Water Seepage Solutions for Buildings Impacted by Elevated Lake Levels

Rising Water; Increased Seepage
Lake Michigan is reaching near record high water levels in 2020 and is regularly featured on local news due to related challenges of rising water levels. The reality for buildings located near Lake Michigan is an elevated water table resulting in increased amounts of water infiltration, also known as seepage, into underground spaces that are situated at or below the water table. Water seepage can occur through foundation walls and slabs on grade via cracks or holes that have formed over time and, in particular, at cold concrete joints where two or more concrete pours meet each other. Increased water seepage can result in problematic additional moisture within buildings and pooling of water in building interiors.

Underground spaces located below the water table experience water pressure on the back side of the concrete slab. When the water table is elevated, increased water levels and associated pressure will result in increased seepage where seepage previously existed as well as introduce seepage in weakened areas where seepage was previously not occurring.

Seepage Solutions
To counteract the increased water seepage, a de-watering approach should be developed and implemented to minimize water infiltration and impact to the building. Common de-watering measures include the installation of a pumping system dedicated to removing water from the backside of the building foundations, drain tile to collect water to be pumped away from the building, vacuum pumps, injecting cracks and holes, sealing concrete slabs, etc. Pumping solutions typically include a back-up power source to ensure the system remains operational during a loss of power. A combination of these and other measures may be required to combat seepage depending on a specific building’s conditions. In many cases, an initial investigative trial may be necessary to gather data before implementing a permanent de-watering solution.

Elara Engineering has designed de-watering systems applicable to below-grade spaces in existing buildings, including historic buildings, experiencing water seepage. We recommend, as a first step, an initial study to develop a de-watering solution that is applicable to a specific building and site which may include input from a structural engineer and experienced contractors as well as the building owner. A thorough understanding of the building’s specific conditions and requirements in addition to a well thought out design is vital to ensure maximum effectiveness of the de-watering measure(s) implemented.

For more information, please contact us at 708-236-0300 or


Proactive Strategies to Restore Domestic Water in Buildings


Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic, buildings of various types have found themselves completely or partially inactive for extended periods of time. Given this condition, building owners, operators and managers should take precautions when restoring building occupancy   as it relates to domestic water systems.

Responsible plumbing design and various plumbing codes dictate the avoidance of ‘dead-end’ piping in domestic water distribution systems to avoid stagnant water. Stagnant domestic water creates the potential for growth of pathogens and other potentially harmful conditions. Buildings that have been unoccupied for any significant period of time can create a condition in which portions of the domestic water piping distribution system may contain stagnant water.

Common measures that can be taken to assist in delivering fresh water to the points of use throughout a facility are provided below:

  • Check with your local public health department for reopening requirements that may apply to domestic water in your facility type.
  • Survey the domestic water piping system and equipment to identify any leaks that may have developed during the period of extended inactivity. This is of particular importance for facilities with vintage galvanized piping.
  • Independently flush the domestic cold water equipment and piping system. All domestic water equipment and points of use should be flushed thoroughly and may require a review of the domestic water piping distribution system in the facility. Flushing should progress from the water service entry point towards the last point of use to ensure that all piping is adequately flushed with fresh water. . All strainers in the system should be repeatedly cleaned during flushing.
  • Drain and clean water storage tanks along with other potentially sensitive equipment throughout the domestic water system such as decorative fountains. Follow manufacturer recommendations and utilize cleaning products appropriate for domestic water equipment. Adequately flush the water storage tanks and other equipment after cleaning with fresh water. Refer to manufacturer recommendations for additional measures for specific equipment or points of use.
  • Independently flush the domestic hot water equipment and piping system utilizing a similar approach to the cold water.
  • Check the functionality of all domestic water equipment and components (i.e. pumps, heaters, storage tanks, water treatment, etc.). Change all filters utilized in the domestic water system. Exercise valves throughout the system and pro-actively replace valves that do not seat fully closed.
  • Perform water quality testing for areas of concern to identify if contaminants have developed during the period of inactivity. The confirmation of contaminants in the domestic water systems may require cleaning of the domestic water piping and the consultation of an industrial hygienist, engineer and contractor.
  • Maintain domestic hot water storage tanks at safe temperatures without creating a potential scalding hazard for building occupants.
  • Refill p-traps in floor drains, open site drains, etc.
  • Document all measures taken to create a facility standard for future reference.
  • Refer to resources such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) “Maintaining or Restoring Water Quality in Buildings with Low or No Use” for more information.

