Why Do Aquatherm Pipes Fail?

Domestic water supply applications of Polypropylene (PPR) have been commercialized largely under the Aquatherm trade name and manufactured in Germany.  After a period of reportedly reliable performance in Europe, Aquatherm began to market the product in Australia, Canada, the US, and elsewhere.  Recently a string failures started to appear; first in Australia and now increasingly in the US. 

After fire, water damage is the most expensive peril that a building owner may face.  Many of these are winding up in the courts in what looks like the three-way shoot out at the end of the Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  The contractor is pointing at the manufacturer who in turn is pointing back at the owner/operator who is pointing alternately at the contractor and the manufacturer. 

For the record, I like PPR for many reasons, but there appears to be 3 main vulnerabilities with PPR: the manner in which it is clamped, the temperature of the water, and the water chemistry – specifically the presence of copper ions.  I call it the witches brew. If all three vulnerabilities are present, then the likelihood of failure is very high. If only one (or maybe two) of the vulnerabilities are present, the likelihood of failure seems substantially lower. 

The problem is that each of the litigating parties may be responsible for at least one of the vulnerable conditions. Therefore, it is tremendously difficult to assign a percentage of the blame on any single party especially where the absence of any one condition may result in no failure.

Aquatherm had claimed that standard pipe clamps could be used with loosely specified modifications.  In practice the pipes are sized in the Metric system and the clamps were sized in the Imperial measurement system.  Further, the materiel is soft so there was little feedback for the mechanics accustomed to using a torque wrench.  Often we’ll find the failed piece deformed inside the clamp.  Is the contractor to blame or Aquatherm?

In another case, Aquatherm specified strict temperature and pressure limitations.  In the real world, we found two boilers set up incorrectly causing occasional fluctuations beyond the temperature limits – normally not a problem with most other piping systems.

In another case, the boilers had CuNi (Copper/Nickel) heat exchangers that, if not correctly installed or maintained, may be a source of copper ionization.   How is the owner / HVAC contractor to know about these details?

One of the advantages of Aquatherm is that it can be run at a much faster flow speed than other pipes.  If you run water too fast in a system mixed with copper, the turbulence can erode the copper releasing ions to the water system, which can then attack the Aquatherm.  Most of the retrofits will have mixed systems in one form or another.  Whose responsibility is it to manage mixed systems?

I have been contacted by attorneys on both sides of more than one PPR lawsuit. Most lawyers are looking for a sharp knife to cut their client free from culpability.  When I share my thoughts on the topic, based on real-life experience, I’m rarely called back. The last thing they want to hear is that there is plenty of blame to go around. I believe that an inherent bias is baked-in, leading to closed settlements.  

So, Why DO Aquatherm Pipes Fail?

The answer is simple.  Information needs to flow to the industry without fear of repercussion so that owners and operators and installers can mitigate the risk.  Most piping materials seem to go through a period of failures until the industry can see how they actually perform over the long term. PolyButylene, CPVC, and PEX have all had their time in the hot-seat.  Polypropylene, in my opinion, holds great promise in some applications.  Few people want to talk about the details and court settlements are often sealed, so the public and the industry are uninformed. 

Instead of learning from mistakes, a new game plays out anew for every instance of failure.  This is counterproductive. What really needs to happen is that each of the parties need to fess up, mitigate the failures, and then share information with everyone else so that the problems can be ironed out as soon as possible and this innovative material can achieve its potential.


The Future of Real Estate Transactions – Engineering Inspections

According to, the average amount of time to close on a house is 50 days after listing. By contrast, houses sold by auction are instantaneous. In both cases, several weeks of preparation are required, but the closing process itself is drastically simplified by an Engineering Pre-listing Inspection (EPLI).

What if we could adapt the speed, fairness, and predictability of the Real Estate auction process to the scale and security of the conventional Real Estate market? This article will discuss how an EPLI can significantly increase the liquidity of 140 million of Americans’ most valuable asset while saving billion of dollars in wasted time and unnecessary labor.


We all know the drill.  

First, the homeowner decides to sell their property. After a bit of paint and a power wash, the property still has some deficiencies. But everyone wants a quick sale.  After all, a stale listing can lose appeal, and agents need to turn the property as quickly as possible –  not only for their commissions, but also for their reputation. In addition, the owners may need to transition between homes as quickly as possible without incurring double mortgage payments.  There is a lot on the line when timing a property sale.

With fingers crossed, the property goes on the market staged for a quick sale. The first offer comes quickly and is accepted – pending inspection. After a few days the inspector arrives and spots some rotten wood under a window or a few cracks in the foundation. This scares the first buyer away, and sometimes the home must be pulled off the market until repairs can be assessed and corrected.

When the second offer comes in, the  last inspection report belongs to the last buyer, not the owner – so a new inspection report is ordered. This time a different inspector finds a few more cracks and recommends that that a professional engineer is consulted. Any engineering deficiencies must now be acknowledged per real estate disclosure laws.

Days pass as everyone now scrambles to meet the new timeline, negotiate concessions, develop scope of work, get contractor ROMs, etc.  Few things are more expensive than trying to save money.


The Cost of eliminating “Seller Bias”.

