Last Updated on August 4, 2022 by Dan Cronk
In California, 16.97% of people live in apartment buildings.
For those apartment buildings to continue providing safe housing, landlords and building managers must maintain them properly.
At Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc., our team has more than 40 years of experience providing building inspections for apartments throughout California to help them comply with SB 721.
We’ve used our expertise to create a comprehensive guide to exterior maintenance for apartment buildings.
Let’s dive in.
What Does Apartment Maintenance Include?
Many factors go into exterior maintenance for apartment buildings. Specifically, landlords are responsible for the following:
- Maintaining common areas and keeping them clear of hazards like faulty banisters and unsafe stairs.
- Providing adequate lighting around the exterior of the building and ensuring lighting futures are in good working condition with working light bulbs.
- Applying exterior sealants (such as paint) and fillers (such as caulk) designed to prevent moisture intrusion.
- Recognizing and treating dry rot in its early stages.
Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and that specific apartment maintenance tasks depend on the location, condition, and size of your building.
Why is it Important to Maintain a Building’s Exterior?
Maintaining a building’s exterior serves many purposes. These include the following:
- Minimize the formation of structural issues.
- Performing routine exterior maintenance keeps tenants safe and prevents dry rot that could cause deck and balcony collapse and other hazards.
- Exterior maintenance allows building owners and managers to avoid expensive repairs.
- Building owners and managers who perform routine exterior maintenance are at less risk of costly liabilities from tenants who sue or seek damages after an accident.
- Adequate exterior maintenance makes the building attractive to prospective tenants.
Exterior Maintenance for Apartment Buildings: Your Complete Checklist
Keep your apartment building safe and comfortable for tenants with this checklist.
Still, it’s a good starting point for building owners and managers to follow.
Here’s what to look for:
1. Roof eaves, overhangs, and beams
- Eave roof sheathing. Check for signs of veneer cross-checking that occur when the plywood absorbs and evaporates moisture repeatedly. The cause of this issue is moisture coming from clogged gutters and downspouts, missing or damaged roof flashing, a breakdown in the protective coating of the area, or leaks in the roof. The solution is to clean gutters and downspouts and paint plywood where cross-checking occurs.
- Eave fascia board. Inspect the fascia board and seal all cracks to prevent dry rot. If dry rot is already present, replace the board immediately.
- Exposed beams and rafter tail ends. To prevent moisture intrusion, paint or seal the tops of exposed beams. You should also routinely check for dry rot by picking at the wood with a flat-bladed screwdriver. Firm wood is unaffected by dry rot, while wood that easily flakes away indicates the presence of dry rot. Fill cracks in rafter tail ends with suitable caulking. Finish by painting all sides of the rafter tail.
2. Siding and trim
Wind-driven rain, south and west exposures, and salt air can degrade siding and trim over time. The methods you use to maintain your siding will depend on what type of siding your building has.
Here’s a quick guide:
If your apartment building dates to the ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s, you likely have T-1-11 siding.
While the siding is low-cost and easy to install, it’s also very susceptible to dry rot since the only barrier to moisture intrusion at trim seams is caulk.
Apply waterproof caulk to all gaps, cracks, joints, and seams. Pay special attention to the perpendicular grooves of the siding and be sure to work caulking into each groove of the boards.
You should also check the vertical seams of plywood siding, which you’ll find at intervals of every three vertical grooves.
Finally, check and caulk any area where plumbing or electrical fixtures enter or exit the siding.
Paint over all caulked areas. Re-inspect and touch up caulk annually.
Stucco siding is durable and has relatively low maintenance requirements. There are, however, a few things to watch out for with this material:
- Cracks. Over time, cracks can form in stucco. Failure to repair existing cracks will lead to more cracking.
- Problems with the moisture barrier. The moisture barrier between the stucco and the wood framing of an apartment building can degrade and deteriorate over time. Cracks in the plaster may cause moisture to penetrate an old moisture barrier.
If your stucco is more than 30 years old, we recommend caulking and sealing all cracks in the siding and repainting the exterior building surface.
For best results, use an “elastomeric” paint since these formulas will stretch over recurring cracks.
If the building has wood trim at doors and windows, check the wood for gaps or cracks that require repair.