Generally speaking, domestic water quality measures may not only be limited to significant periods of low or no usage. Normal facility operations can still include areas of stagnant water which should be managed as part of a regular maintenance plan. A water management plan for the facility should be created and updated on a regular basis.

Additional resources related to this topic include ASHRAE Standard 188, the CDC’s Water Management Plan Guidance, the American Industrial Hygiene Association Guideline, and the EPA’s WaterSense at Work.

For more information, please contact us at 708-236-0300 or



Strategies to Reduce Viral Transmission in Buildings

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, building owners and managers have increased their interest in HVAC strategies and products aimed at reducing the airborne transmission of viruses. While current research is limited on the specific characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and its transmission, there is sufficient research on methods to help control  the transmission  of other infectious diseases.

For example, there are several strategies and products in the market today that are intended to reduce or remove pathogens from breathable air within buildings or systems. Many of these are supported by extensive research and practical experience while others employ new technologies with less substantiated data. Common strategies and products used today include:

  • Increasing ventilation (outdoor air) rates
  • Increasing air filtration effectiveness (MERV-13 or better)
  • Installing ultraviolet (UV-C) lights
    • In central air handling equipment
    • At upper room fixtures in the space
  • Implementing Bi-Polar ionization
  • Installing local exhaust and/or ventilation supply
  • Adding local filtration

These strategies can be implemented in new equipment/facilities or they can be retrofit in existing equipment/facilities.  Strategies may also be combined to amplify their effect or to address varying needs. The right solution for your facility will depend on many factors and there is currently no one-size-fits-all solution. A comprehensive plan should be developed that is suited for a building’s specific goals at individual space levels.

The implementation of HVAC strategies aimed at reducing the airborne transmission of viruses  within buildings should incorporate the following steps:

  1. Review Options: Working collaboratively with a professional engineer or industrial hygienist; identify, evaluate, and document potential virus mitigation strategies specific to the facility and its goals. These may include permanent or temporary measures which can be deployed now or in the future and may be part of a building re-opening plan under the current pandemic.
  2. Implement: Once options have been assembled and specific strategies selected, the professional engineer or industrial hygienist should prepare detailed specifications, assist in obtaining contractor pricing and review implementation by the successful contractor.
  3. Monitor and Adjust: It is important that after the implementation of any strategy, its resulting effectiveness and ongoing performance be monitored. This may include periodic testing of particulates or continuous monitoring through the building automation system and can vary widely based on the goals and strategies identified. Where actual performance is found to fall short of the desired thresholds, additional strategies can be implemented or controls adjusted to enhance performance. This monitoring and adjustment phase should be discussed and planned for as part of the initial options review.

Additional information regarding this topic is available through a recently released  position document prepared by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Engineering (ASHRAE) which provides an overview of infectious disease transmission and previous ASHRAE research. The document can be found here.

For more information, please contact us at 708-236-0300 or


Associate Principals Matt Swanson and Caitlin Levitsky Co-Author: “Planning for MEP Infrastructure Projects in High-Rise Buildings”

Elara Engineering Associate Principal Matt Swanson, LEED AP, CEM and Associate Principal Caitlin Levitsky, LEED AP BD+C recently co-authored the above titled article placed as a featured story in the Spring 2020 issue of Chicagoland Buildings & Environments.

The heart of any building is its major mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems that allow the building to successfully operate and provide comfort to its occupants. However, when one or more MEP systems require repair or replacement, significant cost and inconvenience to building owners and occupants can occur. Mr. Swanson’s and Ms. Levitsky’s article provides a practical, proactive approach to plan and implement a large-scale MEP repair or replacement project in a high-rise building to minimize costs and disruptions.

