What I Learned from my Last Capital Project

A workshop on capital project management can be a very useful learning exercise, but a workshop can’t replace first-hand experience. One can learn a great deal by working closely with an engineering company to implement major capital repairs and building upgrades.

When a project is complete, why not take a few minutes to reflect on your experience and jot down a few things you learned? What would have improved results? What worked flawlessly? I invite you to send your thoughts to CoActionSA@gmail.com so we can share them, and look forward to reading the ideas sent in by others. Over time we can develop some valuable checklists and save each other a few headaches.

To start us off, below are some of the things I learned while working in several co-ops on a variety of projects. Do you agree with them? What other thoughts can you share? I look forward to your suggestions!

I find it pays to work with one engineering company over a longer time to establish a close relationship and develop a more consistent understanding your property, its history of repairs, and an awareness of ongoing issues. The engineering company will be at your side when you have property related questions (at no extra cost), even outside of projects, and can provide valuable contacts to qualified contractors when you are in a pinch to find one for a specific application.

When you introduce them to your board, let the engineer outline their role for the co-op, and include a summary in the minutes. New board members will often not understand why the co-op needs to involve an engineering company, and it is always good for them to hear it directly from the engineer.

Point out to the engineering company that they should not expect co-op staff or the board to have detailed knowledge of building systems. The engineer must make the co-op aware of any items that need to be added to the scope of work to ensure the component that is to be replaced works properly. For example, when you replace the makeup air units (MUAs), the MUA shafts that are not being replaced need to be re-balanced to ensure proper air flow on all floors. And if they have not been cleaned in two or three years, it will be cheaper to have that done at the same time. An engineer that expects you to know this and does not point it out or ask for it to be added to the scope is not the right partner for you.

If you are replacing a single mechanical component, the engineer has to consider the ducting or piping that connects it to other components, as well as the other components themselves. There may have to be changes made to ducts or piping that some engineers do not consider part of the scope of work for which they were hired. Remind the engineer that in addition to replacing the identified component, they are hired to make the building system work as a whole. They may then proceed to make recommendations for changes. If those changes prevent future trouble, or ensure that the component can run effectively, it can be worth the added cost. And the co-op can always ask another engineering company for a second opinion.

If things go south and you believe the engineer or contractor has not done a proper job, you can hire a different engineering company to perform what is called a Peer Review. They will review drawings, specifications, and the work performed, and will issue a report with their findings. This is an additional cost, but when the co-op is faced with problem components that are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it can be justified.

It makes a lot of sense to hold an information session attended by the engineer where members can ask questions about service interruptions or raise any other concerns in connection with the project. Of course, not everyone will attend, but at least members are given a chance to get first hand information.

It is also a good idea to regularly communicate progress on the project to keep everyone on board.

When a contractor requires access to a unit, they should be required to protect the floors from debris, dust, and dirt with drop sheets or other protective measures, especially in carpeted areas. Where appropriate, contractors can use boot covers. In units with known bug problems such as roaches or bedbugs, separate drop sheets should be used to avoid spreading the problem.

The co-op should include a provision in the tender that at least one fluent English speaking crew member, preferably the foreman, is on site at all times to serve as the contact for co-op staff in cases of emergency and for updates on work progress.

To be able to adequately explain to members how an upcoming project will affect them, discuss the work in detail with the contractor. Ask how the member will be required to prepare their unit, how often and for how long the contractor will require access, and what noise or other disruption residents and their neighbours can expect. For example, when several windows in a building are being replaced, the priority may be to get them all installed and foamed on day one, with interior and exterior finishing done when the contractor returns to the unit on a separate day. The contractor needs to understand that many members have busy lives and some may be wary of strangers in their homes.

Be careful about allowing contractors to store their tools, equipment, or materials in the co-op’s common areas to avoid possible liability when things are lost. Also, be cautious about giving contractors access to common area rooms.

It is good business practice to have a maintenance worker (or hired security) follow contractors around with a master key to provide access to units, instead of giving unit keys to contractors. Members feel safer when they see that a trusted person gives access and that the co-op has control of unit keys.

If you don’t expect that replacement parts for the items that are being replaced or installed will be readily available when something is damaged in future, order spare parts in advance so they will be on hand, such as window and patio door screens, kitchen cabinet hinges, MUA filters, etc.

Lana Nwaokoro
Manager, Oak Street Co-op
Director, CoAction Staff Association

November 2018

Report from Future Energy: A workshop about incentives and other possibilities

energy_efficiencyOn October 19, 2018, Windmill Line Co-op hosted a full-day workshop organized in collaboration with CoAction, CHF Canada, and the Agency for Co-operative Housing on the topic of Energy Funding. It turned out to be a great success with the room full of representatives from Toronto co-ops. Jane Davidson-Neville from The Agency and Ofelia Guanlao who recently joined the Asset Management Department of CHF Canada led the event and were instrumental in organizing it.

Presentation PDF’s
Courtesy of CHF Canada

In the morning, representatives from Toronto Hydro, Enbridge, Water Matrix, Novitherm and Project Neutral made presentations on products and services that can help our co-ops conserve energy and water, protecting the environment and saving our co-ops money. We were introduced to several government funded programs that provide incentives to co-ops that are replacing mechanical and building envelope components, as well as programs such as SuiteSaver, AffordAbility Fund Trust (AFT), and Home Assistance Program (HAP), that provide residents with LED light bulbs, power bars, insulation and draft proofing, thermostats and appliances. Enbridge offers to reimburse 50% of the cost of energy audits, Water Matrix offers free water audits and installs 3 litre toilets as well as aerators and shower heads, and Novitherm installs reflective panels behind convection baseboards, providing member comfort and lower heating bills.

Tracy Barber from Project Neutral introduced us to a website that measures the carbon footprint of individuals for free. She explained to us how simple changes in our day-to-day lives could have an effect on our carbon footprint.

In the afternoon David Spackman from CHF Canada provided information on the benefits of refinancing and informed us about Preservation Funding. This new program offers government funding to federal co-ops to conduct BCAs or respective updates, energy audits, operating viability analyses, age-friendly conversion assessments, etc. CMHC has sent out information letters to all affected co-ops. Applications can be submitted now and will be processed on an ongoing basis with no deadline until further notice

We were also informed that the government will start requiring housing providers to enter data on their power and water consumption starting next summer with the goal of bench marking and to motivate decrease in consumption. We hope that more details and possible training will be provided in the new year.

Jane informed us about a sample Sustainability Bylaw that can be used by co-ops to make environmental responsibility a community goal.

In between presentations we enjoyed refreshments while getting to know staff and members from other co-ops and asking questions of contractors and federation representatives.

For anyone who missed this great workshop, the presentation slides can be found above, as well as on the CHF Canada website.

I recommend all co-ops look into these programs without delay. Within two weeks of the workshop, Oak Street submitted a Preservation Fund application, had a water audit done, received information pamphlets for members on the HAP and AFT programs, and had a Toronto Hydro representative on site to evaluate what incentives we are eligible for. Resources and information are available; we just need to take action.

Lana Nwaokoro, Manager, Oak Street Co-op
Director, CoAction Staff Association

November 2018