Architectural Manufacturing in CA Holds Strong

As an architect and a Southern California resident, I was glad to read a story in The Architect’s Newspaper recently that manufacturing of architectural elements in SoCal is holding steady and even growing. 

Southern California has long been a center for architectural manufacturing:  curtain wall assemblies, LED lighting, perforated panels and handrail systems to name a few.  Low cost shipping, skilled labor and fast turnarounds are some of the advantages. 

Click here to read the story.

San Francisco Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance

Last week San Francisco passed a landmark energy Ordinance requiring owners of commercial buildings to perform energy benchmarking.   The San Francisco Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance requires annual bench marking and energy audits every five years. 

Annual energy benchmarking is defined as follows:

(a)   Annual Energy Benchmark Summary Reporting. The owner of every non-residential building in the City shall annually file with the Department of the Environment an Annual Energy Benchmark Summary report (“AEBS”) for each covered building using ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager and according to the schedule set forth in Section 2004 of this Chapter. The AEBS shall be based on assessment in Portfolio Manager of the entire non-residential building and related facilities, and must use 12 continuous months of data ending no earlier than two months prior to submittal to the Department of the Environment.

Compliance with the energy benchmarking is staggered based on the size of the building, but the first group of buildings, non-residential buildings over 50,000 s.f., is due in April of 2011.  

The energy audits requirement is also staggered over 5 years, as the population of qualifying energy engineers could not otherwise meet the demand.    The energy audits are required to be done to ASHRAE Level II Standards.   The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers Inc. (ASHRAE) maintains well established energy audit standards.  

 Energy Efficiency Auditor Qualifications

The San Francisco Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance provides clear criteria for the qualifications of the energy engineer / energy auditor:

(c) Energy Efficiency Auditor Qualifications. An energy professional performing or supervising energy efficiency audits must hold one of the following qualifications:

(1) Licensed Professional Engineer and one of the following:

(A) At least 2 years experience performing energy efficiency audits or commissioning of existing buildings; or

(B) ASHRAE Commissioning Process Management Professional Certification; or

(C) Similar qualifications in energy efficiency analysis or commissioning.

(2) Association of Energy Engineers Certified Energy Manager (CEM);

(3) At least 10 years experience as a building operating engineer, or at least 5 years experience as a chief operating engineer and one of the following:

(A) BOC International Building Operator Certification; or

(B) International Union of Operating Engineers Certified Energy Specialist; or

(4) Equivalent professional qualifications to manage, maintain, or evaluate systems, as well as specialized training in energy efficiency audits and maintenance of systems, as determined by the Director.

By requiring serious credentials the San Francisco Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance will ultimately make the data generated more useful to building owners.

The benchmarking piece of the law will dovetail nicely with California law AB 1103, which requires building owners to disclose their Energy Star Ratings at during sale, lease, or financing transactions.  

Probable Maximum Loss Scope of Work for CMBS Lenders

The commercial mortgaged-backed security (CMBS) industry has been reborn in 2010.  CMBS underwriters call their new underwriting paradigm CMBS 2.0.   Providers of third party reports such as Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, Property Condition Assessments and Probable Maximum Loss reports ask: What does CMBS 2.0 mean to our trade?   

The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and the Property Condition Assessment are rather standardized and in my opinion are being provided to CMBS lenders with great reliability.   The Probable Maximum Loss report needs standardizing.   In 2007, ASTM published two new standards for Probable Maximum Loss Reports:  ASTM E2026-07 Standard Guide for Seismic Risk Assessment of Buildings, and ASTM E2557 Standard Practice for Probable Maximum Loss (PML) Evaluations for Earthquake Due-Diligence Assessments.

These new ASTM Standards improve the process, but are too flexible.  For example, the standards do NOT specify how an engineer should calculate a PML and some engineers perform calculations that are out of the mainstream or worse, do no math at all-they just call it based on their judgment.  Of course my colleagues may be very good engineers, but what the industry needs is an objective measurement of seismic risk.   The process should be transparent and peer reviewable.  

Objective reliable Probable Maximum Loss Reports are easily achievable; we just need some help from our clients.  Yes, the clients must do their part.   If clients require the following we will be more than half the way there:

  1. Only order reports from firms with registered engineers on staff;
  2. Require the engineer to show his/her math;
  3. Require that the engineer call the Scenario Expected Limit as the PML, but also report the Scenario Upper Limit.

I have participated in writing the Probable Maximum Loss Scope of Work for several lenders and my rational for my recommendations is presented more thoroughly in my RMA Journal article titled Managing Seismic.

Happy Holidays,
Joe Derhake, PE

Comments on ASTM E2026— Standard Guide for Estimation of Building Damageability in Earthquakes

Engineers perform Probable Maximum Loss Reports (or Seismic Damageability Reports) for real estate investors, lenders, and insurance companies. The consumers of Probable Maximum Loss Reports have many different needs and there is considerable variance in methodology between providers-sometimes for client driven reasons and sometimes because of the engineer. 

