Archive for March, 2012

A practical perspective by RCI, Inc. and SWRInstitute

Editor’s note
Just got permission to share this Position Paper on sustainability co-authored by representatives from two of the construction industry’s most knowledgeable organizations. These are the experts, and the people who in many cases, the experts consult. The membership of these two groups includes manufacturers, contractors, architects, forensic investigators and more. Their “official” descriptions follow at the paper’s conclusion. Given their high level of experience and expertise, I think their views on sustainability and “green” are must-read for everyone in the business. — Gary

Seven-story apartment complex 901 New Hampshire in Lawrence, Kan., goes up in Spring 2011 with a (tan) vapor permeable primary air & water barrier on Densglass structural walls for energy-efficiency and weatherproofing the building envelope. Click pic for story ~ photo by Stephen Falls

“Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.” — U.S. Department of Energy

Sustainable Construction; What it means to you
A position paper by RCI, Inc. and The Sealant Waterproofing & Restoration Institute (SWR Institute)

Over the past decade anyone involved in construction has had reason to question how their work product impacts the environment and the resources future generations will rely upon. Whether compelled to do so by regulators enforcing environmental responsibility, design professionals insisting on “sustainable” construction products, or owners mandating more energy efficient buildings, demand for sustainable construction has increased in an economy that has seen a sharp decline in more traditional building practices.

Today that demand has become a market force in its own right. A rapidly growing number of electronic and print publications now promote differing ways to achieve “sustainable design”, advertise increasingly efficient building systems, and promote a wide range of building materials derived from recycled or renewable resources. Additionally, many building owners have placed a disproportionate emphasis on obtaining accreditation status for their buildings versus emphasizing long-term performance. Too little emphasis, however, has been placed on durability of building systems, the need for proactive maintenance, and benefits of restoring existing buildings as means to achieve sustainability.

RCI, Inc. and SWRInstitute Perspective
To achieve sustainable construction, emphasis must be placed on design and construction of the building envelope systems.

In addition to new construction, we, the members of RCI, Inc., and SWRInstitute devote much of our expertise to the design, repair, maintenance and restoration of building envelopes. Buildings that we work on vary from those in design phase to ones that have survived generations. With experience with older buildings constructed of traditional materials, and newer buildings that incorporate sustainable building materials and energy efficient components, ours is a unique perspective on the truly sustainable nature of modern building envelopes.

Over the last two decades, RCI and SWRInstitute members have been witness to a flurry of premature building system failures that have required us to undertake significant demolition, investigation, re-design and repair of modern structures. When such extreme measures are required on recent buildings, the benefits promoted as part of that building’s original “sustainable” design” are negated. Our clients – the building owners – are justifiably frustrated. They should not have to endure considerable inconvenience and cost to bring their “new” building back into a serviceable condition.

These costly failures and performance shortcomings have led RCI, Inc. and SWRInstitute to conclude that the most important consideration in achieving beneficial sustainability is durability. A durable building (or building system) is one that can achieve its intended service life with only routine maintenance. Without durability, the benefits of sustainable construction quickly vanish. Building systems that are not durable require costly repairs. They will also require new materials and energy for their repairs, adversely impacting our environment.

Numerous RCI and SWRInstitute case studies make clear that the durability of complex building envelopes is often compromised by premature failure of a single, integral component. Many such “weak links” were incorporated by well-meaning design professionals as sustainable alternatives to more proven technology. Their failure starts a chain reaction that fuels progressive decay of entire assemblies.

Durability shortcomings stem from several factors including the following:

1. Inadequate Design: Unless a building system is designed properly, it will not achieve its anticipated service life. Proper design requires a thorough understanding of how that building system will function, how it will integrate with other building systems, and which component can be the weakest link. To avoid design failures, experience with traditional systems and of the in-service strengths and weaknesses of sustainable alternatives is essential.

