Hurricane Irma Recovery Tips

Paul beers – GCI Consultants, LLC

  • What to look for in Roof Assessments
  • Identifying Exterior Building Problems
  • Windows – Doors – Glass – Frames
  • Mitigate your damage tips
  • Flood Damage
  • What about the next storm


About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

*** Subscribe to the show and leave us a Review on ITunes!

Check out our article about hurricane Recovery tips by clicking here.

Hello, everyone, this is Paul Beers, welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. Today, we’re gonna talk about Hurricane Irma. So as this is being recorded, Hurricane Irma had struck Florida earlier this week. And actually, I think today is the first day it’s not on the map as a storm. So Hurricane Irma started out in the way out in the Atlantic Ocean as a tropical disturbance, and it became a very powerful category five hurricane, with winds of 180 miles in a hour. And it hit some of the Caribbean Islands, St. Martin, Barbuda, Tortola, the U.S. Virgin Islands, at that strength. And obviously, it was devastating, and they’re gonna be in for a very, very long recovery.

After that, it went further through the Caribbean, and it got parts of Puerto Rico, not a full hit, but Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republics, Turks and Keykos Islands were badly hit. At this point, I think it was probably a category four. It ended up off the coast of northern Cuba and then it took a right turn, headed for the U.S. So initially, the line when it was three or four days out, was projected to go right up the east coast of Florida, Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, and into South Carolina around Hilton Head, then turning a little bit west and going up inland, still pretty strong and it was projected a category four at that point.

The line moved over a few days, and then the line showed a couple days later going up the west coast of Florida, Naples, Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa, right on up through like Tallahassee and into Atlanta. And, of course, you know, these lines are the best guess and there’s a lot of variability when it’s four or five days out, and the closer it gets the better the predictions are. Ultimately, what happened was it came ashore at… well, it went through the Florida Keys and caused tremendous amount of damage. And then it went ashore again at Marco Island which is southwest Florida through Naples and then inland up through the state of Florida.

When it initially went through Marco Island and Naples, I believe it was a category four still. And as it got further north, up around Tampa, it had diminished because it was over land to about a category one. It continued north into Georgia and Alabama, they had tropical storm force winds in Atlanta, so lots of issues, lots of power outages, things like that. The awareness level of the storm was extremely high, and it just followed a big event in Houston, Hurricane Harvey. And honestly, the people in Florida, they, and rightly so, were very fearful of what could happen. There was a mass exodus, the Keys were evacuated, coastal areas, I think of the entire state of Florida was evacuated, and a lot of people just left because they, you know, were either afraid or just didn’t want to be part of it.

So there was a big exodus, a lot of issue with traffic and finding hotels and things like that. The people that did stay either were, you know, ready to go with impact windows and shutters, or they were boarding up and making their own. So it impacted the entire state of Florida and beyond, and it’s still going on even now with the recovery and the airports are now opening again, but there’s still gas shortages, there’s still power outages. It was a really, really, big event, and I think we’ll see as it plays out over times there’s gonna be a lot of damage and a lot of dollars associated with this.

So now that the storm is done, and, you know, for those that are in the path, either home owners or businesses, what do you do? So, you know, one of the things that you would want to do right away, is assess your property for damage. And what I wanna talk about is something actually that my company, GCI Consultants has done a lot of ever since Hurricane Andrew up until today. We’ve pretty much been involved in every, in the post, in the aftermath of every hurricane from Hurricane Andrew, right on through now in the U.S. and the Caribbean. And what we do, and what needs to be done, not necessarily by us, but by other firms or us, would be an exterior building assessment. And what we’re talking about here is wind, not flood, or what I’m gonna talk about is wind, not flood, touch on flood a little bit at the end.

So with an exterior building assessment, you basically wanna check all the elements of the exterior of the buildings. So, you know, one of the big damage areas of course in wind storms is roofs. So roof is blown off, obviously, you don’t need to assess it, then at that point, you’re in the damage mitigation. But a lot of times there can be damage even if the roof is still pretty much intact or in place. And on a sloped roof, what you’ll see on, you know, a lot of residential buildings, most residential buildings, and also on some commercial buildings, what you’re looking for there is, you know, things that are out of place, such as slipped, loose or missing roof tiles or shingles. If it’s a metal roof if the seams are coming apart, and then you wanna check all the areas where there’s any penetrations or flashings, for instance, if there’s a chimney coming through it or the vent pipes, things like that. Those are usually areas where problems can occur.

And then also you would wanna check around the whole perimeter of the roof. So where the roof meets the eave of that property, and there’s usually a flashing there, and of course that’s where the tiles, shingles, metal roofing and whatever interfaces and then the, you know the eave itself. So, the sopphet or what’s underneath the eave. So those are all areas that you need to check and you’re looking for things that are out of plane, or they look broken or whatnot. I wanna really stress here, I’m gonna say it’s a few times as we do this, probably not a good idea for you to climb a ladder on your own roof and start walking around, especially if you don’t know the condition, it can be really dangerous. If you do that, you need to be tied off to safety ropes. Every storm, sadly, has people that are badly injured or killed, you know, after the storm trying to do the recovery or assessment or whatnot. So be very, very careful if you do this, and probably better if you hire a professional which would be covered typically by a homeowners Wind Insurance Policy if you get into making a claim.

So the other type of roof that’s very prevalent, and more so on commercial buildings and on residential although some residential possibly are flat roofs. And flat roofs are typically affected by what we call wind uplifts. So as the wind goes over the top of the roof, it tries to pull it off the building, similar to how an airplane wing achieves lift. So what you wanna check for there, again so you’re gonna have a roof covering, which is either gonna be a membrane of some sort or a built-up roof which will have, you know, various layers of materials. So you wanna check the whole roof and make sure it’s still firmly attached and there’s not areas that are, have buckles or bubbles or, you know, visible imperfections.

You also wanna check for moisture. No moisture has gotten into the roof and cause it to, you know, been absorbed in the insulation. Usually, that’s squishy when you’re walking over it. In addition the flat roofs. There’s lots of terminations and flashings you might have, mechanical equipment on the roof you might have, you know, various vents and pipe penetrations, you’ve got perimeters which are either a flashing that terminates a roofing material with an exterior wall, or a parapet wall which is a small wall that goes around the top of the roof, and the roof would then terminate with a flashing into the parapet wall. A parapet wall usually has a cover cap on it that’s a metal flashing. All that stuff is vulnerable to being damaged or removed by high winds. So everything needs to be checked. Again, probably a good idea to have a professional do this, but, you know, it’s a little safer walking around on a flat roof than a sloped roof. This is something that should definitely be checked.

So once we get off the roof, the rest of the building, obviously, is the exterior walls. And windows and on the exterior walls, you know, the obvious things are the removal of cladding, where part of the wall actually comes off. But beyond that, the more discrete damages that you would look for would be cracks, voids in the wall system itself that weren’t there before the storm, any of the wall materials that are out of plane. So if you look up the wall and it’s not straight anymore than that’s an indication that something has happened where maybe fasteners have come loose or the part of the wall is become partially dislodged but not come off the building.

Sealant failure, anywhere you’ve got caulk joints. You know there’s a lot of movement in a hurricane which is intended by design, but that can cause sealants to sail and coatings. Impact damages, things being blown into the wall. And then of course, on the inside, if you see water entry, that’s an indication also that there may be problems on the outside. So the other area is windows, doors, and glass and, you know. So again, obviously, if the window’s been blown out that doesn’t really need an assessment. But a lot of times the damage can be more discrete, and we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of buildings where the windows and doors are intact, but they are in fact damaged, and ultimately they need to be replaced.

So things that we look for there is we look for broken glass, obviously, broken or cracked glass. We look for impact damage. We look for damage to the frame itself, so the frame can be deflected, which means it’s bent. And again, this can be discrete. I mean if it’s deflected, it could be a quarter inch out of plane from top to bottom, well that’s damage. It’s weaker than it was before the storm, and it’s not gonna be as strong for the next storm.

Frame displacement is another one where the window frame pieces come together, and that join is actually loose. Frame movement is another item that we look for, where maybe the fasteners have loosened up, and the frame has actually moved around in the wall, and it’s not as securely attached as it was before. Frame separation where the framing members are actually coming apart where they meet, usually at the corners. Sometimes the glass, the way it’s been set has lost its seal, so it may be loose in the frame, or if it has a gasket, the gasket may have become damaged or pulled in behind the frame. And that’s actually a dangerous condition because once the frame is actually, the glass is actually touching the frame, it’s very susceptible to breakage later on.

Hardware damage is another thing. So locks and wheels and things like that are put under a lot of stress when they interact with the loads of a hurricane, and that obviously affects operability which is, you know, how the door opens and closes. We’ve got water and air infiltration. A lot of times after storms, windows will be whistling where they weren’t before because the weather stripping and sealants have created voids for the air to come through when it’s windy, and a lot of times this causes water leakage. Sometimes, water leakage during a hurricane is a onetime event, but a lot of times this damage from the wind will cause further leakage in just normal weather, you know, wind-driven thunder storms, things like that.

Scratched glass is another thing to look for. That would typically, only occur if you have impact damage. But again, with windows, sliding glass doors, exterior doors, thick glass, all these things need to be carefully inspected because they may look fine, they may even operate okay. But if they get this discrete damage, they’re not gonna do as well the next time around. The other thing to look for on buildings is water proofing issues. So we’re talking about here is like balconies on high-rise buildings, decks, pedestrian type areas with living space below. You know, it could be swimming pools with a parking garage underneath or a pool on the roof, or you know, just we call them amenity decks where they have, you know, basically, where people can go outside and there’s occupied space or garages or things like that below.

Planters that have vegetation and things in them, those can be susceptible to a lot of movement during the storm also, and suddenly they’re leaking where they weren’t. And unfortunately, those are really hard to assess because typically when you do have leaks in decks and planters and things like that, you’ve got to remove materials, pavers, or concrete toppings to actually see what’s going on underneath. But that’s another area. And usually, the indication of the problems there is where you do have water entry into the building and adjacent to these areas.

So those are all the things that need to be checked. You can do it yourself, probably a good idea to hire a professional. If you’re making an insurance claim, don’t leave it up to the Insurance Company because they may not give you a fair assessment. You would definitely wanna hire a professional firm to inspect it. And if you’re having trouble with the Insurance Company, you may wanna consider hiring, even hiring an attorney or a Public Adjuster. We work with a lot of attorneys and Public Adjusters on these claims where, you know, the insurance settlement probably isn’t what it should be and they help ultimately to get things, make things right with the Insurance Company.

So the other thing I wanna talk about is, if you do have damage, it’s really important that you mitigate the damage. And as far as insurance policies go, that’s one of the things that they require. Now you’ve got to make a reasonable attempt to mitigate the damage. If it’s unsafe or if you’re physically incapable of doing this, or if you don’t have the money, then obviously, you know, that’s something that’s beyond reasonable. But, you know, here’s some tips for mitigating.

So number one again is stay safe. Do not go into any unsafe areas, don’t climb on the roof unless you have a proper ladder, safety lines and the area is secure. If you’ve got things like broken glass, you need to be very careful with that. And again, there’s always unnecessary injuries and deaths after every hurricane associated with people assessing or trying to repair property damage. Take lots of pictures and video of any damage. It can really be useful later with the insurance claims and you can never have too many, so more is better here and try to get everything very well documented. Then try to mitigate the damage.

As I talked about, Insurance Policies require this and if it’s dangerous or you’re not physically capable, don’t try to do it. Hire a professional to do it if you have the money. But, you know, things like covering roofs with tarps, you see the blue tarps all over roofs after every storm to prevent further water entry. And water entry is usually the big thing with mitigating damage. If you’ve got damaged window openings, board them up. If the windows are now leaking where they weren’t before, you might wanna put towels down in the window sill. And, of course, you know this is a time where you should notify your Insurance Company to start the claims process.

Get help from qualified professionals. Be careful about relying on advice from contractors unless you know them well, and they have a good reputation. If you do hire contractors, make sure they’re licensed and insured. Ask for a copy of their license, and also a copy of their insurance certificate. They should be pulling a building permit with the building department. You know, this takes a little extra time, but this all verifies the legitimacy of who you’re working with. You know, there’s a lot of out-of-town, we call “gypsy contractors”. You know, they’re gonna come in, they’re gonna do some work, you’re gonna pay them and they’re gonna be gone, you’re never gonna see them again. So you really wanna deal with somebody reputable even if it takes longer.

And if you ask a contractor for their license or their insurance certificate or if they’re pulling a building permit and they don’t wanna do any of that, don’t hire them, get somebody else. It’s really important and it’s very, very tempting to, you know, push the easy button and have somebody come in and take care of some. So maybe really personable and wonderful and seem like they know what they’re talking about, but they need to be licensed, insured and they need to pull permits.

Any money that you spend related to assessment and repairs, recovery, temporary housing, any other expenditures that you would not have had, had there not been the storm, you need to keep receipts for everything. And again, you know, the insurance company, just need to be careful with them. If you don’t feel like they’re treating you fairly, hire an attorney or a Public Adjuster that specializes in insurance claims. And I said, you know, my company, GCI Consultants works with a lot of them, so we see what goes on with this. Not to say that the insurance companies won’t treat you fairly, but, you know, it happens and you need to be careful with this.

And a good resource for finding a Public Adjuster or an attorney that specializes in this is the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. And their website is We’ve got all this information by the way on our website, We have a lot of information about hurricanes, damage, and recovery. The mitigation tips I just gave you. There’s a piece on that, that’s got all the bullet points with everything I’ve just talked about. We’re also publishing an assessment guide on how to assess buildings. So again, our website, has a good resource as well.

What I didn’t really talk about, which is not obviously wind-related, is flood damage and there were some areas that were badly affected. Northeast Florida, Jacksonville area, in particular, comes to mind, and from storm surge. And flood damage from rising ground water typically is not covered by home owners or wind insurance policies. So you would need to have purchased a separate flood insurance policy for coverage. The same scenarios for mitigating wind damages applies to flood damage. You know, try to get things dried out, and just make things mitigate it as best you can. And again, take lots and lots of pictures.

So the last thing I wanna talk about is, what about the next one? So, you know, people are listening to this that drove all over the place for a week, running from the storm east… to the west. I have a friend that went to the west coast of Florida to be safe when the line was going up the east coast and then had to drive back to the east coast when the line went to the west coast. It’s a big hassle. So what can you do to avoid that? Well, the one thing you can do, which I’ve done with my house is basically make it hurricane resistant. I’ve got impact windows, the whole roof, there’s house everything was built to the new code so it’s very wind resistant and when a storm comes, nobody has to leave. It’s safe there and if you… and I’m not in a flood plain.

So very important if you are in a flood area you do need to evacuate. But what you can do is upgrade your property, and I’m not going to kid you, it’s expensive and this is for business, this is a tip for businesses and/or home owners. But if you can stay in your property, be safe, be confident, its way better than having to evacuate or buying lumber maybe at inflated prices and trying to build shutters as the storm is approaching. And people that are listening to this that did this, know exactly what I’m talking about. So to avoid that next time, the best thing to do is to start working on it now. I had actually done my upgrades to my windows two years ago.

So last year, I think it was Hurricane Matthew came, I was on an overseas trip. I was actually hiking in Morocco. And I didn’t have any concerns about my property. You know, and that’s another issue if you’re an absentee property owner because it was ready. You know, with impact windows and doors, just as long as everything’s closed and locked, no further preparations are necessary. So it’s concerning when a big storm’s approaching, but when you don’t have to hassle with trying to put shutters up or get it boarded up or whatnot, I can tell you from personal experience it’s a huge relief. And Matthew, of course, my house is in Pamagge Gardens Florida, and Matthew just brushed by, wasn’t really a big issue, in fact, it only did, real wind damage that I’ve seen in Daytona Beach.

But, you know, that was last year, and then here we go again this year with Irma and Irma was a really, really scary looking storm and it scared everybody in the entire state because at one point that projected, the line, the projected path, was probably over your house or your building. I know it was in my house, right over it. And again, I was ready, and I didn’t have to do anything, and it was just such a really good piece of mind and good way to go. So that’s something to think about.

It’s not inexpensive, I’m not gonna kid you, it’s very expensive to replace your windows or to put permanent shutters on your house. And it seems like, you know, you’re spending a lot of money, but if you’re a property owner in a hurricane prone area, gulf coast, or Atlantic Coast of the U.S. or the Caribbean for that matter, you live where hurricanes come, and if you live in a hurricane prone area, you probably should protect your property to be able to resist the effects of a hurricane because the reality is it’s not if one’s gonna come, it’s when. And Irma this time really got some areas that had not had a big impact or a big scare in a long time. The Tampa Bay area had not had a… hadn’t had a major storm I think since the twenties or thirties. And this thing, you know, ultimately, thankfully it wasn’t super strong when it went through there, but everybody really got their attention and I know it scared them a lot.

So here we are, the storm’s over, I’m certain there’s building damage throughout the entire state of Florida and probably even points north. So hopefully, these tips will help, that the key thing here again is be safe. And I’ve given you some resources to look at as far as if you need help with a claim the and our website has a lot of good information. So good luck everybody and hopefully we won’t be having this conversation again for quite some time.

So this is Paul Beer, saying so long, everybody. Thank you again, for listening to the Everything Building Envelope podcast, and good luck and stay safe.

GSKy Plant Systems and Green Walls

Debbie Kotalic – GSky Plant Systems

  • What is GSky Plant Systems?
  • Whare are some benefits of Green Walls?
  • Whare are Trends you are seeing and experiencing in the greenwall industry?
  • What makes a green wall successfull?
  • What are some considertiond to keep in mind when planning a greenwall into a project?


About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

*** Subscribe to the show and leave us a Review on ITunes!

Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. This is Paul Beers. We have a really interesting guest today, Debbie Kotalic, and she’s with GSky Plant Systems. And this is a hot topic. We’re running into green walls a lot now and big thing in the industry. So, I think this is gonna be of great interest to everybody. So, welcome, Debbie.

Debbie: Thank you.

Paul: Really excited to be talking about this today. But before we get into it, could you just please tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Debbie: I appreciate you having me here today. And I am a landscape designer. I’ve been doing it for about 30 years now, gave away my age. But I have been working in the field, in nurseries and landscape design, built a company. And then I saw the green wall technology, was interested in it about 10 years ago, but it was very new. And when they asked me to come onboard and work with them and do some design work, the company was new. I decided to give it a try, and I’m hooked. So, now, I do this full time. So, what I do with GSky, but I do the design work with the plant material and with the systems. So, that’s what I do.

Paul: So, I don’t know about 10 years ago, but it’s definitely cutting edge right now. In fact, I know we met you at the AIA show in Orlando a few months back. And architects and designers and owners love the concept of green walls for a lot of reasons. It brings texture to different material, it’s very current and very relevant. Your company is GSky Plant System. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that, as well.

Debbie: Okay. What GSky Plant Systems…I don’t know. Probably years and years ago, people would encourage ivy or grow different things to grow up walls. And what they found was it might look nice but it costs a lot of damage to buildings. So, we have developed systems that can attach to buildings or freestanding structures to give the same effect. And we’re a leading provider of the vertical living green walls in North America, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East, and we’re still expanding. But what we have found is one system does not fit every need. So, we have developed four different systems, three different for the exterior and one for an interior system.

Currently, we have over 500 walls, either under contract or they have been installed. And in 2015, we broke our record, installed over 100 walls one calendar year. So, the business is growing fast. We’re doing a lot of different things, but it’s the systems and it’s the knowledge that we have to back the systems because we also do the installations. But that is basically what GSky Plant Systems is.

Paul: So, I was really interested when you agreed to come on as a guest, and I was looking at the GSky website. What is the web address, in case anybody wants to take a look while they’re listening?

Debbie: It’s

Paul: Yeah, it’s really interesting and it’s got a lot of project examples and what not. And I was very interested to see that our firm, GCI Consultants, has worked on several projects with the GSky system. They’re in your project portfolio. And we’ve got other ones that we’re working on now, some big ones. We’re seeing more and more, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. What are some of the benefits of green walls?

Debbie: I mean, some of the benefits…a lot of municipalities, a lot of places now are requiring so much green in a space and they can do it in a park form, they can do it in areas in their lobby, having large expanses of green. But they found that they can’t lease that, they can’t make money from that, and if they put it on a wall, we’ll account for that. But it helps take away a lot of the urban jungle, as far as the concrete jungle look and affect in.

Benefits are not only visual because it’s very calming, but they’re also artistic. They can be a focal point. They help in air quality, especially for interiors, cooling, and installing. If you go near one of the larger walls, if you walk near it, you can feel the temperature go down there. But they increase employee morale, patient morale, if you’re doing it in medical settings. They increase property values, and we’re finding a lot of developers are requesting green walls for large redos of projects, if it’s not a brand new project, because they want to attract people with the tenants, and people love the green walls. So, they’re finding the real estate industry is saying that it has increased their property values.

It’s a really good branding tool, also. We have a lot of corporate clients who are using green walls for different things and they have the branding in that it can either be in the plant design or it’s just that they have a green wall, that they have certain expectations and certain things that they want. But it’s a great recruiting tool for anybody who hires millennials, or who wants millennials as clients, because they love the green walls. And another big thing, I think, of benefit for green walls is you have a lot of people, such as yourself, who are designing things and who are installing, etc., and the lead points, etc., are a big thing as far as the buildings and having green initiatives and doing that type of thing.

I found a lot of times in talking with people is, you know, the green walls will help toward their points. They don’t have a category, per se, for that, but it does help toward the points. But when the employees or when different people see a green wall on the property, even though they have used green technology in the carpets or the wall coverings or the roof, etc., which is great, a lot of times, the employees or people don’t realize that it’s a green initiative type thing. But when they see the wall, they realize it, and that gives them a chance to start talking about that and start making people aware of the other things that are there in the environment, etc.

So, they do a lot of things as far as cover. A lot of places are now requiring, municipalities are requiring, especially parking garages, for people who are doing developments, they can’t get the permits even until they have come up with some type of facade for the parking garages or for different parts of buildings and areas, and we came up with a system. One of our systems is built just for that because it can cover that in a vine material within a year that it’s going in. Especially in the southern region, it may take up to two years to fully cover one at north. But they’re requiring that they do that in order to get permits. So, there’s been a lot of want and a lot of need for the green walls so that they take away that concrete jungle. That’s a big part of it. Schools are a big thing, too.

Paul: The parking garage is something that architects and designers really like to do. Like we had a big project we’re working on that had…there was like a six-story parking garage. This hasn’t been built yet, and in fact, it’s a redesign, not because of the green wall, but because the building was too tall for the city. I can’t imagine that, being a guy that loves high-rises, by the way. But the original concept was there was actually a historic church right in front of this property, they had a parking garage, and they were putting a green wall application over the entire front of this garage, which was taller than the church actually. And really, the concept was it was gonna frame it out really nicely. When you look at the church, you would see this, all this green behind it instead of a large high-rise.

And the other thing I was just thinking about when you were talking about the different applications is we had our company meeting last weekend. And right outside the conference room was a small piece of green wall, and you talked about branding, what was the logo of the property that we were at, it looked really good. You know, it had texture and color, really pretty sharp.

Debbie: Well, I mean, one of the products that we have developed, which is our Basic Wall product, it’s a vine container system, like I said. Well, we only expect our vines to grow five feet because they have been developed to stack upon on top of each other going up the wall. You can’t see them because they’re on the inside, but the plants are directly into that, they stay in their system. It’s all irrigated. Of course, maintenance is a big part of it. One of our big things, as far as GSky goes, is that we not only develop and install the project, design the projects, but we also ensure that the maintenance is done properly. Without maintenance, I mean, you can put in, you can plant a plant in the ground and think it’s going to grow 30 feet, maybe.

But without being in good soil, having good irrigation, and being trimmed and trained to grow trellis, a lot of times, I think, that municipalities have found it didn’t work. And so, they are specking and saying that they have to use this type of system in order to give the permits and, etc., to give the okay to some of the developers.

We’re doing several projects in Highland Beach. I know we just finished one not long ago. It’s a very large wall. But when it goes in, it’s already pretty full, especially if they give us enough time to grow it down south. It was full within three or four months of it going in the whole entire wall. So, it’s not like we’re planting something and hoping it grows 20 or 30 feet. We plant, we put it on, and we know it will because it’s already done it. We’re just taking care of it now.

Paul: Is there any point in time in the lifespan of one of these green sky systems where the plants have to be redone, or can maintenance give them kind of an indefinite period?

Debbie: Right. It depends on the system that is being used and where it’s at and it depends on how good the maintenance has been. And what we do, as far as I say, we do the maintenance, we subcontract local people to do the maintenance. We train them and then they report to us. They have to send us pictures, they have to send us reports every two weeks, and we work with them and support them.

But just like any landscaping that has been done on the exterior, if plants haven’t been pruned properly, if they haven’t been given proper nutrition, if they weren’t planned properly, that they put plants that need to be in the shade, in the sun or vice versa, etc., or they don’t know what a good plant that will work vertically is, because a lot of times a plant that you plant in the ground and it’s used to growing straight up, now you’ve turn it on its side, and now, is that plant going to be very geotropic, is it going to turn up, is it going to turn down, or is it going to do what you want it to do?

So you have to know what the plants are that you’re using and where they go, because that’s a very important part of it. But we have found that our plants are doing very, very well, especially on the Basic Wall because those are growing straight up, as they would normally from the ground. They’re just growing up on the trellis. As long as those are kept fertilized and healthy, every year or so they may have to put a little more dirt in it, the technology is still…green wall technology, as far as they go, is still fairly new. But we are having great success with it.