ASTM E2026 Standard Guide for Estimation of Building Damageability in Earthquakes ,  is a standard that tries to meet the needs of all stakeholders. The result is that the standard is often not very prescriptive. The very flexible ASTM for PMLs allows for a plethora of different types of PML Reports and is silent on the issue of the formula for calculating the PML.  

The most significant element of the ASTM E2026 Standard is a defined set of vocabulary.   Significant elements are as follows:

First, the term Probable Maximum Loss is defined as “a term used historically to characterize building damageability in earthquakes. It has had a number of significantly different explicit and implicit definitions. It is recommended that the term not be used in the future, and that the terms probable loss (PL) and scenario loss (SL), whose definitions are precise, be used to characterize the earthquake damageability of buildings and groups of buildings.”

Second, instead of simply stating the “Probable Maximum Loss Number” for a report, the ASTM Standard recommends providing multiple numbers.  An engineer’s prediction is really not a single number (or damage ration); rather, we develop a curve of probabilities. Providing lenders a probability curve does not really work for the financial industry. Instead we have historically expressed to lenders a number associated with a given scenario. The ASTM E2026 Standard defines two important numbers on the curve:

Scenario Expected Loss (SEL)- the expected value loss in the specified ground motion of the scenario selected. Since the damage probability distribution usually is skewed, rather than symmetrical, it should not be inferred that the probability of exceeding the SEL is 50%; it can be higher or lower than this amount.

Scenario Upper Loss (SUL)-the scenario loss that has a 10% percent probability of exceedance due to the specified ground motion of the scenario considered.

The ASTM E2026 Standard also provides different levels of investigation.   The four levels of inspection defined are:

Level 0 PML -  Screening Level of Assessment

Level 1 PML -  Drawing review and Site Visit

Level 2 PML – Structural Calculations

Level 3 PML - Full Engineering Review

The ASTM E2026 Standard goes a long way to improving the consistency of the practice of Probable Maximum Loss Reports (a.k.a. Seismic Damageability Assessments), but the ASTM’s committee need to accommodate all stakeholders produced, in my opinion, an overly flexible standard.   I recommend that a lender seeking to use the PML product as a consistent underwriting tool should also consider applying the following four recommendations:

  • 1) Use Theil Zsutty as a method of calculation for the PML;
  • 2) Show the math on the calculations;
  • 3) Work should be done under the responsible charge of a registered engineer;
  • 4) Follow ASTM E2026-2007 and ASTM E2557-2007;
  • 5) Do a Level 1 Inspection-in other words, require a site visit.

ALTA Survey

The acronym “ALTA” stands for American Land Title Association. Specifications of this type of Survey include (but are not limited to) determining improvements, location of property lines, utilities, identifying all easements and other conditions affecting the property. ALTA surveys are very comprehensive surveys and can typically cost thousands of dollars and can take several weeks to complete. All ALTA Land Survey must meet the “Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys” as adopted by the American Land Title Association, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, and the National Society of Professional Surveyors. The Alta Survey is most often performed on commercial properties.

Property Condition Assessment

When investing in commercial buildings, real estate investors are need a high quality commercial building inspection, often called a Property Condition Assessments.  

When asked to do a Commercial Building Inspection, I start by trying to understand the client’s goals.  Are they ordering the report for a lender?   Do they want a 100% detailed inspection or a walk through?   Has the seller made any significant disclosures?  Are there other stakeholders such as equity sources or partner who need to understand the condition of the building?  Once I understand the goals I propose the appropriate level of diligences, which can range from a walk-through inspection by a senior building inspector to a team of engineers and specialist digging into every aspect of the building.

Either way, the Property Condition Assessment Report which includes a discussion of the following building systems:

-          Structure;

-          Building Envelope;

-     Roof;

-         HVAC Equipment

-          Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing;

-         Paving, Drainage, Landscaping;

-          Fire Suppression and Security Systems;

-          Elevators;

-          ADA Compliance.

A PCA report typically includes two important tables: an Immediate Repairs Table; and a Replacement Reserves Table.   The Immediate Repairs Table is a schedule of all failing or worn out systems requiring attention in the next 90 days.   The Replacement Reserve table will typically estimate the building’s capital replacement schedule for the next twelve years.  

When I dispatch a team of engineers and building systems specialists, I call the report a Property Condition Evaluation.  These reports typically range between $5,000 and $25,000 and are appropriate for large complex assets.   The most common specialist to add is that of a structural engineer.  The structural engineer will produce a structural report or a Probable Maximum Loss Report, when in seismic zone 3 or 4.  

Other specialists that add great value are an HVAC specialist, an elevator specialist and a roof specialist.  The specialist typically produces reports that are ultimately included in the appendix of the master PCE report. 

The specialist does thing that are beyond the scope of our building inspectors.  For example, the HVAC specialist will turn on the air conditioning system in the dead of winter.  The specialist opens up the systems being inspected and collects parametric data.  The result of the more detailed inspection is a very detailed report with specialty reports in the appendices.  Partner Engineering’s project manager and field inspector is almost always a registered engineer or very senior building inspector. 

Our Property Condition Evaluations save the client significant money in most engagements.  Often clients are able to negotiate price reduction or other consideration that is 10 times our fee.  Our work typically pays for itself!