It’s that time of year when City of Chicago facade inspections are coming due. Chicago’s Rules Regarding the Maintenance of High-Rise Exterior Walls and Enclosures require one of two forms of facade inspection reports be filed for any building in the City of Chicago that is taller than 80 feet. Even if just a portion of the building such as a penthouse structure is taller than 80 feet, the building is subject to these rules.

The two forms of inspection reports are commonly referred to as “Short Form” and “Critical Exam”. Short Forms, for those buildings which are eligible, are to be submitted by November 1st every 2nd, 4th, or 6th year, depending on their category. The Short Form is a 2- page document which lists general information regarding the building, and its condition. It only requires visual inspection, and does not need to be performed close-up. The building must be in good standing with the City of Chicago to be eligible for the Short Form Program, and a request to the City must be made in advance to qualify. The frequency of submission of Short Forms is based on the building’s category, which is dependent upon corrodible metals used in its construction.

If the building is not eligible for a Short Form, then owners need to file a much more comprehensive and costly Critical Examination Report, which will be due December 1st every 4th, 8th, or 12th year. The time interval between inspections is determined based on the nature of the facade and its susceptibility to deterioration. For example, a terra cotta facade, which is more prone to deterioration, is required to undergo Critical Examinations every 4 years under this program while an aluminum and glass curtain wall system with non-corrodible anchorage system is only required to undergo a Critical Examination every 12 years. Critical examinations require close-up visual examination of the building by a qualified individual. Physical contact must be made with portions of the facade utilizing scaffolding, boatswain chairs, or lifts at a minimum of 1 representative drop on each public way spanning no less than 24 feet. Critical examination reports require a site plan, detailed description of the building, photographs of elevations, drawings or photographs of distressed or deteriorated conditions, and other pertinent information.

The Rules for facade inspections are a bit complicated and have changed several times over the years. If you have any questions regarding Chicago’s inspection requirements, or are need of an inspection, contact a qualified Licensed Illinois Structural Engineer or Architect.

Another Chicago inspection requirement, which often is forgotten, is for exposed metal structures. Chicago requires inspections of fire escapes, water tank supports, antenna towers, canopies, metal cornices, sign supports, flag poles, and other metal structures susceptible to deterioration due to weather. These structures are required to be inspected by a licensed design professional every 5 years. Some owners do not realize there is such a requirement until they receive a violation notice from the City of Chicago. Similar to Chicago’s facade inspections, contact a qualified Licensed Illinois Structural Engineer or Architect to schedule an exposed metal inspection if your building needs one.

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Michael Wiscons, SE, PE

Michael Wiscons is an Associate Principal with Building Technology Consultants, Inc., a forensic engineering firm in Arlington Heights. He is a licensed Structural Engineer in the...

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