With our interior walls, which is our Versa product, which is totally different… We came up with a different product for interiors because we had the panelized system, which is our Pro Wall, where you put liners in it and grow it out at the nursery, and then hang it on the wall. And it’s very good and we do use it a lot, especially for high wind areas, etc. But for the interior, we found plants didn’t have the opportunity to dry out with that type of system, because inside, outside… I’m sorry, outside, when you irrigate it, you’re wanting it to not dry out too quickly inside. So, therefore, we use materials that would absorb water and hold it. On the interior, if you have something that’s spongy or something that holds water, you don’t have wind, etc., inside. And those plants and the roots would never get a chance to dry. And then, you start having root rot, you start having funguses and that, and everything else.

So we came up with a system that’s…it’s patented, it’s a pot-tray system where each pot just goes…it’s a four-inch planted pot that sits right in the tray. They’re all engineered to fit right into the tray, normal four-inch planted pots. And it’s watered from the back, when the irrigation down to the system, and it’s very hard to describe this verbally. You can see it on the website, and we have CAD drawings and everything on the website. But the water is then leaked from the back of the pot. We water about every 10 to 12 days, depending on what the plant needs are and the environments inside. And then the plant is allowed to dry, and that’s what plants need. Most plants don’t want to stay wet all the time. So, we’ve found that that does very well, that is in a four-inch pot. People have questioned, how long would that plant last, and what we have been finding…

We tell people to, you know, and that’s part of our maintenance contract is, you know, we do plant replacement. We’re doing very little plant replacements and this system has been in effect for four to five years now, very little plant replacements as long as maintenance companies maintain them properly and they have the right environment. The lighting has been put in properly, lighting is very key for interior projects. Without good lighting, you’re replacing plants more often.

With the Pro Walls, which is the panelized system, which is outside, again, maintenance is a critical factor. Where we find we have to do the most replacements for an exterior wall like that is if, again, we have some projects where they say it’s full sun, it’s full west or south facing sun, it gets no shade, there’s nothing there to shade it, there’s no big building across the street, and then they’ll put some big trees in. And so, now, you’ve got the wrong plant in that site and the plant has to be changed out periodically. But that is part of the maintenance contracts, etc.

Now, we have come up with a system called our Versa XT, which is an exterior product, this is also just using one gallon pots that goes into a pot and a tray system. And that makes it very easy for northern climates who want green walls and you don’t want a panelized system up there because it’s too hard to make the replacements and have it look good. And they expends out waste that they gain for. But with this one-gallon XT product that is fairly new, we tested it in up above Vancouver, at Simon Fraser University, on a huge wall, it did great throughout the winter, grows, came back. And if you do need to make a replacement, you just pick up one pot and throw another pot in that’s full immediately. So that’s a big benefit with that. Because we have people in northern climates who want green walls and we try not to put them where we don’t think they’ll do well.

We can put a Versa XT almost anywhere, as long as they know, if it just is so cold, if you have an unusually cold winter or somebody in Vale want one out, I can put in a green wall there. It’s an annual green wall. So, you are going to have to replace the plants every year because they’re up in their own side of the building. They’re not down in the ground. They’re not insulated like they would be in the ground. They’re up on the side of a building, wind’s blowing through, etc., and a lot of times, people think, they’ll say, “I want a green wall,” and you’ll say, “Well, what’s it facing?” “It was north facing and it’s up in like zone four and it’s everything else.” I’m like, “Well, what else lives there throughout the winter?” “Nothing.” Well, these aren’t magic plants.

So, it’s just…the planning of the whole thing is a key. You got to plan it correctly. You got to take, you know… You have to have people who are knowledgeable in planning the walls and how they go in. But the plants do very well, as long as they’re maintained well, just like plants would in the ground.

Paul: Yeah, I never realized there’s so much that go into it. So, you know, so we’re Building Envelope experts but we’re certainly not plant experts. In fact, I have a hard time growing flowers in my front yard sometimes. So, really interesting to hear, you know. And think about it, it makes sense. All the consideration, particularly with varied climates. And, you know, obviously, Vale is much, much, much different than Miami, and, you know, and even much, much, much different, I would assume, than Vancouver.

Debbie: Absolutely, absolutely.

Paul: You had mentioned retrofit, you know, that the people going and they remodel, they…you know, that’s one of the things that they desire to do. So, I was talking to an architect a few weeks ago about a project, where they were interested in the green wall, and the architect was asking me, do you have to do anything special to the wall to accommodate these systems? She was asking me, “Do I need that double wall? Do I need, you know…what do I need to do?” Could you talk a little bit about, you know, what needs to happen behind the wall, as far as what needs to be provided?

Debbie: I can talk a little bit about it. Our project and structural designers take care of that much more than I do, but I do know that depending on the wall and the interior of a wall, we’re doing our Versa Wall, which is, they have a plywood that they put up. There are a lot of times, people are very worried about moisture and moisture barriers, etc. I know that we tell people they can put up the marine-grade plywood. Again, I know a lot about it. I may give you a few wrong things on this.

Paul: Yeah, you know what, I didn’t want to get too technical. So, what I was trying to get at was, you know, that, you know, I don’t know if this is true enough, but there’s not a lot of special preparation needed to accommodate the system, you know. Like you put your water-proofing up and then…

Debbie: Right.

Paul: System.

Debbie: And I think…they think with retrofitting especially is the water source, what’s the water source going to be. Small wall, we have systems that have a cabinet built into it, that tanks can be put under, maintenance can fill the tanks, and the water can go, can be pumped up and can water it. If it’s a really large wall that’s really not efficient, they need to have water source direct feed to the wall to water it. There can be, at that point, some projects want to recycle the water. With our system, for interior, there’s not a lot of recycling because it waters and the plants absorb that, and there’s no water really wasted. But we still say there has to at least be a drain at the bottom or recycling tanks, just in case somebody leave something on, or valve get stuck on, etc., so that the water can be taken care of in that way. But you have to have things that all walls need to have. And even if it’s a retrofit, you have to think about all walls need a water source of some sort.

There are some that’s not real big that people do hand-watering. Again, I would not suggest it for large wall, but for something smaller, that can be done. But with our Versa Wall, automated irrigation is so simple. That’s not really necessary. There has to be electric available for the pumps.

Lighting is key for an interior wall also. There have to have the proper lighting, and a lot of times, we think, “Oh, I don’t want this bright, bright lights. It’s going to be a lobby that’s supposed to be restful.” As far as the lighting being obtrusive to everybody in the lobby, that’s not true. It’s just washed on the wall, it’s as if you put a picture on a light. But it has to be the proper type of lighting. And now, LED…halogen lighting was what was used for a long time, LED lighting is now working very well because they can get the tone and the temperatures set correctly on that. So, lighting that is a wall wash, not a spot on the different plants. And we have several different lighting companies that we can give people references for so that they can work with a good lighting engineer or a good lighting person to get the proper fixtures on the wall, more on the ceiling to do it.

There are definite ways to do it and that’s done all the time. And if you have the right lighting on your plants, you have no problem with the plants basically because they need light in order to go through their photosynthesis, they take up energy and nutrients, etc. But lighting, electric, a drain, some type of water source, and accessibility. You have to be able to access that wall in order to maintain it. So, we have a lot of walls where, a lot of really, really big, big, tall walls, but before we do the installation, we have to make sure that there is accessibility to it, whether by means of a lift, and can you get the lift in there, and where is the lift stored, or is it rented, etc? And you know, the furniture can’t be right in front of the wall, unless it can be moved. And there’s just some things that take into consideration with that, when it’s being designed.

Paul: And it’s also funny, so some of the same problems you have on this conventional wall, you know, like window washing, the same issue. How do you get in there and do that? And I’ve seen buildings where they haven’t done a good job but that they’ve had to do maintenance and what not and, you know, it’s a nightmare. So, if you don’t have good access, and particularly for something like a living wall like this, I would think it would be a nonstarter.

Debbie: Well, it is. And there have been some walls that we’ve declined because we couldn’t do the maintenance. There was one particular project that I think you’d find interesting. It’s in Ontario, I believe, and it’s a huge wall, indoors, and they couldn’t figure out how they were going to get… Because I believe that it’s next to an elevator shaft and an escalator. And they finally came up with, and because they couldn’t get the lighting to work out because it was so tall, and there are offices coming off of each floor that’s open to this reception area, and it’s a big mall, really. And so, they couldn’t get the lighting to come out because it would blind people and they couldn’t be able to do so.

Finally, it was engineered so that the wall is hung, and on this wall… It’s on the Yonge-Englinton project. On the wall, they have built-in, there’s a structure built on to the sides of the wall which house the lighting that will come out and wash the wall, but it also is framed so that window washing system can power up and down that same frame to be able to do the maintenance. So, they figured it out.

Paul: Wow.

Debbie: Yeah, it’s really nice.

Paul: That’s really impressive. So, what are some of the trends that you’re seeing of late in the green wall industry?

Debbie: A lot of trend I’m seeing now is, well, again, like I said before, anything that has to do with millennials, millennials love it. But reception areas and entry spaces, especially in large corporate offices, and I see in large attorney offices, and just any of them, where they used to have a big reception desk and then they have chairs in places, and they have plants just sitting around, etc., they’re using that more for communal spaces and not a reception desk. They have board tables, they have board rooms, etc., and like I said, their gathering spaces, their event spaces, their photo op spaces, and we’re doing a lot of huge walls in those areas.

Stairways are another big one. We’re doing a lot of things that people are designing large staircases into a lot of these offices, into a lot of projects, and especially colleges, etc. They’re promoting wellness and promoting health, and using the stairs, etc., and it makes it feel more like they’re hiking in the forest, I guess. They’re walking along…

Paul: More natural.

Debbie: Yeah, it’s much more natural, it’s cooler near the wall, and it’s a lifestyle type thing. And we’re seeing that a lot with the stairways. Tech companies are huge. They’re using walls a lot now. Again, they’re recruiting millennials, and that’s who… And I know, I’ve given lectures at colleges and I’ve been at different things where they have had design contests, etc. Very few big projects I see them designing are without a green wall of some sort in there. They are very much into the health. They are very much into everything that it represents.

Airports are another big place I’m finding them. We’re doing them. Airports have known, they wanna make it a little friendlier. They wanna make the…and not so stressful. When you’re sitting there and your flight’s been cancelled for the third time, they have big green walls in these airports now, where people walking by them or they’re near, where large areas are, eating areas, etc., they’re putting in a lot of that, the green walls in.

Hotel lobbies are huge for green walls. We’re finding that a lot. The medical facilities. We put a large one in at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and in several others, too. Medical facilities, not only for the patients but for the families. Some of them are in like surgery waiting areas and emergency room areas, but they’re also in different areas where employees can go for a break or take or relax some, and it’s calming for them. So, it’s not only for the patients, but it’s for everybody involved in the hospital stay and care on that.

So, another big trend I’ve seen with green walls and what I would like to incorporate more is incorporating other things into them such as wood and metal, glass, and things of interest. We’ve done some walls that people have wanted that they had collected ruins or artifacts, etc., and we incorporated those into the walls. I think it makes them very interesting to incorporate other things into them sometimes. You have some type of glass thing, whether it’s a logo, whether it’s just some other form of some sort and have some back lighting on it, it makes it very interesting in walls too. And we’ve done several walls where there are waterfalls in between, where you have a wall that’ll have a waterfall in the middle of it. Somewhat, we don’t do the waterfall, but we design the walls around the waterfalls. So, there’s a lot of people wanting things like that.

Paul: Really funny that you bring that up because I just looked at a project that we’re hoping to get involved with in the Caribbean, like two weeks ago, and we checked all the boxes you just said. It was a hotel and it had a water feature, and it had like, on the entrance to the hotel, which was open air, there was a green wall that was kind of on the front face on both sides of the entry and then wrapped into the building, and it incorporated not just the plant material but it had like wood and stone elements mixed into it. So they’re really into having different materials, different textures, changing plains and surfaces. And as the architect was showing it to me, I told her, I said, “Wow, this is really nice looking, and I had not seen something that well-thought-out and that intricate before, but it look great.”

Debbie: Yeah, and they do. It’s in the planning that work out really well. And the things that…some of the things that make for a really successful wall so that it is long-time, of course, is your system, the type of system you are using, whether it works well in getting the water to the places where it needs to be and use the right type of system. Like I said, I don’t think one system fits every aspect. So, I think that using the right system is huge in making that for a successful green wall. One of the things that we work very hard on is the design, not only in the shop drawings, we coordinate it. We have our professional installers who do the installing. I work with the plant design and procurement. One of the things that people don’t realize a lot of times, an installer, especially our GCs, I work with them quite frequently on is that whenever it’s time to install a wall and we have a large wall coming in, we have to source the plant material.

Now, I’m not sourcing three dozen plants on some of these walls. I have 16,000 plants on it. And the nursery industry, the way that it is now, we have to plan for this ahead of time a lot of times now. Not always, I can get some of them sometimes, but when it’s time to put a wall in, I need realistic install dates. I know what you want, I know what you guys have told the client, I need realistic. Because it’s not like I’m sending a box of nails that you can set on a shelf somewhere and wait until you can go ahead and finish putting it in. When those plants come, they have to be able to go in the wall and all the conditions have to be right. So, I always tell people, “The plants go in the wall when the furniture’s ready to come into the building.”

Paul: Yeah, we hear about “Just in Time” delivery with factories and what not. Probably the case here, isn’t it, where you’ve got to show up at the right time or it’s not gonna work.

Debbie: Exactly. You can have your construction dust, you can have people who are turning the power off to do other things and doesn’t get turned back on. I mean, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it because we do this all the time. We know how to work with people to get it done, and they get it done properly. And installation is a huge thing. You have our project managers that are on the site. Smaller ones, we have certified dealers who can do some of our interior scapers who are into your projects, who have been trained and who can do those now. But for a large, exterior thing, we have our supervisors on site for that and working with people. Because again, logistics is a big thing. The lifts, safety, everything that goes with that, and working with the GCs on that.

And so, you know, as long as it’s planned and everybody knows it ahead of time, and we’ve been working with them, our project managers working with the GC for several months usually before it goes in, and as long as we’re getting good information, this thing can go up and be very painless. So, for all the other people, all the other ancillary people working on it, we just have to make sure that the contract is, as far as the plumbing is there, the lighting is there, and installed, we can’t wait until we get there and then have them do that because these plants have to be watered. So…

Paul: Yeah, lots of parts and pieces.

Debbie: Lots of it. And then, I think the biggest part of all in having a really successful green wall besides the designing is the maintenance. We warranty any plant replacements, as long as we have the maintenance contracts, and that is making sure that the people are doing the maintenance properly, it’s being done when it should be and pruned, done regular checkups, the reports go to the owners, etc. But maintenance, I can’t stress enough how important maintenance is with the green wall because they’re a living plant. It’s not an inanimate object that you can put it up and it’s a painting and it never changes. And that’s one of the nice things about the green wall is that people find very interesting is watching them change and watching the metamorphosis of the wall and watching how it changes as time goes on.

Now, when we put them in, they’re fairly full to begin with, but they still go through some changes. There’s pruning, there’s different things, and with the interior, or exterior, it grows a lot more. But there’s a lot of excitement around the green wall and I encourage anybody who’s never been, especially a larger wall, who’s never been on an install, where they’ve been putting a larger wall in as it goes in, just to watch the other people around, they’re all amazed. And that’s a lot of fun.

Paul: Yeah, well, you know, this is definitely, we talk about trendy. This is definitely trendy. I know you guys have been doing this for a long time and you probably doesn’t seem like that to you. But it’s really, really catching on. And as I say, you know, we see more and more of it, and it looks great. It’s just that really, really nice feature from the typical stuff you see in buildings.

Debbie: And one of our things that we’re very adamant about and we have worked very hard in bringing the industry to where…help in bringing the industry to where it is is we don’t let a wall fail. I mean, unless people just don’t let you take care of it after it’s gone in, and that does happen once in a while. You know, they’ll say, “Well, we don’t need maintenance.” And, you know, as much as you try, but we don’t let a wall fail, as far as if there’s a problem, we’re right back there working on it and doing what needs to be done. One of the things that we also have done is through AEC Daily. We have an online continuing education program that architects and interior designers, etc., can take and get their CEU credits, but it gives a lot more information on the walls. They can get it online and things that they need to think of when designing them, etc.

Paul: And they can… And if anybody wants information on that, they can find it at

Debbie: Yes, yes. If they go in, there’s a link that goes right to the AEC Daily.

Paul: Great.

Debbie: Continuing ed. It’s free.

Paul: Even better.

Debbie: Very well.

Paul: So, this has been really interesting and I thank you so much. And I know there’s big, big interest in this and it seems like it’s growing more and more. And it’s really interesting for me personally to hear about all of the intricacy and all the parts and pieces and everything that has to come together. So, thank you very much for coming on today and telling us about it.

Debbie: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And I know, I feel a little scattered with it because there’s just so much information. You can have five or six different talks on this thing and different categories. But I’ve just given you a little brief highlight on some of it there. There’s a lot of intricacy with it, but I think it’s well worth it. People love it. And we just, we have the experience and the knowledge to do it and to do it right, and that takes planning.

Paul: So, maybe we’ll do a follow-up episode just to open the door for them. Again, I know there is, right.

Debbie: Well, I could bring more of our Building Envelope people in, too, that could probably answer questions for you much more about the load bearing on the walls and different things like that, too, that will probably something that the people will probably benefit from.

Paul: Yeah, a little more technical. May not be as much fun as talking to them on the phone.

Debbie: That’s right, I do the fun stuff.

Paul: Well, again, thank you very much for coming on.

Debbie: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Paul: And I’d like to thank everyone for listening to the Everything Building Envelope podcast, where, when you listen to this episode, we’re gonna be in the 30s with the number of episodes. You wanna check out some of the other ones, please visit Please tell your friends and buddy who would like to subscribe, can do so on iTunes or Stitcher. Until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, “So long.”

Stucco Around Wood Frame Window Openings

Bret Taylor – GCI Consultants

  • New Technical Bulletin by the Florida Lath & Plaster Bureau
  • Codes, Standards and Guidelines that Apply
  • Complexities of the Building Envelope Around Window Openings
  • Responsible Parties
  • The Devil is in the Details
  • Florida Lath & Plaster Bureau Future Technical Bulletins

Read the Technical Bulletin – FLAPB – TB-ST-08-17


About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is your host, Paul Beers. And our guest today is Bret Taylor. Welcome, Bret.

Bret: Good morning, Paul. Glad to be here.

Paul: So Bret is a fellow team member of mine at GCI Consultants. And Bret, before we get into the subject, maybe you could tell everybody a little bit about your background.

Bret: Absolutely. Well, like a lot of engineers, started working for firms just out of college to gain experience as I came up through the ranks. Focused in on structural engineering as my career focus. And did some building design, like most junior engineers do, so small commercial, residential type structural engineering work, construction repair type work.

And then eventually broke off on my own, started my own firm. I did that for 15 years in North Carolina. Enjoyed that thoroughly, learned a lot. And as I was, I guess, getting exposure as the leader of my own firm, I started to run into different scenarios that were different from just regular design work. Because I’d get calls from clients that would say, “Hey, you know, we have this structural issue. Can you come out and take a look at it?” And I did, and I guess my segue into the forensic world. And it just advanced from there.

And then I started doing work for insurance companies, investigating various types of cause and origins, issues there, water penetration, hail damage, lightning strikes, that kinda thing. And so my forensic career evolved even more. Then a couple years ago I decided to make a change. I wanted to get involved in, I guess, the larger forensic world and made the move to Florida.

Paul: We’re really happy that you did. So you’re a licensed engineer in Florida, and a bunch of other states, that’s right?

Bret: That’s correct. I’ve gained licensure in a total of 12 states. I was just gonna say, essentially all up and down the east coast of the States, and then over as far as Louisiana.

Paul: Great. One thing that I know that you didn’t tell anybody about I think is really interesting, when you were early in your career you worked overseas, didn’t you?

Bret: I have, yeah. Very early on I found an opportunity to work in Germany after the wall came down. Essentially when the wall came down, East Berlin opened up to West Berlin. And the infrastructure was in horrendous disrepair from all those years of socialist occupation from the USSR. And so lots of construction work going on, and they just needed more professionals than they could source. And so there was an architect professor who was German at NC State, from which I graduated, that was getting his architectural students work. I met with them and they helped me plug in. So yeah, I got about a year and a half exposure in Germany.

Paul: Yeah, that sounds like funny actually. Yeah, it’s a great opportunity. I wish I would have done stuff like that in my younger days actually. We got a really great topic today, stucco around wood frame window openings. So Bret, you recently were the primary author on a publication of that same name that was produced by the Florida Lath and Plaster Bureau, is that right?

Bret: That’s correct. Part of a windows committee that broke out around the topic of wood frame window openings with all the stucco litigation going around currently. We decided to break out a committee. I joined that committee. And we have many more technical bulletins planned, but as we were getting into discussing what we wanted to accomplish in the committee it became apparent pretty quickly that this is a huge topic. Because once you create an opening, that’s an opening you have to seal. On top of that, with a window installation you have a lot of integration between the different parties that are performing different component of the wall construction.

Paul: Yeah. You know, so wood frame construction really is a big part of the construction methodology that’s out there. We see it anywhere from single-family homes to, you know, pretty good sized, mid-rise type structures, multi-family residential, hotels, office buildings, commercial, you know, retail, all sorts of different things. And they’re all different obviously, and one size doesn’t fit all. But as you say, there’s been a lot of, over the years, litigation. And on our expert witness side of things we’ve done many, many, many hundreds, maybe thousands of buildings over the years with wood frame and stucco.

And, you know, where there’s been allegations of things maybe not going correctly or having issues. So this is a great topic, and really excited to see the piece that you guys put out. And maybe we can just sort of run through it a little bit more. I know it focuses with codes, and standards, and whatnot. So can you maybe run us through some of the highlights of it?

Bret: Sure, absolutely. I guess to start off I’d just say, you know, it’s for general educational purposes to help folks in the industry get their head around the codes, and guidelines, and standards that are involved. So it should be helpful to folks in the industry. It’s not a document that covers every single aspect, and certainly doesn’t get into details. We plan on working on some details in the future. But the takeaway is that there’s a lot here that folks need to know about. The designers need to be fully aware of these codes, standards, and guidelines, as well as the contractors. Because we’re all having to work together to make this building envelope penetration functional likes it’s supposed to.

So, you know, just having said that, just keep that in mind. And we developed this as a roadmap really to help people focus in on what’s important. And as we started to discuss what we wanted to create with this technical bulletin, it started to get big really quick in terms of information. So we had to step back a little bit, and we decided to break this into different technical bulletins going forward. And the first one we thought, it’d be best to create one that painted this thing as a global perspective so that people had the understanding that it was complex and there was more to come.

Paul: So can you kinda run us through, first, as you already mentioned, you guys talked about introduced codes, references standards, and industry guidelines? And kinda had a discussion that, you know, I think, just to summarize, as everybody’s familiar with the code, the Florida Building Code in this case, or the Florida Residential Code. And I wanna point out, too, by the way, while this was obviously put out by the Lathe and Plaster Bureau, this discussion can certainly go far beyond Florida. In fact, it has a national perspective on it. Now there’s obviously the Florida Building Code is not in other parts of the country, but the theory is pretty much the same everywhere. Would you agree with that?

Bret: Correct. The addition there would be that obviously Florida has many more opportunities for wind-driven rain. And so we seem to see the problems resulting from water leaks a lot faster, and maybe to a larger degree than others may see them. Although, you know, recently we’ve had a couple of jobs, one in Pennsylvania where they had pretty significant sheathing and wood frame damage to a single-family home. So, you know, it’s not isolated to Florida, for sure.

Paul: Oh, you know, and the sequencing of construction, the reference standards, the detail, and what, really doesn’t change from Florida, to Pennsylvania, to Colorado, or wherever. I mean, there’s some nuances with different climates and whatnot, but the concepts basically are the same, or very similar. Would you agree with that?

Bret: That’s correct. In general, the flashing, the concept of flashing is gonna remain the same throughout.

Paul: So let’s go through this a little bit, the document, which, as I said, was put out by Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau. We’re gonna, just for everybody, in fact, if you wanna pause and get a copy of it in front of you, we’re gonna have it on our website. It’ll be in the show notes at website. It’ll also be on our website at There will be a link to download it. Or you can go straight to the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau’s site, So any one of those places you can get it, it’s free. And if you wanna read along while we talk about it, that’s where you would go.

Bret: Yeah, there’s a special page, Paul, that addresses all the technical bulletins they put out. They have several that are very helpful. One of the other recent ones that was published is a lathe checklist. So inspectors in whatever capacity they function can utilize this to just have a checklist as they go through and make sure the lathe was installed correctly.

Paul: Yeah, you know, that’s great. Really great that they’re taking this one, because there’s certainly an information void at times, it seems like. So very helpful to try and pull things together from kind of a global or big-picture perspective. So the document references some codes, standards, and industry guidelines throughout the construction sequence. You know, without reading it verbatim, could you just kinda summarize what the sequence is and what kinda documents are referenced?

Bret: Yeah, so I put this together in the order of construction, or at least, you know, tried to. So obviously you start with your rough framing. There’s a little bit of waterproofing that can be done at the rough framing stage. Then you have your fenestration installation. Then you have your supplemental waterproofing around that fenestration, your stucco application afterwards, and then caulking and painting, hopefully following your stucco installation. So that’s the general format. We just tried to make it, I guess, visually and conceptually consistent with the way it was produced in the field.

