Energy Efficient Fiberglass Windows & Doors

Michael Bousfield – Cascadia Windows and Doors

  • About Cascadia Windows and Doors
  • Cascadia’s Experience in the Building Envelope
  • Making Buildings more Energy Conserving
  • Heat Gain & Loss in the Window Assembly
  • Product Strength & Longevity
  • 3 Categories of Products
  • Read our Article 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 another episode of the Everything Building Envelop Podcast. And our guest today is Michael Bousfield. He’s the Technical Director for Cascadia Windows and Doors, welcome Michael.

Michael: Thank you, Paul, happy to be a part of this.

Paul: Great. So, maybe we could start out, you could tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, and then about Cascadia windows and doors.

Michael: Sure. Thank you. Yeah, I’m the Technical Director of Cascadia, and basically, that means I get to split my time between speaking to the industry about our technology and also helping with product development and engineering in our own operations. But Cascadia as a whole is a manufacturer with an actual…a story behind why we’re a manufacturer because we didn’t choose manufacturing by choice, we chose it out of necessity.

Our company was started by a group of building science engineers about 10 years ago, and at that time the…just before the company began, these building science engineers had been operating in Vancouver, British Columbia and in the Pacific Northwest of North America, helping the industry in that region for about the last 15 years up until that date, overcome what had become known as Vancouver’s leaky condo era. A period of time where the design and construction of the exterior of buildings and building envelopes had been had been found to have many, many premature moisture-related failures.

And this was a terrible time for that local industry, although it is now referred to in the past tense. It has happily been overcome, these engineers were looking forward and saying, “Well, since this problem has been virtually solved and overcome, what are we gonna do with our employee base that has gone from 6 to over 100? What’s the next problem that we can solve them industry?” And around about 2008, it became evident to them that that was going to become an attention on energy conservation in buildings.

So they’re kind of thinking of it big picture, how could they leverage their experience and knowledge with building envelopes to assist with helping buildings become more energy conserving? And they figured that, “Well, for a building envelopes, by far the weakest link is the heat loss or the heat gain, and that is through window assemblies.” So they looked around and said, “Well, how can we improve window assembly?” And they found that aluminum was a very highly conductive material, it couldn’t help that very much, and vinyl had some structural limitations, and fiberglass became the material that had the structural characteristics necessary for large and commercial windows, and the thermal performance characteristics necessary to help them achieve their goal of energy conservation, but nobody was manufacturing it.

Then that’s where we circled around to Cascadia was born out of a necessity by being building science engineers, to want to be able to use the products which we now produce. They had to start this engineering company to create the windows they wanted to use.

Paul: So Cascadia’s been basically in business for about 10 years now, is that what you said?

Michael: Yes, that correct. We’ve been able to grow every year, and take on as new partners in addition to the original founders.

Paul: So today 10 years later, how are things going as far as the markets that you’re serving and what not?

Michael: Well, 10 years ago, the year that we started, and I actually it was 2008, and if you remember the construction industry in 2008 turning 2009, what an amazing roaring economic time to start a construction company. Well, not really.

Paul: Yeah, that was probably about the worst time you could have started.

Michael: It turned out to be the very, very worst time, and it was a painful start, especially as we reinvested any money we made into…back into our products, back into our processes. But now we have grown about 29 to 30% every year compounded annually, and we are now serving markets that stretch from Alaska down to San Diego, California and everywhere on the West Coast in between.

We’ve also been much more recently, expanding our attention and our offerings to the New York area and the Greater Eastern Seaboard area, and other areas on the East Coast, as well as eastward across Canada including Alberta into the Prairie Provinces.

Paul: So as your product, would you consider to be commercial or residential? And what kind of buildings does it typically go into?

Michael: Yeah. That’s a good question. The intent of our product is to be what we refer to as commercial grade. And when I use a term like that, I’m speaking to the product’s strengths, its physical strength, its longevity of its service life, and also its physical test ratings. All would be well summarized this commercial grade, but it’s used in both commercial construction and in residential construction.

The major types of projects that we see over and over again are kind of fall into three categories. Number one, high-end customs homes for owners who wanna build something that’s very durable and energy conserving. Number two, rehabilitation and retrofit projects, building that have had let’s say, moisture damage to the building envelope, have pushed the building owners to want to repair or update their building, and they want to do this retrofit with something that has greater durability and great water tightness. And then the third type of buildings is, commercial and institutional buildings, buildings where long-term value is really key for the group that’s building it, like schools and hospitals.

Pau: When an owner is making a decision to use your product, what other types of products are they typically considering?

Michael: Well, our fiberglass product, that question is actually different for us than most other fiberglass window manufacturers. For us, the other products that the owner is typically considering is aluminum windows. And mostly, that’s because there is either a building code limits or just a general reluctance for widespread use of combustible windows and composite windows in non-combustible and commercial construction. Typically, combustible or composite windows haven’t been used in large-scale commercial construction just because of a perception that they’re not strong enough.

So, we’re generally used where you want a strong commercial grade window, but you also want a window that’s incredibly thermally efficient. And up until our product line started to come into its own, those have been almost exclusively separate in its design criteria. You could either get commercial grade or thermally efficient but not both together.

Paul: And you use the word combustible. Could you explain that a little more please, what the context was there?

Michael: Yeah. So, generally speaking when you’re dealing with a large-scale commercial building you are of course dealing with a concrete or a steel building, which is a not…a building required to be built of non-combustible construction. And as you probably know, most windows are combustible, PVC windows, fiberglass windows, and wood windows are combustible. And thermally broken aluminum windows are combustible as well, but because of the prevalence of the aluminum coming outside, they are perceived rightly or wrongly, to be windows that are more suitable for non-combustible construction.

But from a scientific point of view, there really aren’t meaningful differences. So as wider spread use of combustible windows and all types of windows, they’re using commercial construction, North America will tend to catch up with the rest of the world in that respect of using composite windows, where there’s the biggest advantage for that.

Paul: So why would an owner select a fiberglass window over an aluminum window?

Michael: So an owner is going to get the same necessary strength out of either a choice of an aluminum window or certain fiberglass windows. And in the context, I’ll include our product into it, and fiberglass window, they’re stronger enough. But the differences that they would be choosing between, for fiberglass window, you’re looking at somewhere between a 50% to 100% improvement in the thermal efficiency of the fiberglass product over the aluminum product. And the price will be very, very close to the same. In some cases the fiberglass window will be marginally more, in other cases, it might even be marginally less.

Paul: Do you find that price is ultimately the deciding factor, or do you see customers looking at the positive attributes or the pluses and minuses when they’re making decisions?

Michael: Yeah. You’re right, that the decision is usually more complicated for purchasing a fiberglass window than simply is at the lowest price. And definitely for our product, they are not the cheapest product allowed by a law to fill a hole in a wall. They are definitely not that. Although their price competitively in many other choices that don’t perform as well as them.

So to circle back and truly answer your question, sometimes the decision simply comes down to price, but typically especially for projects where the designer has sought us out on behalf of his or her client, the decision is based around the pluses and minuses of the performance, and longevity, and environmental profile, not simply the lowest cost.

Paul: So there’s a standard called…we called in the window industry, we called NAFS but the North American Fenestration Standard and it’s a code required window test standard for North America. Can you describe what that standard is, and how Cascadia assured its customers that their window will comply with the standards?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. The last part of that is easier so I’ll address the first part of it mainly. So the North American Fenestration Standard or we often NAFS, is standard that collects together a group of physical tests that are intended, that a manufacturer would subject their window to these group of tests to show that all aspects of its physical performance are adequate and are tested, and have gained a rating that can then be used to compare whether or not the window’s suitable for a particular building, a particular exposure, a particular wind speed.

