ASPHALT & CONCRETE & LANDSCAPING…
OH MY! This issue’s version of RENTT (Rental Executives National Think Tank) follows a slightly different formula than the usual panel approach. This time, we broke the discussion into specific topics of interest to owners of rental properties – asphalt, concrete and landscaping. For each topic, we spoke to two experts – one in British Columbia, one in Ontario – to get their views on maintenance, repair and use of these specific areas in their buildings.
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Nicolas Denux President, Residential, Castera Investments
Joseph Kappel Director, Capital, Timbercreek Asset Management
Sally Tenenbaum Managing Partner, Tenen Investments
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Nicolas Denux: Reducing future costs and aesthetics are the two main motivators.
RHB: What should you do to maintain your parking lots to extend lifespan?
RHB: Re-paving can be very disruptive. What communication strategies do you recommend to decrease tenant complaints?
Joseph Kappel:You should do regular cleaning of the parking lot along with inspections and sealing of cracks. Seal the asphalt as needed based on the inspections to try and prevent water infiltration and further deterioration. I believe a good rule of thumb is in the spring to clean up all the winter debris and seal any new cracks, then in the fall to get ready for the winter months.
Joseph Kappel: This is more of an operations question. However, good communication early and often with the operations team and tenants goes a long way. That way there are no surprises when the project starts and, with good lead time, operations and residents have time to make alternative arrangements if needed during the disruption.
Nicolas Denux: Having properties mostly on the west coast, we have almost no frost issues, but we are strong believers in crack sealing and preventive maintenance such as repairing potholes early on.
Nicolas Denux: Nothing in particular, save ample notice and communications with the residents of the affected property.
RHB: What types of issues have had a negative impact on your parking lots and/or forced you to tear up your asphalt? Joseph Kappel: The biggest factor that reduces the lifespan of a parking lot I have seen in my career is inadequate drainage. Water trapped in the granulars of a pavement structure, especially during the beginning of winter, leads to frost heave. If you have ever seen parking lots with alligator cracking, especially around the low points (catchbasins & manholes), it is due to water trapped in the granulars. An easy and cheap solution is to always trench subdrains in the subgrade around the catchbasins and manholes and connect them. This allows the water to drain out of the granulars, keeping them dry and thus preventing the frost heave and cracking.
RHB: What steps should owners take to ensure they are working with a competent and reliable company?
Joseph Kappel: For the most part, we use contractors that we have built relationships with over the years. We are confident in the work they perform and know the job will be done right. We continually add new contractors that we vet through our approval process (i.e., WSIB, insurance).
Nicolas Denux: Clay fill can definitively be a problem for asphalt. One has to ensure proper road base is used. Frequent heavy vehicle traffic, such as garbage trucks, often causes premature failure of the asphalt. The garbage and recycling bin areas have to be repaved with more road base earlier than the rest of the parking lot or replaced with cement pads in some cases. RHB: What is your largest motivator for being proactive with asphalt maintenance â€“ aesthetics, liability or to reduce future costs?
Nicolas Denux: References from prior work and testing them on a smaller job before giving them a larger project. RHB: What kind of insurance, safety certificates and credentials should a reliable contractor provide? Joseph Kappel: We ask for their WSIB forms and that they carry a certain amount of insurance. They should also be able to provide references if asked and a portfolio of the previous work they have performed. Nicolas Denux:The usual letter of compliance with WCB and liability insurance. RHB: With respect to asphalt repair, maintenance and replacement, how do you allocate your budget â€“ per building/per year? Joseph Kappel: We review the budget on a yearly basis per building and look at the expected 10-year capital plan. Nicolas Denux: We do it on an as needed basis.
Joseph Kappel: I believe it is a combination of all those factors. We want our parking lots to be safe and not full of potholes and create a positive resident experience for those that do use the parking lots. But with proper maintenance you can extend the longevity of a parking lot, reducing your capital expenditures in the long run.
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CONCRETE RHB: What are the top contributors to concrete deterioration? Joseph Kappel: Concrete is very durable. Poor installation can lead to quick deterioration; an example is not protecting freshly placed concrete from rain, leading to spalling of the concrete. Salt used for de-icing can also deteriorate concrete. Good reason for spring cleaning around the site!
Nicolas Denux: Road salt is enemy #1.
RHB: Where else within your building exterior does it make sense to use concrete?
RHB: What preventive maintenance measures can owners take to extend the life of their concrete? Joseph Kappel: Again, concrete is very durable. Cleaning off the concrete at the same time as the parking lot can go a long way to keeping your concrete in good condition. Nicolas Denux: Appropriate membranes and good spring sweeping with a hose rinse once a year to remove excess salt and sand. RHB: When would you recommend the use of protective coatings/sealers?
Joseph Kappel: I would recommend concrete for the pads in garbage enclosures and about three metres in front where the garbage truck does maneuvering. I have seen numerous instances where on a hot day, with all the weight on the front of the truck moving around the bins, it has literally dug up the asphalt in that area. Concrete can withstand this much more effectively. Nicolas Denux: For walkways and patios, concrete is a durable, cost-effective solution.
Joseph Kappel: Personally, I am not a big fan of concrete sealers. All the ones I have seen used in the past have made the concrete shiny and slippery when wet. Not a good scenario when you have residents using the walkways all the time. So I have not used them.