Paul: And what are some of the standards and industry guidelines that are used along the way through this process? Or should I say, what are some of the other organizations that have guidelines that are useful and necessary to really do a thorough job of designing and then ultimately installing things correctly?

Bret: Right. Well, obviously Florida Building Code, Florida Residential Code are key. They’re gonna drive you towards referenced standards in those documents. They have different chapters that point towards reference standards, so that’s the key. So when you’re looking at the Florida Building Code, Florida Residential Code, you know, you’re gonna go towards the chapter six Wall Construction. That’s gonna contain quite a bit of information. They referenced ASTM E 2266, that’s gonna be your standard guide for design and construction or low-rise frame building wall systems. Chapter seven is gonna cover wall covering, finish direction area. Chapter six of the FRC is gonna cover exterior windows and doors.

AAMA is gonna have several standards that are helpful and they focus in specifically on different types of window installation. And they have one specifically, 300, which is the standard practice for installation of exterior doors and wood frame construction for extreme wind and water exposure. So that’s gonna be key down here in Florida. And they’ll have other ones that are just standard installation around wood frame openings that don’t have extreme conditions that would apply elsewhere.

ASTM E 2112 installation of exterior windows, and doors, and skylights is key. ASTM, of course, with regard to stucco, C 926, C 1063, those all address stucco applications specifically, stucco and lathe application. So yeah, there’s plenty of standards there for which to get some guidance. A lot of those standards are consistent in their message. So, you know, once you kinda go through one you get exposure to the other ones.

But my approach there was to just kind of include everything so that the detailer and the installer could be working off consistent documentation. And I think it’s important for everybody to know what’s involved so that they can recognize if someone in the chain of the process perhaps didn’t do what they were supposed to do. And we can segue into that later in terms of responsibility. But essentially everyone has to know what their part is and what codes and standards apply to them.

Paul: So the design professional needs to be aware of all this, and reference, utilize it in developing plans of specifications. Because ultimately that’s what’s used to build the building, correct?

Bret: Correct. And as you know, that’s not always the case. Some plans and specifications for projects just aren’t what they need to be. The details should fall on the designer of record, whomever that may be. And for whatever reason, those sometimes aren’t fleshed out adequately to make sure that the building is gonna perform per the Florida Building Code, or whatever code you’re utilizing. I think they all gotta be relatively consistent in that respect. If they say that the building envelope should be detailed and constructed in a way to prevent water intrusion.

Paul: That’s right. You know, you talk about details and I just think back to the one. My favorite is, you know, you see it on residential and also on multi-family where they’ll draw a typical wall section, and that’s it. There’s a typical wall section, and it’ll say “stucco” with an arrow pointing at it. So at that point, basically you’re leaving it up to the builder/installer/sub-contractor/workmen to put it up the way they think it should be done. And it’s just a process that’s inviting error.

Bret: Absolutely. And here’s where I get a little frustrated with those professionals, and we all kind of…we do it in our designs in certain areas and it’s acceptable. So for example, if we wanna kinda point back towards a structural example. You know, for the structural engineer, we’re designing the building to resist all the loading on that building so it doesn’t collapse, and to protect the public, and protect the occupants, and protect the investment. Well, okay. So I designed the structure but I don’t necessarily design the wood trusses, let’s say, that this property, whether it’s residential or commercial, has a wood truss roof on it.

I don’t actually design the roof trusses. That’s something that’s developed over the years where the manufacturer of the truss typically provides that design. They may have employed an engineer that does that design, or they may farm that out to another engineer. But essentially what I’ll say is, in my plans, you know, “Truss design per applicable loading.” And then it’s up to the building to find a truss manufacturer to provide that truss package and that truss design. And then I review that truss design to make sure it’s consistent with my plans and details.

So that’s a case where it’s okay to point towards someone else to provide a component of the design. But ultimately, as a structural engineer of record, I’m still responsible for that truss package to make sure it is applicable to my design scheme. And similar, this is typically in an architectural realm, similarly the plans and details focused around the building envelope fall under the architect, unless, of course, they wanna farm that out to someone else, which is okay as well.

But you can’t just point towards a standard wall section and say, “Stucco.” That’s not acceptable nor helpful. That really opens people up to RFIs at a minimum, but certainly potential litigation going down the road, which is part of the reason we’re having this podcast today.

Paul: Yeah, I mean, I think the key takeaway from that is somebody’s gotta design all the parts and pieces that go into the building. And ultimately design professionals has a responsibility to make sure that happens, whether he designs it or somebody else does. At a minimum, he or she should be reviewing everything and making sure it’s complete. And what’s interesting is you get into the wood frame…this is Paul’s observation, the wood frame construction market is lacking sophistication and depth. And what I mean by that is, you know, a lot of times it’s a low-bid scenario. So they’re trying to build a house, an apartment building, whatever, for the lowest possible cost and meet the code, which, you know, it’s supposed to be a minimum standard, but actually becomes the baseline standard. You know, “What do we have to do to say we met the code?”

So in an effort to save money, maybe you’re not paying the design professional to be able to do the job that they need to. And you’re ultimately leaving it up to contractors, installers, and whatnot to put everything together correctly. Nobody’s really looking over their shoulder and making sure that’s being done right. And guess what? You end up with problems. It’s just sort of inevitable. So one of the things, and Bret, you’ve talked about this so far, is that somebody’s gotta pay attention to the details.

Bret: Right, the devil is in the details, for sure.

Paul: Yeah.

Bret: And I’ll tell you, with the changes in the code standards and guidelines, along with the products that are changing rapidly…and then the lines are blurring, too, between who’s involved in what. I mean, you have window installers now that apparently they get asked to provide the flashing as part of their scope, versus having someone who may have more experience in that provide the flashing. Sometimes the framers even get called in to provide at least a certain level of building envelops protection and flashing.

Paul: So let’s talk a little bit about the scenario you just described where different people are providing things that are maybe outside of their scope, and, you know, may not have a good set of plans and whatnot. So let’s talk a little bit about what can be done to try to overcome some of these limitations, I guess we’ll call it. And so when GCI Consultants gets involved with wood frame projects, which we do frequently, you know, we basically go through a process where we try to work with an owner and architect that’s our client. We try to work with them to come up with a decent set of plans and specifications that show everything. But really then we get into submittals, shop drawings, product literature, things like that.

And often, you know, with the plans, and specs, and submittals, we don’t always end up with a clear picture of what’s gonna happen. So we really like to see two things happen at that point. One is to have a pre-installation meeting where everybody that’s involved, so that’s owner, architect, possibly structural engineer, framer, stucco contractor, window manufacturer, window installer, caulker, painter, everybody that’s involved comes to that meeting. And now we get the plans out, we get the submittals out if there are any. And we go through everything and basically try to review, “Here’s how we’re gonna do this.”

The other thing that we really like to do is a mock-up at the very beginning of the project. Now this could be an in-place mock-up, like the first area where we’re starting the work. Let’s install everything, let’s frame it, let’s sheath it, let’s waterproof it, let’s put the window in, let’s caulk it, let’s paint it. And let’s, you know, all agree that we’re doing it the right way. And just that alone brings you many, many, many levels above just having the guys go out and put it in. What are your thoughts with that, Bret?

Bret: Well, I agree. And I think mock-ups are becoming more and more popular and important. Because again, with all these new products coming online, and the labor not necessarily being able to keep up with proper installation and use of those products, I think it’s kinda key that you do that mock-up. I think in the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty cheap insurance policy to get everybody on the same page.

Oh, and then that’s kind of a segue to another important code point here, which is, like you said earlier, the code is minimum. But people think it’s baseline, or that that’s really all you should focus on is just meeting code. Sometimes you need to go well beyond code, and sometimes code that’s minimum actually doesn’t even apply to your situation. So an example of that would be stucco attachment to the building. The prescriptive stucco attachment that’s provided by the code doesn’t always work for every location, for sure, especially the higher glossy ones.

Paul: So if it doesn’t work, then what needs to be done?

Bret: Well, therein lies the need for the detailing. The designer of record needs to think about the application that they have in hand. And they need to think through each of the details, make sure that it’s gonna meet the actual code requirements, which in general is gonna mean meeting the wind load resistance. And then if you go through a mock-up, you can often discover, “Okay, well, this may meet the code, but we have an issue here with installation sequence.” Or, “We have a compatibility issue with product.”

So, you know, just running through that process of doing your mock-up, I think will flesh out a lot of the problems, put everybody on the same page. And then on top of that, it gives an opportunity for, you know, a company like us, for example, to go out there and provide third-party water testing in that window assembly and assure that that system is gonna function in the way that the owner intended to.

Paul: Yeah, because, you know, people always say, the question I’ve been asked many times is, “Well, the window’s already been tested, hasn’t it? Why do I need to test it again?” And great, the window has been tested in a laboratory, who knows where and when? So there’s so many things to confirm when you get it into the field. First of all, was the window manufactured the same way as the one that passed the test? And then even more important, you’ve got all these surrounding surfaces, you know, stucco, maybe a balcony floor, a ceiling, you know, whatever. None of that’s included in a product approval test for a window. So the system is never tested unless basically you do a field test during construction.

Bret: That’s correct. Yeah, the window is just a component of the system. And, you know, AAMA has done a lot to drive forward the window industry and window, AAMA, and windows and door manufacturers, and others have done a lot. But essentially the water infiltration testing, the wind load testing, and others, those tests are just testing the window unit. And a lot of times they’ll actually exclude portions of the window that people may not…well, not portions, but a portion of the window that people may not think about. And with respect to wood frame construction, that’s gonna be the window fin. So in other words, the fin, it’s part of the window. But in terms of the water infiltration testing, it’s actually not included.

Paul: No, that’s right. And as well as how it interfaces with all the surrounding materials.

Bret: Yeah. So yeah, your mock-up is key.

Paul: Yes. I see in the publication that you also put a little blurb in towards the end about maintenance. Do you wanna talk about that a little bit?

Bret: Absolutely. I don’t have to tell you that it’s a large part of what we run into when we’re doing our investigations. Florida has some amazing sun and fun. That sun and fun comes with a cost. The sun is very intense here, so it tends to degrade paint and caulking quicker than maybe some other locations around the state. And so owners are having to do maintenance more often, maybe, than other parts of the country.

So yeah, it’s key to do that maintenance. And actually Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau has developed a separate technical bulletin. If people wanna pull that up, that’s TBST-04-12, and that is Stucco and Building Exterior Maintenance. And it goes through the requirements for maintenance there. But essentially, if I had to pick one spot that I would really focus in on that would be the interface of the stucco, and the window frame, and the detailing of the accessories, and the sealant around that interface. That tends to be a location where details aren’t always correct.

And even if they are correct, or even if they’re not correct, let’s say. Even if you do a good stucco or sealant around a not-so-good stucco detail, that’ll go a long way for sure. But if it’s done correctly, but the sealant and the paint aren’t maintained, eventually you’re probably gonna have at least the potential for water intrusion there.

Paul: Yeah, and stucco, I mean, I’ve said this many times, I’ll say it again. Stucco cracks, I mean, it happens. It’s not necessarily catastrophic where it’s cracking and falling off the building, but, you know, it gets hairline cracks and whatnot. And over time, sealants degrade and paint, you know, may chalk, or wear off.

So all these parts and pieces have finite performance cycles, or life cycles. But a well-designed exterior wall system accounts for all this. You’ve got a moisture vapor barrier within the wall system, where if any water gets in it collects it and drains it to the outside. And obviously the maintenance is very important because the less water that gets in the better. But as you mentioned, there’s a lot of parts and pieces. And really everything needs to be done well to have an overall globally well performing and healthy building.

Bret: That’s correct. That’s actually probably even a separate topic because we can go far and deep on that. But in general, I’ll point back to the fact that the code is minimum. And, you know, stucco, as you said, cracks. Stucco, if it’s not painted, is actually going to absorb water and then will release that water whenever the conditions around it dry out. So it’s, you know, it can absorb and expire water cyclically. As long as the system is designed to accommodate that, then you shouldn’t have any issues. But again, the fact that the code is minimum doesn’t necessarily remove the potential for having water penetration issues. So for example, if you’re on the north side of the building, or if you have an area where there’s sprinkles that continually impact that stucco, a good system over time can still have issues and/or degrade more quickly.

Paul: Yeah. So you mentioned that the publication, “Stucco Around Wood Frame Openings” with the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau as kind of a starting point. What’s next?

Bret: Well, we are in the process of determining what it is we wanna discuss going forward. We have some bullet points in the bulletin. We’re currently talking about details, trying to figure out if we wanna provide some details to assist people with that. There’s a lot of work there that still needs to be done. But I think, you know, stucco to window frame interface details, like I mentioned a minute ago, is the key one that we need to focus in on. That’s challenging, though, because there’s so many different window manufacturers, and a couple…at least three or four common window profiles that need to be addressed. And of course, then you get into different types of flashing, and different configurations of windows, even different installation schemes of the window.

So for example, you have a flush window, or you can have an inset window. So there’s a lot to consider there. We’re still in the process of trying to figure out what it is we wanna cover and how we wanna cover it. But in general, I think we’re going to try to touch on each component that may affect the window installation, on down to, you know, the sheathing, the framing. So for example, there with the sheathing, if you have sheathing that doesn’t have adequate gapping, over time that can create some issues that may impact your stucco and/or window installation.

Paul: Yeah, it’s a big undertaking, no question about it, as you correctly point out. A lot of variability, a lot of different scenarios. So I wanna commend you and the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau for, you know, having this conversation, having this discussion, putting out this document. And I think it’s really great. And I really appreciate you coming on the podcast today. I thought it was a really good discussion. So thanks very much for that.

Bret: Absolutely. And Paul, let me just give a little bit of a plug for stucco in general. I mean, you know, obviously the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau is focused around that type of construction. There are a lot of cases going around currently that are revolved around stucco and its construction. Stucco is just like any other building siding material, you know? It’s not perfect, but if you build it properly, it will perform its function. I think a lot of the issues that we’re running into now with stucco aren’t necessarily, you know, just the material. It’s the fact that it’s a wall system is a complex system. A lot of different pieces and parts have to come together properly in order for it to function properly.

But, you know, the first thing people see is stucco. And, you know, they, “Well, this is stucco.” Or even a window, they say, you know, “There’s a leak and it must be the window.” So people tend to simplify things, I think, too much. And there are other causes for building envelope issues other than what you can readily see on the exterior. So I’d say, you know, we’re trying to promote stucco in general at the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau. It’s been a great building material for a long time. And, you know, we’re just trying to help people understand that the material itself is not necessarily a problem, and you can accomplish a very sturdy, sound, and aesthetically pleasing building exterior with stucco.

Paul: Yeah, I’ll give a “me too” on that one as well. If you look at it from a nationwide perspective, and I don’t think this is an exaggeration, there’s millions of structures that have high-performing, well-performing, durable stucco installation. We do tend to focus on the problems, which, you know, they’re out there. And we don’t focus so much on the fact that it is a really good option for exterior growth buildings, and it’s been used successfully, repeatedly throughout the…actually throughout the world. So yeah, let’s recognize it for what it is.

So with that, again, thank you, Bret. And I’d like to thank everybody for listening to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. Please visit We’ll have show notes, and we will have a link to the Florida Lathe and Plaster Bureau, along with a link to the particular document that we’ve discussed today. And also,, if you’d rather go there we’ll have the same links there as well. So thank you, everyone. And until next time, this is Paul Beers saying so long.

Smart Glass Windows, Costs, ROI and Benefits

Jeff Riley – View Glass

  • What is View Glass?
  • What are the benefits to the occupants?
  • What are the benefits to the owners or developers?
  • What projects are the best fit?
  • What is the cost or ROI?
  • How do you see the future of View Glass?
  • If someone is interested, how can they contact you?



Check out our article about dynamic glass.

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

*** Subscribe to the show and leave us a Review on ITunes!

Paul: Hello everyone, welcome back to the “Everything Building Envelope Podcast.” Today we’re going to be talking about dynamic glass, which is an emerging technology that I think is of interest to a lot of the listeners. I’d like to welcome our guest, Jeff Riley. Welcome, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you very much.

Paul: Jeff is a Sales Executive in Florida with View Dynamic Glass. So he knows a lot about this. Jeff, could you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Jeff: Sure. I’ve been in commercial real estate in some capacity since 2004. I worked for owner and operator, developer of a multi-family office, worked in property management, worked for CBRE, largest brokerage in the world. And I’ve been working as a Sales Executive with View Glass, and kind of blown away with my experience there. So I’m excited to tell your listeners about it.

Paul: Great. So tell us a little bit about View Glass and also about View Dynamic Glass.

Jeff: Sure. So View Glass manufactures smart windows that tint electronically in response to the weather and the position of the sun. You can think of it like transition lenses for building. So we eliminate the need for interior blinds. We remove the functional need for exterior sun shade. We help reduce utility costs by about 20%. We shrink HVAC systems. We bring a whole bunch of leads or well-points in your project. We’re also one of the most economical ways to earn lead-points, if you’re thinking in terms of dollars per point. The product itself is electrochromic glass, which has been around for a decade. It’s actually in the rear view mirror of your car, but View Glass was the first company to mass produce it for use in commercial real estate.

What makes our glass really unique is the software system we use called “Intelligence.” Each individual window is programmed to tint just before the sun reaches it. So we know where that sun is gonna be on June 10th, 2045, in Miami, Florida at 10:00 AM. So we know that the windows on the east side of the building will need to be at Tint Level 4, which is our darkest tint. We’re getting ready to tint the windows in the south as the sun moves across the horizon. But on the north and west sides we’re at Tint Level 1, letting everyone enjoy the view and bringing in as much healthy daylight as possible.

We manufacture everything at our plant in Olive Branch, Mississippi, about 20 minutes from Memphis. It’s an 800,000 square foot massive facility that will blow you away if you get the chance to see it in person. I believe we have the largest clean room in the world in our factory, and a bunch of other really cool stuff that I can’t talk about because they are trade secrets. We’ve got some great clients, including a few Fortune 500 companies. If there’s one thing that they all have in common is that they are risk averse. So our company and our product have been vetted up, down, left, right, any way you can think of. And we’ve been selected by Delta, FedEx, Nestle, Ford,, Oracle, Google, Apple, Wells Fargo.

We’ve done convention centers, sporting arenas, and airports, including Levi’s Stadium where the San Fransisco 49er’s play, the Charlotte and San Fransisco airports. In hospitality space we’ve got Hilton, Marriott, Starwood. In house care, my favorite is probably the Humber River Hospital in Toronto. It’s the first all digital hospital in North America. We’ve got many more there. College campuses, we’ve got Duke, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Clemson, University of Texas, to name just a handful. We’ve got installations from Alaska down to Miami and hundreds more in the works.

Paul: Wow. So obviously this isn’t a fringe product, and this is obviously working its way into the mainstream. Let me ask you how the glass itself gets incorporated into a building. So you guys make the glass but not the frames, right?

Jeff: Yeah, we can work with just about any framing system. So punch out a current wall, we haven’t really run into any challenges where we haven’t been able to meet the architectural design requirement.

Paul: Does the glass come in different configurations? I mean can you get it in a laminated glass unit or an insulated glass unit or…?

Jeff: IGU is…eac insulated glass unit, we use double pane. There are some exceptions, but generally it’s double pane. We have a few different color options. Most people choose clear. We’ve had a slight bluish tint, and it’s a darker tint from the inside, which most people like. But we haven’t really had any… there aren’t many things that we haven’t been able to accomplish. We can do laminated glass, so we can meet Miani-Dade hurricane code requirements.

Paul: You said, let’s see if I pronounce this right, electrochromatic? Is that what it is?

Jeff: Electrochromic. A lot of people have [inaudible 00:05:04].

Paul: Electrochromic? Close, close. So is that a film that’s on the glass? Or it’s a coating obviously, what exactly is it?

Jeff: So it’s a coating that goes on the interior of the exterior pane of glass. And it’s an incredibly thin, I think it’s only five microns thick. That’s one-fifth of a human hair. So the background, you know, the company is based in Silicon Valley so these are semi-chip conductor guys by training. So the thing that sort of does the math is a semi-conductor chip. So it’s an incredible amount of technology. We’ve got 500 plus patents out there in the works. So the glass itself isn’t anything special, it’s the coating that goes on the glass. And we just have metal oxides which have opposing properties, and we send an electronic charge through them. We can transition ions from one side to the other. And so it’s clear on one side, dark on the other side, and we have a couple pit stops along the way, Tint Levels 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Paul: So you mentioned that the glass can be programmed to change properties as the times of the days change and solar exposure changes. So does it, I’m guessing it needs to be integrated with some sort of control system to basically tell it what to do. Is that a good way to say it?

Jeff: Yes, and that’s something that we provide. So we provide the software system that will run the entire operation. But we do have two additional overrides. So we’ve got a weather sensor on the roof that’s looking for cloud cover, and it feeds into daily or hourly weather updates.

Paul: So the glass changes properties depending on the solar exposure and the time of the day and whatnot. How does that work as far as what the system does, and how does the system work within the infrastructure of the building?

Jeff: Sure, so we’ve got a software system which we provide and program and can update remotely, if you ever want to make any changes or if we have a new version of the software, that can all be uploaded remotely. That’s something we configure for each individual project. There’s also a weather sensor on the roof so we can detect when there’s cloud cover. And we have weather feeds, which tell us whether this is a passing cloud, or if it’s going to be cloudy all day. And if it’s cloudy all day, we’ll clear the glass, so people are enjoying as much natural light as possible. And we also have an iPhone app or wall controls, so you can manually change the glass from different tint levels.

Most common use would be if you wanted to do a PowerPoint presentation, normally you’d close the blinds and turn off the lights. Instead you press a button on the wall to tint the glass. And that can actually be connected into Outlook to have it done automatically ahead of that. But each individual IGU has what we call Pig Tail. It’s a little cord that allows power to flow to the window. And each Pig Tail connects up with a trunk line which runs around the perimeter of the building. And a trunk line feeds into a control panel, which usually goes into the utility room. So that can be locked and secured, usually at the same place where you have your modem and IT equipment. So all that’s sort of self-contained.

Paul: So I just have to say, it really sounds great that you can program it, not only for weather patterns, but for real time weather that’s going on outside. And then like you were saying, if you need to darken the room for an audio/visual presentation or something like that, that sounds like, you know, technology at its finest.

Jeff: Yeah, thank you. I happen to agree. I’m a little biased but I agree.

Paul: Let me ask you this, are there interior applications for this technology as well?

Jeff: Nope, just exterior. Some people hear the phrase “electrochromic glass” and they think about that switchable privacy glass which kinda turns to a milky white, and that’s just for interiors. Likewise, our product is just for exteriors.

Paul: Okay. So I mean we talked about this a little bit, but lets sort of run through it again. What are the benefits to the occupants?

Jeff: So the tangible benefits that start on day one are the ongoing energy savings. The money saved from not purchasing any interior blinds, and the continuous views o the outside world. There’s a wow factor walking into one of our buildings where it’s wall to wall, floor to ceiling, just glass wherever you look. The intangible benefits, which are harder to quantify, but more valuable in the long term, in my opinion, come from health and wellness, productivity and recruiting retention. And we’ve got some great independent studies up on our website that show the remarkable benefits of natural light. How people that have access to natural light take fewer sick days, they use less pain medication in a health care environment, and are 6-15% more productive when they have access to natural light.

So if you were moving to a new building, and you had your first pick, you could pick any office you want, you’re gonna to pick the corner office, right? You just feel physically better when you have those views and natural light. And you might think 6-15% increase in productivity is unrealistic. Think about what 1% would do for most companies. The single largest expense for nearly every company is payroll, so if you can make your people just 1% more productive, less time adjusting the blinds or getting up to get water, then upgrading your windows pays for itself in spades.

And on that same note, recruiting and retention, the war for talent is a big issue. Ask anyone who works in the consulting or commercial real estate business, and they’ll tell you companies are doing everything they can to recruit millennials as the baby boomers start to retire. And we’re talking a major, major demographic shift. And if you can create an environment where people feel happy and healthy and valued like they do at, it makes the job of recruiting much, much easier. They actually have buses bring in MBA students, local universities bring buses of MBA students to see’s headquarters and to show students what it looks like when a company invests in its people and their environment. Tell me the CEO and HR folks don’t love that, MBAs being delivered to their front door.

And likewise look at WeWork, which is now valued at almost 20 billion dollars. They didn’t invent co-working, it’s been around for decades. All they did was create a better environment, and people are drawn to WeWork offices like a magnet. So it’s unbelievable. But that’s the type of environment that we help create.

Paul: So I mean you and I, obviously, and I know a lot of our listeners, we pay attention to things like the windows and day lighting and stuff like that. Can the average user tell that this is going on while they’re building, or is it sort of passive where it’s just optimizing the environment and maybe they don’t even notice it?

Jeff: It’s more of the latter. You know, the first week in any installation, people are sort of fixated on the glass and how the glass is transitioning behind them while they work. So they’re talking on the phone but looking out the window and watching the glass transition through different states. Then after the first week, it just sort of happens in the background and you forget it’s even there. So it’s very, very user friendly, self-sufficient, kind of the same way you don’t notice the air conditioner turning on and off, it just works. Our glass works in the same way.

