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Originally published in Interiors & Sources

10/01/2013

Envelope Failures and Forensics

Notice clues, identify evidence, and enlist investigators to solve the case

By
Photos Courtesy of ARUP

Perform Periodic Inspections
Every so often – annually for certain components or monthly for others – you need to take the magnifying glass to the building exterior and interior to determine how your enclosure is performing.

Begin by paying attention to occupant complaints or asking them outright for their opinions via questionnaires, Cohen recommends.

“Is it dusty or humid in the occupied space? Are there hot or cold spots? Is it musty or smelly?” says Cohen. “Many times, the people who are living and working in the environment are your first source of clues.”

Look closely at finishes and fixtures indoors and out, Cohen says. Bubbling and staining will indicate poor water management. “If you see these issues, there’s a good chance the problem is more insidious,” he adds. “Don’t just think a dab of paint or bit of wallpaper will fix the root problem.”

It’s also helpful to look at spaces where no one usually goes. “Look in the ceiling space. Go into the attic, crawlspaces, basements, and cobwebby areas,” Cohen advises.

On an annual basis, inspect the general exterior of the building, paying close attention to sealants, flashings, and other water management components, says Daniel Lemieux, principal and unit manager at engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associations, Inc.

“If there are any open joints, that’s a water entry path,” Lemieux says. “Those can lead to serious problems like mold growth or structural corrosion.”

The roof – a large component of the envelope on some buildings – should be inspected every six months or at seasonal changes, Cohen advises. “Look at the penetrations of pipes and equipment. See if any seams are opening or lifting. Make sure water isn’t collecting anywhere and is draining properly – check for clogged drains more than twice a year,” he says. “Roof problems manifest themselves in facades and even basements, so be sure to get up there and check them out.”

Some of these failures can be difficult to identify for facilities managers who don’t have much experience with enclosures, says Lance LeTellier, managing principal with firm Criterium-LeTellier Engineers.

“If the problem starts getting technical in nature or if they can’t figure out the true cause on their own, it’s probably best to get some outside help,” he says.

Keep Up with Routine Maintenance
“Mitigation is always far less costly in every sense of that word – money, time, and inconvenience – than repair,” Cohen stresses. “A lack of regular maintenance comes from a lack of regular inspections. To only perform maintenance in response to a problem means that problem was allowed to occur. Response is not the answer – mitigation is the answer.”

Have a routine maintenance schedule in place, Lemieux recommends. That entails keeping track of the service life of all components – from roofing and cladding systems down to sealants and gaskets. “If you get close to the anticipated service life, change it,” he says. “Don’t allow deferred maintenance to occur. Minor issues can turn into severe problems if you defer these responsibilities to someone else.”

Document the findings of the inspections and keep them on file so you can crack the case if a more serious problem pops up.

“When it comes to involving a professional, having a good picture of how the performance has been, how often issues are occurring, and how they were identified is important,” Hoffman says. “Keep the as-built documents if you have them. Log maintenance items such as when the roof was last replaced or when the windows were changed out.”

Taking care of the building is similar to the general upkeep of your car, Hoffman adds. “Getting your oil changed is like checking sealants or cleaning the roof,” he says. “Then every so often you need to plan for bigger things like reroofing or changing your tires.”

Neglect will cost you and planning is crucial. Proactive owners and facility managers should have a capital plan and know what the building’s needs and priorities are.

“Some owners don’t have a sense of what they have and how long it will last, and then they eventually have a breakdown because they’re operating the building past the service life of its components,” Hoffman says. “You don’t want to pour money into a system that has reached the end of its life. You have to realize when you can do a targeted repair to extend service life or when it’s time to just replace something. Maintenance and renewal plans are key for that.”


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