RHB: What kind of impact has your landscaping had on curb appeal and attracting tenants?
Nicolas Denux: Inside buildings absolutely.
Sally Tenenbaum: We always consider the "big picture" approach to landscaping. It is always an integral part of the whole, and part of every building and reno project. Property landscaping is our calling card, the first greeting upon the residents’ “coming home” experience. It also has the greatest impact on the neighbourhood, enhancing the area in general.
RHB: In case of underground parking rehabilitation, should owners rely solely on the advice of concrete restoration contractors or should a structural engineer be consulted?
Nicolas Denux: It is part of the first impression, so the property owner has to be mindful of this.
RHB: Are there any trees, shrubs, flower beds, etc. you would recommend staying away from based on the needs of apartment communities?
Nicolas Denux: It depends on the location of the building, as species vary according to the local climate. On the west coast, we garden year round so we tend to think of the appeal of certain plants in the winter as well.
Joseph Kappel: Contractors who perform the work do not have the in-depth knowledge of structural engineering and therefore should not be solely relied upon for rehabilitation. As an owner, you would be taking on substantial risk and liabilities if anything were to happen. Always engage a structural engineer who has expertise in that field and can make sound engineering recommendations for concrete restoration to protect yourself and your residents.
Nicolas Denux: Getting a structural engineer on board is best in our experience to ensure the quality of the work and help protect the owner.
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Sally Tenenbaum: We stay away from labour-intensive plantings, avoiding perennials and annuals that are labour intensive. The designs we create are regulated and well defined. We always look to create a garden that requires low maintenance, mostly clipping and trimming. RHB: What are some of the most effective (initial cost and ongoing maintenance) ways to enhance your building’s landscapes? Nicolas Denux: Nice lawns are the most cost-effective, upfront and easiest to look after, but they are the most plain, so finding the right balance is key. Sally Tenenbaum: We favour simple evergreens and well-delineated hedges that define property boundaries and create barriers and pathways so the grounds are not easily damaged. We prefer ornamental trees to create grid-like patterns, an orchard effect or a courtyard appeal on those properties that can support it. It is always a simplified palette, and the impact of using the same material en masse helps creates the dynamic effect.
Tips on maintaining drains, interceptor pits and electric submersible pumps Over a one-year period, dirt and debris will find its way into your buildingâ€™s sanitary sewer system. Automobiles parking in the garage will come in with snow, ice and rainwater, which will leave dirt and debris that will find their way into the drains. Garages are usually swept and washed on an annual basis. After performing this cleaning, some dirt and debris will end up in the drainage system. So what should you do to maintain your buildingâ€™s drainage system?
3. Underground garage drains should be cleaned regularly and TV camera inspected to make sure they are running freely with no obstructions.
The electric submersible pumps in these pits must be serviced regularly. Never service or replace an electric submersible pump without vacuuming and cleaning all the debris from these pits.
4. Since most underground garages are well below the city's sewer system, there are two to three compartment interceptor pits with electric submersible pumps that pump the water up into the city sewer. These interceptor pits need to be vacuumed and cleaned on a regular basis.
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If you are not sure of the condition of the underground drains, TV camera inspection is always an affordable option.
RHB: When it comes to walkways, what is your preferred finish (gravel, interlocking, cement, etc.)?
RHB: Describe ways in which you have used your building’s outside space to promote community building.
Nicolas Denux: We prefer cement for durability.
Nicolas Denux: We’ve organized resident BBQs and picnics and we’ve even installed “smoking gazebos” far from the building for the occasional smokers in our nonsmoking buildings. This works on the west coast year round, but it is harder to do in a colder winter climate.
Sally Tenenbaum: Depending on the specific property and installation, our preference is to use natural stone for our hardscape, including granite and precast concrete products.
RHB: How do you incorporate recreational facilities into your properties so that tenants get the greatest use out of them?
Nicolas Denux: It is building dependent. For example, kids’ playgrounds are popular in suburban townhouse complexes with a lot of available land, whereas rooftop decks and rooftop pools are popular in more urban environments with less land. We sometimes find many residents do not use the recreational amenities but simply like the idea of having it available.
Sally Tenenbaum: Our properties incorporate well thought out and carefully designed features that serve utilitarian requirements. They enhance the use of the property, yet are situated as to not detract from the beauty of the property and the grounds. They are tucked away but well integrated, and practically accessible.
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Sally Tenenbaum: Merging with the natural surroundings to create a sense of "place" is as important as the buildings' architecture and finishes. The landscape tells a story. It reflects pride of ownership. It is a place to enjoy, to appreciate the changes of season, a place to gather, a place that enhances the feeling of "coming home." LED lighting is another component of a beautifully landscaped garden, highlighting walkways, trees, and creating an overall feeling of safety. It adds a touch of magic to a well-designed garden. RHB: Is it worth investing in outdoor areas for dogs? What have you done to address this issue? Nicolas Denux: No large investment yet, but in one building we’ve installed “doggy bag” stations to distribute compostable plastic bags to resident dog owners to keep lawns clean. Sally Tenenbaum: Our dedicated dog enclosures provide the necessary disposal materials which helps maintain the beauty of the rest of the grounds, as well as providing a meeting place for the residents. They have been highly successful.