Because of the many alternatives that exist for MEP system replacements, the potential for significant disruption and inconvenience to building occupants, and the associated high capital cost incurred to undertake these projects in high-rise buildings, the article recommends a variety of key elements to ensure that a project delivers the intended result and best value.

A reprint of Mr. Swanson’s and Ms. Levitsky’s article can be found here.


Evanston Energy Use Benchmarking Verification Due June 30th

Elara Engineering would like to remind our clients that the City of Evanston requires owners of commercial, residential and municipal buildings over 20,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy and water consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. This includes apartment buildings, strip malls, schools, churches, hospitals, and  condominium buildings.  In addition, city-owned buildings, 10,000 SF or greater in size are required to comply.  It should be noted that condominium buildings 20,000 SF to 50,000 SF are exempt from the ordinance. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 30, 2020. At this time, the deadline for compliance with the city has not been extended, however there is still time to complete benchmarking for this year.

More information about this city ordinance and required compliance actions can be found here. Additionally, Kelsey Dale from our Hillside office would be happy to answer any of your questions and assist in verification of your building’s data. She can be reached at 708.236.0300 x147 or


City of Chicago Benchmarking Verification Due June 1st

Elara Engineering would like to remind our clients that the City of Chicago requires owners of commercial, residential and municipal buildings over 50,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 1, 2020. At this time, the deadline for compliance with the city has not been extended, however there is still time to complete benchmarking for this year.


More information about this city ordinance and required compliance actions can be found here. Additionally, Kelsey Dale from our Hillside office would be happy to answer any of your questions and assist in verification of your building’s data. She can be reached at 708.236.0300 x147 or

City of Chicago Implements Energy Rating System

In 2017, the City of Chicago created the Chicago Energy Rating System to improve the visibility and transparency of information required to be reported by building owners under the City’s 2013 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.  As most of Elara’s clients already know, the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance requires large buildings located in Chicago (≥50,000 SF) to report energy use once per year, with additional data verification required every 3 years.

Under the new Chicago Energy Rating System, the first ratings were assigned between late August and mid-September 2019 for energy benchmarking reports that were due on June 1, 2019.  Now that the first ratings have been assigned, building owners will receive an initial six-month period within which they are required to post their Chicago Energy Rating Placard on site in a prominent location and begin sharing the rating at the time of listing for sale or lease.

How Chicago Energy Ratings are Assigned

Under the four-star rating system, four stars will indicate the highest energy performance while a one-star rating will indicate a poor energy performer.  Properties that have not submitted energy benchmarking information will receive zero stars.

Approximately 85% of buildings that report their data receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score from the Portfolio Manager energy benchmarking software.  These buildings will, based on their 1-100 ENERGY STAR score, receive between one and four stars on the four-star Chicago Energy Rating System.  Buildings with one, two, or three stars will be able to earn an additional star if they have improved by at least 10 points in the past two reporting years.

Approximately 15% of the reporting properties that are not eligible to receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score.  These properties will receive an energy rating based on the building’s source energy use intensity (EUI), which is energy use per square foot, in comparison to national medians for properties of similar size and type. The lower the percentile for Source EUI, the better, as a lower EUI indicates less energy use per square foot.  In these cases, the Chicago Energy Rating will be based on the following scale:

  • 1st to 25th percentile for Source EUI: 4 Stars
  • 25th to 50th percentile for Source EUI: 3 Stars
  • 50th to 75th percentile for Source EUI: 2 Stars
  • Above the 75th percentile for Source EUI: 1 Star
  • Any building with one, two, or three stars with a 10% improvement in the past 2 years earns an extra star

What Building Owners Need to Do

  • Ensure compliance with the reporting requirements under the City of Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.
  • Make sure you have received your Chicago Energy Rating Placard which were to be mailed by mid-September 2019.
  • Post your Chicago Energy Rating Placard and begin sharing – on an ongoing basis — your rating at the time of listing for sale or lease within the initial six-month grace period.

Additional information about the Chicago Energy Rating System can be found here.


Elara’s Matt Swanson Publishes Article: “Proactive Energy Cost Reduction on the Rise in Chicago High-Rise Buildings”

Elara Engineering Associate Principal Matt Swanson, LEED AP, CEM has had the above titled article placed as the cover story in the Autumn 2019 issue of Chicagoland Buildings & Environments.