The reason that the buyer must purchase the inspection report is to eliminate the possibility of seller bias. That means that there may be some nuanced physical deficiency that the seller is not aware of, or does not think is worth mentioning, or may try to intentionally hide in order to defraud the market into paying more than the property is actually worth.  Obviously, it is important to catch the bad guys, but what is the true cost of “seller bias” and is there some way we can assure the physical integrity of a real estate asset in a more efficient manner than buyer driven inspections?


How do people buy property at auctions?

Thousands of properties are sold every day at auctions. All the buyers have their financing set up, they have their insurance set up, titles have been searched, permits have been sealed. Everything is prepared beforehand so that everyone has the exact same information as everyone else about the transaction – the good, the bad, and the ugly – because when the gavel falls, the deal is done.

The most critical component of the property auction is an unbiased professional engineering inspection of critical systems. The engineer is concerned with the age, materials, and condition of the entire piping system, not so much wether a particular sink drains quickly as a home inspector would note.   The engineer evaluates the structural integrity, plumbing, mold and rot progression, electrical safety, occupant hazards and expected useful life of building components.  The engineering report may include system definitions, estimated maintenance costs, calculations of useful life, and feasibility of alternate use cases for the property.  The EPLI can also determine limitation of use including easements, critical slopes, roof and floor loading limits, etc. These are what the banks and insurance company care about the most, as should the owner.

The engineer can also credibly tout excellent maintenance, expensive upgrades, and additional safety features, and measurable amenities in a credible and unbiased opinion.  Many such communications are currently constrained by professional laws and ethics, except where validated by a Professional Engineer.


The Institution of Professional Engineers:

Only 5% of all engineering graduates in the US are able to attain the Professional Engineering designation. A Professional Engineer must pass board exams and pursue continuing education not unlike the bar exam for lawyers. Professional engineers also need to be nominated by other several other PEs would must validate 4-8 years of qualified working experience. After that, Professional engineers are regulated by the PE act where they are held accountable by law for their integrity, competence, and ethical behaviors. A PE can lose their license for committing negligence, incompetence, fraud, or breach of contract.

Due to the strength of the engineering profession, the rules of the auction can be made very clear. Everyone is in consensus that the Licensed Professional Engineering is worthy of public trust, competence, and unbiased assessment of fact. These attributes rank far beyond a simple home inspection.


Items that can be provided in an EPLI document may include:

  • Review of critical systems
  • Cost of ownership
  • Fire, flood, tree hazards
  • Validation of improvements
  • Energy calculation
  • Scope of Work
  • Feasibility studies: solar, additions, conversions
  • Impact of easements
  • Structural evaluation
  • Mold, wind, waterproofing, seismic review
  • Permit review
  • Land use regulations
  • Critical slope

These are by no means the only facts that an engineer can validate, but we can be assured that there is always an engineer who can adapt their expertise to any imaginable condition that may present itself in the Real Estate market.


How much will an EPLI it cost?

An EPLI will be more expensive than a home inspection report because engineers command higher compensation and carry greater liabilities than a home inspector.   The professional engineering report is also more useful and can be used in many different situations by legal definition.  It can be used as a basis for contractor selection, insurance coverage, or mortgage financing.

The truth is that many different engineering reports may be generated from the same information collected in a single visit by a qualified engineer. The only difference is in the write up, calculations, and validation by peer review.


How much will an EPLI save?

Instead, we should look at the cost of not conducting an EPLI. Nobody knows the true value of a home – today’s pricing is based on what the people down the road paid regardless of how well that home was maintained or improved. Mortgage holders and insurance companies absorb the valuation risk at significant cost to the homeowner. Increasingly, homeowners associations emerge to enforce community standards on private property to which each homeowner is levied at tax. Still, at the end of the day, there is little or no objective information included in the sale of a 3 trillion dollar per year US RE market.


The 2008 Financial Crisis;

In 2008, the real estate bubble popped. The result was that the theoretical paper value of all properties far exceeded the theoretical market value of all properties. This turned banking balance sheets upside down as they were forced to mark-to-market.

What few people realized that in the absence of true value for physical property – as assessed by a licensed engineer – there is are only theoretical values to work with in the enormous and complicated financial markets.   If only a small percentage of properties had a valid EPLI, this data could be extrapolated onto all properties to establish a nominal true value for real estate. Banks could then “mark-to-value” rather than mark to market. True value must be disclosed to everyone equally; only from there, we can be confident that market forces can do their magic.



The current real estate delivery system is inefficient. Every regulation adds litigation, which increases time, complexity, risk, and cost to the transaction. The Institution of professional engineering is underutilized for the ability to eliminate bias, distrust, fraud, and other conditions that can diminish the value of a property.  The Institution of professional engineering is also greatly under utilized for validating information that could increase the utility, value, and re-sale of a property.

Taken together the Engineering Pre-Listing Inspection suite is a simple and inexpensive way to increase the speed, security, and efficiency of 140 million American’s most important transaction.

Adjudicated Smart Contract for Construction


Rendering by Autodesk

The Ingenesist Project is developing a new class of business methods called The Value Game (TVG). When combined with Curiosumé, TVG forms a set of alternate economic incentives that may reward high integrity in the preservation, renewal, and acquisition of shared assets, such as infrastructure.

BidPool is an adjudicated smart contract for construction and accomplishes 2 things:

1. It lowers the cost of procurement bidding from AxB to A/B.
2. It minimizes competition costs and rewards high integrity in a bidding process.

The Value Game: Bid Pool 

Problem:  Procurement/bidding competition is highly redundant, consumes a great deal of resources, and promotes variability.