So that group of tests that the standard requires includes strength tasks. So it’s a structural strength, and a water penetration resistance test, and an air leakage resistance test. Additional tests which are usually referred to as, kind of secondary tests compared to those also include testing for resistance to burglary, and the operation of force necessary to you know, work the windows hardware, that cannot be too difficult or too tight. And then depending on the type of window, there are further tests to ensure durability, certain products require cycling.

And the result of this testing, it’s battery of tests that the single window or door would be subject to, results in a window or door getting what is called a performance grade, which is a summary value that is described in the standard, and the performance grade indicates that of course, all the tests have been completed and passed, and second, the performance grade is actually a number that refers to the design wind pressure for a building.

So that number if it is a low number, would indicate that the design wind pressures at that window could withstand and succeed in all those tests, is a lower number, which would equate to making that window or door suitable for use on a maybe a single family home or a low-rise building that has lower wind loads. And then if it has a very high number as a result of this testing, then it would indicate that it’s a stronger window, it’s a more water-tight window and it is more suitable for applications on buildings of greater exposure, taller buildings, buildings in areas of particularly high wind speeds, things like this.

So finally the last part of what you asked me, how does Cascadia make sure that we’re complying with this, and offering our customers well-tested windows? We engage with intra-tech testing, and other independent test plans to make sure that our products are fully tested, and we’ve developed a library of different tests that have been done over time to ensure that when our customers order costumed products from us, and perhaps, that’s all products, they’re all made to order, that whatever it can figuration in size and shape of products they choose has been covered in one or more of our past tests.

Now, in addition to doing these physical test, Cascadia takes one step further, and this has nothing to do with code compliance. This is because we think it’s very good idea, and we want to build up a sleep at night factor for our owners and our shareholders, and that is that we conduct in-house testing on a regular basis, virtually a daily basis, which is water penetration resistance testing in the same way that the laboratories conduct water penetration resistance testing. And we do that with a large wall, which sprays water and provide air pressure on window samples. And the products that we conduct these regular testing on in-house, are actually our customer’s products.

We’ve developed a practice of how to use our in-house testing equipment to non-destructively test the products that are coming off of the assembly line. So rather than just testing one particular specimen that for example, the best technician put together and inspected, instead of testing just one specimen on our daily testing, we’re testing our actual customer’s product. Up to 10% of them that are coming off of our production line, and they’ll end up getting a water-tested before they go on to our customers.
Paul: That’s really good. So what happens if one of them leaks? Well, what do you guys do at that point?

Michael: Yeah, that’s super rare, but it would be irrational for me to say that they never leak. So when a product leaks or otherwise exhibit some sort of result that wouldn’t…that’s not a perfect pass of our own testing, the really wonderful diagnostic and training tool, as I’m sure you can appreciate a window is constructed of more components than simply four pieces of frame and a piece of glass. There’s a lot of accessories, there’s a lot of joineries, there’s a lot of hardware involved, so we’re able to take the production staff members and the supervisors that are related to the area in our production that assemble the component that resulted in the leak, and that’s very easy to diagnose. It’s very easy to observe a leak and know what caused it.

And then we can bring them over to it and say, “Hey, look this is the result we’ve just got testing this morning. Here, take this window, take apart a little bit, diagnose it, and then give it back to the testing worker, get them to re-test it, and check the other work we’ve done in that batch.” And so in that way, we’re allowed to combine training and quality control in kind of the same practice.

Paul: Good stuff. I wanna go back to NAFS for just a second just for the benefit of listeners that may not be familiar with it. So North-American Fenestration Standard, North-American means Canada and the US, correct?

Michael: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. So that’s something that just for those that are listening, it hasn’t always been like that, and I can’t remember if it was 10, 15 years ago when they first started producing the Canadian’s window organization and the Americans combined. So I think that made things a lot easier to cross borders obviously, by using the same standard.

The other advantage of NAFS, and you described the ratings that they have, and the numbers and whatnot, is that, everybody’s basically using the same standard for testing, and it gives an opportunity to compare products, making sure basically their apples are apples when you’re comparing two products, if you had one of your products that had a higher rating than a competitor’s, you could differentiate that just by the ratings. Did I explain that well? I’m not sure if I did.

Michael: Yes. That is good and actually… Paul, I think like to leave your listeners with just one more comment, kind of a little pearl of wisdom related to selecting windows and understanding how a manufacturer makes a choice for trade-offs when they’re conducting NAFS testing on their product. And that is that, because the NAFS testing includes a structural test which is performed by applying air pressure, basically wind to the outside of the window in both inward and the outward direction, because every window has its own physical limits, the strength of the frame, strength but glass, and the strength of the hardware that keeps it shut, regardless of what the weak point is, there will be a weak point, and it means the trade-off that must be decided upon by the manufacturer is the size of the product to be tested.

That if you have a large product, therefore when you add up the amount of pounds per square foot of air pressure, you have a higher amount of pressure overall because you have a bigger product. And why the size of the product is so critically important is because the NAFS standard allows a manufacturer to build a product that is the same size or smaller than the NAFS test but not bigger. You can test…you can build what you test or you can build more conservatively, but you cannot extrapolate results. And both height and width are independently restricted.

So if a manufacturer has a product that they want to claim a very high test rating on, then it makes sense for that manufacturer the choose the smallest allowable sample with which to perform the test. However, if the manufacturer wants to be able to legally and properly spell, and have a tested product that is a large product that will enable them to sell to many customers who might want to a larger window, whether it’s an open window or a picture window or whatever, logically a larger test sample is a more versatile test. It will cover more future orders for different sizes of that same product type. But the larger tests will result in a lower pressure.

So the nugget of wisdom that the potential buyer or the specifier needs to recall is that, for your particular project, for your particular home or school or whatever building you’re working on, the fact that a manufacturer has a high pressure, a high rating in a test doesn’t necessarily mean that they can produce your windows at that test pressure. They may have done a test or a very small window to create a very good result, but in fact, it may mean either not have tested on larger windows, or they might have testing on larger windows, which has a much, much lower rating.

So you simply ask, don’t be super suspicious or negative to your subconscious supplier, but definitely ask. And if they don’t have a test or if they don’t have at test at the necessary rating to build that larger window, to be the pressures that your particular project requires, then that’s just because physics got in the way, and that product line may not be the part of point suitable for your project.

Paul: So if somebody asked the question about size, what would a manufacturer do to evidence what they did test that?

Michael: Yeah, that manufacturer and ideally speaking, should spend that inquiry customer, that professional a test report from an independent test lab, and right on the front cover, that test support, there will be the performance grade, which I mentioned before, is it is a summary value indicating with all the testing was done, and the wind pressure at which the product survived, where the certain number of pounds per square feet.

So you’ll have performance grade with that number illustrated as a Performance Grade 30 or PG30 for example, indicating that the product can survive up to 30 pounds per square foot of weight pressure. And then right up to that number, there will be a five test with dimensions. And those dimensions are limits. It means that that test is relevant for that type of product built up to the size and not bigger.

Paul: So if the dimension’s just to make up numbers, where…and we’ll use inches here, 48 inches by 48 inches, which is 16 square feet, if a manufacturer then wanted to sell a window that say, 36 inches by 60 inches, which is actually slower in square footage, 15 square feet, what I heard you just say, they could not do that because the height exceeded the tested height, the 60 inches.

Michael: Yes, it’s correct. Even though your mathematics looking at the overall square footage and therefore, the overall area the pressure’s applied to, it’s less square footage, those dimensions are independently restricted, and cannot, you combined them for square footage in order to interpolate. The logic behind doing this is that, let’s say that you take an operable window, whether that a sliding window or a casement window, and you picture the hardware and the locking points that are necessary to keep that window shut in a storm, that hardware components in your example, it would be a 48 inch component in the first dimension you gave, and then the next scenario you set at 60 inch dimension, and that may be the same component that’s used on the same window product, but now it’s having to create locking over a 60-inch dimension, not just a 36, sorry a 48 inch dimension. As a result of that, the physics are different, the forces are different. And whether or not the window is capable of being built at price is not the point, the point is that the test does not permit you to exceed the measurement.