Paul: So I know you’ve touched on this along they way also, but owners and developers like it? Now when I think of owners and developers, no offense to anybody, but they’re very focused on money, as well they should be. They’ve got budgets and pro formas and things like that. So you’ve obviously, to make the sale, to get over the, I’m assuming it’s more expensive than regular glass? I mean, maybe I’m wrong. And you’ve got to obviously get over that hurdle. But what are the benefits to owners and developers?

Jeff: Sure. I think you hit the nail right on the head. For owners and developers, they’re looking at us in terms of ROI, which really means NOI. Will your glass drive NOI? Because that’s how buildings are valued, just NOI, net operating income and cap rate. And the answer is yes, and we actually provide a double-bump to NOI, because we can impact both top-line revenue growth with faster lease-it times and improved vacancy, which allow you to start pushing rates, and the reduction in costs, because your utility bill on average will be about 20% less. That’s heating, cooling and lighting.

The University of Washington did a study on one of our buildings that was retrofitted in Seattle with View Glass, and the energy savings came out to 17.7%, about $28,000 per year added to the NOI. So if that building sells at a five or six cap, that’s somewhere between $460,000-$560,000 in added value, and that’s half a million bucks. And that’s in Seattle. You know, there’s not a lot of sunshine in Seattle, so think about what the numbers would look like here in Florida. So just on energy savings alone, when you translate it into NOI, which drives the building value at a 20x multiple in most Class A CBDs, we often pay for our self out of the gate.

And another way we add substantial value is since we do such a great job controlling heat and glare, in our darkest tint level which is Tint Level 4. We’ve got a heat gain coefficient .09, or not .9, .09. So we’re essentially blocking all the heat even in direct sunlight. So that means you’re able to use all of the space inside your office. In most buildings, the space around the perimeter of the building and by the windows is only used for file cabinets or walkways, because within eight feet of the windows, it gets too hot and uncomfortable. You know, interior architects will step back eight feet away before they put the first cubicle.

So you even may have an office or a conference room in your old building which is too hot to use at certain times of the day. The new guy, the new professor, gets stuck with that office. But in buildings with View Glass it’s all usable, and it’s not just regular space, but it’s actually the best space in the building, the area with the best use, and there’s a lot of it. If you’re talking eight feet around the east, south, and west sides of the building on each floor. That means that an occupant, even if you’re paying top of market rent, you’re getting a better deal, because you’re getting more usable space, more bang for your buck, and the flexibility to expand as your business grows. So you don’t need to find another 5,000 square feet to lease in three years because your company is growing or because your college has enrolled more students than expected, than you can just move desks around in your existing location.

Paul: Nice. Let me ask you this, you mentioned retrofit. So what’s involved with retrofitting an existing building with View Glass?

Jeff: Sure. So it’s not much more complicated than any time you’re pulling out on an older building, replacing single pane with double pane. The difference is that because each of our ICUs requires a Pig Tail, an electrical current, and that you need to run sort of a big, almost an extension cord around the perimeter, that’s an additional cost, you know, labor cost, the blazer cost, that needs to be accounted for. So blazers generally like us because they can charge a couple percentage points more to work with our glass, because it takes…they learn it pretty quickly, but they can charge a mild premium for it. And we have a low voltage electrician, which plugs everything in, which will plug everything and to make sure it’s connected.

Paul: Does that wire have to be like inside the wall or could you do something with, say, put it behind a baseboard or something like that?

Jeff: Yeah. We’ve gone up above. We’ve gone below. And actually Overstock left it all exposed, because they loved our glass so much they wanted to, when they’re giving tours they want to be able to point out, “Here, check out our windows. Here’s how they work. We get these beautiful views of mountains all day. And look at the cords above. Each individual window has its own special configuration, almost like its own IP address.” And actually that also allows us to do some pretty cool things like, on college campuses especially, that we can spell out letters using, if you think of each window as a pixel, so we’ve got some kind of cool creative school spirit type stuff happening.

Paul: When you say you can spell out letters, was that within an individual piece of glass or is that just sort of…

Jeff: No. No, if you think of…

Paul: Like the football game where everybody holds up different color placards?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, yep, or in Seattle, you can spell out the “12” for the 12th man, because that’s kind of the Seattle Seahawk’s rallying cry. So we’ve got buildings that can spell that out.

Paul: Yeah, is it possible to retrofit this glass into an existing frame? Has anybody done that?

Jeff: We can’t really drill, you need to drill a hole to account for the Pig Tails so we can make sure we get the wiring in. So there’s a little bit of extra attention required, but it is possible.

Paul: Yeah, because, you know, sometimes, when you look at retrofits, there’s a big difference if you can keep..and you can’t always do this, I mean most of the time you can’t, but if you can keep an existing frame, improve it, and put the glass in, obviously, it cuts down on schedule time, dirt, dust, all that. So it seems like that would be a good benefit if you could do that.

Jeff: Sure, yeah.

Paul: So let’s run through what some of the, I know you mentioned a lot of installations, but what are some of the applications and what kind of projects are fits for View Glass?

Jeff: Any larger building, preferably 100,000 square feet and up, which you might call Class A, or a building that’s pursing a lead or a well certification. So View Glass, you’re right talking about the cost earlier. We did the premium product, it’s an iPhone and not everyone has an iPhone budget. The markets where we’ve had the strongest demand are health care, office, college campuses, and airports and convention centers. And we’re starting to get more involved in high end hotels and high-rise residential. We don’t do single family, which is something nearly everyone asks for, because once they see it in person, they want it. And I always feel bad saying no, but I take it as a compliment that they like our windows so much that they want it for their families.

So if you meet those kind of broad criteria, we’re probably close enough in cost, once you account for our offset, to be interesting. And that’s just on cost, that’s not including the upside in having our glass in as a unique amenity to kind of differentiate your product.

Paul: You had mentioned at the beginning that it was an inexpensive way to get, or cost effective, I can’t remember what the exact word was, to get lead points.

Jeff: Most economical.

Paul: So how’s that?

Jeff: Because we can contribute points in several different categories. So the lead scorecard, there’s different categories and you add all the points up that you can achieve in each category and that’s how you get to silver, gold or platinum status. And we bring kind of a basket of points, especially if we’re in at the basis of design. So you can start off pretty strong if you’re going after a specific lead certification, and then you can kind of cherry-pick which additional products you want to use, low-flow water or LED lighting, to get to the status you want to get to.

Paul: So it takes you out of some categories you might otherwise be in, I guess?

Jeff: Yeah, it’s just we’ve got an unusually broad reach for a single product.

Paul: Can we talk a little bit more about cost? It sounds like it should be super-expensive. I know that’s one of the benefits is that it, in the big picture, it’s really not. Can you expand on that a little bit? Like what is the cost and the ROI again?

Jeff: Sure, sure, and you hit a floor. No developer is gonna give us the time of day unless they think they are going to get a positive ROI with our glass. And the reason we got 300 plus installations completed, another 300 in the works, and I’d probably guess another thousand or so in discussions, because we deliver a positive ROI, simply by driving NOI, especially if you think of us as an amenity. You know, developers spend money on an art sculpture in the lobby, or a rooftop bar or a nice gym. No one is calculating ROI on their gym equipment, right? You invest in those things to make your product more appealing. But those are amenities only used by some people.

Every occupant will experience the windows. CDRE did a study to see what building attributes people pay more for, and access to natural light was number one. And not just say they will pay more for, but actually pay for. I mean people love having a view, they love having natural light, and we essentially allow people to, developers to, double down on that sort of proven investment. So in terms of cost, we are roughly two to three times as much as your typical high-performance low-lead glass. So if all we were was a window, no one would ever pick us, right? That’s a big price difference. But much like an iPhone is not just a phone, it’s also a digital camera and a GPS and a portable computer.

We’re not just windows. We are windows plus interior blinds, plus exterior sun shade, plus a smaller HVAC system, plus smaller ongoing utility charges, plus happier, healthier occupants, and a whole bunch of lead points that you’d have to pay for elsewhere. So when you include all of our offsets and benefits, you meet the general criteria I mentioned earlier, you’re kind of large-scale Class A type products, we’re usually compelling. You know, our investors include Harbor, TIA, JP Morgan, USA Day, Citi, GE, blue chip investors. And they are only going to invest in companies that deliver genuine value to their customers. So they’ve seen us, vetted us, talked with our customers directly, and they agree, yeah, this is a product that deliver positive ROI, deliver what we promised and then some.

Paul: So not to mention, you know, that glass is only one part of the window system. You’ve got framing, installation, all that other stuff. So when you say it’s two or three times more expensive, it’s probably not really, when you talk about what you’re spending on your windows there may be some offsets. It’s only the glass, it’s not…you know, silicone costs the same, whether it’s your stuff or somebody else’s. What’s the warranty that comes with View Glass?

Jeff: We meet the standard warranty with other high performance loaded glass of 10 years and we have a 5 year warranty on the electronic components. Apple and Sony which are kind of the gold standard in electronics offer 1 year so we went to 5. We also have the option to extend those, both of those, both the electronics and the windows beyond that, depending on what the individual project’s, sort of, preferences are and that can be extended in an upfront pricing or that can be used as, you know viewed as a service which is sort of a subscription model which can be used in cam charges. So there’s a few creative ways to extend the warranty for those that are interested.

Paul: Just made me think, what’s the oldest, or what’s the longest running installation, I don’t know if it’s with you guys. I don’t even know if you have competitors actually. I’m guessing you probably do. But what’s the longest running application of this product currently in service?

Jeff: So I would say just under a decade. So the company itself had a predecessor company called SolaDyne. And so we’ve got sort of older installations under same people, just different name. But what might be more interesting is electrochromic glass, which like I mentioned, it’s the same glass that’s in the rear view mirror of your car, has AOCM testing standards. So it goes through kind of, I call it a hell chamber, it’s where they have high heat, high humidity, high UV exposure, and they cycle our glass through enough times to simulate a 30-year lifespan. And since our product has, it’s all inorganic, meaning it doesn’t degrade due to the weather, we passed 30-year lifespan simulation with zero degradation. First and only company to be able to do that. And we actually paid them to run it again.

So we ran it for a 60-year simulated lifespan, zero degradation. So the product itself is gonna last longer than the functional use of the building, in many cases, which is kinda nice to know.

Paul: So the only opportunities, or the repair and upgrade options along the way, would be with the electronics, not with the glass itself?

Jeff: Right, and then the software. You know, the more buildings we have in service, the better we can operate our windows. So we’re learning through feedback and experience from, and we’ve got installations out in Hawaii and installations up in Boston, and each one is a little bit different. So we’re learning that, you know, maybe Tint Level 2 should be just a shade lighter, and people seem to like it a little bit better. So we can remotely make that change and upload it so everyone has sort of the latest and greatest experience.

Paul: Very cool. Like a Tesla.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: So what do you see as the future of View Glass?

Jeff: Good question. I think on a big picture level, there are three megatrends in commercial real estate. You’ve got health and wellness, sustainability, and connectivity, sort of smart building. And View kind of sits at the intersection of those three megatrends. So in my opinion the future is very, very bright for us. On the West Coast where we’re headquartered, everyone knows us, and so we’re kind of popping up in new buildings left and right. And here in Florida I’ve got more than 50 projects that I’m working on, but we’re still making our way up the learning curve. But when, I know you had Ray Crawford on here a couple months ago, but when a veteran guy like Ray Crawford who leads Crawford Trading, the number one blazer in Florida, says he wants to work with us, you know, that’s a good sign that we’re here to say.

If you look at the new building codes and kind of the big picture macro-trend, I don’t think there’s going to be a Class A building in any sector that’s going to be coming out of the ground in two or three years time that doesn’t have View Glass.

Paul: Yeah, so the future is bright.

Jeff: Yeah, future is bright. I’m very happy to be in this industry, with this product, at this time.

Paul: So if someone wants to find out more about View Glass, where should they go? And if they want to contact you, how do they do that?

Jeff: Sure, so my email is, Riley, R-I-L-E-Y. I’m also on LinkedIn. You can follow us on Twitter, the handle is ViewGlass. Also follow us on LinkedIn. And we got, you know, folks across the country, across Canada, Europe, so wherever you might be, we have local folks on the ground that I’m happy to connect you with, you know, make sure that we’re seeing that View Glass can provide value to you.

Paul: Well, Jeff, really interesting, and it’s an exciting product. Let me just ask you one last question, do you guys call it a product or a technology or both, or how do you position it?

Jeff: Yeah, I mean it really depends on who we’re talking with. Because we talk with blazers, architects, GCs, developers, tenants, so we use both terms. So no, we don’t get too picky there.

Paul: I think I like technology. I’m a technology fan. So, anyway, really interesting technology, and thank you for sharing it with us, and thank you for coming on the podcast.

Jeff: Thanks for having me in. I really enjoyed it.

Paul: Really interesting topic today and I’d like to thank everyone for listening to the “Everything Building Envelope Podcast.” And with that, this is Paul Beer saying so long until next time.

Tremco waterproofing, coatings, glazing and air vapor barrier segments

Mike Buchholz – Tremco

  • We’ve had other manufacturers on our podcast and it seems the latest buzz is “single source”. What makes Tremco different?
  • What do you mean, “test them”?
  • Are the test bays only for internal testing?
  • If someone listening is interested in that how would they go about setting it up?
  • Is there a fee for using the lab?
  • What else is Tremco doing to change the game?
  • Earlier you mentioned that Tremco is prime in the glazing industry. Dow has historically been strong in Florida in this segment, why would a contractor or fabricator choose Tremco?
  • Well, that about wraps it up. Do you have anything else you would like to add?

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Read Tremco’s Solutions for Waterproofing Systems

Paul: Hello, everyone, welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope Podcast. Our guest today is Mike Buchholz with Tremco. And we were just talking before the podcast, Tremco is an interesting company because they offer a wide variety of solutions, key points for using them is that they’re a sole source. So we’ll get into that a little bit more. But anyway, welcome Mike.
Mike: Thanks, Paul.
Paul: So thank you for coming on. Before we start getting into our topic, maybe you could tell the listeners a little bit about yourself.
Mike: Sure. I started with Tremco in 2003. So I have been here 14 years now which amazingly isn’t really a long time in Tremco years. Here’s a team that good people come to Tremco and they seem to stick.
But the first six years I was with Tremco, I spent in the fire division and at the time Tremco had a standalone division focused on penetration and joint fire stop. So I started with a short stint in technical service and then Tremco relocated me down to Florida, which is where I am now. And I ran a territory and eventually worked my way up to the national sales manager.

Then in 2009, as we all know, the economy went spinning into the toilet bowl and Tremco folded the fire division to our core commercial sealants and waterproof business. And while my role changed significantly, I was fortunate enough to have a job as a district manager in the CS&W division. And eventually I worked my way up to southeast regional manager with the responsibility for the Carolinas, Florida, and the Caribbean, which is where I’m now.
Paul: I’m sure that many of the listeners are very familiar with Tremco, but maybe you could just talk a little bit about Tremco in particular as it relates to the exterior building envelope.
Mike: Sure. So Tremco can provide a single source solution for the entire building envelope. For a company that’s been around for a hundred years, we’ve got a pretty big bandwidth of products starting from below grade bentonite-type products to vertical below grade or fluid applied systems. And we can work our way up the vertical wall into the air barriers into the glazing pocket into the deck coatings, and tie into your parapet or your rooftop. So we have the ability to provide single source solutions for the entire building envelope but there are a lot of other manufacturers out there in our space making similar claims.
So what makes Tremco’s position unique is that much of our growth is organic. It’s developed in-house, through our [inaudible 00:02:27] buying and bolting on chemistries or components to fill our gaps. So Tremco, like I said, is priming the waterproofing, the coating to the glazing, air vapor barrier segments and we have the ability to drive the single source. And it’s not just because the manufacturer’s names are on the label, but because we design and build our products to work together then test them.
Paul: So I’m gonna be a bad podcast host and start out with throwing you a curve ball if you don’t mind. You’d mentioned the fire division and as we’re recording this podcast, which is in the middle of late June, there was just a lot of news about a building fire in London. And I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter that the exterior facade was actually flammable and it caused a lot of problem. So any insight on that?
Mike: Well, I mean the fire business has evolved so much it really started in my opinion back in the days of the MGM fire out in Vegas. And naturally a lot of different coat changes as far as the sealing of the joints for the perimeter curtain wall and making sure that there wasn’t what they call a stack effect, allowing that fire and the smoke more importantly to travel vertically through the building and in fact in the inhabitant.
I’m not as familiar with the new London fire, I haven’t paid as much attention as perhaps I should admittedly. But there’s been a huge change as far as the exterior facade of the building is concerned as well. We used to test to make sure that the smoke and the fire, when spread from floor to floor with inside that cavity. But then with the changes in the ASTM standards and the NFPA 285 standards for exterior cladding materials including air vapor barrier systems and the flame spread on air vapor barrier systems, it’s gotten a lot more attention as far as the flammability of that exterior skin is.
Paul: Yeah, and I have to admit that I haven’t paid real close attention to it either. Although, I’ve seen, like I say, I’ve seen a lot of chatter going around. My guess is more changes are coming, so they’ll analyze this event and, you know, see some things that they probably want to tighten up. I know the fire code folks have a lot of sway as well they should. And my guess is we’re gonna see…it might take a few years, but we’ll see more building code changes coming to address whatever it was that happened in London.
Mike: And I think you might start to see more NFPA 285 type tests in assemblies and essentially what that is…and this kind of relates to the topic of our whole discussion here regarding single source, but what that does is it really tests the wall assembly and not just the components themselves. So we’re not looking at the flame spread of just the air vapor barrier material, but we’re also looking at how it interacts with the penetrations and the different components of that wall system.
And it’s tested as a system and you can actually get a rating as a system. So, you know, I think that will perhaps be more sole source, so that we have more consistency in that wall system and that way we know what the performance will actually be versus a handful of perhaps really good components, but components that might not work well together.
Paul: To me that makes perfect sense. Thank you for taking my curve ball and hitting it out of the park there.
Mike: I don’t know if I did, but no problem.
Paul: So let’s go back to the single source that we were talking about and you had mentioned, you know, from below grade to the roof. So maybe you could just kind run through some of the various systems that are used in the exterior building envelope and let’s start with the hole in the ground and work our way up from there.
Mike: Sure. So for the hole in the ground or the under a slab type of waterproofing application, Tremco has a couple different options. But our dominant option is the HDPE with the bentonite on it. So a below grade bentonite system that relies on compaction and it relies on the performance of the HDPE as well as the bentonite, which has been historically a great option for that under slab type application.
And then what we like to do is we go out, we wrap that splitter and turn it up the vertical wall and then we make the transition on the vertical wall actually to a fluid applied waterproofing material. And the reason that we do that, Paul, perhaps, you can speak to this as well, but the reason we do that as we’ve seen that at the grade line, you sometimes have issues with the bentonite system. The bentonite system relies on compaction to make sure that it holds the clay or the bentonite against the wall and it’s hard to get the compaction that you need to make sure that you have an effective system at that grade line.

So we like to transition just above the fodder to our fluid applied system and take that up to the vertical wall and that way, we’re not relying on that compaction for the performance of the waterproofing membrane. So when we have a fully-adhered waterproofing membrane on the wall and then we can transition from that if applicable, it’s not necessary here in Florida or always applicable in Florida, but we can transition that to an air vapor barrier product for our above grade type of applications.

And the unique ability of Tremco to tie, not just the components themselves, but the components into systems and warrant the systems, so that the design professional and everyone involved in the project itself has the ability to transition that liability from just a component system to an actual tested system where the connection is warranted as well between the systems, is a pretty valuable asset to that design and project team.
Paul: So you mentioned warranties and I have mixed emotions about warranties, you know, one part of me says let’s do it right and not need the warranty, which I think is probably a really good theory. But, you know, the warranty is always good to have in case something unanticipated happens. You know, stuff does happen from time to time. So we use different systems from the [inaudible 00:08:59] like Tremco. Do the warranties all blend together or is it a series of separate warranties on separate systems?
Mike: Well, we have the ability to tie the warranties together through the systems. And I understand what you’re saying about relying on the warranties. One of the things that is different about Tremco is that we actually have a test lab. So we have a two-bay test lab which has the ability to run the full gamut of the ASTM prescribed test. We can push and pull air over 250 miles per hour and simulate over 8 inches of rainfall per hour while racking seismic joints in windows, left to right or up and down.
And it allows us to not only push the components that make up the system but focus on the areas we might consider vulnerable such as penetrations or a connection to the adjacent system or structure. And the two-story bay allows us to test multiple systems and their connections one at a time or at one time I should say, including stack and floor joints. So we can stress the components and assemblies beyond the industry requirements to the failure and then we can examine and diagnose the cause of that failure, revise the recommendations if necessary.

And that really gives us the confidence required to provide a tested, proven, warranted defensible recommendation that includes those connection points. And then that full system is eligible for the warranty itself.
Paul: Yes, I was actually gonna ask exactly that, what about the connection? But you answered that and that’s…yeah, that sounds like a compelling solution. Let me ask you another question, just kind of [inaudible 00:10:41] talking about the fluid applied systems. So what’s the current philosophy with fluid applied versus what we, you know, the older sheet materials. How predominant is it getting to be where you’re seeing fluid applied as opposed to sheet materials?
Mike: You know, Tremco’s, while we have sheet applied systems, we also add fluid in it. I think it’s perhaps a bit of a preference. I know there are some consultants out there that appreciate the consistency of a sheet applied membrane, whether it be for an air vapor barrier or a below grade type waterproofing.
Perhaps it’s just the way that I was kind of brought up through Tremco, but I tend to prefer the fluid applied systems simply because you have a fully adhered monolithic waterproofing or air vapor barrier membrane. There aren’t the fish mouths, the overlaps, the fact that you need to make sure that you get the pressure correctly on your roller, priming etc. So you have a fully adhered system.
One of the things that, and you can probably speak to this as well, but one of the things that we’ve seen is on the sheet applied systems, if there is some sort of a failure, it becomes difficult at times to chase the origin of that failure. With a fluid applied fully adhered system, if there’s a leak, you know, typically it’s in one spot, you can find it fairly easily. So I just prefer the fluid applied. Again, Tremco offers both as alternatives and that can be up to the design professional or the consultant.
Paul: Yes, I don’t know about other consulting firms, but I can speak for my firm, GCI Consultants, and we definitely prefer the fluid applied for all the reasons you said.
And the other thing we like is it’s really easy to see if it has been applied properly because everything’s different color, you know, you can set up color scheme, so that you can tell, you know, if it’s yellow or green or orange or whatever the color is. If you don’t see a sea of green for instance then you know, if it’s spotted or whatever, you know, it wasn’t applied well. So we really like it.

But you mentioned air barriers and you mentioned that they’re not as predominant in Florida. So we see them and concur with that. We see them all over the country and in other applications. And I know architects are very, very interested in all of that. So can you talk a little bit about the air barrier technology and Tremco Systems and how it plays into the market?
Mike: Sure. I mean Tremco has a wide array of air vapor barrier technology. We have permeable and nonpermeable, we have sheet, we have fluid. So pretty much the full gamut of systems available as far as the components are concerned and then we can tie those in actually to your window perimeter and provide the single source connected defensible warranty from your window all the way through your air vapor barrier.

In Florida, we don’t see as many air vapor barriers as perhaps the rest of the country simply because there is direct-applied stucco that often gets put on the concrete, on the outside, then they rely on some sort of an architectural type coating or exterior paint to provide their air vapor barrier.

We have done some buildings where we’ve actually addressed the interior of the concrete walls with an air vapor barrier, because as we all know that concrete will crack and it’s not so much the fact that you get natural water through that crack as much is that you’re getting airborne water or vapor through that crack. And that can get into your wall cavity and of course cause damages, we all know.
Paul: How can Tremco help designers, consultants, whoever is looking at this, with designing and selecting the right system for an application? Because you mentioned vapor barriers and vapor barriers are great if they’re, you know, in the right place and performing in concert with everything else that’s going on in the wall cavity and, you know, just to put a vapor barrier isn’t necessarily gonna help things and it could hurt things.
So, you know, there’s a lot of analysis technology and all that as far as what to put in and where to put it. So can Tremco help with those sorts of issues?
Mike: Yeah sure. We have some technical folks on staff. They’re obviously immersed in the air vapor barrier world’s part of ABAA and different of an organization’s. And so, these folks are highly technical as far as air vapor barriers are concerned. That’s all they deal with and they can help a design professional to determine the location of the air vapor barrier and whether you want to go with a permeable system or nonpermeable and then give them options as far as sheet and fluid applied are concerned.
But there are other modeling software products out there such as WUFI that can also help you determine where the dew point is on your wall, to help determine exactly what type of system that you want to install.

