Consultation & Facilities Management [was management services vs self-management at the building stage
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 6 May 2015 06:09:19 -0700 (PDT)
> On May 6, 2015, at 12:24 AM, John Carver <jcarver [at]> wrote:
> Unfortunately none of the above, including the architects, were cohousing 
> experienced, and our little clutch of would-be cohousers were not development 
> experienced, which made for a rough learning pathway. Mistakes were made, 
> some of them quite costly.

With Skype (I prefer Zoom), and other means of long distance consultation, I 
think groups could explore consultants in other areas and avoid costly 
mistakes. Sometimes it just means understanding the language and the options. 
If nothing else, pay someone by the hour just to talk to you.

Too late for you — I’m suggesting it for people starting out.

Another source for groups already built is to keep seeking advice from 
professional building and engineering companies. They know a lot. 

And from condominium mangers in your area. Ask for a walk through of a large 
building and ask questions about vendors and services. 

We have had our reserve study done by firms that also do ecological 
retrofitting, building engineering, architectural design, etc. They have done 
2-4 hours walk-throughs with us just looking at the property and suggesting 
options, warning us about things, and giving us cost estimates. Little things 
like warning us to keep plantings cut back to 12 inches from the building to 
big things like whether solar is worth it. Why we need to clean the gutters 
even though we are taller than any trees around. What the stuff is that keeps 
clogging our sump pumps and why. (When we moved in we were buying sump pumps by 
the dozen.)

Apart from a reserve study, construction engineers and specialists charge $200 
an hour and have been worth every penny.

We’ve also had reserve studies done by companies that just do reserve studies 
and they were much less helpful, giving us no information about our facilities 
and charging the same amount. They just took pictures. When we asked questions, 
they said call your vendor. We were looking for an unbiased opinion from 
someone with a broader experience.

Notes from one walkthrough with a geothermal expert. He is does installation 
but has and unusual amount of knowledge for HVAC service and installation 
people. This is just my set of notes on the walkthrough. There were two other 
people at the walk-through and they also did notes that are not included here.