Paul: Because you don’t know how it’s doing until you test it?

Michael: Correct. That’s the logic of this data. Now, a lot of companies will say that they can get engineering to do that interpolation or extrapolation, but that’s not entirely correct. Engineering had a limited role to play in compliance with the NAFS Test Standard. And usually, engineering is limited to the design of the frame components that would be in the center of an overall window perimeter frame.

Let’s say for example, that you have a casement and a fixed window, and you will mold them together or couple them together in the field when you install them, that connection, that frame component that therefore goes to the middle of your window opening, that can be engineered utilizing generally accepted engineering practices, and that’s something that the text standard allows as long as those components have also been subject to all the rest of the testing. But in terms of interpolating or extrapolating size, no, it’s quite explicit about that.

Paul: Yeah. And I’m glad to hear that because it wasn’t always like that. The word I remember is comparative analysis, and they would use the area dimensions to qualify different products, which really gave an awful lot of latitude, and as you just skillfully explained, it doesn’t always work.

Michael: Yes, you’re absolutely correct. Yeah. And in fact, it’s an aspect of the industry that is at such a detailed level that the enforcement of the standard, and the respect of that particular aspect of the standards, those limits, that’s something that has not always been easily and fully enforced or even understood, both on the building design professional level and the building official level, the authorities. But as everybody becomes more educated and more practiced by using and applying the current version of the standard, hopefully, the industry both comes up together.

From a manufacturer standpoint who invests a lot of money and a lot of research time and attention to making sure our products are fully in compliant, we have in the past been irritated to see other companies, you might almost describe it as “get away with” supplying products which are not as fully tested as the product that we would propose and compete with them on.

Paul: Yeah. Well, there’s always that element of the market, looking for the cheapest price they can find, and that’s probably what that caters to.

Michael: Yes, it’s true.

Paul: So I’m assuming, I mean assuming, I know Cascadia obviously is not the only fiberglass window manufacturer. How are Cascadia fiberglass windows different from other fiberglass windows?

Michael: Yeah. That’s a good question, but the first I’ll touch on the similarities. Fiberglass was created as a window frame material over 30 years ago in order to solve compromises. And it’s actually probably the newest of the mainstream when the frame materials. Let’s say that the other three are wood, an aluminum, and PVC.

And wood, aluminum, and PVC had some historical compromises, durability and maintenance for wood, thermal performance and condensations problems for aluminum, strength and dimensional stability and restrictions on large sizes for PVC. So fiberglass was introduced to the window frame material to combine strength similar to aluminum, and thermal performance as good or better than PVC in a window frame material that basically solves compromises.

So in that way, our fiberglass windows are similar to pretty much all fiberglass windows, having the basic characteristics that they cannot rot because they’re not organic, they cannot rust because they’re not metal, and they have a very, very low coefficient of thermal expansion and contraction, which means they won’t cause their own components to experience fatigue over time, the same way that a plastic one would.

However, that’s where the differences between our windows and other fiberglass windows kinda end. Other fiberglass windows have been designed to be suited to residential applications, and the sizes and the environmental and physical loads that are all typical of residential applications. And when I say that, I mean houses and multifamily building that are low rise. But are windows, even though they are used in some of those types of products, have always been designed to be commercial grade.

And when I say that, I mean that they collected characteristics of being of higher strength, I mean engineering and testing point of view, having higher test ratings, which means they’re more appropriate for exposure in high wind and storm areas, and on tall buildings, and their lifespan and the longevity of all the components down to even the material with which the hardware is made out of and generally being stainless steel, all of these components combined together are designed to be commercial grade for strength, and longevity and exposure.

Paul: So commercial grade windows obviously have higher performance criteria structurally and rain-water penetration and whatnot. So how does Cascadia or how did Cascadia design their windows to meet these higher ratings?

Michael: Yeah. That’s a complicated question. How do we design a window to meet higher ratings and to deserve the term commercial grade? And I should point out that that terminology that I’m using when I’m saying commercial grade, that’s not a defined term in the industry, that’s just a summery term that I’m using to apply to those criteria of strength and longevity, but how do we design for that?

Well, we start by having our technical team come from…mostly from our founders and also from some fenestration specialists that have worked in windows all their life. The technical team, in summary, has a strong building science background, and part of that is from pretty much growing up, our skills and experience in a situation where our city and our region in North America was experiencing a leaking building crisis for years, and years, and years.

So we understand both the importance and the detailed level physics behind making buildings and the product in buildings very, very watertight and having multiple lines of defense against water. So having a team that has a background in making buildings, in general, have great water penetration resistance and that experience including the interfaces between different products, different membrane different fields within a building itself, when you have that experience and you understand the physics behind it, you can then actually apply that at the product level as opposed to the assembly level. And in that way, you’ve been able to make sure that we’ve applied our first principles thinking to the water penetration resistance of our products. Essentially that means having multiple seals, that means meaning having meaningful drainage and pressure equalization existing between fields within, and a window that opens and closes.

And after all of those engineering principles have been applied and they result in a product that been built and have it test, we further ensure that our windows are designed to meet these ratings by testing in-house every day. We’re testing between 5% to 10% of all the windows we actually produce, and we continuously prove to ourselves that the testing success that we got in a laboratory once every few years is not just a one-off success that the best technician in the factory was able to achieve, but in complete contrast to that, the results are proven every day in the normal course of production across multiple shifts.

And so from both an engineering standpoint and an in-house regular testing standpoint, we assure our customers of those high water penetration resistance ratings, and that aspect of our NAFS compliance are in particular.

Paul: So that addresses a big issue I have with window testing and certification, in that, it’s not always repeatable in the field. I know that sometimes you can get the perfect test in the lab and get your rating and then they’ll start building windows installing them and lo and behold, it doesn’t seem the pain at the same way in the field. So I think it’s really good to hear what you guys are doing, and I wish more would do. I know of the manufacturers do test products on the line and whatnot, but it’s a problem with that we see with water leakage, and that products don’t always perform up to snuff with what their rate, how they were certified what they’re rated for.

Michael: It’s true actually. And it’s interesting to hear you comment about the differences between a company’s lab testing and the question that you experienced during your professional practice in the field. And I actually come from the building science consulting steel myself before I joined Cascadia as a manufacturer, and I too was involved in actually performing water penetration resistant tests on construction sites that involved both walls and windows. So I understand that it’s very, very different to see an installed window that’s a production line product being tested in the field compared to what the laboratory says you should experience.

One of the thing that has influenced our decision to do this optional, so not code required in-health testing that I was describing earlier, is that in our home market, which is bank Vancouver and the Pacific North America, the leaky condo crisis that I referred to earlier where there were many premature building failures or building envelope failures due to moisture index [SP], caused a hypersensitivity in the industry to water index [SP] rightly. So, and the result of that hypersensitivity has been the ongoing normal practice of rigorous water penetration resistance testing on construction sites. And pretty much any construction site of a commercial building that’s greater than a, you know, let’s say larger than a bank or a restaurant, and most multifamily residential building that are, you know, four stories and higher, water penetration resistant testing could be conducted on any project, but it is routine to have it on every project that’s bigger in scope than what I just described. And that’s not the practice in all regions of North America.

Paul: So Michael, what kind of warranties are available with the Cascadia windows?

Michael: Right. So Cascadia as windows and doors are warranted for all of their fiberglass frame components for 20 years, and their hardware and glass components for 10 years. And the interesting thing about our warranty compared to some other warranties is that ours is a product warranty and it’s not proper a bunch of exclusions that are designed to kind of negate the warranty and obligations under it. If you look at some warranties and this is just a caution to potential buyers not, not a slight against any other manufacturer, some warranties are limited where if a residential owner sells their house the warranty concludes with their ownership, it doesn’t pass on to the buyer. Differently as well some warranties are different for commercial applications and installation where there are hundreds of windows compared to a single-family homeowner.

