirements of windows, doors and balconies are relatively predictable, but the performance of the wall system varies greatly with (a) construction details – most of which are hidden from view, and (b) the actual conditions to which the specific area is exposed. 

exterior wallsWith a few notable exceptions, typical exterior cladding systems have a service life which range from 35 years for certain vinyl or metal systems, to indefinite for low-permeability clay brick masonry. The remaining wall assembly may also have an indefinite useful life if constructed properly. Life-cycle maintenance includes inspection and repairs to cladding and caulking; window, door and balcony component replacements; and cladding replacement.

Interior Finishes and Equipment

Property condition assessments of medium-rise and high-rise buildings often find the recapitalization of interior finishes and equipment - lobbies, corridors, washrooms and elevators – to depend greatly on the owner’s acceptance criteria. Also, the standard of acceptance for floor, wall and ceiling finishes will usually vary from entrance lobby to corridors to service areas.

Typically there is redundancy for items with health and safety criteria, e.g., more than one elevator; multiple washrooms. Provided the regulated standards are met there is some discretion as to acceptable inconvenience resulting from malfunction. However buildings with single elevators require a high standard of reliability to function as barrier-free spaces.

Mechanical Systems

The refurbishment of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems of facilities may be in the order of 20% of total recapitalization in the long-term. Other systems for hot and cold water service and sprinkler protection may add a further 5%. However, for many buildings the responsibility for HVAC and domestic hot water systems rests with tenants or condominium unit owners. Also, smaller commercial buildings and many residential buildings in northern climates do not have central air conditioning and have limited ventilation systems.

In general, equipment overhauls and replacements are predictable. However, aging building stock may have contingencies and additional mechanical and electrical requirements which merit specialized assessment. These buildings may also have opportunities for efficiency upgrades during major overhauls: these can be identified and evaluated by assessors with the relevant skills.


Table 1 identifies adaption as a potential recapitalization cost for institutional buildings: these buildings are most likely to have changes in function of the space or standard of operation. Organizations with a longer-term view to asset management are more likely to modify their function to suit changing user needs, or to upgrade building performance. The change in function or standard may be fully implemented as a project; if not, future assessments may identify the deficiencies as deferred maintenance or short-term refurbishment.