Notes on an Envelope

cbeecherBuilding Envelope

With the deadline for our next newsletter looming, and my thoughts blocked on a good topic for a technical article, I’ll instead provide some quick hits on various topics of interest from my time “out in the field”.  In the current era of tweets, apps, twenty-four hour news, and our supposedly shrinking attention spans, these short bites should be just right (or at least that is how I’m spinning it!)  So here goes – maybe some ideas for future elaboration, or at least some discussion starters on our blog:

The #1 project-type for susceptibility to water infiltration problems:  In my experience, this is the typical, wood-frame apartment complex.  With tight construction time frames and strained budgets, there is typically less emphasis on detailing and field quality-control than is included in most large commercial projects.  Add this to the inherent vulnerability of the wood framing and sheathing, along with the large number of crucial details at window openings, door openings, balconies, decks, landings, floor lines, cladding transitions, etc., and it is no surprise that we see more of these projects with water infiltration and damage than any other type of project.

Many developers believe their budgets cannot support the inclusion of an exterior envelope consultant during construction of these projects,

but I would argue that nowhere is the return on investment greater.  

The photos speak for themselves.

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The mysteries of brick veneer installation on single-family homes:  On a smaller scale, but no less disastrous for the owners, there are countless single-family homes with water-damaged walls as well.  When inspecting masonry-clad homes with water infiltration problems, we consistently find a complete absence of attention to long-established details which are commonplace on commercial projects.  The Brick Industry Association provides free, comprehensive details of proper brick installation for most applications.  For some reason, in single-family home construction, basic concepts such as through-wall flashing, weeps, and a proper drainage cavity never make it into the structure.  We commonly see two and three-story walls without a single piece of through-wall flashing or weep hole.  If you’ve ever observed how quickly water penetrates through brick and mortar, you can easily predict the results.  All of that water has to go somewhere, and with the brick typically installed with no drainage cavity, the wall damage begins very quickly.

More about exterior wall sheathing:  As an addendum to Paul Beers’ article in this same newsletter, another type of sheathing we are seeing more frequently is an oriented strand board (OSB) product with a factory-applied, liquid-based weather resistive barrier material on the exterior face.  This seems to be gaining popularity in single-family construction, and it is also being used on some multi-family projects.  There can be potential benefits from selecting this type of material, but it should not be viewed as a guarantee against future water infiltration problems.  Along with the positives offered by a bonded weather barrier applied in a factory setting, there are detailing concerns at joints and cut-outs, and some new challenges in properly shingle-lapping self-adhered membrane flashings with the pre-applied barrier material. Our greatest apprehension relates to the perception by some that if this material is used, it eliminates all concerns about water infiltration and damage.  Remember that this material is not waterproofing, it is a weather resistive barrier, and proper detailing and supervision are still essential components to constructing a successful and enduring project.

Cautious Optimism:  We travel often to projects all over the USA and beyond, and we talk to many people working in every phase of the construction industry.  This includes owners, developers, architects, builders, subcontractors, product manufacturers, and field installers.  We all know this industry has been hit as hard as any by brutal economic conditions, but in the last few months, there seems to be a general consensus that conditions are slowly improving.  For the last couple of years, almost every new project we saw was either a healthcare or institutional facility.  Recently, we have seen more starts in those areas, but also some nice projects in hospitality, commercial, and multi-family residential.  Even some of the single-family homebuilders we know have seen some improvement.  This is no scientific poll, and we at GCI are certainly not economists, but it does appear that the industry has passed through the valley and is on a gradual upslope.  We are as optimistic as we have been in quite some time.

“Green” Contribution:  Energy requirements, sustainability, LEED credits, and air-tightness are terms we hear now on every new project.  At GCI, we believe that these are vital factors in building construction, and that it is equally important that we contribute to these efforts in our part of the design and construction process.  We have been ahead of the curve in our use of digital versions of project plans and specifications, and we have performed electronic “mark-up” reviews of these documents for several years.  We also deliver all of our reports electronically, and we are working on an exclusive access portal for our clients. Some of our project meetings are conducted “virtually”, and some types of inspections are documented digitally on tablet computers.  We remain committed to researching and implementing new methods of providing our services more efficiently – it is our responsibility to our clients, their projects, and our planet.

Christopher Matthews is Vice President and a Senior Consultant, employed with Glazing Consultants International, LLC, since 2002. He has over 27 years of experience working with exterior glazing and wall systems, and specializes in the installation and water resistance of these systems. He has consulted with owners, architects, engineers and builders on hundreds of projects throughout North America and the Caribbean, and also serves as an expert witness in related matters.

 Chris can be reached at or at (561)689-0055.