Our warranty is the same for all products in all applications, and it doesn’t matter if you sell your house, change the ownership, change the use of the building, the product is the product and therefore it carries the warranty.

Paul: Where we’re talking a little bit before we start the podcast about Hurricane Irma, and we’ve learned some warranty lessons since then. We had a project in Florida that had some issues with the roof, and we asked the manufacturer, well, the roof had some up left issues. We asked the manufacturer to come and take a look at it, and they refused to come. We asked them why the refusal and they produced their warranty that said that the warranty is void for any winds that are higher than 55 miles an hour, which was really sleazy. I think since they’re selling roofs in hurricane-prone areas, with the design pressures are way, way higher. But the lesson learned is, read the warranty folks, read it because just because you get some says warranty, it doesn’t mean you’re getting much.

Michael: Yeah. And you know some warranty documents, they can look through, they can have a long time attached to them, but they also have a lot of exclusions that exempt the manufacturer from their obligations. So I think the best warranty is the one that doesn’t have such exemptions that time period is less important than the strength of the warranty during the time that it lasts.

Paul: Very true as we’re seeing. So speaking of hurricane Irma, has that had any effect on Cascadia’s business?

Michael: Geographically, we’re not commonly serving these markets that’s affected by Hurricane Irma, but although we are willing to in our expansion efforts would definitely include that area, now and in the future, but the effect that we’re seeing is just all over the whole North American industry. There’s definitely a noticeable increase in the amount of attention to resiliency. And in some ways, that’s almost becoming a buzzword. But you know, as much they hate buzzwords, I think the attention to it and the awareness of it is good, good for the industry, good for the buildings that result from this.

So increased resiliency when it comes to product selection is something where our potential customers are now giving more attention to our test ratings, the types of materials that we’re using in the construction of our products. So I think it having a good result on buying decisions and it’s increasing the number of items that people consider when they’re trying to assess the value of a product not simply its price.

One more thing that I’d like to add about Hurricane Irma related to our earlier discussion about the physical test for NAFS, is that although the products themselves are subjected to NAFS testing, the way that the products are attached to a building, the installation attachment is not part of the NAFS standard. And the products that are being tested can be attached for the purpose of testing in any way that the manufacturer wants, that you can overkill the method of attaching, the product, and that’s not something that’s tested or rated in the standard.

So the takeaway from that is that a builder or an installer should be careful to meet or even exceed the recommended attachment the manufacturer makes, or that the building engineer prescribes, in particular, being careful they don’t do less. And if there is no information from a certain manufacturer, then information should be sought. You shouldn’t just do what you’ve always done because the environmental loads and the winds pressures on one building could be different than another.

Paul: Yeah. So Michael if people, if listeners wanna get more information about Cascadia windows and doors, how would they go about doing that?

Michael: Yeah. The best way is to start with our website, where you can discover both a summary of our tested products, a gallery of examples of our products use in the description of even our newest product, which is of a brand new fiberglass commercial grade passive-house certified, window and door line. And this line is our newest technology. It’s called the universal series. It’s gaining a lot of ground because it’s not only our highest-performing product, it’s also our least, equal or least expensive product that we’ve ever made. So all that information is found on our website, and our website is,

And from that point, I would invite anybody who’s interested in discovering more or if we can just be helpful by sharing some technical information, to just to reach out to us with whatever method is convenient. Whether that’s email or telephone, it’s easy to find our contact information on

Paul: So Michael, it’s been very interesting and informative, I really thank you very much, and other listeners I’m sure enjoyed the material today. So thank you very much for coming on the podcast today.

Michael: You’re welcome Paul, it’s been a pleasure.

Paul: So thank you, everyone, for listening to the Everything Building Envelop Podcast. Please tell your friends and colleagues about it. If you’d like to subscribe, it can be found on iTunes and Android outlets such as Stitcher. And until next time, this is Paul Beer saying, so long.

Glazing Systems, Leaks, Restoration and Repairs

Jeff McGovern and Mike Buchholz – Tremco

  • What’s wrong with the traditional way of just cutting the head off a gasket and shooting a bead of silicone around the perimeter of the frame?
  • What is the value of using Tremco’s restoration wet seal approach?
  • Smearing silicone on the issue doesn’t solve the problem.
  • What’s the process if I wanted to do the leaky skylight job we just discussed?
  • Any idea of ballpark cost of using Tremco’s approach vs. putting in new windows or a skylight?
  • What’s the best way to determine what or how the Glazing system is leaking? Field Testing?
  • Why is it important to understand the glazing system before starting to repair it?
  • What usually is the failure mode for Glazing systems?


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. This is Paul Beers. Welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. Today we’re gonna talk about glazing restoration or restoration of glazing systems, and I’ve got Mike Buccholz and Jeff McGovern from Tremco. Mike has already been a guest. Mike, thanks for coming back on.

Mike: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: Welcome, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: So, Mike, why don’t you refresh everybody a little bit about you and Tremco, and maybe you can segue over to introduce Jeff as well.

Mike: Sure, absolutely. So Mike Buccholz. I’m the Southeast regional manager for Tremco Commercial Sealants and Waterproofing. I’ve been with Tremco 14 going on 15 years now. The first six years with Tremco, I was in the fire division, and then we rolled that division into our sealants and waterproofing business where we capture the whole building envelope, so for the last eight years or so, I’ve been on that side of the business. And I think, you know, what really separates Tremco is, and I know this is a bit of a cliché, but it’s our people. And we’re nearly a hundred-year-old company, and we’ve been focused on the commercial glazing, waterproofing, sealants market, for a very long time. Our field support folks have real-world experience as contractors, engineers, or consultants, and glazing is no different.

And I’m pleased to have Jeff McGovern joining us today. Jeff has a strong background, an actual reputation in the glazing industry. He was the director of regional operations with Architectural Testing, Inc., so ATI for four years where he was instrumental in creating impact tests for contracts. Prior to that, he had roughly 30 years working his way up through the corporate ladder with Trainor Glass. And he started in Chicago as a fabricator, then a field glazer, and learned all aspects of the commercial glazing industry, and eventually, relocated down to Florida where he continued to advance his career and become a vice president at Trainor. And while he was at Trainor, he was instrumental in numerous monumental projects in Florida such as the port of Miami, Kravis Center, Jackson’s Health Hospital, Memoirs Children’s Hospital, and a variety of others. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Jeff to speak a little bit more about how Tremco approaches the glazing restoration market.

Jeff: Thanks, Mike, that just made me feel old. Yeah, a lot of years in the glazing industry.

Paul: Welcome to the club.

Jeff: What’s that?

Paul: Welcome to the club.

Jeff: Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, thank you for that, and Paul, again, thanks for having me on here today. I think it’s kind of a very appropriate topic today since we’ve just had Irma kind of go through the state like a snowplow. So…but basically, yeah, as Mike said, I started out in the glazing industry, and when hurricane Andrew went through Florida, it kind of changed the codes. And it turned regular glazing contractors into, not only contractors, but we had to design our own systems. We became manufacturers. So with all of that background, you get a very in-depth involvement in your company and in your products that you make. Then went onto the test lab which I continued to test building products. And then I’ve been at Tremco for three years now. So with that, let’s get started.

Paul: Great. And Jeff, you know, you and I, I can give a me too into everything Mike said. You and I, obviously, have known each other for quite a while. Worked on a lot of different things together over the years, so I’m really excited to have you here to talk about some stuff today. And it’s funny, you know, you mentioned Irma, so we’re recording this, I don’t know when it’ll come out, hopefully soon, but within a, you know, probably a month or so. And Irma was about 10 days ago. What’s really interesting is we’re starting to really hear from clients and customers and whatnot, and big, big, big, thing, in the room, and from what I can tell, Florida is water leakage. I’m getting many, many, many phone calls with that. So, this is a very appropriate subject as far as that goes and… So let’s have at it. So what’s usually a failure mode for glazing systems?

