Budgeting For Building Enclosure Upgrades 

Facility managers have to carefully prioritize which repairs to focus on first.

By Russell M. Sanders and Kelsey R. Greenleaf
From the February 2023 Issue

In today’s environment, facility managers are faced with a formidable challenge when trying to allocate for repairs. While uncertainties related to expenses and scheduling present hurdles, establishing a balance between conditions that require immediate attention and work that can be postponed or phased helps to provide a positive direction while affording the best opportunity for controlling overall costs.

Safety First

Public safety and the need to remove imminent danger posed by the physical elements of a building, such as a structurally unstable parapet, have no option for delay. Costs to immediately stabilize a hazardous condition or erect the necessary site protection are a given. Loose slate shingles on aged roofs or cracked and deteriorated terra cotta on older buildings can become dislodged and fall off with little to no warning. Even on newer buildings, faulty components, such as an insecure terrace railing, can pose a danger to an unsuspecting user.

Building repairs
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Consider A Phased Approach

Depending on the scale of the project and nature of the work, there may be an opportunity to sequence construction in phases. On large projects, though, facility management professionals may realize an overall cost savings by getting everything done at once. Particularly with older buildings, repairs can build on one another as more concealed conditions become exposed. Performing the full program of repairs at one time saves on repeated mobilization and access costs by erecting scaffolding only once at each location.

While it may be more practical and cost-effective to complete a large project with a single approach, incurring the full cost upfront may make it harder to get a budget approved. Separating the work into phases not only can make funding easier to obtain, but also allows the project team to focus on one priority at a time. However, stretching a project over a longer period may be more disruptive to occupants and can result in a higher overall cost.

Separating the work
into phases not only
can make funding easier to obtain,
but also allows the project
team to focus on
one priority at a time. 

A Fresh Look

Aside from critical repairs, owners and facility managers may desire to change the aesthetics of the building to increase the value of the property. Budgeting design changes for replacement of an existing component is often done with a more planned approach and favorable timeframe. Visual upgrades frequently don’t require the urgency of less noticeable functional repairs. Major capital improvement projects, such as replacing an outdated curtain wall assembly, routinely take longer to fully fund and obtain the required approvals than do operational improvements to existing systems.

New Code Requirements

Building Enclosure repairs
(Photo: Hoffmann Architects, Inc)

At times, facility managers are faced with the need to make code-compliance improvements either mandated by local jurisdictions or on a voluntary basis. When preparing a budget for this type of work, design considerations and appropriate options must be explored. In-kind replacement of a particular building element may not be possible. Facility professionals wishing to go beyond code minimums may not be able to achieve their desired goals because of physical constraints posed by the existing structure or limitations of remaining systems and materials.

Modifying a component of an existing building to meet current code standards isn’t always possible without performing additional costly work. Adding insulation in a reroofing project to meet current code may require raising door thresholds or surrounding parapet counterflashings to enable proper clearances for the taller finished roof surface. Similarly, single-glazed windows with non-thermally-broken aluminum frames cannot, in most cases, be made to meet current code requirements simply by adding storm windows.

Performance Upgrades

With emissions-reduction legislation enacted in an increasing number of states and cities, improving the energy efficiency of buildings is no longer just a moral imperative—it may be a legal one. For instance, some cities require new or replacement roof assemblies to incorporate “cool” membranes, vegetation, solar panels, or some combination of these. Considering energy use and emissions as part of building rehabilitation planning can save heating and cooling dollars, and it anticipates minimum performance standards that are becoming more common.

Building repairs
(Photo: Hoffmann Architects, Inc)

Energy isn’t the only metric facility managers should consider when prioritizing repairs and upgrades. With climate change driving an increase in natural disasters, flooding, extreme heat and cold, and unusual weather patterns, the prudent building manager would do well to consider resilience as a key driver in rehabilitation planning. Foundation waterproofing, roof uplift resistance, window impact tolerance, cladding anchorage, and other measures of a building’s weatherability may prove critical to its ability to recover from extreme weather events. Furthermore, proactively protecting the building from the elements—and documenting these efforts—can prove critical should storm damage necessitate an insurance claim.

Beyond the basics of energy performance and resilience, the comfort of users is paramount to the day-to-day functionality of the building. Interior spaces that admit drafts, noise, glare, and heat gain are red flags that the building enclosure is not doing its job: providing a barrier between inside and out. To create an interior environment that is conducive to productive work and good health, facility managers may need to prioritize upgrades such as glazing replacement, added insulation, remediation of deteriorated joints and seals, and effective thermal and air/vapor barriers.

The Right Plan At The Right Price

Rehabilitation strategies must match the short- and long-term goals of the owner and facility manager. Is the property intended for quick turnaround, or will it be an enduring investment? Decisions such as whether to re-seal a curtain wall or implement a full-scale replacement will be impacted by how the longevity of those options dovetails with the intended ownership period.

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Determining which building enclosure projects should receive top priority and budgeting appropriately also entails consideration of current and future upkeep. Maintenance staff constantly on call for window and door operability issues may find their time better spent after new hardware and frame repairs restore frustration-free functionality. Design professionals can work with facility managers to plan and appropriately budget for rehabilitation and replacement based on expected lifespan, projected maintenance requirements, and property management objectives.

Hoffman ArchitectsSanders, AIA, is President of Hoffmann Architects + Engineers, a design firm specializing in building exteriors, with offices in New York, New Haven, and Washington DC. Working collaboratively with project teams and clients, he oversees the firm’s building enclosure projects.


Building Enclosure UpgradesGreenleaf, Assoc. AIA, is Project Coordinator with Hoffmann Architects + Engineers in New Haven, CT. She brings building envelope projects from investigation to implementation, with sensitivity to building needs and client priorities.

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