Magazine article Journal of Property Management

High-Tech, below Grade

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

High-Tech, below Grade

Article excerpt

High-Tech, Below Grade

Much of a property manager's work is problem-solving, and it takes more knowledge to solve some of the problems we are now confronted with, given the ever-increasing complexity of buildings, government regulations, and a law system that seems constantly in flux.

While our ability to solve office problems has been enhanced tremendously, due to growing reliance on sophisticated computer hardware and software, advances in field operations have been slower in coming. Nevertheless, new field-oriented technologies are emerging which are giving property managers a much-needed boost in their ability to resolve problems far more quickly and cost effectively.

For as long as I can remember, two of the worst field problems have occurred underground with broken sewer and water lines. Because it is impossible to know where the problem is occurring, you must move forward or downward based on a best guess. But even the best guess is often wrong, making it necessary to guess again. And again.

Somewhat ironically, the least expensive element of such trial and error is the cost of the line repair itself, about $300 to $400, compared to the $15,000 or more to close the holes properly and install a new surface, be it sod or asphalt. However, new technology is now available. While it will not eliminate the need for dig-ups, it can at least help eliminate the need for trial and error, as well as the cost of repairing the damage done while waiting for the problem to make itself more obvious.

For sewer problems, this new technology involves the use of cameras that permit a real-time visual analysis of conditions. For water line leaks, the technology is computer-based hydroacoustics, used to determine where lines are, whether or not they are leaking and, if so, where.

Sewer line analysis

Television inspection systems are comprised of a camera, a camera-control module, a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor and a distance indicator/captioning unit, useful in making videotapes of inspections. The television camera, just 8 inches long with a 1 1/2-inch diameter at its widest point, is mounted on a skid that is pulled or pushed through the line.

A variety of accessories are available, enabling the camera to be outfitted on-site to match the service required. For example, one camera head has a mounted ring of lights; another, used for wet work, encloses the lens in a water-tight, glass-covered case to which a light is attached. Although the camera is small, the quality of its resolution is outstanding.

A primary concern to our company was practical application of this new technology. We had one particular problem unit in mind: A basement unit in a low-income project had been allowed to stand vacant for approximately four years because the four-inch drain installed in the concrete slab had a history of backing up, depositing as much as a foot of water and raw sewage in the apartment. Site personnel told me they had repeatedly had the lines snaked out, but to no avail. Within a week or so the problem would repeat itself.

It was estimated that as much as $50,000 would have to be spent to dig out the line, possibly replace it, restore the basement floor inside, and repair asphalt surfaces outside. It was more cost effective just to leave the unit vacant. Had new technology not been available, they would have been right.

The inspection of the line revealed in minutes the problem which had caused four years of head scratching. Approximately 62 feet from the drain's opening in the basement floor - beneath a city street - a sewer pipe was broken completely in two.

The point of the break was marked on the asphalt and the appropriate officials were called. They made the necessary repairs the following day at no cost to the project owner. The problem had been located, repaired, and resolved in a relatively short period of time without costly, messy random inspection. …

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