And then of course as I mentioned earlier, Tremco has a test lab at our R&D division in Cleveland with the single and the double-story bays and we can do a full blown mockup and test the system with all the components to verify that you are in fact getting your desired effect.
Paul: So the test facility in Cleveland, is that only for internal testing?
Mike: Yeah, in fact over the years, we’ve tested numerous projects, specific mockups as well as situations driven by consultants such as yourself that might be looking to solve a common problem or condition they find in the field or scientifically validate, maybe a hypothesis that you’ve come up with over the years of experience. So it’s open to pretty much anyone.
Paul: So if one wanted to do that with Tremco, how would they go about organizing it?
Mike: They can start by contacting me or they can contact their local Tremco representative. And once we get an understanding of the condition, we can schedule the project and organize the test menu etc.
Paul: Is there any fees for that?
Mike: No, no fees at all. And depending on the assembly and what we’re testing, there might be some cost associated with constructing the mockup. But as far as the lab testing and the reporting is concerned, it’s free.
Paul: Everybody likes free, I know that, including me.
Mike: Yes, they do. Well, listen, there aren’t too many places that you can actually go with a third party accredited test lab that’s willing to open the doors and, you know, have you install the mockup of your job, your specific project in the components and test it as an assembly to make sure that it’s performing as you anticipate before you actually go out and install it on the project itself. So, it’s a great service, it’s a great value to our customers and our partners.
Paul: So what else is Tremco have going on now that, you know, changes the game?
Mike: Five years or so ago, we recognized that the variables outside our control, but affecting the performance of our waterproofing membrane seemed to be escalating. So simply we found that some of the concrete admixtures have changed and that the water reducers or superplasticizers were having an impact on the concrete [inaudible 00:18:21] and actually have an impact on how our membranes reacted when applied in [inaudible 00:18:28].
Additionally, we recognize that in restoration, once that cement piece that’s left on top during the finishing process is removed through either shop blasting, hydro demolition, grinding or whatever means they choose to use, they will leave the aggregate exposed and it’s often fractured. So we’re dealing with a whole bunch of potentially unpredictable substrates and conditions.

So in Florida, we actually introduced or developed the regional field technical specialists role and we armed that individual with the latest equipment to technically evaluate everything from the least invasive testing being an infrared imaging down to in situ testing with sensor probes inserted into the concrete matrix to map changes in relative humidity and GPP throughout the day as the temperature and UV rise.

So therefore, if we suspect something might require attention, we can proactively test the substrate to put science and data behind our recommendations, which minimizes surprises, liability, and cost to our partners on the project. And this approach has become consistent throughout North America with the regional field tech reps in most of major cities at this point.
Paul: So that started in Florida and it has basically spread to other areas now?
Mike: Yeah, it has, it has. We did the pilot program here and it has grown legs and worked its way across the country. And at this point, we have, well I think we have five or six guys that are just focused on this type of testing and it’s highly technical. And like I said it really allows us to validate our recommendations and put science behind our recommendation.
Paul: Yeah, it makes sense because as you said there’s a lot of variables and no two situations are necessarily the same.
Mike: Sure.
Paul: So Tremco obviously gets involved in other parts of the exterior building envelope, for instance, the glazing industry. So what’s Tremco’s role with the window and door industry?
Mike: Well, you know, it’s interesting because Tremco has been prime in the glazing industry for a number of years. And it’s interesting, because even if you were to go to a large organization like a [inaudible 00:20:48] or a YKK, some people might not think of it. But oftentimes if you look in their fabrication centers, you can find extruded EPDM, silicone gasket, setting blocks, and internal seals all from Tremco.
Paul: Yeah, it’s funny you say that and I don’t want to admit my age, but I remember when I was an installer many, many, many years ago, there were a lot of Tremco’s stuff kicking around even back then. I’ll say late ’70s and into the ’80s. Yeah I don’t even think about it myself but they’re a big player in that market, aren’t they?
Mike: Yeah, we’re a huge player in that market for the extruded products, but then in addition to that of course we’ve got our full line of wet silicones for structural glazing. So we have two component silicone such as our Proglaze II, we have a single component Proglaze SSG, and again we have our full line of spectrum silicones.
So we have the ability to essentially take everything within the window pocket including the setting blocks, the spacers, and the extruded gaskets all the way out to the perimeter seals to fluid or sheet applied flashing material that would go around that opening, tied into the air vapor barrier system and then down to the vertical wall as you mentioned before with the below grade fluid and then right underneath the slab itself with a bentonite type system.
Paul: So I know from experience, Tremco is also involved in the impact glazing systems in Florida and structural silicones and whatnot. So let’s talk a little bit about Tremco’s capabilities, involvements in that market.
Mike: Sure. So as I mentioned, you know, we have the ability where Tremco is prime in the rubber parts business. So we have the extruded EPDM or silicone gasket, the setting block, the internal seals. And then the fluid applied system in our silicone sealants have been installed and performing locally on monumental projects, around Florida anyway, such as Eden Rock or the W Hotels, St. Regis, Panorama and many of the hospitals and educational buildings.
And then globally, large projects like the Sydney Opera House or the Burj Al Arab Tower in Dubai. And for the last 20 plus years, we’ve been catering and prime in this market. In addition, we aren’t just focused on that glazing pocket or the perimeter seal. We look at the whole system and take our approach a step further to include the connection of the glazing specimen to the structure with our fluid or sheet applied, flashing materials.
And all these components can be purchased individually at market price. But if they’re used together in a comprehensive system, our proven track record, testing and history, allows us to offer a unique extended warranty for the whole assembly at no additional cost. So by doing so, we reduce the risk and potential liability to the entire design and construction team as well as the owner itself. And that’s just new construction or full window replacements, we also have a pretty unique approach in restoration. We don’t just offer the common wet glazing and extruded silicone sheet.

We could, you and I, perhaps on a separate podcast, could discuss the pitfalls of the traditionally accepted cut the head off a gasket that’s on the window and go ahead and recaulk it in another podcast. But Tremco has expertise and in-house engineering with the extruded seals.

We also have a vacuum mold, we can vacuum mold custom profiles that bridge and eliminate the existing leaky gaskets or framing. And I’m sure if you’ve ever had or been on a project with a leaky skyway, you can probably recognize that the traditional method of just slapping a bunch of goop on the problem areas is temporary and usually not a warranted fix.

But that’s not quite the case of how Tremco’s more comprehensive solution for these concerns are leading the space. So if you’re interested in that, you should check out our YouTube video. We’ve got a great YouTube video on the Puerto Rico Convention Center and gives you a better understanding of those extruded overlays that were just mentioned.
Paul: So I for one, I am not a big fan of slopping goop on anything. So yes that would be an interesting…that could be a separate subject in itself for a podcast.
Mike: Yeah.
Paul: You see, I think my theory right now is that over half the commercial buildings in America have goop on them, wet seals and what not. Sometimes wet seals work great, by the way, and I shouldn’t knock them.
Mike: They do, yeah.
Paul: But a lot of times, there’s just the tendency to go straight to the wet seal rather than trying to troubleshoot the problem and possibly solve it in a better way. It would be real interesting to hear some of the other solutions that are out there and available.
So Mike this is really interesting stuff. What’s the future entail for Tremco and the waterproofing industry? Can you give us any insight on what’s coming?
Mike: Sure. You know, I think that a lot of what we’re doing right now is going to continue. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. Obviously, we’ll evolve more products and deliver more price in the market which will hopefully save time and make it easier for contractors to install that will be durable, that will have great longevity. But I think that our proven, tested, warranted, connected defensible type approach to the market is valuable.
The fact that we can help shoulder some of that liability with the contractor, with the design professional, with the consultant, with the owner is appealing to the market. And I think that we’ll continue to deliver that idea that it’s not just about the components that you’re installing into your wall, or your below grade application, but it’s actually the whole assembly itself and it operates as a system.

And without those integral connection points, which I think we all agree are perhaps the most risk potential, without those incorporated and included under a single source type tested, defensible, warranted to system, without those included, there really is a lot of room for interpretation in trying to figure out who’s responsible. And I think that the design professionals, the community, and the owners have gotten smarter and realized that it doesn’t do them any good to have multiple components installed for one type of application.
Paul: Hear, hear. So is there anything I forgot to ask you or anything else you want to add before we wrap things up?
Mike: Well it’s just that, you know, I appreciate what GCI is doing in the market. Over the years we’ve run across or I’ve run across what I would say two types of consultants in our business. There seems to be the consultants that are interested in catching contractors doing something wrong and trying to bully us as a manufacturer into questionable recommendations in order to drive cost down and it’s usually by trying to have us accept less than desirable conditions.
And these are the kind of people that they know there is a right way but then they know there’s every other way and they seem to try to drive it towards the every other way, quick fix approach. And these ambulance chasing litigious black cat type consultants are bad for our business and our industry and they often falsely create more issues than they solve.

Then there’s the white hat guys, right? The quality organizations like a GCI, [inaudible 00:28:48] Plus and others in our market that are proactive. The guys like you that work is an integral part of the team to recognize and address problems before they occur, then they help to develop solutions without cutting those corners. And the white hat guys simply want the best project they can deliver and they value the partners that can help them get there and I appreciate what you folks are doing in our market.
Paul: Thank you for that Mike and thank you very much for coming on the show. It’s really interesting topics and we’ll have you back and talk about some of the other things that we just touched on. If anybody wants to get a hold of you, how can they do that?
Mike: They can reach me via my mobile, 407-702-5618 or they can send me an email which is
Paul:And obviously is the Tremco website for anybody who wants to check out the whole world of Tremco.
Mike: Yep, it’s is actually, the website that they’ll be looking for.
Paul: Got it. Well thank you again, Mike, for coming on.
Mike: Absolutely, thank you, Paul. Appreciate you having me.
Paul: Yeah, so really interesting topic today and that concludes another episode of the Everything Building Envelope Podcast. Until next time, this is Paul Beers, saying, so long.

Construction, the Building Envelope and Mechanical System Design

John Melvin – JM Engineering

  • The importance of integrating building envelope and mechanical system design.
  • Design – What should the interaction be between design of the building envelope and mechanical systems?
  • Commissioning during design – common for mechanical systems, not so much for envelopes
  • Construction – Where the rubber meets the road.
  • Best practices and common mistakes during construction
  • Maintenance and operation mechanical systems
  • Maintenance of the building envelope

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Paul: Hello everyone, this is Paul Bears. Welcome to another episode of the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. We’ve got a really interesting topic today. We’re gonna be talking about building envelopes and also mechanical systems and how they interact. Our guest is a really good friend of mine, John Melvin. Well, welcome John.

John: Hello, Paul. Thank you for having me.

Paul: Yeah, really excited about this. So, John, we’ve been going to an entrepreneurial coaching program together called Strategic Coach for like five or six years, is it?

John: That’s correct. Yes, we met in Santa Monica and really enjoyed our conversations.

Paul: Yeah. I think we can both say the program has had a really big influence on our careers and how we’re doing now. And then also, you know, we’ve had really a great group. There’s 4 or 5 of us that’ve been together the whole time. And it’s really been great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth and whatnot.

John: It sure has.

Paul: So as luck would have it, we’re in related but unrelated fields. You know, I’m the building envelope guy at GCI consultants and you’re a mechanical engineer. In fact, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself before we get into today’s topic?

John: Sure, Paul. So I’ve been a mechanical engineer for 25 years now and I have had my business, JM Engineering, for the last 15 years. And we are a firm of 10 full-time people and we have a number of virtual people working for us. We work in the mechanical, structural, and electrical consulting areas of building construction. We specialize in high-end residential projects, houses typically minimum of \$10 million a piece. And then also we do an awful lot of healthcare and educational work. So our markets that we work in are primarily the western United States. We are licensed all over the country. And we see a big variety of projects, both in our northern climate as well as in southern more humid climates.

Paul: Yeah, and I know you said that…well the high-end residential obviously, that’s a challenge in itself because the…you know, you always have high-volume spaces, lots of windows, things like that. And then, of course, the healthcare, that’s probably nothing more difficult from a mechanical standpoint then healthcare projects. They’re so complicated and whatnot. So you’re not doing the superficial stuff, you’re doing the real hard work.

John: Yeah, it is very challenging. You’re exactly right, the healthcare with the surgery suite and pharmacy clean rooms, compounding facilities. Air quality is extremely important. Same with the educational work we’re doing. We put a high emphasis on healthy learning environments for all these schools that we’re working on, making sure that the CO2 levels are not too high in the classrooms which allows the students to have a far greater learning experience.

Paul: Very cool. So, John, we’ve been talking a little bit before we did this and we were thinking it was a good idea to maybe talk about our two respective disciplines: building envelope and mechanical engineering and how they’re really very interrelated. But as we go through projects from design to construction and even operating those buildings after they’ve been built, there’s not really a lot of integration between the two. Do you see things that way as well?

John: Absolutely, Paul. The very first thing we do in a project once we have identified the mechanical systems that we are most likely to use is we go into our process of our engineering calculations to determine the cooling and heating equipment sizes. And that in large part is dictated by the building envelope. And at the time when we are starting our design, we don’t often times have all of the building envelope information that we need. The interior loads, the internal loads are pretty easy to identify with numbers of people and connected equipment. But building envelope and the mechanical systems are very much interrelated. And it becomes very important for us to know how tight the building is and what impact that has on the infiltration. That has a big impact on our ventilation.

Paul: So what’s the importance of integrating the building envelope and mechanical system design form the mechanical side of things?

John: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the building envelope is one of the bigger key components of determining the size and capacity of the heating and cooling equipment for a building. And it becomes very, very important. Small changes in insulation in the overall tightness of the building has a big impact on the chiller sizing, the boiler sizing, and the fan sizing. And one area that I think gets missed an awful lot of the time is an analysis of the building envelope and comparing that with what is required to heat and cool that building. And there’s often times trade-offs as to how much insulation can be used and where is the balance point of having the proper amount of insulation and the right envelope construction to balance the optimal boiler and chiller plant sizing.

Paul: Now can you also have situations where perhaps…and I’m just saying any mechanical engineer, not necessarily you guys but any mechanical engineer, where perhaps the mechanical systems could be…you know, assuming the envelope is gonna be XYZ when in fact it’s ABC and you end up with an over-designed or an under-designed mechanical system?

John: Yes, definitely. We have seen that in the past where we have gone into buildings that have needed retrofitting from the glass being changed as a value engineering process and they went with cheaper glass which then allowed a significant amount of solar gain into the space which then had an impact on the cooling capacity. At which ended up being a pretty big cost change in the end. And that was something that was not evaluated during the value engineering process. So the other issue that can happen is there can be assumptions made on the envelope to the point where the mechanical systems are significantly over-designed, which then the owner is paying for larger equipment than what is needed. And then what also happens is you can have equipment that is cycling on and off much more frequently because it is oversized. And that can have a big impact on the lifetime of the equipment.

Paul: So during design, what should the interaction be between the design of the building envelope and the design of the mechanical systems?

John: From our point of view, Paul, what I think the interaction needs to be is the load calculations need to be developed but then they need to be evaluated with the architect to have the architect look at different insulation and window systems to see if the envelope can be optimized for its given climate and also see if there’s a way that we can make our mechanical equipment smaller and find out if there’s a payoff and if it’s cheaper to put in more insulation in the walls and roof as opposed to putting in larger equipment.

Paul: Now, when you say cheaper that’s interesting because we see a lot of different attitudes with cheaper. Cheaper can be a \$10 million house is being built on spec. A lot of time construction cost seems to be the overriding issue. Whereas if you have a hospital or a school where you might have a long-term owner, they may be willing to invest more in the construction costs to save money over time with, you know, basically better energy bills or durability where things would last longer. So how does that play with working between the building envelope and the mechanical systems?

John: Well I think…first of all, this is something that–back to your question–is overlooked an awful lot of the time is when projects are designed, it happens an awful lot where a project comes in over budget. And unfortunately we get into a process called value engineering and I always refer to it as de-value engineering. And what people look at is just pieces of the project that can be taken out or changed or cheapened up, if you will, to bring the project within budget. And I think often times what’s missed is back to not having the proper amount of coordination between the envelope and the mechanical systems to really try and optimize what is going to be the most cost-effective solutions for the owner over the long-haul.

Paul: It’s basically a money grab.

John: It is.

Paul: Just speaking from the, you know, I’m asking all these questions about mechanical systems. So speaking from the building envelope side of things, we almost never interact with a mechanical engineer on the project. Now we go to meetings, you know, they’re sitting there, we’re sitting there. But basically they’re doing their own thing and we’re doing our own thing. They’re telling the architect what kind of glass they need to use as far as to meet the load requirements or what the calculations are based on and then the architects are picking the color. But we’re really not involved at all on that level. Who do you think…I guess…well I’ll tell you what I think and see what you agree. Seems to me there’s a better role that the architect could play here in trying to bring it all together into a global solution rather than we do our thing, you do your thing, and that’s how we get to the end of the road. And that’s why problems sometimes occur.

John: Absolutely. I think it’s something that should be done on just about every single project. There’s again, as you said, there’s usually not much coordination beyond we’re using the U-value for our windows and we’re putting in this much insulation in the walls and ceilings because this is what meets code, rather than, “Hey, what if we end up putting another two inches of insulation in the walls or roof? What if we look at going with a better performing window? Yes, it’s going to have this impact on the installed cost of the building but what impact is that going to have on the mechanical systems?”

And more importantly, for the owner, a lot of people own their buildings for a very long time. And what we find is some of these very simple adjustments can have a three-year payback or better. And that often times gets overlooked. And when engineers are doing their load calculations, at least the way we do it, the software we use, all of that information is built in. It is fairly easy to model the building over the next 20, 30 years and do a few comparisons on different windows systems and insulation systems to find out what’s going to work best.

Paul: And sadly that doesn’t seem to happen much.

John: No, it really doesn’t. But again, I think the team itself needs to be focused on what is best for the life of the building and how is that building going to perform. What’s going to give the building the least amount of maintenance and have the best efficiency for the dollars spent on it?

Paul: Seems like we should set a goal–we being the design team, with regards to energy and the envelope and mechanical systems and whatnot–we should set a goal for where we wanna end up and work towards that rather than what I see the way it’s being done now is we start in the middle and kinda work to the outside. And we end up somewhere but not necessarily…there wasn’t any intent to go anywhere, to begin with.

John: Absolutely, absolutely. And the approach we take is we, as a group here, we have in our process is we start every project with the end in mind. And when I say the end in mind, it’s 3 to 5 years down the road when the building is completed. And one of the questions we ask building owners whenever we have the opportunity is to take them into the future and ask them if we’re standing at this project in three years after it’s completed, what has to have happened for you to be really happy with this building? And you can get some great answers by asking that question but it’s a question that needs to be asked as a design team group, not just as an engineer or as an architect or as a building envelope consultant.

Paul: Yeah, really great point. It’s just the integration seems to be lacking.

John: Right.

Paul: Let’s talk a little bit about commissioning. You know, right now we’re still talking about design but…so commissioning, is it fairly common with mechanical systems?

John: Very much so. We deal an awful lot with commissioning. We do commissioning both ourselves and we work on projects that are being commissioned by a separate commissioning firm. And a lot of LEED projects require commissioning. It’s part of the LEED process.

Paul: So just to give everybody some background about what we’re talking about, that everybody in the audience may not be super familiar with commissioning, could you just kinda give a broad brush definition of what’s commissioning and kinda what’s the process for it?

John: Yes, so our two different kinds of commissioning according to LEED. There’s your standard commissioning and then there’s enhanced commissioning. What a commissioning agent is, is they are an independent third-party firm typically, that did not provide any design services. They are not contracted by the contractor, they are not contracted by the design team. Rather they are contracted directly to the owner. We typically like commissioning to happen in the enhanced format where the commissioning agent is involved at the very beginning of the project. And the commissioning agent will review the scope of the project and the design team will produce a document called “The Design Intent”. And basically what that is is a narrative of how the building is to be built, how it’s going to be constructed, the systems that are going to be installed.

And they use that document and track that throughout the project to make sure that these goals and intents are being met throughout the project. We find the commissioning as focused on mechanical systems, plumbing systems, and electrical, and some on the building envelope.

Paul: I was gonna ask you about that. You have been involved with projects where there’s commissioning for the building envelope?

John: Yes. And the level of commissioning that was done was they are providing documentation that the insulation was installed per the plans. The sealing of the envelope, the roofing systems were installed per the design documents. I have not witnessed any testing of the envelope, though, as part of the commissioning process.

Paul: There’s been an effort underway and a few years back and I assume it’s still alive. ASTM has been involved with this, the National Institute of Building Science, NIBS, and others in developing a commissioning process for the exterior building envelope. And we actually you know, tried to get involved with that. What we found was either there was no market or it was very commoditized where owners were doing it because they felt like they should do it but they weren’t looking into spending any money on it. And so, it was a superficial commissioning process at best.

What’s interesting is the scope of services that GCI Consultants provide. So when we first got into it, we said to ourselves, “What is building envelope commissioning?” In fact, I went to an ASTM meeting where it was kind of like a scoping meeting to start the whole process and try to understand what is this building envelope commissioning thing? And guess what? Nobody knew. And it turns out that the services that we deliver typically on construction projects, which is working with the design team, the architect and the design team during design, reviewing, shop drawings and submittals, performing inspections and testing, during construction, and then some sort of sign off at the end and documentation of the whole process, probably more so with when it’s so-called commissioning job than not, what we’ve been doing all along was actually commissioning. It just never became…it still hasn’t become a formal process for construction projects. And I don’t know if it’s the money thing or what. But again, the mechanical MEP stuff, mechanical electrical plumbing, obviously seems to be a lot more common than the building envelope.

John: Well, I think that it’s not embraced too well because people have this assumption that the project is being designed well and therefore it’s being constructed well and why should they have to pay a third party to go through and verify all of this work.

Paul: That’s a great point.

John: And in an ideal world you wouldn’t have to. But things happen on projects. Things get missed by either the design professionals or the construction professionals. And if I was a owner of a large building I would want that building commissioned fully. I would want the envelope commissioned. Is it sealed up? You know, if I’m paying to heat and cool this building, I want to make sure that all of the insulation is in place. I want to make sure that I’m not going to be having a roof that’s leaking or windows that are leaking over time. And the added cost for building commissioning is very small compared to these bigger fixes over the life of the project. And I think if commissioning is done well, the commissioning services will more than pay for themselves over the life of the project.

Paul: Yeah,

John: We’ve all seen and heard what lawsuits are like and no one wants to be in a lawsuit except maybe some attorneys. And I think that commissioning is a way for both an owner, a design professional, and a construction professional to give everyone a little bit better peace of mind that the project as a whole was done correctly.

Paul: Commissioning is a proactive rather than a reactive approach.

John: Very much so, very much so. We are very big proponents of it.

Paul: Yeah, I’ve had customers before, you know, contractors and owners that say, “Look, I’m happy I’ve spent a little bit of my warranty dollars up front to make sure it’s being done right and prevent the problem rather than having unhappy owners, tenants, building occupants, whatever, later on in the process.”

John: Correct. Absolutely.

Paul: So let’s talk a little bit about construction. You know, I said this is where the rubber meets the road and I know you were talking little bit about value engineering before which is…or value de-engineering, I think you called it. And…

John: De-value engineering

Paul: De-value engineering, I like that even better. So when getting into the construction phase of a project, you’ve put this really good design together and, you know, the project’s got the whole team in place, the contractor and the subs and what not, how does that go? I mean does that…do they normally build what you design or do they always build what you design? What happens during construction?

John: Well, that’s a great question. We find that really good contractors will want to have the design team involved throughout construction and have an active part in the construction process. We find sometimes less reputable contractors do not want to have engineers and architects and other consultants involved during the construction. And I take that as a bad sign. Again, back to what we discussed earlier in commissioning is, there are things that are missed during construction, either by the design team or by the build team. And I feel that it’s in every design professional’s best interest to stay involved with the construction process, whether they’re wanted there or not, to ensure that their design is being met.

Paul: If they’re not wanted, that’s definitely a red flag. We run into situations in the building envelope where the contractor, you know, usually the name of the budget, the schedule, the subs they work with, whatever, basically redesign the whole exterior wall system. You know, they get hired during pre-construction to put together budgets and the owner relies on that, usually very little information. So they’re doing a lot of the scoping themselves and then we get around when it’s time to actually build the building and then maybe it’s something seemingly innocuous, the weather barrier, fully applied waterproofing around window openings, let’s say, where the contractor didn’t put them in as part of their budget.

We get to the construction, they’re noted on the drawings or we note them in the submittal reviews and all of a sudden, the owner is calling up saying, “Hey, what is this?” And say it’s a 50 story building and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to put this stuff around the window openings but all of a sudden its \$750,000 being added to…it was a bad budget. So that happens a lot with envelopes. Do you have that happening also with mechanical system where your contractor, and I guess maybe the owner, redesign, re-jigger your design?

John: Yes, we have had that happen in the past, unfortunately. We had a project where the owner specifically requested that we were not to be involved during construction because he did not want to pay for our services. What happened on the project was the mechanical contractor did not install our design per our plans. This is a fairly complex geothermal heating and cooling system and I received a phone call from another consulting engineer about three years later who had been to the job site at the owner’s request to do an evaluation of the system, which had completely failed.

And the engineer called me to tell me that my plans were great but the project was not installed per our design. We then went to the project to verify this and the contractor had completely disregarded our plans. The contractor had taken many shortcuts and not installed a lot of the components thinking that it was overkill or redundant. And it caused several heat pumps to burn out over time. It caused tremendous amount of humidity build up in a few of the rooms and they ended up having a mold problem as a result. In the end, the mechanical contractor was sued for roughly \$100,000 for their defective work. And I feel like we could have saved all of that expense and pain to the owner had we been involved for a few thousand dollars during construction.

Paul: Do you find that when changes are made, is it motivated by money or is it ignorance? Or maybe just yes, yes and yes?

John: So we find that really depends on the contractor. We have contractors that will come to us with a change and it’s a very legitimate change. It’s something that will make the installation go better and actually be better for the project over the long term. But we also have contractors who don’t want to put something in and ask if they can make a change and it’s purely money driven. And they’ve bid the project but they want to put in a less inferior product. And we see that a lot.

Paul: So I guess the moral of the story here, and let’s say this would apply to the envelope as well is, if you’re gonna make a change perhaps you should run it by the designer of the original system?