For example: 5 contractors may spend $10K separately marketing, researching, and bidding on a project that only one will win. Further, each contractor may win only 1 out of 5 bids. The cost of these losses is ultimately wrapped into the total market cost of the industry. The Incentive to bypass is high.

Cost of bidding = A x B;  

where A = cost of goods sold, and B = number of bidders

Adjudicated Smart Contract For Construction:

Consider a process where a project owner and 5 contractors, are all selected by qualifications to play The Value Game.  Each one commits a $10K promissory note into a blockchain escrow account – this is what they would spend anyway for each bid attempt.  A 3rd Party Engineering firm writes the “Statement of Work” for the project. This SOW serves as common research for all contractors submitting a bid.

The Value Game:

Whoever submits the winning bid will pay the engineering fees ($10K) to the 3rd-party who produced the report. Everyone else gets his or her note cancelled or converted to a cryptocurrency to be used in future TVGs. If the owner does not select, the owner then pays for the report and can use it to hold another Value Game in the future.

Cost of bidding = A / B; 

where A = cost of goods sold, and B = number of bidders

Aligned Incentives

The Value Game realigns major incentives. As such, the projects benefit from:

  • Improve matching of qualifications – those most qualified to perform a job will inherently produce a better price.
  • Improve quality and seriousness of owners – owners will not wastefully exercise contractors and resolve unknowns prior to bid.
  • Eliminates bidding redundancy – everyone bidding on the same package instead of duplicating research, advertising, sales.
  • Reduces project variance – SOW migrates to contracts and downstream.
  • Reduces marginal cost of additional bidders – electronic SOW can be projected over wider market area.
  • More bidders can participate – New entrants can enjoy unbiased access to projects without retribution.
  • Increases transparency – SOW, RFP, RFQ, contract award becomes part of public ledger.
  • Reduces project costs – less volatility equals less risk. Fewer parts are duplicated between players.
  • Insulates conflict of interest – 3rd Party adjudication insulates potential COI’s
  • Corruption resistant – adjudication and public ledger creates transparency.


Bid Pool is a Value Game that reduces the cost of procurement while realigning incentives to reward high integrity rather than low integrity in the construction industry.  Mined value is derived from front end COGS and the reduction of downstream project risks.  All additional project milestones may also be extended from the initial TVG or adjudicated on it’s own TVG.

These milestones may include contracts, work orders, exclusions, subs, insurance, financing, change orders, maintenance, repairs, future renovations, decommissioning, etc.  Each milestone will be represented by it’s own block and the complete project would be represented by it’s own block chain throughout the life of the asset.

Additionally, Curiosumé would generalize TVG to allow for  “anonymity-until-point-of-transaction” (AUPOT) while decentralizing the knowledge assets deployed to a project throughout its life cycle.

The Bitcoin Protocol Impact on The Engineering Profession

I will be delivering this presentation at the Nation Society of Professional Engineers Annual Conference on July 2015 in Seattle.

Bitcoin Protocol Impact on the Engineering Profession


The Bitcoin Protocol and Future Currency Impact on the Engineering Profession

In a Wall Street Journal essay, two authors wrote, “The digital currency known as bitcoin is only six years old, and many of its critics are already declaring it dead. But such dire predictions miss a far more important point: Whether bitcoin survives or not, the technology underlying it is here to stay.” This session will cover what digital currency means for the engineering profession.

“Decentralization” is a term being applied to platforms that use the Blockchain Protocol pioneered by Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin.  As a cryptographic currency, Bitcoin remains problematic.  However, as an algorithmic protocol, blockchain technology will enable society to cheaply perform common business processes that are now controlled by institutions such as banks, insurance companies, corporations, government, etc.  Today, rapidly emerging platforms are under development to bring “smart contracts” (algorithms based on blockchain technology) into the mainstream.  

An important and essential variant of smart contracts is called an “Adjudicated Smart Contract” that requires an independent 3rd party adjudicator that would “flip the switch” on algorithmic agreements in finance, insurance, and decisions of governance.  There is a staggering opportunity ahead for the engineering profession to position itself for the role of the adjudicator in a wide variety of important and high value transactions.  The caveat is that we too must change the way that we organize ourselves.   

This presentation, Decentralizing the Engineering Profession, begins with the failure of the NAFTA MRD followed by an introduction to blockchain technologies, and ending with specifications on how our profession can jump to the top of the value chain in the era of Social Capitalism – if, and only if, [the engineering profession] can choose to change.  


Thursday, July 16, 2015
Start Time: 3:15 pm
End Time: 4:15 pm
Number of PDHs: 1
Speaker: Dan Robles, P.E.
Reference: Reorganizing Society in the era of Social Capitalism:  Curiosumé
The Bitcoin Protocol Impact on The Engineering Profession

Crowdfunding Condominium Renovations

shutterstock_crowdfunding-1280x960(Summary; crowdfunding condominium renovations with emerging platforms can lead to substantial savings when proper engineering assurance is also performed.  Contact us for more information)

The 20/10 Rule

After the first 20 years, a condominium building may see a major system repair every 10 years for the life of the building.  After year 20, a building may start to see increased maintenance costs on major systems.   They start as small problems such as a roof leak, a broken water valve,  some wood rot under a window sill, a blown compressor, etc.  As the frequency and severity of the problems increase, the cost of repair and insurance claims exceeds the price of replacing the system.