Jeff: One that comes to mind immediately is improper installation, and, you know, there’s a couple of different ways. I mean, a lot of guys know how to install the system from the screws and put the glass in the hole and caulk the parameter, but a lot of integral critical seals are either missed or not followed properly per the manufacturer’s installation instructions, or poor or just not cleaning before applying sealants. So the systems, and we have a plus down here in Florida because we test most of them in the lab and get approval, so they’ve pre-been tested to meet certain design criteria, but if you don’t install them in the field properly, that’s where you typically see glazing failures.

Paul: So, it’s interesting you mentioned the testing, and I know, you know, it’s good that you have experience in the test lab and in the field. So just so that everybody understands, that when a unit is tested in a laboratory, you know, certain things are done to it with sealants and weather stripping and accessories and things like that. What’s supposed to happen when it’s installed in the field? Is it supposed to basically be the same thing or can you have variations? Or what’s the rules there, so to speak?

Jeff: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. It is to be installed per the way that it was tested. There are only a couple different substitutions that could be made, and they’re very minor. Perimeter sealants of a glazing system could be changed, if they’re even labeled on the test report, those items could be…attachment of a curtain wall to a building could be engineered whether it was with structural all angles or imbeds, those could be changed. Outside of that, you’re pretty much gonna follow what was tested. The aluminum that’s used, how it’s steeled, the size of the sealant bead that holds the glass in place, the type of glass that’s in there with the proper inner layer, and the fastening, all right? And along with that, manufacturers, once they get these products tested, should have installation instructions that get reviewed by third-party during the processes. Now, obviously, a lot of that gets missed, and thus results in some sort of failures between water or even structural failures.

Paul: So glazing systems, you know, there’s different kinds of system, and they function a little bit differently, but, you know, they’re all designed a certain way so that they’ll either repel the water or collect it and drain it back to the outside. Well, basically, so that they won’t leak, so why is it important to understand the glazing system before starting to repair it?

Jeff: The most common problems resulting in restoration work, usually, are just adding sealant over everything. And I remember listening to one of your earlier podcasts and you used the word, “Yes, baring silicone over a glazing system just doesn’t work.” You know, so to understand the glazing system, there’s so many different types, and they work in different ways. It’s important to understand how the system takes on water and evacuates water. Most of them are designed to take in water into the system and drain them out.

And, as you know, Paul, most glazing systems in South Florida, certainly before the hurricane impacted us and changed the codes here, were flush glazed storefront center glazed systems. Those systems are meant to have a pan underneath them. The water goes through the system, hits the pan, and evacuates out. A lot of times what happens with those is they put the pan down, and they put a frame in and they blow holes through it to anchor it, so now your pan that you created to hold water, no longer holds water.

So I can remember being in the glass world in my days with storefront framing, and we would almost end up wet sealing all of that product anyway to keep the water out. So kind of a poor design, so to speak, where it takes in water, but then it’s punctured so that it’s hard to seal that up, causes the problem. Understanding the glazing system also lets you to come up with a proper repair. A lot of times just smearing caulk doesn’t do the trick. And I can use an example from Irma of a call I got today of a building that was restorated, meaning it was wet sealed…we’re talking a little bit later on here…was wet sealed, but they didn’t address the horizontal to vertical intersections.

They did field chambers test on this building, and they passed along the way at a prescripted 12 bsf pressure. Well, Irma came, and they have several leaks this morning, and it’s coming through horizontal to vertical connections that they didn’t address. So there is a scenario where they possibly didn’t understand the glazing system or how it worked.

Paul: So, yeah, the storefront systems that you were talking about, you know, I always said they were designed to leak. And like you say, if you don’t understand how they’re supposed to capture all the water that gets in and gets it back out, it’s gonna be really difficult to repair it. So what’s the best way to determine what or how a glazing system is leaking?

Jeff: Well, AAMA has two field prescriptive tests. Both of them will expose leaks usually if there are. And one of them is AAMA 501.2 which is your nozzle, spray nozzle test. And then there’s AAMA 502 which is a chamber where you draw a negative pressure and putting a spray rack outside. I’m pretty sure that GCI does both, and I’d kind of throw this back at you, Paul, is, what would you guys do when you get one of those calls of a building leak? How would you determine what to do as far as figuring out where the water is coming from?

Paul: Yeah, and also, every situation is different. What we try to do, you know, first at GCI Consultants when we…when a leak, which we’re gonna be doing a lot of apparently after Irma, I know what we like to do first is just try and understand the service history of the buildings where we go out, and we meet with the people that are in the building or the maintenance people or the manager, I mean, the property manager, and hear their story. You know, water is coming here. It’s dripping out of this. It’s on the floor or whatever it is. And then we try to, as you say, understand what kind of system is in the building and how it’s supposed to work.

And then, you know, oftentimes, we go into either, well, a combination of destructive analysis. So that might be removing interior drywall so we can see really if the water is coming through the window or bottom of it or coming around it or whatever. And then there’s various ways to test it. We don’t really like the hose test. We like to use the AAMA 502, or also, ASTM E 1105 which Will Smith and I, Will works with me at GCI. We did an earlier podcast on that.

And basically there, you create the conditions of a wind-driven rainstorm so you can see what’s going on. Recreate the conditions that cause it to leak. Whereas water hose, you know, that doesn’t have the wind, so sometimes that’s, you know, maybe wouldn’t give you the same results, so we like to do that. And then once you see what’s going on, that’s when you guys can figure out, and you guys can help us figure out exactly, what’s a good way to fix it. What’s Tremco’s restoration approach with glazing systems?

Jeff: Well, the first thing to understand is, you know, we have a full line of glazing system products. Just from the initial design with glazing systems, designing gaskets, steels, internal, not only do we help with the engineering and design of that, but we manufacture those products. So we’ve kind of got a leg up, so to speak, where we’re helping in design but we also manufacture it, so we can help change the design to make it better for air and water infiltration.

As far as the restoration, we also make a whole line of those types of products. There is system overlay, silicone overlays that we can put over failed exterior systems. There is, obviously, we make silicone sealants to do the wet glazing. We make fixtured gaskets, so any type of custom gasket that would need to be replaced, we can do. And, you know, there’s also a product called Simple Seal which is extruded silicone sheet that can be used as overlays. So Tremco has all of those types of products to help the initial design of the system, and if there was repair needing to be done afterwards.

Paul: So you mentioned wet sealing, and I’ll say this, that half the buildings in America at this point have been wet sealed or more. It’s like, you know, any building that’s any kind of aged to it has probably had some sort of sealant application to, you know, stop leakage problems that either were earlier on or developed over time. And, you know, typically like on a commercial glazing system, they would cut back the gasket between the glass and the metal, and then shoot a bead of silicone around the perimeter of the frame. So that’s, I’m guessing you’re gonna say, that’s probably not the best way to do it. And what’s wrong with that? And, so why not? I guess is what I would say.

Jeff: Right, and yeah, I would say that that’s not the best. I would say that’s part of the approach of fixing or a restoration of a leaking system. The problem with the wet seal alone is if you did understand the glazing system, like you should before you get started with this, you’re gonna know that there’s other places for water to get in other than that glass to aluminum frame connection.

So you have intermediate to horizontal connections all over it, you also have silipans, possibly, that are involved. So you have to look at those also. Because once you “wet seal” you’re sorta all in. In other words, if you partially seal the system, you might actually make things worse. Where now, you’ve might have stopped some water from a location but let it in, and it’s still going to leak with, like I said earlier, maybe the internal seals were never done. So by wet sealing the glass to the aluminum, you’ll stop some of that, but you won’t attack all of the problems. So addressing all of the issues comes into play when you wet seal.