> 1. FILTER IN GUEST ROOMS: Someone has moved the HVAC filter for Guest Room A 
> to the wall in Room A. This is an HVAC problem because it means the air being 
> pulled through return vent from Guest room B is _not_ going through the HVAC 
> Unit. A total problem for the coils.
> It is also a problem for the guests because it increases the exposure to 
> noise from the unit.
> There is a filter in the filter closet that could be installed in the old 
> slot until a decision is made for that unit.
> 2. OPTIONS FOR GUEST ROOM HVAC: Rowan saw three options for the Guest Rooms:
> a. Have someone else check the unit. Does it really need to be replaced or 
> did the service person just not want to do the work required to fix it? It 
> needs to be pulled out to replace the compressor and repair the refrigerant 
> coils which need to be checked and may need to be replaced. When Rowan 
> installs HVAC units they leave room on three sides to service them properly. 
> This is the least expensive solution.
> b. Since the unit has to be pulled out to be repaired, we could close up the 
> closet walls in the room and put a door in the hallway to service it. This 
> would cut down on the noise in Guest Room A and make it easier to service. 
> Room A would still need a return vent. We could change the filters from the 
> hallway.
> c. Install the mini-split that has been recommended by everyone else. They 
> would run the (small) pipe for the units on the wall through the back walls 
> of the rooms to the outside. There is drainage from dehumidification that 
> needs to go to a drainpipe outdoors.  The outside heat pump that would be 
> connected to wall units is virtually silent and could be placed on the 
> kitchen roof. The units can be controlled by remotes.
> 3. HVAC UNITS LAST 25 YEARS: Our HVAC units should last 25 years. That's why 
> their company installs them. They completely discounted the opinion of two 
> other companies that they have now reached their lifespan. (ASG used a 
> 20-year life span.) 
> 4. LOOP WORK: Easterday does all their loop work. "They are the best." Strong 
> enthusiasm. Lester the Looper "is the best" (FT hired them and worked with 
> Lester when the CH loops failed.)  Whenever there are loop problems, they 
> recommend having Easterday flush the loops completely which means hooking  up 
> a hose and running water through it for I forget how much time but much more 
> than 15 minutes.
> 5. EXPANSION VALVES: They also recommend the expansion valves George 
> recommended because we have polyvinyl pipes that expand and contract with 
> temperatures. This changes the pressure. Even though the ground temperature 
> is relatively constant the water coming out of the HVAC loops going back into 
> the ground isn't. It can be freezing in the winter because we have removed 
> all the heat, for example.
> 6. OFFICE & GAME ROOM HVAC UNIT: The small unit behind the big unit in the 
> basement that serves the Office and GR, they considered impossible to 
> service. Since the circulation is so bad in those rooms anyway, they 
> recommended just shutting that unit down and connecting the vents to the main 
> unit. They are doing the calculations to check the square footage to see how 
> much that unit will service. Previous engineer's calculations said it would 
> do that easily. The vent work would be very inexpensive.
> 7. UNIT FOR LAUNDRY, LR, KIDS ROOM: They believe the unit for the laundry 
> room, LR, and KR is too small to do that much square footage. There is no 
> fresh air vent on that system. A fresh air vent would have been cold today 
> with the fan running but none of them were. They tracked all the vents to a 
> vent upstairs. The one George thought was an air vent goes to the vent that 
> was behind the sofa. It is a supply vent, not an intake vent. Also see Ducts 
> below.
> 8. RETURN AIR DUCTS AND FILTER SLOTS: How much conditioned air can be blown 
> into a room is determined by how much is being pulled out of it. Return vents 
> and filter slots are as important as supply vents and sometimes even more 
> important. 
> We have duct problems in places. I forget all of them, but the Laundry Room, 
> LR, and Kids Room is particularly a problem. The supply ducts in the basement 
> turn a lot of corners and are narrow close to the HVAC unit instead of 
> broader. Return ducts also turn a lot of corners.
> The return for the Office and Game Room is too small and badly placed. (We 
> knew that already)
> They do not recommend taping over the filter vents. "As much air as  you can 
> get moving through the system, the better it is.
> 9. REFRIGERANT: When refrigerant is low, we should not just add refrigerant 
> until we find the leak. If the refrigerant is leaking and mixing with water 
> "you don't want that." Lots of body language and laughter on that one. A big 
> joke.
> 10. REUSABLE FILTERS: They do not like the reusable filters at all. They said 
> it several times. They recommend blue filters and change them every month. 
> Sometimes on some units it may not need it but if the filter is not a clear 
> blue, change it. [Air is going through our filters all the time, not just 
> when the HVAC is running. That's how the temperatures are balanced between 
> different areas of the room so one side isn't hot and the other cool. The 
> filters are always in use.]
> 11. NOISY VENT in DR: They looked at the problem with the noisy vent in the 
> Dining Room. I didn't hear their analysis but they were taking measurements 
> when I left.
> 12. CO2 SENSORS: They said we definitely should have CO2 sensors in the 
> Dining Room, I think in the kitchen and the Laundry Room? The one in the 
> basement is testing air pulled from all directions and would dilute the air 
> in any one spot so we would probably be feeling sick before it picked up 
> anything and opened the fresh air vents. 
> We are supposed to have fresh air for the worst case scenario which would be 
> about 100 people in the dining room, I think. We've had more people than that 
> but 100 was uncomfortable enough particularly sitting down. 
> The fresh air ducts should be bringing in some fresh air, not totally closed 
> off as they are now. The last person said 20% of the air should be fresh.
> 13. SF CALCS and CONSTRUCTION DRAWINGS: I will send them digital copies of 
> the construction drawings. 
> NEED HELP: They also want to know the R-values of the windows and insulation. 
> Can someone look those up? They should be in the binders in the office. 
> Someone who was involved with planning and construction would be helpful but 
> anyone can do it.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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