2. Inadequate Workmanship/Construction: Without skilled workmanship and proper execution, a well-designed building system will not achieve its intended service life. RCI, Inc. and SWRInstitute’s collective experience indicates that use of specialized contractors, and proper quality control/quality assurance, will increase the likelihood of achieving more durable construction.

3. Material/System Shortcomings: Sustainable construction has created a demand for numerous sustainable materials and systems. However, short track records and/or inadequate product development of such new systems can lead to disappointing performance in the real world. Another frequent contributor to premature failure is use of sustainable materials in ways the manufacturer never intended.

4. Inadequate Maintenance: While a durable building system should be able to reach its expected service life without unanticipated repairs, no construction material or system can function indefinitely without periodic inspections and/or routine maintenance. Some performance and service life shortcomings stem from improper maintenance, or lack of maintenance altogether.

What Sustainability Should Mean to Building Owners
With the above in mind, it is RCI, Inc.’s and SWRInstitute’s collective position that building owners should exercise caution when embracing the sustainable construction movement. Although we acknowledge the need to protect our environment and agree that sustainable construction should be integrated into our industry, no building owner can truly benefit from a sustainable building if the building cannot reach its expected service life without the need for unanticipated repairs. To that end, adopting policies that encourage durability is a necessary step towards achieving sustainability.

One final factor that must not be overlooked is the inherent sustainability of preserving and restoring existing buildings. Too often structurally sound older buildings – viable structures that could be restored and retrofitted for future use – are demolished and replaced with new energy- efficient structures. Before such extreme measures are taken in the name of sustainability, consideration needs to be given to the embodied energy and environmental impact of the resultant construction debris, and the costs and resources consumed by new construction.

Final Thoughts
While the sustainability movement promises many good things, we encourage building owners to consider how greater emphasis on building durability – and restoration of existing buildings – impact their financial interests, and the environment.

Sustainable buildings must survive to provide a financial justification for their construction, and benefit the environment.

In the opinion of RCI, Inc. and SWRInstitute members, it is often more environmentally responsible (and financially prudent) to restore an existing building than to build a new one.

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RCI is an international association of building envelope consultants. Their members specialize in design, investigation, repair and management of roofing, exterior wall, and waterproofing systems.

The Sealant Waterproofing & Restoration Institute (SWR Institute) is an international trade association. Their members are some of the most experienced and qualified contractors, manufacturers and design professionals in the industry.

Through their strategic alliance, these organizations have observed, analyzed and compiled opinions of many industry leaders regarding sustainability.

Built in 1904 and abandoned for the last few years, the Poehler Building in East Lawrence is getting a new life as apartments. Occupancy is set for July 2012. Click pic for story. Stephen Falls photo

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The new apartment building in downtown Lawrence, 901 New Hampshire, gets its start in Spring 2011. Note the beginnings of the air & water barrier installation as seams between the Densglass panels are sealed with PROSOCO R-GUARD® Joint & Seam Filler, and covered with red R-GUARD FastFlash® liquid flashing.

Two years ago, 901 New Hampshire, Lawrence, Kan., was a vacant lot.

North elevation of 901 New Hampshire.

Now, a seven-story apartment complex, filled with customers for the bistros, jewlery stores and other specialty shops in this bustling college town, rises from a site formerly devoted to weeds and trash.

The design is “traditional – transitional,” said Project Architect Lauren Davis, Treanor Architects, Lawrence. It combines traditional limestone and clay brick with more contemporary building materials such as the dark metal panels beginning on the building’s third story.

Behind the masonry and the metal, an even newer material is at work. A custom PROSOCO R-GUARD® Air and Water-Resistive Barrier helps keep 901 energy-efficient and mold free.

The primary air barrier, tan R-GUARD MVP (Maximum Vapor Permeabiity) will cover the whole structural wall assembly. Pathways for air and water to leak in and out of the building envelope are sealed off permanently.

Rough openings are sealed permanently and water-tight with Joint & Seam Filler, covered by FastFlash® which will in turn be covered by the primary air barrier.

