In this podcast, listen as GCI’s Alfonso Alzamora, PE, CGC, Vice President and Principal, and Jason Bondurant, PE, RRC, Senior Engineer and Principal, highlight GCI Consultants’ services.”
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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Alfonso: Welcome, everyone, to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I am Alfonso Alzamora, Vice President and Principal with GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I am really excited today to have as our guest one of our partners and engineers that I work with here at GCI, Jason Bondurant. Jason, since you are a repeat guest, let’s just jump right into today’s podcast.
In this podcast, we will highlight our services and talk about the different types of projects that we are involved with, where we work, and whom we work with. For those who haven’t worked with us in the past, GCI is a consulting and engineering firm that specializes in the exterior building envelope. The building envelope is the part of the building that separates the interior from the exterior. It includes the roofs, walls, windows, doors, and foundations. Our specialty services primarily include property condition assessments, forensic investigations, expert witness services for construction defects and first-party insurance claims, and quality assurance inspections and testing. So, Jason, let’s dig into each of these services and discuss scenarios in which we help our clients.
Jason: Yes. And I’m glad that we have the opportunity to discuss our services today, that following the tragic collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside and the subsequent passing of the condominium safety bill in Florida, there’s been a greater interest from building owners in hiring engineering firms to evaluate their buildings. One of the main concerns that owners typically have is with the envelopes of their buildings. The types of assessments that GCI performs is different from the typical 40-year structural and electrical recertification process. Instead, we offer a more specialized assessment of the building envelope systems.
We focus on a variety of forensic procedures to evaluate the condition and performance of these various building envelope components. These evaluations are useful to building owners because they can provide them with an overview of the general condition of the building’s walls, windows, roofing, and waterproofing systems, and they can be useful when planning for maintenance or repairs.
I recently did a building envelope condition assessment at a high-end home in South Florida that’s located directly on the ocean, and it was relatively a new construction. And the owner was experiencing some problems with their building. They were starting to have some problems with water intrusion around windows, and they started to see some cracks in the exterior stucco, and because of that, they were concerned about the overall condition of the building envelope and the construction of the home. So, they hired GCI to come and do a condition assessment of the full building. And our assessment on this particular project included the roof, the walls, windows, balconies, basically the entire exterior.
As part of our evaluation, what we did was actually a multi-step process. So, we start by reviewing any kind of documents that we can get from the building construction or anything relevant to the building performance history. So, we reviewed the original construction drawings for the building, we reviewed prior reports from prior engineers or contractors that had visited the building and had done their own assessments prior to our involvement.
And then we start with the fieldwork by doing an initial visual inspection. So, we do a walkthrough of the exterior and interior of the home where we’re looking at, is there any visible sign of distress to any of the building envelope components? Is there anywhere where it looks like water could be infiltrating from the exterior? And we document these conditions. And then based on that inspection, we decide whether we need to do any additional investigation in terms of testing. Now, in this particular project, we did water infiltration testing of the exterior windows and doors, and we also did destructive testing of some of the exterior wall areas. And both of these test procedures were very useful in helping us evaluate the performance of the building.
And we were able to find that there were actually quite a few issues with leaks through the exterior windows and doors on this particular building, and some of these issues were not very visible without doing our additional investigation. And then there were also certain areas of the walls on the building that were constructed differently from the other areas. And through our testing, we were able to pinpoint what those areas were, and ultimately what would be needed to be done in order to repair the building in those areas.
So, that’s just kind of an overview of what our process would be for a condition assessment. Once we finished on this particular project, we provided the owner with a report that summarized all of our procedures, and all of our findings and recommendations, and then at that point, they can take that and decide next steps as far as…you know, they could take that to an architect and a contractor for repair, or in some cases, depending on how old the building is, they may take that to their attorney to review if there’s any question about construction defects. But that’s just one example that I recently had.
Alfonso: Right. Jason, and on those type of projects, like you just described, when you’re taking these samples of the exterior wall cladding materials, are you sending those perhaps to a lab for some kind of analysis as well?
Jason: So, on this particular project, we didn’t actually because the main concern was what was behind the cladding. So, in this particular instance, there were wall areas that were constructed out of metal studs and sheeting, and there was no waterproofing behind the stucco, which is required by the Florida building code. So, the purpose of our destructive testing there was just to see those concealed conditions. But I know that we have had projects in the past, and I know there was one that you worked on that I’m thinking of in particular where we did do some pretty extensive lab testing.