The Funding Paradox

Once a system enters a mode of cascading failures, a major system renovation needs to happen immediately.  The cascading failures also happen in the financial side: an insurance claim triggers higher premiums, a water damage disclosure devalues real property, frequent shutdowns cause resident complaints, and the cost of constant repairs is progressively more significant.

The backlash from enforcing special assessments on residents can be severe.  People are willing to pay their fair share, but it is not fair to ask a current resident to subsidize past residents who enjoyed a trouble-free system.  Nor is it fair to ask them to subsidize future residents who will enjoy a trouble-free systems after renovation.  At this point, banks have you backed into a corner.  Bank loans must be collateralized by liens on the community cashflow, bank fees can cost between 0.5-1.5% of the cost of repair, and interest rates can average 5% (effectively doubling the price of the work over 15 years)

The cost of having the problem has a compound negative impact on the ability to fix the problem.


Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt to constraints on their environment. When money is constrained by economic factors, people are figuring out new ways to get the job done.  Today, new crowdfunding platforms are appearing for every known cause from funding start-up companies, to paying medical bills, education expenses, community coops, even public services.

Coengineers, PLLC is encouraged by what we have seen in the crowdfunding movement.  These are not banks, they are a platforms that allow a community to borrow money from themselves. Instead of a special assessment, the board “borrows” the assessed value from the residents and pays it back from the dues collected over time.

3 Benefits of Crowdfunding Condominium Renovations

1. Current residents no longer subsidize future or past residents – they can carry an interest bearing loan from the HOA.  A resident can move and still collect on the debt.

2. Loan terms are (to a large part) decided by the community, interest rate, initiation rate, assets secured, etc.

3. Money stays home instead of paying bank shareholders in a far off city – all fees, work, repairs, and repayments stay in the community.

A word of caution about crowdfunding for construction

One thing that banks and insurance companies perform very well is due diligence. Old institutions have long-term memory that enables them to know what types of investments work and what type do not.  These institutions are very familiar with construction loans and associated financial hazards.  Banks and insurance entities are vigilant in requiring a certain amount of preparation and professional documentation in place before underwriting a project. This data is matched to past data and risks are pooled and diversified.  Before a community attempts a crowd fund, they should make certain that they can effectively duplicate the technical and financial due diligence that a bank or insurance company would perform.

Further, the project MUST be insurable during and after completion in order for mortgages to remain viable.  It is essential that your insurance company accepts the conditions under which a renovation is performed.  They are already very comfortable accepting the opinions of your bank, but will they accept the vetting of the HOA Board?  Future mortgage lenders must be certain that the property was renovated to banking standards or they will not lend to future homeowners.  These are serious implication that the HOA board must be aware of.

Crowdfunding Assurance Engineering

Coengineers, PLLC specializes in representing the community’s best interest by performing the condition assessment, the reserves study, the feasibility study, the statement of work, contractor vetting, and ultimately, the maintenance plan for HOA properties attempting to crowd fund their projects.  Coengineers, PLLC has developed a set of processes that may accomplish these goals specifically in support of crowdfunding platforms.

Pillars of Engineering Assurance

The condition assessment tells the HOA exactly what the problem is and the scope of the required repair. The reserve study looks at all property systems and determines their estimating service life and scope of repair over a 30-year period.

The feasibility study will compare various options that an HOA may be considering for scope, cost, and payback.  The statement of work tells the contractor exactly what needs to be performed in contractual form.

Contractor vetting is required to make certain that the contractors’s capability and solution are consistent with the objectives of the community. It is also important to verify milestones of the project and adjudicate the release of funds to the trades for work completed.  Finally, the community needs to know the precise maintenance schedule which will ensure that the new system experiences the maximum service life.

Quality is everything

One other thing to keep in mind is that anyone can buy these notes underwritten by the HOA as long as the asset is of sufficiently high quality.  Coengineers helps to assures the quality of the asset thereby broadening the investor base. Outside investors such as area merchants, future residents, insurance companies, and even contractors may carry these notes at an interest rate that beats many long term investments.  When communities are self-supporting and the money stays home, everyone wins.

Solid value

Crowdfunding condominium renovations may be an excellent choice for some communities to bring their property up from a D grade to an A grade while saving significantly over a bank loan and without imposing a special assessment on the residents.  However, it is recommended that an engineering firm is contracted to provide project assurance that will reflect positively to future lenders, insurers, future residents, real estate values, and community resilience. Feel free to contact us at for more information on crowdfunding platforms and the Coengineers Crowdfunding Assurance Package of services.

Case Study: Harrison West Tower Re-pipe


The Harrison West Condominium Association required a re-pipe of their historic 24-floor residential tower situated in the desirable PSU area of Portland Oregon. Community Engineering Services, PLLC formed a team with engineering specialists Dan Robles, PE,  David Coles, PE, Architect Richard Bosch, AIA and a CM consultant.  Through the client’s commitment to research, analysis, and insisting upon the services of  experienced Engineers and Architects, many unique opportunities were discovered while substantial costs and risks were avoided.  The resulting renovation is now considered among the most robust in the Pacific Northwest. 