Cement fiberboard siding is strong, durable, and known for offering up to an 80-year warranty.
However, most early cement fiberboard siding installations used pre-primed wood trim along windows, corners, and doors, which creates areas for dry rot to occur.
Usually, moisture penetrates the trim of cement fiberboard siding at horizontal seams.
To prevent moisture intrusion, inspect all seams where cement fiberboard siding adjoins wood trim and caulk the areas as needed.
Paint over all caulk, and re-inspect and re-treat the wood annually
3. Decks, balconies, and walkways
Since decks, balconies, walkways, and other exterior elevated elements (EEEs) are horizontal surfaces, it’s impossible to keep moisture off them.
Fortunately, you can protect these elements by employing proper dry rot mitigation techniques.
Here’s a breakdown:
Concrete slab decks, balconies, and walkways
Many California apartment buildings feature concrete slabs poured over elevated wood frames. Over time, however, the surface of the concrete can crack, indicating underlying problems.
If you notice cracking, check for signs of buckling soffits by doing the following:
- Look at the underside of the concrete deck to identify gaps and buckling.
- If you find signs of either, the moisture barrier is faulty and dry rot has taken hold within the wooden supporting structure. In that case, you’ll need to invest in a more extensive inspection performed by a professional building inspector.
- If buckling is not present, fill all cracks in the concrete slab with caulking designed for concrete.
Planked deck surfaces
Planked wooden deck surfaces are very vulnerable to moisture intrusion.
To prevent dry rot, inspect planked decks for areas where leaves or debris have filled the gaps between planks.
Next, remove the debris and fill all cracks and gaps using a 50 ml syringe filled with Copper Green Wood Preservative.
Apply approximately 10 ml of the preservative between gaps over framing joists, repeating the process annually
You’ll also want to inspect the plank surface for signs of raised nails, which indicate the early stages of dry rot.
Remove all raised nail heads and insert the same wood preservative into the nail holes. Next, install screws in place of nails.
Repeat the process on all raised nail heads annually.
Landscaping isn’t structural, but it is building-adjacent, which means it can contribute to dry rot and moisture intrusion.
Here are the maintenance tasks to perform on your landscaping:
- Inspect the proximity of raised irrigation heads. Raised spray-type irrigation heads can push water beneath the siding and trim of your building. Prevent this by changing sprinkler heads close to your building to drip or bubbler heads.
- Inspect earth-to-siding contact. Earth should never come in direct contact with siding. Termites and dry rot are guaranteed to occur wherever the ground meets the siding. Instead, provide at least 4” of space between earth and siding, and ensure proper drainage away from your building.
When is the Best Time to Maintain My Apartment?
The best time to maintain your apartment building’s exterior is after the hottest summer days are over, but before the rain begins in the fall.
We recommend creating an annual inspection and repair schedule and sticking to it.
After all, routine inspections make it easy to identify and address potential maintenance issues before they become a safety hazard.
What Methods & Tools do I Need for Maintenance?
Gather these tools and equipment for routine exterior maintenance:
- Caulk. At a minimum, you should have concrete, multipurpose, and latex caulk on hand.
- Fungicide wood preservatives. In areas where you can’t prevent moisture, or where painting and sealing aren’t possible, you’ll need to apply a fungicidal wood preservative, like Copper Green Wood Preservative.
- Paint, stains, and brushes. In addition to the above, you’ll need your building’s chosen paints and stains on hand and the brushes and rollers needed to apply them.
Need a Deck & Balcony Inspection for Your California Apartment? We Can Help!
As an apartment landlord, performing routine exterior inspections and maintenance is critical.
However, the only real way to keep your building safe and in compliance with California deck and balcony laws is to invest in professional deck and balcony inspections for your apartment building.
Fortunately, our team is here to help.
We serve all California apartment landlords and property managers to help them comply with Senate Bill 721.
The deadline for compliance is fast approaching, so don’t wait another day to schedule your inspection! Contact us today for a free quote.
Dan Cronk is the Founder & President of Deck and Balcony Inspections, Inc. Dan has 40+ years of experience in the construction industry. As a certified structural inspector and general contractor, Dan has extensive knowledge about California’s deck and balcony laws and enjoys sharing his expertise with the community.