Alfonso: Right, yes. So, sometimes as part of our assessment, like you were describing, besides doing the visual examination of all the exterior wall surfaces, we document any crack locations or visible defects. Sometimes we also, for this type of projects where we have…or this one that we did in Miami that you referenced that I was working on, it was actually a direct-applied stucco system. This was a large warehouse building in Miami. And one of the things we also did there was to submit some of the samples we took of the stucco to a lab for petrographic and chemical analysis to allow us to verify the application of that stucco product and determine whether the application complied with the required thickness, verify if there was any underlying bonding agent that may have been used, as well as determine the proportions of components in the stucco mix, including the air content of that mix. And then based on those results, we can come up with an engineering judgment as to whether the application satisfied the project specifications and requirements.
Jason: Right. And so, those are examples where we’ve done kind of general condition assessments of the building envelope components. There are other cases where we have been called in to look at something more specifically. As an example, we have a lot of projects where we are hired to evaluate the building envelope for storm damage. So, these types of assignments, very similar kind of approach, it’ll just be a little bit more specific. So, we’re typically hired to do an assessment of the building to identify any evidence of storm damage. Typically, that would be wind damage, but it could also be flood or hail damage. And as I said, these types of assessments are performed very similarly. It’s just instead of evaluating the overall condition, we’re just looking for wind damage specifically.
And that may be damage to windows such as broken glass or areas where the windows and doors may have deflected and caused separations in frame joints, which can cause the windows to leak in the future, or it may be damage to the roof. Maybe if it was a shingle roof, maybe shingles were torn off or creased or some other type of functional damage to the roof, or perhaps with a low slope roof, maybe there was some kind of uplift damage where part of the membrane got peeled up at a corner or something. So, we’re often called in to do these types of storm damage assessments to buildings as well.
And actually, we recently just completed a pretty large assignment for us that was actually in North Florida, and it was a resort-type property with multiple high-rise buildings. And the buildings were affected by Hurricane Sally in September 2020, and shortly after the storm, we were hired to go evaluate the buildings for storm damage. And our evaluation included the walls, the windows, the doors, the roofs, as well as in this particular instance, the glass balcony railings, which there were several of them that actually blew off of the building during the storm.
And so, in this particular project, again, we performed a similar type of assessment where we do our visual inspection. In this case, it was a very large project, so that was quite the undertaking with much of our staff involved throughout the whole process, which took the better part of a year or more. And then following our inspection, we did field testing which included water testing, windows and doors, and also performing moisture surveys of the roof areas to identify any concealed moisture that was within the roof system from the storm. And we’ve been involved in many similar types of storm damage assessments for much smaller buildings, even down to single-family homes. So, that’s another area where we have a lot of experience.
Alfonso: Right. Jason, and on this type of forensic assignments as well, do you also get involved sometimes on projects that have specific performance issues that you have to investigate, and then maybe those ultimately turn into a litigation matter?
Jason: Yes. So, there are many of these projects that could end up into litigation, and that’s why we… The way we approach all of these projects is similar, and we take them very seriously, and we make sure we follow all the industry standards when performing our investigation. And we make sure that we’re documenting everything appropriately and in a professional way that in the event that it does go into litigation, we have a strong background as far as that goes. And in these cases where some of these building failures are ultimately the subject of lawsuits, GCI does have multiple experienced experts who do serve as expert witnesses throughout the litigation process.
Alfonso: Okay. And what that means basically is these experts have been testifying under oath, either for a deposition, arbitration, or even trial, correct?
Jason: Yes. Of course, yes. And even other types of alternative dispute resolution like mediation or those types of situations.
Alfonso: Right. And you mentioned that, you know, you follow industry standards when you’re conducting these types of investigations. Are there any particular standards that are frequently used on these type of testing and investigation that you have described, Jason?
Jason: Yes. There’s actually many different industry standards, and that’s why it’s important that you have an experienced professional involved in these types of investigations, so they know which ones apply in which type of a situation, especially when it comes to testing. But just to name a few, one of the typical standards that we use for our building envelope condition assessments is published by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and it’s their Guideline for Condition Assessments of Building Envelopes.