Case Study: Harrison West Tower Re-pipe

Step 1: Piping Condition Assessment

The purpose of the piping condition assessment was to determine without doubt, the actual condition of the existing piping system.  This knowledge would drive many decisions such as schedule, material, priorities, proposals, and techniques that could or could not be used when performing the repipe.  A typical Coengineers piping condition assessment may be referenced here (Assessment report)

Step 2: Material Selection Process

The HOA board was especially concerned about various piping materials and requested a review of Epoxy Liner, Copper, and various plastic products.  Epoxy was rejected (Epoxy Report), Copper was compared alternates such as PEX and Polypropylene (Tech Study Report)

Step 3: Contractor RFI/RFP process

RFI process sought to find the most qualified mechanical services  firms who would be willing to undertake such a project.  For each, we requested a rough estimate for performing the job in each of three materials; Copper, Copper/PEX, and Polypropylene. The Board selected Polypropylene. The RFI approached a dozen qualified firms in the Portland Area. 

Step 4: Contractor RFP process

Of the five top candidates from the RFI process, three were selected for the RFP process. Polypropylene (PP-R) was somewhat unfamiliar for many contractors and represented many unknowns.  Ultimately, the board selected McKinstry, Inc due to their excellent reputation and prior experience in PP-R.  The polypropylene piping material and complete plumbing system was supplied by Aquatherm.  

Step 5: Detailed Statement of Work  

As the RFP prices and ideas came in, it was obvious that a different approach to re-piping the building was needed – it would not be possible to rely on the plumbers  for a solution. We consulted with Duane Tilden, P. Eng., a member of the Coengineers network, who has re-piped over 40 structures of this type.  His recommendation, based on a similar re-pipe he had performed in Canada, was to send the main risers up through the refuse disposal closet   This suggestion was a perfect fit for the Harrison West Project and ultimately defined the strategy for this re-pipe.  

Step 6: Re-piping The Harrison West.   

Steps HW Re-Pipe

Renderings by Richard Bosch Architecture, Portland OR

plan schematic

Plan Schematic (click to enlarge) c. Richard Bosch, AIA


The Harrison West Condominium Association received a ultra-clean, high reliability potable water system using non-metallic components covered by an unprecedented 10-year warranty and $15M manufacturers insurance policy.  This project is unique in many important technical areas and will long be considered a landmark re-pipe in the engineering profession.  The price of the project is scheduled to compete with copper while the carbon footprint (over copper mining, smelting, transportation, and recycling) is dramatically lower.  This unique high-profile re-pipe will have a direct and positive impact on home values for this community.

What Every Engineer Needs to Know About Bitcoin

engineering-image-17A bitcoin (lowercase b), as a currency, has several flaws that will continue to limit its ability to replace money as we know it.  There are millions of words published on the subject, so I’ll leave it to the reader to assess arguments on both sides.  However, Bitcoin (upper case B) as a “protocol” for the transfer of value is an extremely important innovation that engineers must not ignore.  

The opportunities for the profession are sweeping and vast, but only if we take action and build this ecosystem ourselves – it is so powerful, that others will gladly do it for us.   I will try to explain this opportunity in this short 1125 word article, but please feel free to contact me with in-depth questions.

The Block Chain Protocol

The Bitcoin protocol is a brilliant innovation that cannot be un-invented – it is here to stay and it will appear in many forms long after it sheds the “bitcoin” moniker.   Formally called the Block Chain protocol,  Bitcoin was designed to solve an age old problem of double spending a currency, specifically, a virtual currency.   A currency created on a computer can be easily copied by a computer and thus negates the real productivity that a currency is supposed to represent.   The same is still true for money – paper currency is becoming increasingly complex so that it cannot be easily copied, etc.

Today, there are vast institutions from banks, corporations, a legal system, prison system, and unfathomable volumes of legislation (all imposing respective brokerage fees) acting on the behalf of sanctifying the dollar.  However, volatility in these very institutions is what threatens the value of the dollar and all currencies upon which the World depends for very basic needs.  How well is this working, really?

So, What’s the big deal?

The stakes are high.  To invent a new secure and resilient means to rapidly transmit value can in one fell swoop eliminate the friction of the massive institutions on our economy, while also decreasing the volatility and economic friction imposed on society.   This is the reason behind the media hype, congressional hearings, declarations of nations, billionaire press conferences, etc.  They are all scared to death of the disruptive potential of this little beast.  Unfortunately, bitcoin has fallen victim to many of the same deficiencies that it proposes to correct.  But these will likely be corrected in the next iterations.   

The Train Leaves The Station

The backbone of the Bitcoin protocol is called the Block Chain.  There are now hundreds if not thousands of Block Chains in existence independent of Bitcoin.  Consider the Block Chain like going down to the train station.  At some predetermined time, a train arrives and the doors open.  Everyone piles into the train and after a predetermined amount of time, the doors close.  The corollary is that the doors cannot be opened for a predetermined amount of time and no changes, copies, or corruption can take place within that time stamp, no matter what.  Only when the train reaches the next location, the doors will open. Once the doors close for a second time, they never open again and a new block is formed.  Also, there is no way to retract this process, except by repeating it forward in a reverse transaction.     

The protocol has a few more features that I’ll leave to the reader to research including a public ledger where all transactions are open for everyone to see; and the train gets infinitely long with each new opening.  The transactions are opened and sealed cryptograpically and incentives are in place that compensates exchanges (the station masters) and well as those who solve a cryptographic puzzle that creates and maintains the integrity of the public ledger (miners).  

