Case Study: Harrison West Tower Re-pipe

Introduction

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

Conclusion;

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.

Correcting HOA Maintenance Dysfunction

HOA Horror stories

Here’s How The Problems Start

The board of directors of a homeowner’s association is entrusted by the residents to hire a contractor to perform a complicated reconstruction project. Unfortunately, condominium board members are not very good at writing contracts or issuing requests for proposal or collecting bids. When a contractor is selected, the scope of work is often poorly established. The expectations between the community and the contractor begin to diverge. Soon, a law firm is engaged my some residents to sue the contractor for damages. After a long battle, a settlement is awarded, but it is not enough to fix the problem after expenses are paid.

A Chain Reaction

Fortunately, the contractor in the suit was insured, but this does not cover the personal, professional, and opportunity hardship of defending against the suit. The insurance company also increases the premium for coverage for condo projects. Most good contractors say, “it’s just not worth the trouble.” As the pool of available contractors dries up and the price for reconstruction increases, many condos are forced into deferring maintenance in a distorted market.

Cascading Failures

After a while, a condominium springs a few leaks in their piping system. Each leak results in a relatively small water damage claim. When the insurance company notices several claims in the same building, they begin to fear that a mainline is about to rupture next, and threaten the condominium with cancellation of their policy unless the community replaces the entire system immediately. Now the insurance industry is in a double jeopardy: they force the contractor out of the market and they force the condo out of the market to basically avoid suing themselves.

The Dysfunction Deepens

Banks will not make construction loans to condominiums that are not insured. Likewise, they will not make mortgage loans to buildings that are not insured. The property values plummet and the owners are sent under water. Soon they begin to default on the mortgages that the banks already hold. More maintenance is deferred as owners move out and renters move in. Buildings fall apart and become unsafe. Banks pull out of the market to avoid defaulting on themselves. The wider community suffers.

Correcting HOA Maintenance Dysfunction

Community Engineering Services, PLLC is currently deploying The Value Game to the condominium reconstruction market with remarkable success. The Value Game is a new class of business methods that alters the incentive structure of a distorted market so that everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the best interest of the community.

Here Is How The Value Game Is Formed

The first thing is to identify the “shared asset” in whose best interest it is for everyone to preserve. In this case, the shared asset is the physical condominium building where preservation is the context about which a community interacts.

If we look at each of the players individually, we see some consistent patterns.

  • It is obviously in the best interest of the residents to have a safe and well-maintained home.
  • It is in the best interest of the contractors to have a successful and profitable interaction with the building.
  • It is in the best interest for the Insurance industry to reduce the risks that they underwrite.
  • It is in the interest of the financial industry to loan money into a viable, organized, and disciplined community.
  • It is in the best interest of the real estate industry to represent strong values and complete insurability of assets.
  • Finally, the broader neighborhood benefits from the presence of a viable condominium community.

Project Management is Incentives Management

It is actually in everyone’s best interest that the others are successful. Once incentives can be re-aligned, the project can be managed in a manner that reinforces the community instead of tearing it apart.

Social Capital has value:

Taken together, project risk is vastly reduced and social capital is vastly increased with a simple realignment of incentives and the proper communication channels appropriately open to all. Community Engineering Services, PLLC can orchestrate a tight project by managing the schedule, the design, contracts, risk, and quality; and therefore the cost.