Paul: I love the way you just said, “Once you start you’re all in.” I mean, I agree completely. It’s really a good way to put it. There’s no halfway there wet seal, is there?

Jeff: No. And Paul, as I just said earlier. I mean, I was on a call earlier today of a building that they spent a lot of money restorating, it did not include attacking the horizontal to vertical joints, and it’s a building that’s, well before the HVHZ came into effect,.So it’s a stick-built system where the horizontal, the verticals, literally, let airflow through. So, you know, now, you’ve got a scenario where the perimeter of the building was redone. They’ve cap beaded or wet sealed from the glass to the aluminum. That was well and good, but the water actually just came through a horizontal to vertical connection. So by just cutting off the head of the gasket and shooting a bead around it, which we’d seen… I bet you, Paul, we probably see that a third of the time on projects if not more. That’s gonna help, but it’s not gonna solve your problems totally.

Paul: Yeah. If you’re gonna wet seal, you need to, obviously, seal everything. So you mentioned some of the products and materials that Tremco has that help with this, and could you maybe just kind of run through that? Like what you were just talking about with the metal to metal joints that weren’t sealed? Now, I know that you don’t… Can you just smear caulk over that joint, and would that work? Or is there a better way to do it?

Jeff: Yeah, right. There’s better ways to do that. A lot of times that gasket which becomes older, dry, brittle, cracking. The other big problems with it is it shortens up as it gets to the ends or the corners of the glass, and usually, that’s because guys stretched it when they rolled it in during the installation. So it will shorten up. Sometimes you could see it’s several inches shorted up. So obviously, the gasket that’s supposed to keep the water out is now got a big hole there to take it in.

So by just cutting off the head and caulking over it, you may be, a gasket that’s left inside, may just fall out, and there may be no compression from the aluminum to the glass. So we make a product called headless wedge which allows you to remove that gasket, and insert this new gasket that will be recessed for you to allow…allow you to put in a proper wet sealed bead joint structure. A lot of times with those top loaded gaskets that go into window systems, they are very large in size. So to completely cover them with just a wet seal, you would need to have a very large bead of sealant. And it’s just not the proper joint structure. So the headless wedge with the combination of a wet seal silicon usually will take care of that component of the system.

Paul: So we seal the glass to the metal, but I’ve seen that headless wedge. And it’s really cool because it gives you, you know, basically, it gives you a real nice looking sealant joint or a sealant joint profile. And so that seal does a nice job with the glass to the metal connections. What about when you get to the frame joints and what not where they come together, what’s the technique for sealing them?

Jeff: Sure, Paul. Tremco makes…we call them cruciforms which are actually are extruded punched out silicone shapes that would go over the whole intersection. Whether it was a four-way intersection, two-way, three-way, whatever the case may be, they’re made of silicone. They would be installed over the metal to metal joint before you did the wet seal so that you could tie the wet seal into it. The typical field approach to handling a horizontal to vertical intersection is usually just smearing a thin bead of silicon over it. And we all know that a bead of silicone, that’s a 16th to an 8th inch thick, that’s been smeared over a joint that has movement capabilities, does not perform very well at all. So these cruciforms allow you to cover up the intersections. They’re neat. They’re clean. They can be made to any color that you want because they’re made out of silicon. And it covers that intersection up and protects from the water to get it.

Paul: I love those things, by the way. We use them whenever we can and that they’re very effective. Because you can seal all those joints with regular sealant which involves a very, very high, you know, involves some bond breaker tape and a very high degree of workmanship. And that’s when it all comes apart with the workmanship. So would you say that’s another big advantage of the extruded silicone is that it’s easy to put on?

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, the cost involved in them outweighs the labor that you have to do to make a decent bridge of that gap. Like you said, if you build it up and put bond breaker under it, and to really make that look good, it does take a lot of work which takes time. So, you know, when you look at a cost of a cruciform, you know, you may think, “Well, a couple of dollars for each intersection, that adds up,” but however, the labor savings, and ultimately, the longevity of it, is going to be there.

Paul: It’s gonna work, too.

Jeff: It’s gonna work. You’re correct.

Paul: So let’s say I have a restoration job and it’s a big barrel skylight, and, you know, the aluminum’s all pitted and they’ve been chasing leaks around it since the day it was installed and trying to figure out if it should be replaced at this point or, you know, caulk it for the 10th time in a row. What to do with…? Using some of your materials, the headless wedge and some of the other parts and pieces, would that be a good alternative to try and actually fix it?

Jeff: Sure. Now, one thing and I know, Paul, you guys have been out on leaking skylight projects. What’s interesting about skylights is they become the catch-all of silicone and who knows what they squirt on them, but because most people can’t see them from the outside, there has been several renditions of trying to seal them up. And, you know, they’re just piling more sealant on top of more sealant isn’t usually the fix. So, yeah, the headless wedge works well with the, you know, the metal cover or cap to the glass, that would solve that problem pretty well.

Again, you’ll have to address the intersections which the cruciforms would definitely help you out there. And then also addressing, you know, the perimeter. I see a lot of skylights that, you know, they, you know, sometimes the only perimeter is the seal along a gutter or up against the wall. A lot of times that connection is a bad one. It needs to be looked at, and again, and like we said earlier, once you start wet sealing you better understand the whole system, especially, skylights that are made to take down water and run down a rafter and weep out at the bottom.

If you don’t address all of those problems, you could have a bigger buildup that you’ll seal and have more water in some cases. But the same thing goes true with [inaudible 00:23:30] and the skylight is a vertical glazed system, we, you know, we make the headless wedge. We make the sealants. We make cruciforms. We also make restoration overlay shapes, where we can extrude a silicon cap that could cover the entire metal system that could be detailed at the intersections, again, it’s all silicone, so it’ll stick with silicone sealant. It will also, as you said, this skylight could be pitted, damaged, paint needs to be redone, this could be extruded in a color that, now you have a new look finish on the outside of that skylight.

Paul: That is really cool. I never actually thought about that. Just to cover, you know, basically, using fitted shapes to cover the exterior because as you say, those things can be an epic mess by the time that, you know, renegade, or our maintenance guys up on the roof with different colors of caulk they bought at Home Depot or whatever. And, you know, a lot of times, skylights are invisible, but also, a lot of times they’re not. You know, it may be like the entrance to a building when everybody looks up the window above and can see them. So, you know, appearance is important, and that’s really slckk the concept of encapsulating it, basically. Is that what we’re talking about?

Jeff: Yeah. And Paul another thing on that, and in working either a glazing contractor or a caulk and waterproofing company who might do this work, they also say the same things. They spend most of their time cleaning off the stuff that’s been put there for years than they do actually fixing the problem once they have the right products and design in place.

Paul: That’s the same thing we do when we investigate. You know, sometimes you gotta get all this gook off before you can even start to figure, you know, and run a test on a mock up or a repair that’s got so much crud on it, you can’t get anything accomplished. You’ve gotta basically get it cleaned off before you can even start to address the issues. So doing a, you know, like fixing the skylight, any idea the ballpark cost of using Tremco’s approach versus putting in, you know, a new window or a new skylight?

Jeff: Yeah. Going back a few years from my estimating times at the glass company, but I can tell you that most glazing systems, even just take a fixed glazing system for a commercial building, you’re probably looking at the, you know, 80 to $100 a square foot cost for, you know, just that impact system and the installation. And that’s not including, Paul, any permits, any engineering, maybe some of the perimeter structure isn’t sufficient to attach new stuff into, so that needs to be looked at as a cost.