Smart Contracts

Everyone knows that money and contracts are intimately related.  In fact, money is a contract.  A contract is defined as a meeting of the minds.  As such, where the Block Chain protocol can efficiently transmit “currency”, so too can it transmit contracts.  In fact, it is so effective for articulating contracts that it’s potential to do so far eclipses its ability to replace the existing fiat currencies.  But again, money and contracts are so closely related that even this becomes a grey area – both can exist within the Block Chain.  This is hugely significant.     

So what’s in it for the Engineering profession? 

There is a special type of contract that engineering societies such as the NSPE should have a laser focus.  These are called Oracle Contracts.  For example, a client would retain a contractor to build a structure or machinery.  They would deposit funds into an escrow account managed by “smart contract” in a block chain.  This means that the computer will flip the switches instead of an accountant, banker, or attorney.  At certain points in contract and “oracle” – a third party vetting mechanism – will verify that the conditions or performance of the agreement have been met, then they would flip a switch that releases the funds to the contractor or back to the client (or through a predetermined decision tree), depending on objective observation.  

It’s All About Efficiency

This is efficient for the contractor because they don’t have to worry about getting paid as long as they meet the conditions of the contract. The client does not need to worry about getting ripped off because they are assured that the conditions of their agreement will be met.  The system is efficient because high integrity is rewarded and there is little incentive to cheat which minimizes lawyers,  accountants, social dysfunction, and all manners of corruption in a public ledger that provides extraordinary analytics available for societal learning in the public domain. 

For the vast majority of projects, products, or policies in the United States and the world, a licensed professional engineer and related scientific bodies are the ONLY qualified Oracles that can be deployed to vet an astonishing variety of Smart Contracts.

Smart Contracts can be written for almost any transaction, but it is inherently an intangible transaction since a “meeting of the minds” is the true nature of the value that they articulate.  The implications of an abundant intangible economy vs. a scarce tangible economy are vast.  Silicon Valley is pumping millions of dollars into virtual currency start-ups like Ripple Labs while companies such as Ethereum  promise to make smart contracts on public ledger block chains as easy to build as dragging and dropping puzzle pieces into a web page.  This is here today – it is not a theory.

Banks, insurance companies, and attorneys will be the first to adopt smart contracts because they stand the most to lose by not doing so.  Meanwhile, engineers in the US and indeed the World are relegated to the contractor sweatshops or smothered under the weight of towering hierarchies. Tragedies such as the Oso landslide and global warming remind us of the absence of engineering oracles advocating for society and our planet.  It is imperative, now, that engineers embrace Block Chain Protocol Technologies and the deployment of Smart Contracts to elevate the profession to the top of the proverbial food chain before someone else does it for us.       

5 Questions About Reserve Fund Studies

EngineerThe Reserve Study is one of the most important documents that a shared asset community can own. Coengineers, PLLC complies with the more stringent standard of the Canadian Reserve Study Act combined with the ASTM E2018-08 standard for building condition assessments where practical.   This standard of care provides the Board, The Management Company, and the community of owners with the highest level of legal and technical resilience in the industry.  Don’t sell your community short on  reserve fund analysis. No other purchase can pay for itself in multiples as a rock solid reserve study.

Adapted from  

Who Is Allowed to Prepare the Reserve Fund Study (Canada)?

The Regulations to the Condominium Act 1998 (Canada) note who is permitted:

  • Members of the Appraisal Institute of Canada
  • Persons who hold a certificate of practice within the meaning of the Architects Act
  • Certified Engineering Technologists
  • Architectural Technologists
  • Holders of a CRP (RS – USA) designation
  • Persons who hold a certificate of authorization within the meaning of the Professional Engineers Act
  • Quantity Surveyors
  • Graduates Polytechnic University with a Bachelor of Technology new  (Architectural Science) Building Science or Architecture option.

Notwithstanding the above, there are regulations on who cannot prepare the Study which include members of the Board, the condominium’s property manager, certain relatives of Board members, an owner or a resident in the-condominium. In addition, the person/company being considered cannot have any direct or indirect interest in a contract or proposed contract with any Board member outside of his/her capacity as a Board member.

Aside from professional credentials, you want someone who has demonstrated experience with condominiums. Notwithstanding the Study being a budget document, it is also a technical report that involves the review of architectural and engineering drawings and the visual inspection of common elements. A trained eye can identify building problems for which repair costs can be included in the Study. In addition, much of the future Reserve Fund expenditures will be due to building envelope (roofing, windows, exterior cladding) and structural restoration (parking garages, balconies). These costs are often very site dependent for which “costing manuals” are of little use. Companies that have designed and administered these types of rehabilitation projects will be better suited to provide budgets for similar future work that the Corporation may be facing.

The regulations to the Condominium Act stipulate the minimum liability insurance requirements; $1,000,000.

What Information Does the HOA Need to Provide?

Once you have hired a consultant, he/she will require information about the condominium corporation. This will include the following:

  • As-built drawings and specifications.
  • The Declaration and Description.
  • Reciprocal cost sharing agreements.
  • Previous reserve fund studies.
  • The most recent audited financial statements.
  • What the current annual contribution to the Reserve Fund is.
  • Repairs or replacements to the common elements that have already been completed and when. Similarly, scheduled future work needs to be accounted for.
  • A summary of problems being encountered by the Corporation that should be reviewed. As an example, water penetration concerns.