Another standard that we typically use in our practice is published by ASTM, and it’s ASTM 2128, which is called the Standard Guide for Evaluating Water Leakage in Building Walls. So, that’s another standard that outlines the methodology for evaluating leak problems through building walls, and that includes everything that I talked about before where you’re reviewing documents, you’re performing inspections, and performing testing. So, we use all these types of standards when we’re conducting our investigations.
Alfonso: Jason, and I know that along with your professional engineering qualifications, you’re also a registered roofing consultant. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the type of testing that would be conducted on a roof that is suspect to have moisture intrusion problems?
Jason: Sure. So, again, for a roof, we would have a similar type of approach. We’re first looking at the history, looking at the construction, and doing a visual inspection, which is going to tell us a lot. But then oftentimes, we do wanna do some additional testing. And the reason why that’s so important for certain types of roofs, especially for low slope roofs…when I say low slope roofs, they’re typically called flat roofs, which are typically on commercial buildings or condominiums. But these types of roofs have a membrane that’s installed over insulation, and oftentimes you can’t just look at these roofs and visually tell whether or not there’s moisture within the insulation because it’s underneath the membrane.
So, there’s a variety of different test methods that we can use to check for that concealed moisture within the assembly. And that might include infrared surveys over the roof, or electrical impedance scanning, or nuclear technology that we can use to survey the roof to identify areas that have relatively high amounts of moisture. And then once we identify those areas that have relatively high moisture, we would typically do destructive testing or core sampling where we would actually take a sample of the roof just to verify that it is indeed wet, and then we can compare that with the results from our non-destructive survey. But those types of test methods can be really useful to detect concealed areas of moisture in the roof.
And then we do other types of roof testing as well. Like on some of these storm damage assessments that I talked about, we may recommend to do some type of uplift test on the roof to where we’re actually checking the attachment of the roof to see if it’s been compromised in some areas. So, again, we have a lot of different tools that we can use to perform our evaluations on these types of buildings.
Alfonso: Okay. Well, that was a great overview of our condition assessment services, as well as our forensic investigation, and storm damage investigation projects. I also just wanted to add that we offer services for new construction projects. These typically involve performing quality assurance inspections and testing of windows, doors, exterior wall claddings, above and below-grade waterproofing, and roofing systems during construction, as well as performing peer review of the associated architectural details and probe submittals to make sure that all the components of the building envelope are properly integrated and performing in accordance to the standards that they were specified to perform to.
And our experience investigating buildings within envelope performance problems, Jason, like you were just describing now, gives us a unique perspective to help our clients prevent this type of problems with their new buildings. In fact, just next week, I’m flying down to Grand Cayman Islands in the Caribbean where we actually have a nice mix of all these different type of projects that we have been discussing, including a couple of new construction high-rise buildings that we are providing quality assurance services on, and some existing buildings that have some envelope performance issues that we’re gonna be investigating, and assessing, and using some of these standards that you just described when we’re performing our testing and investigations down there.
So, that basically covers the different types of services that GCI offers, so now let’s talk about who might be interested in those services.
Jason: Our typical clients include building owners, developers, architects, contractors, and even product manufacturers in some cases. That may be window manufacturers, siding manufacturers, roofing manufacturers, any of these kinds of manufacturers that make building envelope products. And then, of course, often when a project becomes involved in litigation, our client would usually be an attorney. And that attorney might represent the plaintiffs in the case, which is typically a building owner, or they might represent a defendant who’s typically a developer, architect, contractor, or manufacturer.
Alfonso: What about some of these properties where they may have issues that go beyond the building envelope?
Jason: Sure. So, you know, as we discussed, our specialized area of expertise is with the building envelope, but there could be other aspects of the building that have issues such as mechanical, electrical, or plumbing issues, which would be outside of our area of expertise. Now, we do have several partners in other disciplines that we’ve worked with on projects in the past, and if those issues arise on our projects, we’re always happy to connect our clients with these other firms.
Alfonso: Okay, great. And we serve these clients throughout the country, and, like I mentioned before, even overseas. And while we’re based in Florida, we are also registered in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and we have consultants working on projects throughout North America and the Caribbean. Since our consultants are located near major airport hop [SP] cities like Miami or Minneapolis, we’re typically able to accommodate travel requests for an urgent site visit on short notice.
I hope you have enjoyed our podcast today, and that covers everything that we wanted to talk about. I thank everyone for listening to this podcast, and we invite you to take a further look at our services on our website at www.gciconsultants.com. You can also reach us at 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you once again, and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.