The article presents the proactive approach taken to lower energy costs at the existing 474 North Lake Shore Drive high-rise condominium building located in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago.  Elara’s forward-looking approach implemented over several years by the 474 North Lake Shore Drive Condominium Association resulted in a 23% reduction in relative energy costs since 2007; a savings of $127,930 annually.

Beginning with Elara’s 2008 energy audit, the building’s Condominium Association maintained a constant focus on the energy performance of their building and continuously implemented energy conservation recommendations identified in the 2008 audit report, and subsequent reports in 2011 and 2015.

Consistent with Elara’s recommended strategy, projects that addressed “low hanging fruit” such as controls and VFDs that have a short-term payback and reduce the overall load of the building systems, were implemented first.  This strategy paid dividends during a 2016 chiller plant replacement.  Reduced demand of end-user systems (e.g., AHUs, exhaust fans, etc.) from previously recommended energy efficiency projects allowed for the installation of new chillers that were smaller in capacity; resulting in both lower initial and operating costs.  The associated savings allowed the Condominium Association to fund other energy efficiency upgrades.

In total, all of Elara’s recommendations that were implemented represented an incremental cost of $900,000 with a payback of less than 10 years.  Additionally, $58,275 was obtained through utility incentive programs to assist in funding the projects as a result of the energy efficiency improvements implemented.

A reprint of Mr. Swanson’s article can be found here and more detailed information about Elara’s 474 North Lake Shore Drive Project can be found here.


Illinois’ New Retainage Law Now in Effect for Construction Contracts

Facility Managers, Building Owners and Contractors take note that on August 20, 2019, Illinois Governor Jay Pritzker signed into law SB 1636, the Contractor Prompt Payment Act.

The Act, which became effective the day it was signed has the following requirements:

  • A retainage of 10% of the payment may be withheld from a payment under a construction contract prior to the completion of 50% of the contract.
  • When a construction contract is 50% complete, retainage withheld must be reduced so that no more than 5% is held.
  • It further provides that after 50% of the construction contract is completed, the amount of retainage for any subsequent payments may not exceed 5%.

These differ from previous requirements and generally accepted contractual standards for construction projects in Illinois which upheld a retainage value of 10% throughout the project construction until substantial completion.

All future contracts and subsequent pay applications and approvals associated with construction projects within Illinois limits must ensure these provisions are upheld.

The full Act can be found here.


Navigating Chicago’s New Construction Codes

Elara Engineering is pleased to initiate an ongoing series to inform building developers, owners and managers of the changes, deadlines, and potentially significant impacts from the City of Chicago’s new construction codes.  In this first installment, we provide background information on the new construction codes, identify important dates and highlight recent and upcoming code changes.

Background and Goals

According to a May 2019 presentation from the City of Chicago Department of Buildings, the goal of the new construction codes is “to better align the City of Chicago’s construction requirements with up-to-date model codes and standards used in other major US jurisdictions while maintaining longstanding local requirements that are adapted to unique conditions in Chicago.”

Chicago’s 2015-2021 Code Modernization Process – as the effort is called – has been broken down into three phases:

  • Phase I, which includes changes to the Conveyance Device Code and Electrical Code, has been completed.
  • Phase II, which includes changes to Administrative Provisions, Building Code, Energy Conservation Code, and Rehabilitation Code, is to be completed between 2017 and 2020.
  • Phase III, which includes changes to Fire Prevention Code, Fuel Gas Code, Mechanical Code, Plumbing Code, and (specific) Energy Conservation Code enhancements, is to completed between 2019 and 2021.