What Is The Process?

The process is as follows:

  • The consultant is provided the above information. One of the most important are the drawings. They will be reviewed prior to visiting the site in order for the consultant to become familiar with the overall design and construction schemes.
  • Site inspection. In order to have an understanding on the current condition of the common elements, visual inspections are undertaken. Problem areas noted above can be reviewed. After the first study, the next study update can be completed without a site inspection. The next update must include a site inspection.
  • The report is then prepared (see next question). The drawings are used to “take-off” quantities such as roofing, exterior wall cladding, asphalt, hallway finishes etc that will assist in preparing the replacement/repair cost budgets. It is recommended that a draft report should be submitted in order for the Board and Property Manager to review it prior to it being finalized. The consultant should be available to attend a meeting to review the report.
  • Upon receiving direction from the Board of Directors, the Reserve Fund Study is finalized and submitted.

What Is The Report Format?

Each consultant will have a different format, but in general, the Reserve Fund Study will contain a Physical and Financial Analysis:

  • Background Information about the Corporation in general; where it is, its age, a general description of the property as a whole.
  • Inspection Report. Based upon the results of the site inspection, the report will provide an itemized overview description of the major common elements. This will include general condition, the need and timing for remedial work or replacement and any other information that the Board should be aware of.
  • Information Tables. There is typically a table that summarizes the common elements in terms of current age, life expectancy, remaining service life and current and future cost budgets.
  • Expenditure Tables. The data from the Information Tables is summarized to show in a tabular format when the itemized common element repair/replacements are estimated to take place. For each year, these expenditures are summed. The annual projections must be a minimum of 30 years commencing in the year the Study (and updates) is prepared.
  • Cash Flow Tables. Based upon the estimated expenditures, different contribution plans can be provided. Often, one plan includes the contribution level currently being used as a form of comparison to other scenarios.

What is the Funding Plan?

As part of the Financial Analysis, the study must in recommended funding plan projected over 30 years from the date of the study. The plan must show:

  • The estimated cost of major repairs and replacements based upon current costs.
  • The same costs adjusted to account for an assumed inflation rate. The inflation rate must be stated in the study.
  • The opening balance of the reserve fund.
  • The recommended amount of contributions to the reserve fund determined on a cash flow basis that are required to offset adequately the expected cost in the year of the expected major repair or replacement common elements and assets.
  • An estimate of the interest earned on the reserve fund contributions based upon an assumed interest The study shall state the assumed interest rate. The Condominium Act requires that interest generated by the Reserve Fund is reinvested into the Fund.
  • The percentage increase in annual contributions to the reserve fund for each year of the 30 year study.
  • The estimated closing balance of the reserve fund for each year.

When To Retain a Licensed Engineer

Ask an EngineerIt is commonplace for businesses and community associations to retain an accountant, or a lawyer, or a financial advisor; but how often does one think about retaining a Professional Engineer?

Engineering oversight on your technical projects pays for itself in lower total cost, higher quality, financial security, and legal resilience, and for an investment that may be surprisingly reasonable compared to the cost of a failed project.  An engineering opinion can move mountains with contractors, insurance companies, banks, and lawyers.

When to retain a Licensed Engineer

1. When contractors can’t seem to solve the problem after repeated attempts.
2. If you will require bank financing for the development, purchase or repair of your property or machinery.
3. If insurability of your property or machinery is imperative to the viability of your project.
4. If you hold fiduciary responsibility to an association for the expenditures of community funds on property, machinery, or maintenance.
5. If disclosure is regulated by law such as water damage, title history, reserve funds, or proof of performance for property or machinery.
6. When you need a second opinion supporting a large expenditure.
7. When you need a licensed professional to oversee construction.
8. When you are making a warrantee claim.
9. To perform independent forensic studies or pre-emptive failure analysis.
10. When due diligence is required in a litigious environment.

Engaging an engineer may feel like a daunting task since many engineering firms are structured around big projects serving large corporations, developers, or government. And yes, we are a bit quirky, we speak a different language, and sometimes we may seem socially distant.  But there are many small engineering firms or independent engineers that can tackle a wide variety of problems quickly, efficiently and without huge overhead.

Fortunately, it is easy to check the licensure status on an engineer to be assured that they have been signed-off by other engineers, that they have passed all of their engineering board exams, and have no violations on record. The engineering profession is tightly regulated by law with strict rules and durable code of ethics so that the public can be assured well beyond many non-licensed professions. Also keep in mind that nobody can offer engineering services to the public without holding a valid license.

Community Engineering Services brings a wide variety of experience in major engineering disciplines to your project, when you need it at a price that makes sense. Community Engineering Services, PLLC is a collection of independent engineers that collaborate with each other to bring forward the best solution to your important technical problems.  We hope to deliver engineering closer to the public in a new way in order to support the infrastructure of communities.

We are Coengineers, let us be the voice of your building. 

Preventable Problems With PEX

pex-pipingPEX is relatively new material (less than 20 years) that has gained widespread acceptance in the new construction piping and building renovation repiping for potable water systems.

The reasons are obvious – PEX has flex. The material is inexpensive AND the installation is fast and simple.  PEX is especially desirable on repipes since it can greatly reduce the size of the wall intrusions as plumbers can snake the material across smaller openings.