You also have a disruption with tenants, obviously, tearing out and replacing, so there’s relocation of people for a day or two or depending on the scope of the job. So, you know, you’re probably looking at 100 bucks a foot. So if you took just a 16 square-foot opening, a 4 foot by 4 foot, you know, you’re at 1,600 bucks just to put in a glazing system there. Not including all the other stuff I’m talking about. With Tremco, you’re probably looking at, I mean, if you got 32 lineal feet of repair to do around that window, whether it’s glass or metal and then perimeter, you’re probably looking at a third of the cost for doing that depending on what you did to cover it up. But certainly, the cost of a new glazing system far outweighs restoration work.

Paul: Yeah. And, you know and I think one thing you mentioned that’s really key is the disruption to the people in the building. That’s a, you know, there’s not just a dollar cost, there’s, I guess, I don’t know if I’d call it an opportunity cost or a headache of going through this and, you know, introducing all the protection you’ve gotta do and putting people on notice, the inconvenience. Like, you know, if you’re a office building owner, then you’re gonna have a, you know, you can possibly have angry or displaced tenants. So what we find is, anytime you can leave something in place and fix it, it, you know, from a cost perspective and from a logistics perspective, that almost, without question, always goes better to be able to repair rather than replace.

Jeff: All right. And, you know, working hand-in-hand, Tremco and usually, these types of projects involve companies like yourself, GCI as consulting, we can put together a package up front. We can do this to metals. We can show the testing that needs to be done if you’re using all of Tremco’s products. Now, you’ve got a single source, tested, warranted manufacturer to back up what we’re going to do, which eases the pain on a building owner, right? Where even if you tear it out and put something new in, there’s several players involved to getting that work done. And your warranty may not be as good as a restoration where you can get a single source out of it. So that’s just something to think about.

Paul: Yeah. And you know, Mike, when we did the last episode, we talked about the single source being such an advantage. And I know maybe the restoration may go beyond the glazing system, and then Tremco’s got a variety of products that will work for any surrounding or adjacent surfaces as well. Isn’t that right?

Mike: That’s correct. Yeah, we’ve got a full array of flushing systems that we can tie into here. And, you know, one of the things that I wanna make sure that I mention is the fact that all the concepts and the products and the systems and the approach that you guys have been speaking to, these aren’t just concepts. These are proven, tested, warrantable, defensible systems that we’re installing. And we’re writing fleet free warranties on these systems for up to 20 years. So it really comes with a bang for the bucks and really great systems.

Paul: Yeah. And a big benefit out of, obviously, like we’re talking about, doing it the right way, aside from just going out there and blindly applying material all over the place and then waiting for the next rainstorm to hope that it worked, which, usually, it doesn’t.

Mike: Yeah. I know. That’s correct. You know, we’re looking at coming up with a full system to conquer this restoration project. We work with consultants such as yourself, to make sure that as we’re reinstalling them we test the samples of the windows so that we can confirm that we’re getting the performance that we anticipate out of the prescribed system. And then that comes with a warranty, obviously.

Paul: Yeah, you know, the testing is good for everybody because then you know if it’s working. And then maybe if something isn’t completely doing what you’d hoped it would, it gives you a chance to figure it out, adjust it, and get it right before you do the whole rest of the building.

Mike: Absolutely.

Paul: So Tremco, I know has a lot of resources available as far as, you know, not only the materials, but, you know, how to use…how to best use them and specifications, and I’m guessing, details and things like that. Could you guys talk about that just a little bit about… If people are interested, you know, how do they get more information and what resources are available?

Mike: Sure, absolutely. You can access a lot of this information through our website which is And we’ve got a full array of the information that we’ve provided as well. As you can get on there and you can see some videos of projects that we’ve actually done this overlay type systems with. And one specifically, for the Puerto Rico Convention Center, where we did a full overlay system on a convention center there. Where they had a giant skylight that had been leaking since they installed it, and you can see how we tackled that one.

But you can find more information there. Another way is we’ve got a rep locator on there where you can get in touch with Jeff McGovern who obviously, specializes in our glazing business. And we have other manufacturer representatives that can provide technical, local technical support, and they can be found through that website. And similar to Jeff, most of our folks have a lot of real-world experience that they can pull from and help with…helping you figure out, exactly, what warranty tested systems need to be prescribed for your project.

Paul: Yeah. Well, you know, Jeff said at the beginning, really good stuff. Very appropo with hurricane Irma having affected Florida and points beyond here in the last week or so. And I think, you know, there’s going to be a lot of demand for this with all the water leakage that we’re hearing about. So, Jeff, thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with us.

Jeff: Thank you, Paul, and I look forward to seeing you on the next one, I’m sure.

Paul: Yup, there will be a next one, I’m afraid. And, Mike, thanks so much for adding your insight and helping us get this all put together.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Paul. I appreciate the opportunity.

Paul: So, thank you, everyone, for listening to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. Really interesting topic today. And again, I think it’s really apropos with what we’ve been reading about with all the storms of late, and so, please tell your friends about it.

We have a website where you can access information You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher. And as we talked about, as to what the hurricane topic thing as relevant as it is, there are a lot of resources on our company website talking about hurricanes and hurricane recovery at So until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, thank you for listening, and so long.

Radio Frequency Shielding

Eric Kuczynski – Signals Defense

  • You have a unique niche in the construction and envelope market.  How did this begin, and where do you see the future of building shielding going?
  • Can you describe architectural shielding as it relates to RF energy?
  • RF energy is commonly understood by the general public, as it relates to our everyday lives, via cell phones and wifi.  We also see growing security concerns over these and other devices in the news and elsewhere.  What are some of the security concerns that most people aren’t aware of?
  • Your products and services seem to center around the glass and glazing, but that’s just one piece of the envelope.  Can you discuss the other features of construction that might impact RF shielding?
  • It seems our government and others have taken this type of technology and security very seriously for many years.  What other applications or customers do you see benefiting from this?


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 to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. We’ve got a really interesting topic today, kind of nothing that we’ve talked about before on this podcast, Radio Frequency Shielding. And we’re gonna learn all about that related to security. Our guest is Eric Kuczynski. Eric, thank you for coming on.

Eric: Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: Yes. So this is pretty interesting, but before we dive into the topic, maybe you could tell the listeners a little bit about yourself.

Eric: Sure. So I’ve been with Signals Defense here for nearly 15 years. Took over the president role here at the company just earlier this year in 2017. And before that I worked for several years for a large general contractor here in the Baltimore, DC area where I had some experience with very unique projects around this space, and for some very unique customers of all types. So I come from this side of the US and look forward to talking to folks here around the world that we’ve been working in here at Signals Defense for the last 15 years or so.

Paul: Great. So tell us a little bit about Signals Defense also, please.

Eric: Sure. So Signals Defense has been around since the late ’90s, and we were founded on several requests to provide higher levels or better levels of radio frequency and infrared shielding for Windows. And that request really came out of several secure government clients who were looking for better technology as the world of technology was proving in the communication space. There was the realization that many existing facilities have some security vulnerabilities that need to be resolved. And so Signals Defense was a pioneer in developing and putting together some products that could be implemented in the field very quickly through window films and glass to secure many of these facilities quickly based on a lot of that new technology development. And so 15 years later, actually closer to 20 years later, we’re still here doing the majority of the same thing with some new technology and moving these clients through, and really developing outside of a traditional government space and into a true commercial space as well. So Signals Defense has a coast-to-coast reach of clients and customers including international partnerships and clients as well.

Paul: This is like an upgrade over the cone of silence in “Get Smart.”

Eric: That’s a pretty good way to put it into pictures. It’s the idea of this technology or uses of radio frequencies to get into a network or get into a client or hack, if you will. The methods and means are just exponentially growing day to day, and you can hop on the internet or the television and see what corporations are having problems or which governments are listening in on other governments even up through these last couple weeks. And the ability and the tools are getting more prolific and accessible to everybody. And so Signals Defense is a piece of the solution for buildings and for customers who have these concerns and might be exposed to threats that they might know about and many that they don’t know about.