Electrical Code (Effective 3/1/2019)

Chicago’s new Electrical Code, which became effective on March 1st of this year, includes the following highlights:

  • 20 new code articles taken from the National Electric Code (NEC) including six that deal directly with renewable energy
  • Upgraded articles dealing with solar-photo voltaic construction to reflect the new technologies
  • Lighting load calculation and service disconnect location exceptions
  • New requirements for switched lighting

Energy Conservation Code (Effective 6/1/2019)

The revised Illinois Energy Conservation Code, which adopts the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) with amendments, is effective on June 1, 2019. The law does not apply to buildings designated “historic” or having “landmark status” (interior and exterior separately), buildings exempt from a local building code, and buildings that do not use either electricity or fossil fuel for comfort conditioning. The new Illinois Energy Conservation Code includes the following highlights:

  • IECC now addresses both commercial and residential buildings
  • Additional compliance paths have been identified including ASHRAE and performance based
  • Code officials are required to approve energy compliance in lieu of testing requirements outlined in the previous IECC
  • Lighting and lighting control including daylighting requirements have been updated and clarified
  • Mechanical equipment efficiency ratings, minimum airflows and required controls have been updated and clarified

Building Code (Effective 8/1/2020)

A new Building Code will be issued by the International Code Council (ICC) in October of 2019 and will ultimately be adopted by the City of Chicago for mandatory use as of August 1, 2020. A transitional period for implementation of the new building code has been outlined by the City of Chicago as follows:

  • Test projects utilizing the new ICC Building Code will be accepted by invitation only for permit applications within the City of Chicago during the Fall of 2019.
  • Permit applications within the City of Chicago will have the option to submit according to the new ICC Building Code beginning December 1, 2019.
  • Minimum standards for compliance with the new ICC Building Codes will be enacted and enforced by the City of Chicago during the Spring of 2020.
  • The new ICC building Codes will be mandatory for all permit applications within the City of Chicago as of August 1, 2020.

R-22 2020 Phase-Out Deadline Fast Approaching

The Montreal Protocol is a global agreement with the goal of phasing out the use and production of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), which include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). To meet the goals established by the Montreal Protocol, HCFCs must be phased out by January 1, 2020; and will therefore, no longer be produced or imported into the U.S. after that date.

Although other HCFCs can be sometimes be found in currently used refrigeration equipment, the most common HCFC by far is HCFC-22 or R-22.  This refrigerant is used in existing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment including unitary air conditioners, cold storage, retail food refrigeration equipment, chillers, and industrial process refrigeration.

Many recall the first step of the HCFC phase out, which occurred on January 1, 2010 and resulted in the production of R-22 to be significantly reduced. Since the initial phase out, the cost of R-22, and therefore the cost of maintaining equipment using R-22, has become increasingly expensive. After the upcoming phase out, only reclaimed or stockpiled R-22 can be used for maintenance of R-22 refrigeration equipment. It is expected that the cost of R-22 will significantly increase with the latest phase due to limited and dwindling supplies.

Options for Building Owners and Managers
With potentially many pieces of air conditioning equipment under their care and responsibility, the upcoming R-22 phase-out deadline means that building owners and managers need to establish a viable, common-sense course of action to pursue.  Several options are available.

  • DO NOTHING NOW AND WAIT. If a unit breaks after January 2020, the repair may be cost prohibitive due to the cost of R-22. If it happens in 2019, a decision will have to be made to replace it or to invest in a repair.
  • RETROFIT OLDER SYSTEMS TO USE A NEW REFRIGERANT. In some cases, equipment owners can invest in a retrofit that allows existing equipment to use certain newer refrigerants. Because this option will not be possible for all systems, an analysis will be needed to determine its technical and financial viability.
  • REPLACE PROACTIVELY. Although the upfront cost/investment can be a hurdle, especially if multiple systems need to be replaced prior to the R-22 phase-out deadline; proactive replacement could be the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. Equipment owners can take advantage of current tax breaks and utility-sponsored incentive programs to potentially reduce HVAC equipment and installation costs.

Options Guidance and Cost Reduction Opportunities 

With expertise in energy audits and studies, master planning, engineering design, equipment identification and selection; Elara Engineering is well-positioned to identify, evaluate, and pursue a technically and financially sound R-22 phase-out option.  In addition, having procured a cumulative total of over $5MM in incentives from ComEd, Peoples Gas, and Nicor to help offset costs associated with the installation of energy efficient improvements, Elara can assist clients, when combined with applicable tax breaks, minimize R-22 phase-out costs as much as possible.