John: Absolutely. I would definitely engage your design team first and foremost and ask them if they approve of it. And get a reason for why they think the change is good or bad. But I would definitely and always include the design team in any changes during construction.

Paul: Now, the second part of the construction thing is that obviously, even if the design is intact, everything needs to be done correctly. It needs to be installed properly, follow manufacturer’s recommendation, use best practices, all that kind of stuff. Do you…and I know the answer is gonna be yes but I’ll ask the obvious question. Do you run into those sorts of problems as well?

John: We do. And one thing that we require is on our projects, we require a factory-trained representative to start up all equipment. So you don’t just have someone out there thinking it’s all set to go and hitting the on switch and pushing the green button and hoping that it all works. We require these factory trained personnel to come in and they’ll do a complete check over of the system and make sure that…it’s also integral with commissioning as well of making sure that all of the connected components are installed the way that that manufacturers require them to be installed. Otherwise, yes. You’re going to get all sorts of problems if someone thinks that it’s installed, hits the button and walks away from it.

Paul: So let’s talk a little bit about best practices. I guess also we should talk about common mistakes that occur during construction. Let’s start with the mistakes and then we’ll go into the best practices. So on the envelope side of things, you know, the mistakes that we see are basically not paying attention a lot of times or having an untrained workforce. We may go through a whole project and design, a really nice building envelope, really careful with shop drawings and submittals, making lots of comments and, you know, making sure we’re all…have meetings, go through everything, make sure everybody is on the same page. And then we go out to do pre-construction meeting or subsequent third-party quality control inspections and the guys that are out there have never seen the design, the drawings, anything. They’re just putting it in the way that they think it should be done.

So all that good work that was being done upfront is basically ignored and guess what? Problems happen. We do a water test and water is leaking in all over the place. And it’s not necessarily bad intent, it’s just sloppiness and ignorance. And you gotta really be careful with the envelope–and I suspect you’re gonna be saying the same thing on the mechanical side–that everything gets done…you know, the best design is great. But if they don’t follow through…and the quality side, everybody should be involved with it from the installer to the supervisor to the contractor, the superintendent, the architect, the owner. Everybody needs to be…really be on it. And then you’ve got a better chance of not having an issue.

John: Absolutely. I find what works with us is having that pre-construction meeting with all of the trades that will be performing the work on our plans and having a discussion with them before they pick up a hammer or a drill or what have you and explain to them what our intent is of the system and how it is supposed to work and what the components of the system are doing. And I think if that’s something that is done with all trades at the beginning, that way the guys working in the field have a better picture and a better feel for what it is that they’re actually putting in.

But at any rate, it’s back to getting all of the subcontractors on the site, in addition to the general contractor, a picture of what it is that they’re building. So that, again, if they kind of have that same end picture in mind so that they’re not just putting a piece of pipe in, they’re not just putting insulation in, they’re building this building that is going to perform per this design we’ve put together. And I feel like if you can get some buy-in from the construction team, that goes a long way for the life of the project.

Paul: I think the keyword there is team. Everybody needs to work together.

John: Right.

Paul: So now, we have designed it, we’ve build it. Everything is good and it’s time for the owner to basically occupy and take over the building from the design and the construction team. And you mentioned hitting the little green button, so let’s talk a little bit about maintenance and operation of mechanical systems. What needs to happen for things to continue to go well?

John: Well, what needs to happen is the owner needs to have training with the contractors who installed the system. So we typically will involve the temperature controls contractor, the mechanical contractor, and the plumbing contractor. And they will spend a designated amount of time with the owner going through every system, system by system. And this is after we have done all of the testing to make sure everything is operating fine. But then the contractors will go through with the owner’s representative, whomever that may be, their head of maintenance if they have a head of maintenance for the project or the owners themselves and they will go through and demonstrate to them how each system works. And show them, if it’s an elaborate control system, how the system works, what functionality they have with the system and then also give them training on routine maintenance: items that they need to take care of or pay attention to. Simple things like changing filters, looking at if fans have belts, of making sure that the belts are tensioned properly.

The other part is making sure that the owner has a maintenance contract set up, ideally with the mechanical contractor who installed the system. But if not then he needs to have whomever is going to be doing his building maintenance involved with that training so that the maintenance personnel, again, can have a good and first-hand understanding from the installing contractors. We find that you can have a great project and have it be installed, everything is fine, it’s…everything is working wonderfully. But if the building is not maintained, you’ve just wasted all this time and effort putting in a great system. We had a simple case of a building a few years ago where we were called back because they were having these pressurization problems in the building. And so I got the controls contractor involved, we went and looked and there is all this air leaking in through doors and windows. And this is happening when that was -20° outside.

So what we found after going through and testing the whole system, we couldn’t find anything wrong. And so we got the owner back involved and asked him if he had had the system maintained and who had been doing it. And he assured us that his system had been properly maintained. What we ended up finding on this particular project was the filters in the main air handler for this great big building had never been changed since the building had been turned over. Yes, from the time it was turned over. They had done remodeling in part of the building after construction. These filters were caked completely full of sheetrock dust. And furthermore, the contractor who did the initial construction wrote the date on the filters, which is commonly done. So we could go and verify how old these filters were. And we took the filters out and put new filters in, turned the unit back on and all of his problems were fixed.

Paul: Voila.

John: Yeah, voila. Exactly. But he went through all of this headache thinking that the building wasn’t constructed right, the building wasn’t designed right, nothing was working. And the only one that was doing his job was the maintenance guy.

Paul: Which was actually the other way round.

John: Exactly

Paul: So is the maintenance guy the one who actually runs these systems or if they have a maintenance contract, who’s really in charge of running the systems? I’ve been involved in projects where the envelope has had issues due to negative pressurization and it was basically poor operation of the mechanical system. They’d actually designed it and pressurized in an addition to have built to this hospital. And then they opened the doors that led to the rest of the hospital and everything went to hell.

John: Right.

Paul: So who’s ultimately supposed to be watching after that, once the building is in the owner’s possession?

John: Typically it’s the maintenance department. Hospitals will almost always have a dedicated maintenance staff. And those guys from our experience are extremely well-trained and they know their systems inside and out. But that usually falls on them to, you know, it’s helpful if the building owner has some documentation in their hands to say, “Yes this was tested at the completion of construction. And the envelope wasn’t leaking, we weren’t negative pressure, everything was working just fine.” So that, at that point in time they can go back to maintenance and say, “The system was working, so something has changed since then.” And that happens. Damper motors will burn out or freeze up, linkages on dampers will become loose.

And it can be something as simple as that. It can be a wire to a damper motor that the screw on one of the wires was not tightened all the way and there is enough vibration to cause the wire to come loose. We’ve seen that before quite a few times. And again, it all comes back to the owner having some assurance from the design team and the build team, ideally from a commissioning agent, that his building is functioning the way everyone wanted it to when the keys are turned over to the owner.

Paul: Yeah, so you basically got a point in time where everything was good. I can see the benefit there because then you can say, “Okay, if it worked at one point, then what’s changed? And let’s go find that and remedy it.”

John: It makes it much easier to solve the problem if you know it was working fine at one point in time.

Paul: So I want to talk about maintenance on the building envelope. On the building envelope side, aside from roofs, there is very little or no maintenance typically. Now, that’s not to say that’s the case with every building but more often than not that is the case. Now roofs come with manufacturers’ warranties and they can be 10 to sometimes 20 years or longer and they require annual inspections by a third party or sometimes by the roofing manufacturer. And maintenance, and this is to maintain the warranty, which that doesn’t always get done either by the way. But if it is done then somebody is up there looking at it at least annually and is a problem develops then there’s an opportunity to correct it before it becomes a failure. Or even if there is a failure it’s isolated and not throughout the whole system.

What we see on the rest of the building, the walls, the windows, the ceilings, things like that, warranties are typically a lot shorter, particularly on windows and doors. You know, it may be a year or two for water leakage. Glass, insulated glass, laminated glass, things like that can be a 5 or a 10-year warranty but that’s just the glass itself. And then the wall systems usually is like a cornucopia of some warranty, some not. That the contractor may warranty it for a year, it may have sealants that have 20-year warranty, paint that has 5-year warranty.

So there’s a lot going on. What almost never happens is that there’s an annual inspection of the façade. It may be a one year later inspection but typically not an annual inspection. And what happens there…just like the roof. If they didn’t inspect the roofs, things start to deteriorate. Say the sealants are aged, have aged and started to have voids in them or birds are eating them or there is maybe a windstorm that causes some damage to the building or stucco cracks or whatever. It doesn’t get addressed until water is coming in the building, molds growing, your humidity levels are up, things like that. And it’s very reactive, not proactive

And I think it’s a real, there’s a real need to do better in that regard. Inspecting the façade of a large building can be very expensive because you can’t necessarily get easy access to a roof, you can walk around on the roof most of the time. You know, mechanical systems obviously are in their designated spaces. But if you’ve got a 10 story building, unless you’re Spiderman, you can’t get out there and look without a lot of equipment and whatnot. I’m hoping that now where we’re seeing drones being used a lot more…and in fact, we have our own drone, AIR GCI, that can actually go out on a regular basis, fly the drone and analyze the footage, see if any of these products have developed, any of these problems are developing. Because if you can catch problems early, you can correct them and stave off much bigger problems later. The saying is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and it’s very, very true.

So did you ever have situations, John, where problems with air quality or mold growth or whatnot, they call you out as a mechanical guy and it turns out something with the envelope is causing it?

John: Yeah, we do see that on occasion. And you’re exactly right, it becomes a reactive time rather than a proactive time, unfortunately. And I think that having the envelope inspected annually is a great idea because a lot of times, like you said, you know, mold often times does not show up in a building until two, three years after it’s completed. And if you have a one year warranty on a project and you stop doing inspections at that point in time, it’s not something that’s just going to show up right away.

So I think that you can be very proactive in having your envelope inspected on a much more regular basis. I think using a drone, and as technology improves, is going to be an incredible tool for you to use to doing envelope inspections. We have a drone ourselves and we use that for projects that we’re working on. Right now, we use it more for remodel projects, though we will fly it around the building and get documentation of what’s on the roof and what’s on the side of the building. But I think beyond that, it’s a tool that you can use with a envelope of getting very good high-quality images around windows. And whether it be on an annual basis or, in your case, after a very big storm event to do quick and accurate assessment of the envelope.

Paul: Yeah, it really works well. So, John, this has been a really great discussion. I mean, I’m passionate about this actually that I think we can do better in a lot of these areas. Having the guys on outside of the building and inside of the building working together to a common goal with an end result in mind from the beginning, I think you really have a better outcome for projects to what some are getting. You know, keeping small problems from becoming big problems and being proactive instead of reactive. So I really enjoyed our discussion.

John: I did too, Paul. This is a very great discussion to have.

Paul: So thank you so much for coming on the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.

John: Well thank you for having me, Paul.

John, if people want to contact you how can they do that?

John: The best place, Paul, would be our website. And that is,

Paul: Great. And I can vouch for John. I know he’s doing a lot of cutting edge stuff with technology and a really great guy. So I would encourage anyone who is interested to please take a look.

Paul: And I’d like to remind everybody that if you’d like to subscribe to the “Everything Building Envelope” newsletter to text the word, “Building Envelope,” to 22828. Again, text the word, “BuildingEnvelope” to 22828. So, thank you, everyone, for listening. Really great topic we had today and I hope you enjoyed it. And this is Paul Beers saying so long until next time.

Waterproofing Structures, Products, Feedback and Scenarios

David Gehlbach – CETCO

  • What is your philosophy of waterproofing a structure?
  • Does the same product and/or systems fit all applications?
  • Is it a good idea to get several different sources of feedback when starting a project?
  • What is the most troublesome scenario that you see in today’s market with Waterproofing?
  • What is a day in the life of a manufacturer’s representative in the waterproofing world?


Check out GCI’s Article on waterproofing.

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Paul: Hello everyone, welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope Podcast, really excited about our guest today, David Gehlbach with CETCO. He’s technical sales manager in Florida and the Caribbean, and really has his finger on the pulse in the waterproofing business. Welcome, Dave.

David: Nice to be here, Paul. Appreciate the invite.

Paul: So before we get into talking about waterproofing, maybe you could just share a little bit of your background experience with the audience?

David: Sure, sure. I’ve got a fairly diverse background in construction industry, roughly 25 years total in the architectural and waterproofing/roofing industry. I started out…graduated from college with a degree in architecture and became a licensed architect in 1996, and then kind of transitioned into becoming a manufacturer sales rep from there. I’ve worked with deck coatings, urethane and silicone sealants, anything that’s related to a building envelope and moisture intrusion, I’ve kind of been involved with.

I worked for a major waterproofing company from 2002 to 2008, and then, from 2008 to 2012, I kind of bounced around as an independent consultant, dabbled in some concrete admixtures and moisture issues related to flooring, and then I started with CETCO in 2012, so I’ve been there for a little over four years now.

Paul: Great, and for those who aren’t familiar, I’m sure many are, could you tell a little about CETCO, who they are, and what they do?

David: Sure, CETCO is a global international company, and I am underneath the construction technologies division that is owned by a mineral tech incorporated. And the construction technologies consist of environmental sciences drilling, and a tunnel division, and then where I sit is the building products division, and that is focusing on sub-grade waterproofing with the use of active bentonite and polymer type systems.

Paul: Let’s talk a little bit about, what is bentonite?

David: Bentonite is a natural clay, it is mined out of the earth and it is processed. And I guess the best or simplest analogy would be, it’s kind of like a kitty litter. When moisture comes in contact with bentonite, it swells and hydrates and expands, and that’s basically the simplistic technology behind it.

Paul: So when you use it in a below-grade application, it’s basically put in place, and then as it gets wet it expands and sort of like it you know, seals and fills voids and whatnot?

David: Exactly, and a bentonite sheet, for example, goes on the wall, either prior to pouring the concrete, which will be blindside construction, or it gets applied to the wall after the concrete is poured, and then it always has to be under compaction, either earth or for a horizontal conditions another topping slab. So it’s always under compaction and most used in the sub-grade market.

Paul: I know with our business, GCI consultants, we see I think being used more and more where they’re trying to maximize the use of property and obviously, basements and garages and things like that probably don’t make them a lot of money, you know the dwelling spaces, so if they can put them at or below grade. I think that seems to really help their…what they’re trying to do. So it seems like there’s a lot of those type of applications these days are using that. Are you seeing that?

David: Yeah, the more you get into an urban area such as downtown Miami or downtown Jacksonville where buildings are right on top of each other, you end up producing that filling, like you said, with a sub-grade garage for parking. And it becomes a property line condition where you’re going to blindside application with either sheet piles or wood lagging or some sort of system similar to that.

Paul: So CETCO has… Their footprint extends throughout the US and beyond, is that right?

David: Correct yeah, there’s a European division as well as North American division, and we also have a South American division that’s starting up strongly as well.

Paul: So I would imagine that your turf, we’ll call it, or you’re territory, is probably one of the bigger challenges given water table is so close to the surface in Florida as compared to some other areas where it’s probably not.

David: Yeah, definitely, that’s definitely true. And that is the case in Florida, we got really practically the whole perimeter of Florida except for the Panhandle is waterfront and the state as a whole is relatively flat except for a couple areas here and there, but most of Florida, you’re right, within three feet or thereabouts.

Paul: So what’s your philosophy with waterproofing the structure?

David: Well, I think, first thing is to ask a lot of questions and understand what the individual needs are of the project and that comes from obviously, are we in the water table? Do we have a hydrostatic condition? Also what the owner is looking for, are they looking to hold onto the building after they’ve built it for 10 or 15 years or more, or are they looking to just build it quickly and cheaply and then go ahead and sell it?

Because that will kind of drive the discussion of what type of waterproofing systems they want, how long they want the warranty, what type of warranty they want, whether it’s just the material only or a no dollar limit, everything is included, type warranty. And then there’s the physical considerations, you know, where are we with the flood areas? Where are we next to other structures? Geographical areas, water test. All those type of things start to come into play as well.

Paul: Does the same product or system fit all applications?

David: I mean, that’s a double question. There’s a yes to that and there’s a no to that. As an overall answer, our products, the bentonites and the polymers, would address all the different conditions. Inside of our product lines we have different levels, we have a salt water bentonite, which is the Voltex CR, that would address a site that has a little bit higher of the salt or a contamination in the soil. And then when we go even beyond that, what we have very high salt and contamination, we have a polymer product called Ultraseal that we jump to that can address Miami Collins Avenue right on the Atlantic Ocean where we have salt contents that are fairly high. So we have different levels and different types of bentonite and polymer products to address all the situations.

Paul: What’s done differently with the Ultraseal and the high salt environments opposed to just the standard product that you may get in Atlanta or St Louis or somewhere like that?.

David: Sure, yeah, the standard bentonite on our product is 1.1 pounds per square foot, there’s other manufacturers that also have an entry level bentonite that basically addresses all your, you know, normal average salt contents and contamination contents for each site The trick is, when you get to a high salt content that bentonite can stop swelling as much as it should, it doesn’t hydrate as much as we’d like to see, so manufacturers went to a saltwater bentonite.

So a lot of products you know, you jump off to that saltwater grade. What we found, when we started getting exposed to the European market, like United Arab Emirates for example, some of those areas have a salt content in the 4% range as opposed to Miami, which is a very high salt range in the 3% range. So we went ahead about 10 years ago, somewhere around 2007 and we introduced the Ultraseal, which is a polymer based product.

So the entry level bentonites are strictly 100% bentonite at 1.1 pounds per square foot in the product. When you jump to the Ultraseal, just manufactured by CETCO, that has roughly 85% polymer, with about 15% bentonite. And the difference is the polymer hydrates and swells even in the very highest of salt contents.

Paul: Interesting, so when an owner or an architect is getting into a project, of course, you’re in there talking to them early, as the… You’re probably one of the first scope items that go in, how should they be doing their research consider the possibilities and make good decision? Is it a good idea to get several different sources of feedback when starting a project?

David: Sure, that definitely by all means. You know, one of the things that we recommend in our part of the industry is to get someone like you guys, get a waterproofing consultant involved early, who’s been down that road before and understands what should be used, and I guess, for lack of a better phrase, what shouldn’t be taken out of a project. So yeah, get advice from waterproofing consultants, bring in the manufacturer’s rep like myself and then also maybe call two or three top waterproofing contractors.

I know that when high-rises get built with glass and dow silicone, I know sometimes even two years before a project’s started they bring in a large glass contractor to kind of get an idea of what the budgeting is gonna be. And I think that’s something that GCs and owners should take advantage of. Here’s the contractors that are actually doing the work, get some feedback from them.

So I think it’s important as yes, get as many people involved upfront as possible and gather as much information as you can before you start [inaudible 00:11:09] a project.

Paul: You know, we’re big advocates of involving manufacturers, of course, but also the contractors, the guys who have to build it, and who are in the marketplace every day, and as you say, if you get all the different perspectives that everybody gets together and you know, basically can work out the best solution for a particular scenario or project.

David: Yeah, and that process also avoids some uncomfortable situations that I’ve personally been involved in where a contract is being awarded to a waterproofing group and the owner is under the impression that it’s roughly three to four times as much money as he thought it was gonna be. And the question goes back to the owner of well, you know, where did that original number come from, 16 or 18 months ago?

And there have been times where owners have said, “Well, I don’t know. We made a couple of calls and we plugged, you know, \$3 a square foot for the waterproofing.” Meanwhile, the specification has a couple of systems listed that may be in you know, \$12 per square foot range.

Paul: That’s one of my you know, pet peeves as where maybe it is that these budgets get set early during pre-construction, waterproofing and other things and then you know, comes project time and budget is inadequate and the money is not there and it really causes a lot of angst and the stress of trying to figure out you know, what we do? Do we just not do it the right way? Or how do we you know, steal money from somewhere else? And as you say it’s uncomfortable and not always resulting in a good decision.

David: Right, exactly. And we talk about the, you know, the percentage of waterproofing as a total of the project cost. For example, a condominium that someone is building near the beach, units may be going for three to four million or even more per unit, the total building cost is maybe \$120 million, and here we are sitting with the owner and they’re trying to get rid of, you know, \$300,000 worth of waterproofing, which you know is a very important entity to a building but with all the lawsuits and the liability that the architect takes on.

The 558 lawsuits, that I think most people who are listening to this understand what those are about, and it’s just important to point that out to say you know, “You’re taking out less than 1% of the total project cost for something that most times ends up being 96% to 98% at the time of the lawsuit based on moisture mitigation, mold, health hazards, issues related to that.” So I think it’s important to point that out. And you can’t do waterproofing after the fact like you can some other scopes of work. It’s a one-shot deal, you either do it or you don’t.

Paul: So have you seen scenarios where owners have…shouldn’t keep blaming the owners, where projects have omitted waterproofing materials, maybe not made good decisions? What happens then?

David: Yeah, you know, worst case scenario was… And I’ll keep the names out of it but you know, worst case scenario is the owner doesn’t have a budget for the waterproofing, and I think it was in that \$350,000, \$400,000 range, value engineer had all the waterproofing. Fast forward a couple of months we’re in the middle of the project and they just couldn’t control the water that was coming through the concrete that was poured, they ended up having to pour a four-foot tremie slab, and do the waterproofing anyway, but what that did was they lost the floor of parking which threw off their units to parking ratio.

They lost a couple units, and I think the total cost to that project was roughly 11 to 12 million after it was all said and done. Granted the total project was probably 120 million, so it was 10% of the project. But once again we go back to, how much was the waterproofing scope if they would have just left it in and did back and got a decent warranty? You know, much less than 12 million. So there have been instances where decisions get made and then 8 months to 10 months later, we get phone calls.

Either the manufacturer gets a phone call or the architect or the consultant such as yourself, get a phone call, “Hey, we need you guys out here, we’ve got leaks all over this basement.” And then the forensics start, “Well, was it waterproofed? Was it inspected? And what type of system was used?” And you go down that whole road of trying to figure out what happened. It can lead to saving a couple of dollars and then ending up spending many more dollars injecting or trying to fix those water’s intrusion points.

Paul: Penny wise and pound foolish once you get into the, “What happened phase,” it’s probably too late.

David: Right, exactly. And without trying to be perceived as a pushy salesperson, I try to educate the owners and the general contractors on the decisions that they’re making. You know, “There have been other people that made these decisions, here’s what happened. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen to you, but these are scenarios, worst case scenarios that have happened.”

So it is a little bit of a gamble when they decide to just not do anything or waterproof half of it or roll the dice because the water table is a little bit lower. Over on this half of the project versus you know, over on that half of the project, the concrete is a little lower, so we should waterproof that but not the other half.

Paul: You know, I’ve seen projects where they tried to piecemeal it, and I was gonna say, playing fire, but they’re playing with water. But it’s scary because if you blow it and as you said, as you were describing with another project, it can be pretty catastrophic.

David: Yes, can be.

Paul: So when you do get asked a question about cost by owners, architects, GC’s, how do you handle that?

David: I mean, that’s a touchy situation because costs can vary immensely depending on how many mobilizations there are to a site, access to the site, how long a job is gonna go on. So there’s a lot of variables that affect that, but I think the range of pricing and the way we used to do it with scheduled values, you’re plugging in an estimate into each one of the scopes of the work. So for example, if you’re owner and your project team is looking at a five-year warranty on the entry-level bentonite product you know, those are usually \$7 a square foot plus or minus, could be lower could be higher.

The market affects that as well. If waterproofing contracts are aggressively looking to get more work, the price is obviously gonna be lower you know, as it was in 2009, and in those times when there was not that much work around. On the flip side, if it’s a very busy as it is now, the bids tend to gravitate a little bit higher. But you know, a number within 10% or 12% to 15% of what it should be, should be an easy thing for an owner and an architectural firm and a project team to have in that box.

So you know, five-year systems, like I said, anywhere \$7 plus or minus a square foot installed, and then when you get into the 10-year systems, that’s plus or minus, you know, \$11, \$12 a square foot in that range. And once again, those could be slightly higher or lower, but that’s kind of exactly how I answer that question to an owner. You know, “Here’s your range.” What we do wanna avoid is what we discussed before is, let’s say you have a desiccation and a project team that is heading towards a special warranty in the 10-year time and they have products that are in that \$12 range, you don’t want the general contractor to just pull a number out of thin air and say, ‘Well, let’s just plug \$4 in there.”

You know, that creates those uncomfortable scenarios 18 months later where they don’t have a budget for the job, but it’s because they didn’t do the due diligence before hand and find out how much stuff should cost. You know, and that’s the same for other products that I don’t sell, deck coatings, perimeter sealants around the windows, roofing. You know, they all have their price categories and ranges, and that should be something that a project team should get a handle on early in the process.

Paul: You’re just mentioning warranties, I know CETCO has different warranties available with different products and different programs and whatnot, can you talk a little bit about that?

David: Yeah, sure, warranties are important. A lot of times the project team will focus on the year, you know is it a 5-five year? Is it a 10-ten year? Roofing and plaza decks are most commonly 20-year warranties. And although the year is important, it’s also important to ask the next question, “Okay, what type of warranty is it? What’s included in the warranty? Let’s run through some scenarios on what happens if we have leaks.”

The warranties are kept in a way where you know, a good/better/best scenario where most initial warranties are material only, and that basically states to the owner or the project team that you can prove that the material is defective in and of itself, the manufacturer will participate in that warranty. The challenge with sub-grade work is that now you have 16 or 20 feet of dirt or earth, hardscape above that in urban areas you have tight property line conditions where to dig down 20 feet to fix something is really not cost effective and is not something that you can easily do.