Unfortunately, there are some vulnerabilities that the owner needs to be aware of so that they can specify the right PEX components for their specific job.  Keep in mind that contractors are only liable for workmanship, manufacturers are liable for material defects, and the owner is liable for everything else. While we would always recommend obtaining a professional engineering opinion, this short article will help the owner understand what PEX is and how to manage the big vulnerabilities to using PEX: brass fittings, UV exposure, water quality, and even vermin!.

Cross linked Polyethylene – advantages

Cross Linked Polyethylene is a modification of polyethylene plastic commonly found in children’s playground equipment.  Cross linking means that the individual ‘mers’ in the ‘polymer’ are bunched up into knots instead of aligned in direction.  This allows the material to return to its original size and shape after being stretched.  This is great for holding on to fittings, bending around corners, and expanding under pressure, heat, or even freezing conditions.

PEX is very fast to install and can be threaded through walls without having to necessarily cut out large sections of wall board.  Connections can be visually inspected with great reliability and precise measurement is not a critical as materials such as copper or CPVC.  PEX has been widely used for several decades with broad acceptance in the market and universal familiarity in the plumbing trade.  Many different companies support the PEX products with accessories and connectors such as manifolds, hangers, and specialty adapters.

Preventable Problems With PEX

PEX is clearly not without its own problems, fortunately these may be avoidable. In the engineering profession, we understand that it is rare for one single problem to cause a failure, rather, it is the combination on two or more problems that lead to the major accidents. Many times accidents occur when one party does not communicate with another. With PEX, the owner, contractors, builders, maintenance personnel, etc, must be aware of the system configuration and have a plan for interacting with the system.  For this reason, engineering counsel is often warranted in a complex system.


Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.  When the zinc content is too high, it can corrode away under certain water conditions leaving a weak and porous copper shell, which can lead to failure conditions ranging from persistent leaks to a rare breach of a pressurized line.    At least one class action lawsuit was filed against the makers of a particular brass fitting that was failing in service causing substantial property damage.  The root cause was found to be the dezincification.

Most of these defective fittings were found in big box hardware stores and made cheaply overseas.  This suit was settled for 90 million dollars or so and the problem is now easily avoidable. Other problems have been found in areas with high mineral content such as Nevada and Hawaii. The owner should specify low zinc brass fittings or use ‘engineered plastic’ fitting components.

Dezincification in the Pacific Northwest

Coengineers recently conducted a more extensive analysis for a condominium association in the Pacific Northwest.  One interesting feature that we encountered was strong disagreement in the engineering community whether dezincification presents a problem in the Pacific Northwest or not.  In cases of suspected dezincification in the PNW, it may be prudent to perform a limited test. If there are currently no leaks, it is important to only disturb the minimum amount necessary to identify the composition of the zinc used in your system, then watch and maintain the system. A case study for conducting due diligence may be found here.

Chemical leaching

PEX was also suspected of leaching controversial chemicals such as MBTA, TBA, BPA, and other chemicals that are considered toxic. While we cannot testify to the truthfulness of this claim, the State of California has banned PEX in many building structures.  Given the segmented nature of permitting jurisdictions in the US, it would be wise to be aware of these concerns.

It is generally accepted that of the three types of PEX (called type A, B, or C), type B is the only formulation that does has not been suspected of any leaching considerations.  As such, a leaching concern is easily avoidable (given proper attention to other considerations such as strength and temperature ratings among the 3 varieties). Owners should be diligent to specify the type of PEX that is being installed.

Ultraviolet Radiation:

The stabilizers in PEX are highly vulnerable to breaking down under UV radiation – while some sources may claim that some UV exposure is acceptable, we advise that all precautions should be taken to shield this material from UV rays. Even fluorescent lamps and CFLs are to be avoided especially where ceiling route may interact with recessed fluorescent lighting. There are many shielding products available to solve this problem. However, PEX is best suited in total darkness. 

Agressive Water Chemistry:

PEX is also known to be slightly vulnerable to chlorinated water and possibly copper ions resulting from copper corrosion upstream.  The temperature rating of the water must be strictly adhered to. Alone, these factors may not be worrisome in many application, however when combined with the the other aggravating factors, the aggressiveness of the water may amplify hazard potential.  


Most builders will shield a PEX installation from a future owner or contractor, say, hammering a nail into the wall.  For this reason, the homeowner should be aware of the potential to cause a leak by intruding through the wall with a nail or saw. Some contractors will use a thermal measurement device to identify water piping before cutting into a wall for any other reason.  It is important for the owner to know where the pipes are before cutting into a wall.

We have seen several instances where mysterious leaks appear in PEX installation corresponding to the extermination of rodents.  The poison that is often used to kill small animals causes them to become very thirsty and seek water.  Rats appear to be especially clever and can discern the sound of water flowing through PEX pipes – then rapidly chew through the PEX to access water.  Make sure that ALL hired contractors – from electricians to exterminators – are licensed and experienced when interacting with a building that has a PEX system.


It can be seen that failures will most likely occur from the combination of two or more seemingly unrelated problems.  It is rare that any single person or contractor is aware – on a scientific basis – of all these factors and the way that they can interact with each other.

Further, The owner or maintenance personnel cannot be expected to know all of these details – they just install what they buy at the supply shop.  It is important that the owner stay aware of these vulnerabilities of PEX and watch the installation closely.

A vigilant owner will hire an engineer to oversee the specifications and construction