This photo shows a fabric-wrap air barrier on another Lawrence building, this one built in 2005. Note how completely the wrap has detached, probably due to wind. Even if re-attached before the cladding goes up before, it's doubtful it will do its job of stopping air and water leaks through the building envelope, as it isn't structural or durable - two important checkpoints for air and water barriers. Researchers developed fluid-applied barriers like R-GUARD to remedy these shortcomings.

Even when fabric wraps stay attached, wind can worry openings around fasteners as shown here. This creates entries and exits for air and water through the building envelope. One isn't a big deal, but where there's one, there's always more. That may have somethng to do with Department of Energy estimates that air leakage in commercial buildings accounts for up to 40 percent of energy costs.

Air and water leaks through the building envelope that can damage buildings and budgets both are stopped before they ever start with the durable, continuous, structural and vapor-permeable PROSOCO R-GUARD® Air & Water barrier. Restoration & Waterproofing Contractors, Topeka, installed the air and water barrier on the east-facing apartment complex.

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In this documented test a polished concrete test panel protected with PolishGuard easily withstood 15 minutes exposure to vinegar. The same solution and 15-minute exposure severely etched a similar but unprotected polished concrete panel.

Our great new protective treatment for finished concrete floors — Consolideck PolishGuard — got some nice recognition recently when a panel of industry experts named it an “Expert’s Choice” in the Most Innovative Product competition at World of Concrete in February.

Here’s the press release from Hanley-Wood, producer of the tradeshow.

At PROSOCO, we think PolishGuard is terrific because it gives you a window to clean up etching and staining spills on polished concrete. That’s handy for grocery stores with shiny polished concrete floors, especially in the dreaded Condiments Aisle.

Restaurants, grocery stores and other food-oriented institutions aren’t the only places where a stain-resistant top coat is useful. Any place with polished concrete flooring benefits from this insurance policy.

Pickle juice made this nice little etch. Could have been avoided if the floor had been treated with PolishGuard. Unfortunately, we hadn't invented it yet.

Polished concrete floors are wonderfully durable and low-maintenance, but accidental exposure to acidics — vinegar for instance — can easily leave a dull splotch right in the middle of the floor if someone happens to fumble a bottle of the stuff.

Plenty of other items we take for granted can do it too — ketchup, orange juice, pickle juice, even milk (yep, milk contains lactic acid).

How much time do you have on a typical polished concrete floor between the initial spill and the onset of damage? Let’s just say minutes count.

There are products out there now that can help floors resist acidic spills. But they have their own problems. I’m referring to solvent-based treatments that are increasingly restricted or even prohibited in many states throughout the U.S. for environmental reasons.

Two-component epoxies and urethanes can also protect floors. But they have limited pot life which makes them hard to use, not to mention extremely pricey.

So PolishGuard set out to address that dull spot in the otherwise shiny reputation of polished concrete. It’s water-based and VOC-compliant in every state of the union. It’s fast and easy to apply. Its glossy finish even makes unpolished floors look shiny.

Most importantly, it stands up to acidic liquids — and other staining and soiling contaminants. Not forever, but long enough to give you a safety margin to clean up damaging spills in a reasonable amount of time. We know, because we tested it. Here’s the video — PolishGuard put to the test — which the judges of the Most Innovative Product competition at WOC also saw.

So that’s why we think PolishGuard is great, and why we entered it in the Most Innovative Products competition. Why did the competition judges select PolishGuard as the “Experts’ Choice?”

Here’s what I got from their spokesperson:

“We reach out to a wide-ranging group of industry practitioners to determine our Expert’s Choice Award in World of Concrete’s Most Innovative Product Award program,” said Rick Yelton, Editor at Large for Concrete Construction Product magazine, the award’s official sponsoring magazine. “Our experts provide an insider’s view on the products in the category in which their expertise lies. Thus the products who receive the Expert’s Choice Award present specific qualities, enhancements, or attributes that these experts believe will bring process improvement to the industry segment they represent,” said Yelton.

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