So a lot of times with sub-grade waterproofing, you end up addressing the leaks from the negative side which is the interior of the building. So that warranty you know, it is what it is. I guess I’ll just say that.
The next step is a material and labor warranty where the manufacturer will participate in covering the material and the labor cost. However, most commonly there’s a sentence somewhere that says, “Warranty is limited to the original purchase price of the material.” So obviously, the price of the material at X dollars a square foot doesn’t include the labor to install it or the labor to remove it if you need to replace it, because that can be you know, something that’s \$3 a square foot to buy can be \$10 or \$12 a square foot to install.

So those warranties, although they are warranties, what CETCO did about 10 years ago is kind of asked the question to ourselves, “What type of warranty could we offer if it was a no dollar limit, no questions asked, we’ll fix the building until it’s dry type warranty?” And we came up with what’s called a hydrashield quality assurance program, and in a nutshell, what that does is it basically gives a warranty to the owner and the project team that if there are any leaks in the building we fix them, no questions asked, with injection technology from the interior of the building.

And there’s a couple of things that our team put together that have to happen to get that warranty, to be eligible for that warranty. And that is hiring a certified inspector and a waterproofing consultant such as GCI, there’s a total of about seven or eight of them throughout the state that we have a list of. And then the second item is that we have to have an approved applicator who’s part of our hydrashield warranty program. And there’s about, I would say 15 to 18 contractors throughout Florida and the Caribbean that are approved applicators to do that work.

There’s a mandatory pre-con meaning that takes place prior to the start of construction and then the waterproofing consultant inspects that installation and the backfill throughout the process of the sub-grade installation. And then there’s constant communication with CETCO’s field service unit, and it’s basically a system that’s put in place to inspect all the waterproofing, make sure that it’s installed correctly prior to the backfill. So then when they’re finally done with the project, you get that no dollar limit warranty.

Paul: When CETCO [inaudible 00:23:48] no dollar limit warranty, they have good confidence going into it because of the process with having everybody involved having the independent inspections, having the technical team that it’s gonna have a good outcome and it’s gonna be a win for everybody.

David: Yeah, most likely, not just with CETCO as a manufacturer, but most manufacturers products that are tested, they work if they’re installed correctly, but it’s the penetration that was missed on a wall, it’s an electrician or a plumber drilling a six-inch diameter hole through the wall and not telling anybody. It’s those issues and the lack of communication with the project team, that’s where those leaks… In my opinion 99% of the time, leaks to a building come from those type of scenarios, not from just the product failing.

It’s usually a penetration, a missed detail, a termination bar was not done correctly, something along those lines. So with that owner hiring the independent inspector and working closely with the waterproofing contractor and CETCO field services with constant communication you know, we try to catch all those items before we backfill and before we finish a project up.

Paul: If you do have the rogue penetration, I’ll call it, that for some reason slips through the cracks for whatever reason, can that be fixed after the fact?

David: Yeah, I mean if we can get to it from the outside, that’s fine. If we need to inject it or address it from the inside we can do that as well.

Paul: So, Dave, let me ask you, what’s a day in the life of a manufacturer’s representative in your waterproofing space? What do you do on a typical, or I guess even atypical day?

David: Sure, yeah, we do a lot of different things. We have interactions with architects, general contractors, waterproofing contractors, owners, consultants. In a typical day, you may get a mixture of all those in one meeting or you may have individual meetings you know, with an architect to discuss that upcoming project. Maybe some needs that they have for you to review, their specifications or they just wanna talk about you know, something they have going in a specific project that’s already being done that they just wanna bounce an idea off of.

So we wear many different hats, you know, we can be down in a 30-foot hole looking at a sub-grade waterproofing condition and then be you know, in an owner’s office for lunch, and then be doing a presentation at a CSI event later that evening. It’s a constant juggling of what we do. The goal of what I do personally is to become a resource to the architects and the owners in the GCs and the waterproofing contractors that use our products. As I said in the beginning, I’ve been doing this for roughly 20 years or so, and I know it’s important for someone who calls up and just wants something answered, even if I don’t know that question, I pride myself in the fact that I have a lot of contacts throughout the industry and I’ll end up getting the answer for that person.

Now a manufacturer’s representative, in my opinion, shouldn’t just be pigeonholed to his one product group because construction has so many different transitions from one scope to the next, you know, for example, what happens at the top of a wall when the waterproofing ends? Do you transition into EIFS system, stucco system, a brick system, are there through wall flashings? That transition point is very important to the architect because they’re looking at the whole project. So I think it’s important to not only understand your specific product and how that is installed and how that goes in a project, but how some of the other items in the scope of your work, what touches your product? How do those transitions work? Because that’s, you know, that’s important to me.

Paul: That’s what I said when we started, you really got your fingers on the pulse I think and going on in your territory at Florida and the Caribbean and I can personally attest that a really great resource for people who need to get some good quality advice with regards to the various water proofing elements.

David: I appreciate that.

Paul: So if somebody wants to learn more about CETCO or get a hold of you, how would they go about doing that?

David: I’ve got a number of ways, everybody is welcome to call them on my cellphone, and I’ll give that number that’s 407-450-2429. Also our website is And then I’ve also got and email, it’s And my last name is G-E-H-L-B-A-C-H, and the minerals tech is basically how it sounds, and T-E-C-H at the end.

Paul: Great, so I know that it was a really good topic that we had today and I really appreciate all the wisdom that you imparted with us. I know this is a big concern and hot button with our customers that really come from something that was… I would say…was going to say obscure, but something that really wasn’t in the forefront and now it’s really out there and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of these projects, so I know that’s gonna be a lot of interest. And thank you very much for coming around today.

David: It was a pleasure, as I said I appreciate the invite, and happy to join you.

Paul: Great, so I’d like to remind everybody that we have Everything Building Envelope newsletter and if you would like to get on the list and receive that all you need to do is text the word buildingenvelope, all one word, buildingenvelope to 22828. Again, text the word buildingenvelope to 22828. Thank you, everyone, for listening, it was a really interesting topic again. And thank you again, Dave.

David: You’re welcome.

Paul: And until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, “So long.”

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Hurricane Investigations, Construction & Consumer Recommendations

Will Smith- GCI Consultants

  • Give us a little history of your experience in hurricane investigations.
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About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast:
Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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The Next Generation of Construction Professionals

Dr. Mittie Cannon- Amec Foster Wheeler

  • How is the younger generation being recruited?
  • How are they being trained?
  • How can industry and trade associations impact on younger generation entering construction?
  • What are you doing as a contractor to recruit and train the younger generation? As an association?
  • Is it critical that industry and education form a relationship?
  • What role, if any, does parental involvement have on younger generation entering construction?
  • What has been your experience working with the younger generation?
  • Check out this article about this podcast. Click Here.

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast:
Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

*** Subscribe to the show and leave us a Review on ITunes!

Paul: Hello everyone. Welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast, this is Paul Beers. We have a really interesting topic today where we’re talking about the next generation of construction professionals. Our guest is Dr. Mittie Cannon and she is involved with this topic with the associated builders and contractors. Welcome Mittie.

Dr. Cannon: Thank you.

Paul: So really interesting topic, would you please tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, what you do for a living and what you volunteer and help that with ABC?

Dr. Cannon: Okay. First of all, I am Mittie Cannon which you’ve already stated and I am the Manager Workforce Development with Amec Foster Wheeler that is a global organization, where we are present in more than 40 countries. And some of the areas that we focus on is project management engineering, as well as construction services. So, there my role is to oversee our training program to ensure that our employees are working safely, they have the skillsets and knowledge they need so that we can meet the needs of our clients. So, workforce development is very important as we go forward and we realized that without that skilled workforce, they’d be as not something that’s going to be paramount, so that’s very important to our organization and to the industry.

My involvement with workforce development is what led me to opportunities to ABC, and so at ABC I’m the past Chair of the Workforce Programs and Initiatives Committee. And so I’m very involved with workforce development, not only at the national ABC level but also at the local ABC Alabama Chapter level. So, I get very engaged in workforce development opportunities and initiatives and assist with programming in different initiatives that also impact how we recruit the new generation and the next generation of skill construction professionals.

Paul: So, how is the younger generation being recruited?

Dr. Cannon: There are so different, you know, strategies that are currently being used to attract and recruit the younger generation. For instance, one of the initiatives that we’re currently using is having a simulated workplace, so we look at how we promote ourselves as an industry and take that and showcase that to parents and students as to how that is a viable career option in the career pathway for them. And show them the benefit of being a member of the construction industry and how they can still be themselves, not necessarily have gone to college and receive a degree and end up with a lot of debt from loans, but also how they can enter the workforce is still be able to use their hands and be just as productive and make how wages just like anybody else would.

And still be able to travel and take advantage of being able to meet new people, they want a different thing from building structures and have been able to look back and see that they had an active role in the completion of a project over time.

So, we look at the various things that they initially bring as benefits as a way to use those as tools to recruit others. So, having a simulative workplace is one of those tools that we have used. And kids seem to, especially at the high school level, they seem to really respected and like that because if they find themselves not doing well in academia, then what we have found is that whenever they come to a construction program, they’re doing what they would have done in academics but there’s been a more applied way. And so they can speed and better understand how the background they aren’t really works because now, in the corporate program we’re actually doing it but we’re not necessarily calling it that, so it’s more applied.

So, we’re taking a different approach to it and so they better understanding who we are because now we’re changing the language and we’re putting into a perspective that they can relate to and they can better connect to that.

Paul: It seems like over time that, you know, to learn a trade concept has really been the emphasize, you know, it seems like the big goal now for everybody is to go to college and you mention the college debt which, you know, can be staggering. And it’s almost like taboo that to say that college isn’t for everybody and it really isn’t and in a lot of cases, somebody, I feel like could be happier and more productive with the trade, as you say, still be a professional, make good money and make a stable living and, you know, basically pursuit of the American dream. Or if you’re, you know, overseas somewhere whatever, you know, at the higher standard of living is.

And it’s encouraging to hear that some things are being done to try to encourage people to look at viable alternatives that probably aren’t always presented real well.

Dr. Cannon: Right. And there’s another initiative too that ABC national has taken lead on and that is the branding campaign. So, we’re looking at, you know, we’ve been working on this, for example, a couple years where several people from industry and from the ABC chapters have come together and we’ve actually sat around a table and talked about how do we build it, better tell our story and convey who we are to the everyday people? People who don’t necessarily understand what we mean when we say a pipefitter.

So when we break that down and we talk about how pipefitter, you know, has a technical role in how they can have a professional role and we can talk about the different wages associated those different levels and what the requirements are of those different levels. But also how sorting out of the pipefitter with technical field set moving into a professional level can lead to owing a company or being a project manager or a designer.

So, there’s just so many different avenues that you could take with it and so now we’re trying to do a better job with promoting the branding of it to change the perception of the industry but, you know, also to help get kids and their parents to take second look at who we are and see us as a career option.

Paul: Yeah, you know, as you’re saying as I’m thinking there really are so many opportunities in our industry for advancement. You know, if you’re a high achiever, you’re gonna move up the ladder probably as fast or faster than you would in pretty much any other type of trade or employment. And as you say, you can end up, you know, eventually running the show being a project manager or project executive, owning your own firm, there aren’t a lot of barriers to entry with the construction trades. You obviously have to pay your dues and develop skill sets and what not along the way. But if you are a go-getter, the opportunities are there. You agree with that?

Dr. Cannon: Absolutely the opportunity is certainly there and like you said, you know, having the right attitude into desire to want to be successful, you could pave your own way. And there are so many people who are standing there waiting to help, there’s various mentoring programs you can get engaged in, there’s always professional development opportunities. So, it’s unlimited, I mean, there are just so many opportunities. And the other thing is most people don’t realize that even in the construction industry, not only are we looking for skilled professionals such as pipefitters and electricians, but it also takes other people with other skillsets to make our industry turn. It takes people with accounting and financing background, people with medical backgrounds.

So, it’s not the discount that we don’t have those people in those positions as well because it takes all of it to want a construction business. So, people definitely don’t realize that we’re more than just digging ditches and hammer, nail. I mean, it takes attorneys and it takes accounting people. It takes safety professionals with medical background, it takes a number of talented people and so there is room for everybody.

Paul: Yeah. So, this story I’ll just have to say, this story really resonates with me. Because it’s kind of my path, you know, I was attending college and I got a summer job, working in construction as a labor, which I can tell you, isn’t where I wanted to end up but it was, you know, I was making some pretty good…I was young, strong, I was making some pretty good money. And then I became a carpenter, and then I became a window installer, and then I started my own business. And then I actually became the owner at that point.

Then I started doing expert witness work and I started my own consulting firm in 1988 and, you know, today I’m a full-fledged construction professional and I own, manage a, you know, engineering and construction firm. And the path that you described and all the opportunities, they were there and it was a great ride. And that opportunity still exists, I guess, is what I would say.

Dr. Cannon: It does, the opportunity does still exist and the industry needs people. I think the missing component there is the educational component. And when I say educational component, I’m speaking of people not knowing and not having information and not been necessarily aware of what’s out there. So, I think that is probably the biggest component that’s missing. If people know more about it, then I think they tend to maybe take a second look or even consider it as an option. But when people don’t know, they typically will migrate to what they thought is that they do now.

So, I think that’s the other thing, that as an industry, that we have to do a better job of educating people about who we are and we have to educate outside of our world of the industry, we have to go outside of the construction industry and establish relationships on the outside of our world. And go into the world of other people, other sectors and educate them about who we are. So, we really need to get into the phase and space of other people, so that they can become educated about who we are and in that way they will be able to look at those different career options.

Paul: And the other thing that I think has changed a lot is, it’s not the boys’ club anymore, it’s certainly equal opportunities for women as there is for men in virtually across the board at this point.

Dr. Cannon: There is opportunity for women, like I said earlier, there’s opportunity for everybody, there’s something for everybody. And, you know, we’ve made a lot of progress over the years with women in construction. I can recall when I first started, of course, you know, I had to exaggerate somewhat stretched the truth in order to get into the industry to do what it is that I wanted to do. And so, I’ve had a very rewarding career as a female and not just as a female but I mean as an African-American female. So, women definitely have opportunity but, you know, as a woman I don’t feel that industry has been generous to me because I am a woman, but it is because I paid my dues and I earn my way.

And for the most part, if you just take the approach that you’re in it for the best, in it to make a living and to grow within it, then you can be very successful.

So, we still have a lot of work to do and long ways to go as far as women go because, you know, of course women are still under represented and I would love to see the day, don’t know if I’d see it in my life time but I would love to see the day that this industry is no longer considered to be nontraditional. So, I think with all the seeds that are been implanted and sowed, that at some point they would germinate and we can just see more and more women enter the industry. So, as we’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go but we are making progress.

Paul: And it would be great to, as you say, to see that because we hire women obviously in our firm and they’re great. I mean, they’re looked at equally and they are. They’re looked equally because they are with what we do, I mean, everybody can do everything equally well and we’ve had some really great experiences. I wish I had more people like some of the ones that I have, they’re really great. So, once people get interested, they obviously need to acquire skillsets and be trained in what not. Well, how is that being accomplished today?

Dr. Cannon: There are different methods, you know, people being trained, you know, we have apprenticeship programs, we have fast training, even at the post secondary and secondary level. You know, there are construction programs that are also incorporated into secondary program and so, you know, students can start as early as some high school in starting rolling into programs. And the great thing about that is the industry, years ago, more than 20 years ago, came together as one and took off of their competition heads and decided they wanted to endorse and adopt a curriculum that no matter who you work for, as long as that organization was affiliated with the NCCER and we would recognize in portable training that NCCER put together for the industries that was designed for industry by industry.

So, that definitely played its role in helping to standardize into unified things for us as far as training go, so that way everybody knew that if someone had gone through NCCER’s training whether it was in a high school program, post secondary, apprenticeship program or even through a company’s craft training program, that if they had the NCCER it was almost like they had the good housekeeping seal. Because we knew they satisfy both the practical component, as well as the written component.

Paul: And as you said, it doesn’t need to be a competitive thing because raising the level of competence of the workforce helps everybody, obviously.

Dr. Cannon: Right, it does, it does. You know, we’re all fishing out at the same pond so we’re all recruiting the same people and they just make the, you know, they just make their little cycle through the process. So, at least we know that they’re trying that we know how they’ve been trying, so when they show up and then we know what to expect.

Paul: You’re fishing in a better pond, basically.

Dr. Cannon: Yes, absolutely.

Paul: You’d mentioned the word but one of my favorite words before mentor. So, at my company, we’re building envelope consultants and I can tell you if you find the curriculum for that, please let me know so I can get a bunch of people into it. So, we’re kind of, you know, we don’t fit in the box maybe as well as everybody else and our big training asset, we have a young staff member come onboard, say, engineering school graduate or action on entry level of being a construction project manager. We always assign them to somebody that’s been doing this for quite a while to mentor them. Basically, you know, help them through the different circumstances that they encounter.

And I think that that’s probably something that’s done a lot not just my company but I think that something is probably done a lot in the industry. And there’s a lot of opportunity for those of us that are already have the careers to really help bring the younger generation along.

Dr. Cannon: Yes. Chances here at my organization, Amec Foster Wheeler, one of our values is that, you know, we invest in our people. And so, when we recruit, we glad to do college recruit days we make sure that we invest in those people because we want them to be successful. Because we realize that, you know, that they’re probably gonna be then, you know, within that pool of people who will be of the next generation of leaders. So, as an industry, I know of other companies that are doing the same thing so, you know, having it mentoring program and making that investment in the people and praising diversity and inclusion, those are very, very important elements that should be a part of anybody’s value system.

So that is important and I really think that that’s gonna be the life of our industry. Because if we don’t do that and if we don’t do enough and if we don’t continue to do that, then I think what we’re going to see is, you know, a bigger gap. So, we definitely to exercise every opportunity of, you know, developing and mentoring those younger professionals, different

along the current situation, I…you know, they’re really good about having young professional summit. And so, in those summits you typically will have up-and-coming engineers, product controlled individuals who maybe entering level, coming out of school students who are now in the workforce.

And so these are high potential that someone has identified and, you know, they felt that these are young people that we needed to invest in. So, they had the opportunity of going through young professional summit and so that’s helped into develop them, there will be a mentor, their networking and meeting with other professionals from across, you know, the country from other companies as well, so they’re learning together as well.

Paul: That’s really great.

Dr. Cannon: I think by doing that, had a notion of professional summit, they’re already in the industry because that’s how they get to those summit. But I think that also helps to retain them. Because from what I can understand with working with the young generation, they want to be engaged, they want to be valued, they wanna be challenged because they’re very bright professionals. So, they want to be challenged and they want to take on those leadership roles. It’s not unusual to hear them come in and they wanna make the most money, they wanna be sitting in the number one seat. They wanna run the company.

So, I think, you know, we shouldn’t discount, you know, them wanting that. I think when we be that type of energy and interest, we need to figure out how to leverage and work with that. And I think that’s just new from my generation and other generations, so that’s what we’re seeing in a younger generation now. So, we have to learn how to deal with it and how to manage, you know, that type of energy.

Paul: Yeah. Well, I mean aspiration and ambition are great things, so is patients. You can be, you know, to be sitting in the lead chair you need to put a little time and, obviously, too difficulty where you get to that. Let me ask you this question. What role now and, if any, does the traditional education system play in developing people that may be good fits with the construction industry? I just can say, one thing that comes to mind is obviously the traditional, you know, like engineering and architecture and also building construction schools, as it learned to that? Do you have to go to college or there are other ways that the educational system does or could support the industry?

Dr. Cannon: Basically, there was a system that can support the construction industry. There are many ways in which they can support the industry and I think that goes both ways. The construction industry also needs to support the educational system because I think what we’ve experienced for years is that we, the construction industry over here and this was our world, and education was over here and they’re in their world. So, these worlds are separate, we keep them separate. You do your thing, we do our thing and they were not communicating. I think we’ve realized that we can no longer continue down that path because that that’s not working, so we found ourselves coming together and starting to communicate and establish in relationship.

And the NCCER hasn’t really well, we’re trying to bring those worlds together especially with partnering with ACTE. So, we partner with the critic side of education and their program and it pre-conferences for ACTE that industry comes to and they take part in exercises with education. So that way it forces us to communicate and to learn about each other. So, once we’ve, you know, broken those barriers and we start the communication, then we start to build those relationships and trust. And then we found that that we can work together, so that an industry can tell education what it is that we’re looking for and tomorrow’s workforce, and then we can also help to guide them with what curriculum and program that needs to look like to meet the needs that we have.

And so, it takes both of those communicating and willing to work together and to give, so that we could help each other. So, it’s not just education alone, you know, work into support industry but industry has to also be willing to flex and to give to support education. Now, we can take on role and that is industry where I think we have a presence at different levels of education locally, state, and national, where we have a voice and I see at the table so that we could be heard and see. And then we also need to do something with education bring them into our world so that they can be represented too. So that we can always keep, you know, that dialogue go on. So, I think having those two at the table together now with working in harmony, is something that’s gonna benefit both.

Paul: The building construction industry really has a lot to offer because there are plenty of college career paths where you can end up in the construction industry, engineering architecture and then as you said, all the professionals, accounting, finance, legal, human resources, you know, all those sorts of things. And then, that’s not necessary for everybody. There’s also the non-college group that you can come in and do very well with, also. And, you know, as far as having a relationship with industry and education, it seems that if all those paths were supported that would probably get the most bang for the bucks, so to speak, or getting the best result and as far as offering opportunities to the younger generation that they can embrace and really do well with.

Dr. Cannon: I agree and that’s all result of building relationship. And as I mentioned earlier, NCCER has been a great job with that especially with the career pathways, pre-conference workshop that’s done at ACTE. So, it’s gonna take initiative such as that and more but we have to be consistent with it. We just can’t make a big splash and do it one time, I think that’s gonna solve the problem. We have to continuously do that and maintain those relationships and they have to be positive. So, yes, it’s definitely doable.

Paul: So, what role if any does parental involvement have on the younger generation entering construction?

Dr. Cannon: Real involvement has a big role in our younger generation entering the industry because, as you know, the generation of our kids are most influenced by the parents. So, if you can get to the parent and educate the parent about the career options in the various career pathways that are in the industry, then you stand a better chance that the child that considering or even looking at a career in the industry. Because even though they spent a lot of time at school, that parents still has that greatest influence. And so, it’s very important that we get parents involved. And we get them involved at an early age of the child’s life, so that way they can start having these conversations.

But if parents don’t understand who we are and what we do, then I think it’s hard for them to be involved. So, again, it goes back to educating everybody that’s in their loop and educating those parents, I think, will help with parents then were comfortable, was talking about careers that in the industry.

Paul: Because the parents can be an asset but the parent can also be an impediment. Correct?

Dr. Cannon: Correct. And of course we know most parents want, you know, will say that their child’s gonna go to college. But then, you know, there’s always those opportunities that if they go to college, they may not finish, or if they go to college and finish, they may not find a job. And then, what we’ve seen is they end up going back to school and they will end up want to…some type of a, you know, vocational program, a career technical education program, looking for an opportunity in our industry.

So, it’s not unusual upon, you know, degree carry an individuals working in the construction industry. Because most of the stories have been, “Well, I ended up going to college and it was not necessarily what I wanted to do or it was the one I thought it was gonna be.” And so, they end up coming to the construction industry.

Paul: Yeah. That makes sense and it’s like work in the construction industries, so they can pay off their student loans that they committed and need to do, to begin with.

Dr. Cannon: Right. I work in the industry with a choice and moment, and I still have my doctorate. So, I understand both sides of it.

Paul: Yeah. You know, I was thinking we’re talking about the parents, you know, a lot of times they want their children to go to college so let’s get them in the building construction program.

Dr. Cannon: Yeah.

Paul: Plenty of opportunities there as well. So, what’s your experience then working with younger generation?

Dr. Cannon: So, I have worked with the younger generation in so many different ways, of course, I do a lot with State Department of Education especially on the career tech inside of the house. So, participating in workshops, careers in construction events, careers in construction days, you know, going in as a guest speaker, launching programs for girls. Most recently, power up at some of the dollar things has been probably one of the initiatives that I’ve seen more parental involvement than I’ve ever seen, and it involved younger generations.

So, for me, that was the aha moment because I got to kill several birds with one stone by having an event where parents were required to be there. And it was for young females and it was an introduction to the construction industry and to see mothers and daughters get excited, was exciting for me.

So, there has been a very positive experience for me with working with the younger generation because now, I feel like we have found a tool that has been successful in tracking them to come to an event where they can learn about the industry. And it not be a lot of pushback but they came to the industry or they came to the event not really knowing what to expect. But they when they left, they had a whole different perception of the industry and it was just really amazed at what the career options could be for them, that was very,
very rewarding for me.

Paul: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s really great because it addresses one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue the construction industry has, which is, you know, getting skilled workers. And it’s always a body count but if those bodies, you know, they don’t know what they’re doing it just leads to nothing but trouble with workmanship issues and things that are not up to specifications. And, you know, problems after construction that gets the lawyers and involved and make people unhappy, and so I think the more that can be done to really improve the quality of the labor force in the building construction industry right from design, engineering to construction, and all the supporting roles is really a big plus for the industry.

Dr. Cannon: Yes, yes. But I mean and, you know, there’s just so many different things that you can do with the younger generation, you know, again the young professional summit, I’ll be involved with that this coming summer, so I’m looking forward to that. I was involved with the young professional summit last year at Clemson University and it was well attended. And so, you know, it was really, really good to see the interest that the younger generation expressed. I mean, I could see that they attended, I mean, they were there because they wanted to be there. You know, they’re hungry for challenge and they’re hungry for knowledge, and they’re hungry for opportunity. So, it’s up to us to do something with that.

