Building Envelopes Part Three : Occupied Facilities

  • Patrick Quinn
  • Superintendent
  • Rafn Company

Our first article in this series on building envelopes discussed four main considerations as to the repair or replacement of building components. Our second article focused on the details of construction as well as the logistical issues of putting the work in place. This third and final article will look at the challenges and solutions related to performing this type of work in an occupied building.

Considerations for envelope work on an occupied building can be grouped into four main categories: Location, Access, Schedule, and Communication.


Most occupied renovations located in cities have very limited space for the added elements needed to execute a major construction project. We take careful consideration as to how the site and building will be utilized for construction purposes and how that will affect each resident's daily life and comfort.

Because of limited space and logistical consideration (like manpower availability) we frequently break larger projects into phases of construction. Phasing the work reduces the impact to as few tenants as possible for the shortest amount of time. For example, there is no need to scaffold an entire project if it is only feasible to work in a meaningful way on a third of the project at a time. This reduces the discomfort to residents that only need to be impacted at any given time in the project.

Another element of construction that requires careful consideration is where to work and store materials. On tight jobsites we have constructed temporary work and storage platforms with great results. Special consideration must be taken as to the location of these platforms. Although they need to be located in a suitable location for the work to be performed, they also need to have a minimal impact on the residents. In the event that the location is very near the residential units (which it inevitably will be), we take steps to mitigate exposure to equipment noise, dust, and workmen's communications. For example, it may be necessary to put up a tent over a work platform to reduce dust. It may also be necessary to install temporary walls with sound board to reduce the noise level of equipment and workmen's communication outside the platform.


Access takes into account any disruption to the safe flow of people inside and outside of the building. This includes sidewalks and the common areas around and inside the building. Work access may include scaffolding, swing stage, pump jacks, man lifts and ladders. It also includes material and equipment deliveries and storage. Some projects require access to the exterior of the building through residential units and community spaces inside the building. This can be exceptionally challenging and requires a delicate touch when communicating with tenants.


Planning the work in such a way to minimize the impact to each residential unit is important. Some examples include:

  • Limiting the number of times necessary to enter a residence, which can be accomplished by bundling work activities together when possible.
  • Limiting the time necessary, with a window removed from an opening.
  • Installing temporary plastic in an empty window opening while the prep work is being performed.
  • Temporarily reinstalling the old window, while on lunch break if the resident is home at the time of installation.
  • Either completing a window installation before the end of the day, or temporarily reinstalling the old window or plywood until the next morning when work can resume. Reinstalling the old window is preferred over plywood to keep the resident's discomfort to a minimum.
  • Planning the work in such a way that we have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C whenever possible. Looking ahead to what alternate work activity our crew members might efficiently move onto in the event that a resident is not ready for us to enter, for whatever reason.
  • Phasing the work to limit the time a resident may be affected by scaffold containment which blocks natural light.

Residents are people and they have personal needs, they have bad days, get sick and have last minute schedule conflicts. We must be prepared to adjust and keep the work moving forward to maintain our construction schedule. The better prepared we and our crew members are for disruption to the work the happier we, the resident, and our customer will be. Maintaining a sense of humor and a positive attitude goes a long way to staying on schedule.


The old adage that "communication is the key to success" is especially true when working on an occupied building. There are a few key factors to good communication with residents and customers:

  • Always tell the truth about the type of work, length of time needed, and possible impacts to residents. We tell the residents how long the project will really take, and if at times it will be particularly noisy or dusty.
  • Be positive, but do not sugar coat the truth. Give residents accurate information about how they will be impacted. People with too little information will often imagine an outcome that is far worse than the reality.
  • Provide regular construction updates that inform the customer and all tenants to work that has been completed and work that is up coming.
  • Have the construction team post the tenant notices for upcoming unit entry. This is in lieu of having the building's resident manager handle this large, ongoing task. It is important to create a tenant notice template that both adheres to legal requirements and accurately informs the tenant as to the time and duration of the unit entry. It is best when the entire construction team contributes to and approves the tenant notice template (i.e. superintendent, foreman, resident manager, and customer). This takes the burden off the resident manager to author, post, and answer questions directly related to the construction activity. With the construction supervisor's contact information on the tenant notice, a resident can have any questions or concerns directly answered and there is no concern about details being lost in translation between management, construction, and the resident.

On the coordination side, we do realize that we are disrupting people's lives. Treating each tenant well, with respect and a smile helps ease their inconvenience which makes for an easier working experience for all of us. We have a job to do but we always keep in mind that we are in a person's home. When we leave the tenants are often sad to see us go.

A successful envelope project is a combination of many factors. First and foremost is the decision to repair or replace. Then working through the details of the product and installation method, as well as the logistics of putting the work in place. Finally, working in an around the building's population with minimal interruption to everyday life. When done well you end with a happy client and a beautiful and effective building.

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