And so, I just get excited, you know, to even have the opportunity of being able to work with the younger generation because, like I said, they are very bright and, you know, they just wanna be challenged. So, you know, spending that time with them and getting to know them, and guiding them, and mentoring with them, and telling them about the industry, is exciting to me. So, it’s something that’s kind of fills my soul, so I think that’s what we need and, like I said, there is something that we have to continue to do and stay on top of.

Paul: So, for our listeners be that their parents or younger people that are interested in getting into the profession or somebody that knows somebody, are there any resources you could direct them to that get more information about careers in construction industry?

Dr. Cannon: Yes. So, off the top of our head there are couple websites that you can go to. You can always go to the NCCER’s website, build your future,, that is a great resource that you can go to. You can learn about the different professions, you can learn about wages, you can learn about where training opportunities are. There is all kinds of information that you can learn about the industry at that website. There is also websites like the Go Build Alabama website on that website. They provide information about training providers. It updates on what’s going on in the industry.

These websites do a really good job with promoting the industry and also highlighting the younger generation and in showing others how people who look like them are also doing well in the industry and who are also in the industry. So, those are two websites that I would definitely recommend that listeners could go and check out BYF and Go Build Alabama.

Paul: Great. So, Mittie this has really been interesting topic and very, very relevant. I know it resonates with me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one and, I mean, I know it resonates with a lot of people, business showing as good as your team. And, you know, team is everybody, not just individual people, and the more that we can do to bring talent to young people into the industry and develop them as construction professionals, it’s great for everyone. So, thank you very much again for coming on today.

Dr. Cannon: Okay. Thank you for having me today.

Paul: So, I’d like to remind everyone that we have a newsletter, “Everything Building Envelope” newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to that, all you need to do is text the word “BuildingEnvelope,” all one word to 22828. Again, for the Building Envelope newsletter, text the word “BuildingEnvelope” to 22828. And thank you everyone for listening and it was really a very interesting topic. As I said, until next time, this is Paul Beers, saying so long.

Advantages & Limitations of PRMA, IRMA Design Configurations for Roof Covering Systems

Russel Levi – RCLA

  • Advantages and limitations of PRMA/IRMA (inverted) design configurations for roof covering systems, and waterproofing systems on plaza decks, terraces, and protected balconies.
  • Possible consequences of the typical disconnection between design, installation, performance, & building code requirements associated with flashing and drainage systems in exterior walls.

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast:
Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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The Everything Building Envelope Episode Transcript:

Paul: Welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope Podcast. I am really excited about our guest today, Russell Levi. Russell just started working with GCI, he brings a lot of knowledge on the roofing and waterproofing side of things. Welcome, Russell.

Russell:Hi Paul, good morning.

Paul:Yeah, really glad to have you here, and you know, we’ve, obviously, been working together for a little while now and I’m very impressed with your knowledge and abilities on it. We’ve got some difficult roofing projects that we’ve got started with, so I thought maybe that would be a good thing to talk about today. It’s interesting, we are well into the teens on the podcast episodes, and we haven’t talked about roofing yet. So, I know that there’s a lot of interest with that and the listeners will really wanna hear what you’ve got to say. So, before we do that, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Russell:Well, I started a roofing consulting company, by the seat of my pants, in 1986, after opening a new engineering office for a structural engineering company, back when. And I had my own company for 25 years in the Baltimore, DC, area, and structural engineering company for 9 years, under the same roof there. And most of our clientele is up and down the East Coast. We did a good number of projects in Florida, as well. But we also had to put up with things like snow and ice, and freeze and thaw conditions that you’re not so accustomed to, here, in Florida. But, for the most part, roofing principles apply the world over, and there are some advantages to certain types of roof covering systems. And we say “roof covering systems” to distinguish it from roof, which refers to the entire assembly of the structure, etc. But most of my clientele, a good mix of private and public… We’ve done a lot of work with both new construction and also existing construction, in coming up with plans to retrofit existing roofs, whether we’re removing them and rebuilding them, or redesigning them. So, we’ve had a lot of experience on coming up with solutions for existing issues, as well as new construction, and value engineering and just value. That’s what I do.

Paul:And that’s exactly what you jumped into with us here at GCI Consultants, is we’re working on a really large project, a big roof. It’s actually in Texas, not in Florida. We are addressing some issues that they’re having and how to get them the best value going forward with the repairs. So, today we are gonna talk about the advantages and limitations of PRMA, IRMA design configurations for roof covering systems. And what I wanted to ask you before we even dive into that is, could you talk a little bit about what, these are obviously acronyms, PRMA and IRMA are?

Russell:Right, well PRMA, the acronym, I think these have been around probably 25 years or so, is Protected Roofing Membrane Assembly. Where IRMA… And some people remember it by Inverted Roofing Membrane Assembly, or, it really means, Insulated Roof Membrane Assembly. But the key word here is it’s inverted. In other words, it’s an upside-down roof.

As you know, most design configurations for roof covering system is, you have your roof deck structure, you have your insulation layers, mechanically fastened or adhered, and then the membrane goes on top, whether it’s a built-up membrane or a single ply membrane, etc. So, you have roof deck, insulation, membrane on top. In an inverted system, the membrane goes directly on the roof deck. And then the insulation goes on top of the membrane, and then the insulation, which is an extruded polystyrene, you know, the blue board, like Dow STYROFOAM, or the pink board, like FOAMULAR, which is impervious to moisture, of course.

So, you have roof deck, membrane, insulation on top of the membrane, and then there’s a filter cloth, and then there’s a ballast. And it could be a crushed stone, or it can be concrete pavers, or a combination thereof, that holds the insulation down in place to keep it from floating or blowing away. And so there are many advantages of this type of configuration. So PRMA or IRMA really refers to a configuration. It doesn’t refer to any certain proprietary product. So, that configuration can be used, and it’s also often used on plaza decks, terraces, protected balconies, in a waterproofing situation that’s insulated. So, there are many advantages of this type of configuration, and there are also some limitations.

Paul:So, when you say limitations, one thing I was thinking when you talked about ballast, is that that’s a big no-no in high wind areas because, well with gravel, particularly, it can become flying debris. Is there a workaround when you get into high wind areas, to not have that issue?

Russell:There is. We’ve done many coastal… You know, along the East Coast, and Maryland etc., where we use concrete pavers. And along high wind uplift areas along the roof perimeters, sometimes there’s additional pavers, there’s additional weight, or even strapping, that you actually attach them to one another so they can’t go anywhere, and it’s proven very effective. And it’s actually… When you tackle the ballast situation on a high wind or coastal situation, it’s really a huge advantage, particularly on that type of roof, that’s subject to possibly hurricane projectile damage, impact damage, etc.

One of the many advantages is the membrane never sees the light of day, it’s never exposed to the weather directly, and it’s also fully adhered to the roof deck. So, if you have a puncture, if you have a hole, you know exactly where it is because moisture doesn’t travel between the fully geared membrane and the roof deck. Whereas in a conventional system, you punch one hole in the membrane and you can chase it forever, it will drive you nuts.

But, there are other limitations with regard to ballast. There are other limitations in that…due to the fact that one needs a ballast, the roof deck structure, the structure must be able to hold the weight of the ballast, which is never any less than 10 pounds a square foot. And depending on the pavers, or what you’re using as ballast, it may have to put up with 15 to 20 pounds a square foot. So, usually these types of configurations go over the top of concrete decks and/or I put them on metal decks too, where we add a substrate to the existing metal deck first, like a gypsum board, etc., and go to that. But many roofs are designed for a ballast load, but may not have a concrete deck, so those are workaround’s.

Paul:So, you’re talking about adhering the membrane directly to the deck?


Paul:Does the deck have to have a slope to it, or can you put it on a no slope or a flat deck?

Russell:That’s one of the beautiful things about an armor roof. You can definitely put it on a sloped deck, but in… Many older buildings, for instance, for whatever reason, have a dead level, concrete roof deck. You find that a lot in DC, Baltimore, and the Northeast concrete structures, but also coastal structures, as well. And so, the beautiful thing about this PRMA, or this inverted configuration, is that, as long as the roof drains are in at deck level, or slightly sunk into the deck, as they should always be, the water is removed from the roof by displacement.

So, what happens, imagine you have a dead level deck, you have membrane, and say you have three inches of standing water. Well, you put the insulation board, this extruded polystyrene, which actually has small channels cut out along the edges, and then you ballast it, so the water’s actually displaced. It has no place to go, displaced by the insulation, and the insulation isn’t buoyant because it’s held down by the ballast. So, the water perks down, and it’s directed to the drains, at the drainage level, at the membrane level, so the water is literally displaced. Like if you have a cup of water, you put your fist in it, and you push it down, the water comes out, it has no place to go because it’s displaced.

So, that’s one of the great advantages of, well, for a retrofit situation, and it’s a huge savings, as far as the cost of construction in coming up with lots of tapered installation, which is very expensive and labor consuming, as well, to install.

Paul:So, the insulation here, the EPS board, is that tapered or is that also flat?

Russell:Well, let’s distinguish, there’s extruded polystyrene, and there’s expanded polystyrene, and extruded polystyrene is what we’re talking about. It’s a closed cell, it’s more dense, and it has a much higher compressive strength, typically, than expanded polystyrene. So, extruded polystyrene, the pink stuff or the blue stuff, is impervious to moisture. It can be exposed to moisture indefinitely, and it doesn’t affect it whatsoever.

Whereas expanded polystyrene, as we know it, typically… Amoco sells these little plastic beads, with an air bubble inside, and they sell them to everyone. And when they’re suspended in a blast furnace, the little bubbles expand and make a little bead, the beads are compressed into a big block and are cut into all sorts of different shapes with a hot wire in the shaping room, and opened cell. So, the expanded polystyrene is an open cell material, which is derivative, typically, of Amoco’s small plastic bead, with an air bubble that is super-heated, the air bubbles expand inside the little plastic bead, that’s what’s called, “bead board.” The beads are compressed into a block, and they’re cut with a hot wire at varying compressive strengths and so forth. But expanded polystyrene, or EPS, is not impervious to moisture and it will eventually absorb moisture, and collect and retain moisture. Whereas, the extruded polystyrene, the closed cells, is not. So, that’s the difference in material.

Paul:So as far as the drainage goes, just so I understand this, are you saying everything’s flat then?

Russell:Well it certainly can be. And more times than not, in inverted system, the roof deck is either very low slope or is dead level flat. So, either way, when you have the membrane on the deck, insulation on top of the membrane, and then ballast to hold it down in place, the water is literally displaced. It perks down through the joints, in the pavers, or in the stone, perks down through the insulation joints, but it has no place to go other than be directed, or squeezed down, to the drains, if you will. And to help facilitate this, the insulation boards have a small groove cut out along one edge, typically. Such as Dow RN Board, which has been the standard for that type of thing. So, at any given time, you may have just a moisture…a film of moisture on the membrane, but the membrane is never exposed to the daylight or directly to the weather, so it’s literally displaced to the drains. And it’s a very effective way of draining a building, a roof that has little or no slope. It’s probably the most effective way.

Paul:Interesting. Are there advantages related to the ease of construction and construction cost with this kind of system?

Russell:Very much so. For instance, in a new construction situation, I’ve been involved on a number of high-rise, high profile projects, where we literally cut the cost of the new roof in half. And one of the great things is, when you have the roof decks, it’s concrete, it’s made its 28 days, or it’s cured out, you can get dried in in a hurry. You put the membrane directly on the deck, and you put some temporary protection on it, but you’re dried in, immediately. Whereas in a typical new construction project with insulation beneath the membrane, it gets damaged, it has to be fixed during construction, it has to be protected very carefully.

It’s much easier to protect a membrane that’s directly on the deck and then, you know, once any staging or construction traffic is done, you inspect it, anything that needs to be fixed, you fix it, and then you put the final layer of insulation and ballast on it, and it’s a done deal. In a replacement scenario, the same is true. Where whatever you’re removing, you’re tearing off, you may be tearing off multiple layers of materials, or maybe a lightweight insulating fill, or tapered insulation, or wet insulation, etc. But you tear it off, dry it out, and get your new roof membrane back down and get dried in very quickly.

And, again, the construction cost, just with the materials, is significantly less. And your tie-ins, when you’re removing and replacing… Of course, when you’re tearing off an existing roof, you can only tear off a section at a time, and whatever you tear off that day you have to put that back, watertight the same evening before you leave, and you have to tie it into the old roof. And that’s problematic, transferring moisture from the old roof to the new roof, if it’s conventional. So, there are many advantages to ease construction and construction cost, both in a new construction situation and in a roof replacement situation.

Paul:So how does it perform long-term and what kind of maintenance do you need to do, those sorts of things?

Russell:Well, all roofs need to be maintained, and the best maintenance is a routine, documented inspection. It’s also typically required for all manufacturers, really. But the long-term performance aspects are great because, again, the membrane is completely protected from UV, from foot traffic, from equipment, etc. It never sees the light of day, so as long as you’re keeping the drains clean, and, of course, they’re exposed, and as long as you’re doing inspections of the ballast, to make sure nothing’s shifted or moved, etc., there’s virtually very little maintenance, whatsoever, because the membrane is protected, thus the protected roofing membrane assembly. So, there’re great advantages, as far as the long-term performance and with minimal maintenance requirements.

Paul:I know everybody’s really into warranties. What kind of warranties are available with these types of systems?

Russell:Well, it really varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. I’ve gotten 20-year warranties on PRMA roofs, typically nothing longer than that. Some manufacturers, because it’s not their mainstay, they will warrant them for 10 years, or 12 years, or maybe 15 years. But one of the bugaboos in the warranty requirement is that if a manufacturer, or anyone for that matter, needs to go chase a leak someplace, then somebody has to pay for removing the overburden, for removing the ballast, which is laborious. And so, the cost of taking the ballast off, storing it temporarily, finding leak, fixing same, putting ballast back, depending on where the culpability lies, there can be a squabble between who pays for it. So, the manufacturer shies away from that particular aspect, and, sometimes, limits their warranty.

That said, I’ve never seen an inverted roof perform less than the time that I’ve been in business, which is going on over 30 years. We’ve never had… To my knowledge, they’re all still working, and for that reason, because they’re protected. And so, the paper warranty is not, perhaps, as long, in some cases, but the performance outlasts most any warranty these days. So, given that and the variety of different types of membranes, I’ve used both asphalt and coal tar pitch, built up membranes. I’ve used hot, rubberized asphalt monolithic membranes, and other types of fluid-applied membranes. A two-ply, torched down, smooth surface modified bitumen makes a great armor membrane. And many, many of those roofs that we’ve done in the early 90s, late 80s, early 90s, they’re still performing, they’re still working because those bituminous products are protected.

Paul:Interesting, and as I’m thinking about this, one of the things that we see a lot these days, on buildings, is where they try to make the roof into a functioning surface or a usable area for the building occupants. Particularly, you get into these luxury apartment, hotel, condos, where they want people… They wanna be able to use the roof because obviously there’s a lot of sun up there, and you’ve got views and whatnot. And it seems like this type of application, I know you mentioned it’s not only for roofing, but for waterproofing, and actually when you get onto the roof, I guess I would say it’s a hybrid of the two. It’s gotta serve as a roof, do all the form and function that a roof would provide, and protection, but then people are walking around on it. And it seems to me that in this situation, the ballast, I guess, would be pavers or concrete tiles, whatever. So, do you see that type of application with these systems?

Russell:All the time. In fact, the protected membrane assembly is ideal for high rise construction where you have planters or built-in seating, or lighting, promenade areas, or wherever you have pavers in a roof situation. So, let us remember, there’s a fine line of distinction between the definition of a roof covering system and an insulated waterproofing system. And the roofing industry and the waterproofing industry make this distinction. If you have the exact same membrane, the same roof deck, the same insulation, so far, it’s a roof. If you put a stone ballast over the filter cloth on the insulation, it’s a roof covering system. Whereas, if you put the filter cloth down, and then you put a protection board or pedestals, and you put pavers down, it’s a waterproofing system. And so, there’s a difference in semantics, but one of the greatest advantages in the scenario that you’re describing are flashing heights because particularly in high-rise construction…

I was involved in a new construction project in Chevy Chase, Bethesda area, when… These were premier condominiums, high-rise buildings, and we saved well over a million dollars right out of the box by converting their original design, before it was built, to this configuration. So, as we know, as we go up, floor-to-floor, every few inches we can save from floor-to-floor, gives us an opportunity to…they add-up. We can add another floor, we can do different things.

So, flashing heights, which are traditionally 8 inches along your perimeters and penetrations… Well, if you’re starting a flashing height in a configuration that’s conventional, you already have four or five inches of insulation in the membrane on top of it. So, that reduces your effective flashing height at thresholds and penetrations, and walls, etc. Whereas inverted system, you’re starting right down at the concrete deck. So, if your threshold, stepping out of the slider, can be reduced, you can have a taller door, or you can have a lower ceiling, etc. So, it opens up many, many advantages with flashing height, plus, the flashings are also, architecturally, concealed very easily, in that scenario, regardless of the wall system, whether it’s masonry, or precast, or EIFS.

So, what it does is it gives us the opportunity to also conceal and protect the base flashing membrane. And so, a typical scenario is, from the deck up, concrete deck, membrane, insulation and pavers, and the membrane flashing, by the time you’re at that height, you’re already five inches up to the wearing surface, to the pavers. And your membrane base flashing is tucked in behind it, along the edges, and it’s neatened up with a metal cap flashing along the perimeters, and it’s a done deal. You never see a roof membrane, you never see membrane flashings. And so, architecturally, it’s a dream. And the same way with your drainage elements, with your scuppers, whatever, your roof drains, they’re all concealed, you don’t see them. And so, architecturally there are advantages there. And the drainage elements are also protected and remain functional for many of the same reasons. They’re concealed, they’re doing their job, debris stays out of them, etc.

Paul:It sounds like a nice clean design.

Russell:It’s a very clean design. And it is the most used design, that I’m aware of, in that type of scenario.

Paul:And how does this type of system work if you have, what I would call, a busy rooftop, a lot of equipment, pipes, draining? I think of hospitals, or industrial buildings, things like that. A lot of complication, I guess, would be what I would call… How does it work in those scenarios?

Russell:Well, here again, for the same reasons, or similar reasons we were just discussing, typically, HVAC equipment, mechanical equipment, is going to be mounted on a curb. So, for curb-mounted fans or curb-mounted equipment, base flashings on the curbs are also mostly concealed. So, by the time you get to the top of it, your ballast is cut out or distributed around these things, so again, they’re protected. And then with the metal counter flashing that tucks down behind your ballast and your filter cloth, again, the flashings around this equipment are, for the most part, protected. So, if you have your metal counter flashing tucked down behind your ballast, the membrane flashing beneath it, which is… In any roof covering system with a lot of equipment on it, those flashings tend to be the most problematic things because of all the penetrations associated.

When those flashings, the primary membrane flashing is protected, and its counter flashed with the proper metal counter flashing that’s tucked down into the ballast, or beyond it, again, the flashing never sees the light of day. So, they’re easy to inspect, they’re easy to maintain, etc. Where you have single pipe penetrations, and so forth, the pipes may have to be extended a little bit more, say more, maybe an inch or two, at best. Typically, though, it’s ideal for that scenario. If you’re carrying piping, or gas lines, or conduits, across the roof, then putting them on top of intermittent pavers, or blocks, instead of on top of the roof membrane in a conventional configuration, there again, these things that are sleeping on the surface are sleeping on the surface of the ballast, rather than the membrane, with the insulation underneath it.

Paul:We’re seeing a lot, in buildings that we’re building these days, we’re seeing a lot of specs for TPO and EPDM roofs, and I’m guessing it’s because it’s probably budget friendly for probably a good way to say that. How does a PRMA roof compare, cost-wise, to some of the other options that are out there?

Russell:By and large, a TPO, or EPDM, PVCs, these types of single ply membranes are rarely, if ever, used in an inverted system. They’re almost always used in a conventional configuration. So, while the actual cost of the roof membrane is less, the cost of the insulation and the labor, particularly, to install all that in a conventional configuration, still comes up higher than a better, thicker, more resilient, protected membrane and the extruded polystyrene on top of it, and the ballast. So, in that scenario, if you have a wide-open warehouse or a lot of roof production type of roof to cover, then TPO or single ply membrane is still going to be more cost-effective than designing a building to take an inverted system.

So TPOs and EPDM… The EPDM market has waned dramatically in the last ten years, with the onset of TPOs and PVCs. But you’ll still find many loose-laid, ballasted, single ply membranes in a conventional configuration. In other words, a metal roof deck, insulation, EPDM, a filter cloth, and then stone ballast on top of that, in a conventional ballasted configuration. And in many of those cases, Paul, those buildings are not… Those are one or two story buildings. You know, schools, shopping centers, R&D. Those buildings are not built to necessarily handle an armor roof, but they were also built to handle that 10 to 12 pounds per square foot of ballast done in a conventional configuration, so they are convertible, case by case. And it’s definitely worth something looking into, depending on the use of the building and the economy.

Paul:So, then an inverted roof can go onto a metal roof deck?

Russell:It can, but, here again, buildings that were built up through, I’m gonna say the early 2000s, many of them were built, specifically, with an inexpensive roof covering system in mind, and the least expensive thing going there for a good 15, 20 years, was a loose-laid ballasted single ply membrane. And, typically, before TPOs and PVCs caught on in a big way, it was EPDM, synthetic rubber. And, of course, EPDM has a great elongation capacity, but as far as a long-term performance, in my opinion, EPDM doesn’t hold a candle to the more modern, single ply membranes that are reinforced, PVCs and TPOs. And, of course, most EPDMs were black, so if they were exposed, they were a huge heat gain. Whereas most TPOs, etc., we see these days are white, so they’re reflective. So, I don’t think the EPDM manufacturers would like me to say that they’re obsolete, but they’ll tell you themselves, their market share has changed dramatically, and for good reason.

But the net result of that, coming back to many of these buildings were designed to hold a 10-plus pound load per square foot on the roof, for the ballast, so many of them are converted. And I’ve converted office buildings, and condominiums, etc., with metal roof decks, where… And this is in roof replacement scenarios, where those metal decks were still flat, or they didn’t have enough slope to drain properly. And instead of investing a fortune in labor and materials of tapered insulation systems, and getting them down right, and fastened or secured to the deck, etc., we put a fire-rated gypsum board, fastened down to the metal deck, maybe reinforced it, and put our new roof membrane on that, and extruded polystyrene over top of that. So, we didn’t have to make that huge investment in labor, etc. We created a new substrate so that a membrane could be fully adhered.

And so, one of the key design issues, again, is in a protected assembly, in an inverted assembly, that membrane really needs to be fully adhered to the substrate. And, of course, again, one of the beauties is if you ever pop a leak someplace, it’s easy to find, because water doesn’t travel between a fully adhered membrane and the roof deck, particularly if it’s a bituminous product, a built-up membrane or a modified-bitumen membrane, or a monolithic hot melt, that sort of thing.

Paul:So, what are the limitations of when, where, an inverted roof and waterproofing system can be installed.

Russell:Well, here again, just to recap, remember when contemplating either new construction or a roof replacement, be it on a roof, or a parking deck, on a plaza deck, etc., the things to keep in mind is that one, the structure needs to be able to withstand the weight of the ballast. And, typically, in our higher-end areas, that’s gonna be concrete pavers, and there are many types of lightweight pavers. So, that’s the first and foremost consideration is your structural design and what the deck, be it a roof deck or plaza deck, what it’s designed to take in the first place. And, typically, these are concrete.

Another limitation is, the perimeter of the roof or the plaza deck must be contained, typically with a parapet, because you have stone or ballast and insulation on top of the membrane. So, that assembly has to be protected vertically from the side, as well. So, typically it’s gonna be installed on a construction that has a built-up perimeter. It doesn’t have to be a parapet, but it has to be a raised edge that is at least a few inches above the edge of the roof, and that’s a big consideration in high wind areas. So, if it’s a new construction, it’s built in. If it’s existing construction, we’ve done retrofits where we actually added height to the perimeter to contain the system.

So, those are the two primary limitations, is having a substrate that’s monolithic or being able to create a monolithic substrate, if it’s not already. So, concrete is ideal, or if it’s some other material, having a smooth, resilient substrate to place the membrane on. So, those are the two limitations.

Paul:Yeah, this’s really been an interesting, insightful, topic, Russell, and I thank, you, very much for coming on as a guest today.

Russell:My pleasure, Paul.

Paul:And I know, at GCI Consultants, we’re really excited to have you on board our team, bringing your wisdom and knowledge, and very excited about working on projects going forward and applying as such. So, again, you know, welcome aboard.

Russell:Oh, thanks for that. GCI has a lot going for it, so I’m really happy to help fill in this dimension across the board, Waterproofing and Moisture Protection Building Envelope. So, it starts with the roof and goes down, right?

Paul:That’s right. So, thank you everyone for listening to the Everything Building Envelope Podcast. I wanna remind the audience that we do have the Everything Building Envelope Newsletter, and if you would like to subscribe to that, please text the word, “buildingenvelope,” all one word, “buildingenvelope,” to 22828. Again, text, “buildingenvelope,” to 22828. Again, thanks everyone for listening and, till next time, this is, Paul Beers, saying, “So long.”