Paul: Yeah. You know what you’re saying is so true. Just, you know, reading the paper, watching the news, which isn’t always my favorite thing to do, but you know, there’s so many things going on now. It seems like everything’s coming at you from all sides with the technology advances that we’ve had. And you know, obviously, it gives the people, I guess for lack of better term, the bad guys, you know, more opportunities and things can be a lot more invasive than they used to. So it looks like you really have a unique niche in the construction envelope market. So, and you told us how the company got started. So I don’t know if you want to talk about that anymore, but where is this headed as well?

Eric: So really, originally, as I mentioned in the beginning, the initial driver behind trying to find a product for glass that would secure facilities as many buildings as possible quickly came in the form of a window film. And so in order to deliver that radio frequency and infrared protection – and we can kind of get into what some of that means a little bit later – but the quickest way to do that was through a window film. And I know in the glazing industry, sometimes, the window film gets put into kind of a category where folks don’t really wanna talk about it, they might have issues with it in the past or a bad experience. But the technology in surface-supplied films and coding has come tremendously far, not only in the last 20 years, but even in the last 10 years.

And so our initial products and now six generations later are all based around a sputter-coated metallic films that are high in light transmission and low reflectivity. But it’s all in one single layer or single component, vs. multiple layers or multiple components put together. And so by doing that, these products are purposefully built specifically to reject radio frequency and infrared energy. So it’s not a byproduct or an accident that these films or are coated glass or our laminates provide that type of protection. They’re specifically built to resolve kind of that range across the radio frequency and infrared spectrum that are of concern. So it’s a nice solution in a space that really never had a solution or was just kind of a byproduct, because folks understand especially in this building envelope space, they understand energy rejection, they understand taking care of certain things, whether it be water, air, energy, but that RF, that radio frequency space is something that’s really still new to a lot of people. So that’s kind of a hole that we plugged here over the last almost 20 years.

Paul: So, you mentioned this already, but I was looking at your website before we, you know, did the show, and I know this that there are a lot of different applications for when you’re able to use your technology within the glazing window industry. And you mentioned film and I think you mentioned coatings and laminates. And that was actually my question was, you know, what are all the different components that you can apply your technology to with windows and glazing?

Eric: Yes. Sure, sure. So the film is a great solution to plug the glass, basically the hole in the bucket if you will. And just like all other components of construction, those openings, the windows and doors are always the biggest vulnerability for an architect or a security designer to evaluate. That’s where you have energy concerns, that’s where you have spout concerns. And then same thing in the radio frequency space as well, that your windows and doors are always your weakest link. But again, the Signals Defense technology was based around highlight transmission, yet giving you all this performance. One little parallel I like to give folks is if you ever got an EV Pass for your vehicle in the mail, when it came, it came with a little pouch, a little foil pouch. And they give you the instructions that you need to put this EV pass into the pouch if you don’t wanna use it.

Now, that’s kind of a silvery-looking pouch and you can kind of see through it, or at least it used to be that way. And so that kind of illustrates the intent, okay, that’s an RFID device, a radio frequency device that communicates with a toll booth. So that’s a really simple real-world application of shielding and something that we use every day. However, when it comes to windows and a building envelope or any portion of the envelope, you need that original intent or the original function of those components like the precast or the panels or the glass to do what they were supposed to do from the outset, meaning you want a certain architectural appearance, you need a certain thermal performance, you need, maybe you need hurricane protection or different win-loads or, you know, all those things have to work together to give you what they were originally put there for.

But now, whether you’re government or commercial, you have this new technology to deal with which is a lot of radio frequency energy happening, and you have to make all those work together. So Signal Defense technology is centered around the window opening, but we also have different components and we consult on other products that deal with the opaque surfaces, the areas behind the panels, the areas behind the precast. And depending what you’re trying to do, and the intent or the level of shielding that you need, that will determine what you do with all those other things.

But really, our proprietary data and our patents are based around high radio frequency, and high infrared rejection, and high VLT, high visible light… You can achieve all of this with opaque dark surfaces that you don’t need to see through. But we all want windows, we all want the view, and we need that for leads, we need that for a lot of other purposes. So how do you achieve all those security functions yet maintain the original intent of the window?

Paul: So basically, you’re trying to get the performance and make it invisible, is that right?

Eric: That would be the ultimate goal would be to make this completely unnoticeable to the untrained eye. And for the most part, it is. And that’s what our technology, that’s what makes it still unique, is in most cases our films or our laminated glass is when it’s incorporated in from the start of the project or at the inception of the design, it can be built into the system so that nobody knows it’s there. Now, if we remember from our junior high physics days, that electromagnetic spectrum that contains visible light also contains the UV, and the microwave, and the RF, and the IR, and the X-Ray, and the gamma ray. If we remember that, we have to remember that all these signals and this whole spectrum is all related.

So when it comes to radio frequencies and infrared, both of those occur, especially infrared, very close to visible light. So when you impact one thing on the spectrum, you start to impact something else. And so infrared, for example, is another wavelength, it might be invisible light or it might be visible. So if you have a pointer in a classroom, that is a visible light laser, if you will, or IR energy. But it might also be invisible like your television remote, which you can’t see that signal or the beam, but it’s there. And so back to windows, when you impact or you’re trying to reduce or stop radio frequencies and infrared energy, you generally start to impact some of the visible performances. And what we’ve been able to do is reduce or minimize that impact, yet still give you the other performance. And that’s what really makes it unique.

Paul: What we’re talking about here with the whole platform is architectural shielding. So basically, taking the building and making it resistant or stop whatever it is that you want to go through it, is that right?

Eric: Yeah. So really all of this, as I mentioned, started as a security requirement for intelligence organizations and governments. Because of that, we see a developing need outside of the government today. And again, you can look in the news and see what people are doing to other people. But just in the last 20 years, the proliferation and the growth of radio frequency devices, and by that I’m talking about Wi-Fi. That’s easy for everyone to understand because most of us have it in our house, in our offices, it’s everywhere. Bluetooth technology, right? Everything we have it might be talking to something else so that we can play music on a remote speaker or we can print wirelessly.

And that translates to RFID for all of your inventory control. How do these major retailers control inventory? Everything has an RFID tag on it, just like your EV pass. So translate that into just the last couple of years with smart appliances, smart buildings, all building control systems, data, security systems, many of them going wireless. I mean, you can buy wireless cameras, right, for your house today, and all of that is RF energy, it’s all talking to your Wi-Fi and making something work. Well, it’s still accelerating and there’s no sign of that getting any less. Even here we are in the second decade of the of the 21st century and it’s still growing.

So as we continue to make these buildings and our offices smarter and smarter, and more and more everyday devices start talking to each other, we’re starting to see RF levels and the security concerns of interference or hacking grow, okay? With the more energy we generate inside of our space, in your office today, the more electronics you have, the more energy you are pushing out through your office. So what we’re seeing in commercial world is almost a workplace efficiency problem where there’s too much stuff that’s getting too smart and starting to interfere with each other, not to mention the security piece of that, right? The more stuff you put in the air, the more vulnerable you are to somebody getting in there and taking it.

So this topic of building shielding which, really, for 50 plus years has kind of been really a government-type mindset around security has gotten a little more public, and real corporations are taking this very seriously. So the whole intent of what we call architectural shielding is to enhance your building envelope, or maybe it’s just a room. But in our space, we’re generally looking at whole buildings or portions of whole buildings where you’re trying to provide that shield. And as you mentioned, Paul, the cone of silence, if you will, maybe that quiet in there, maybe it’s a commercial company who occupies three quarters of a building, but they’d maybe do some very sensitive stuff or they have some corporate proprietary information that they don’t wanna have moving across their Wi-Fi down to their neighbors. And so they kind of wanna create that cone of silence or that RF tight space, if you will, that contains that energy.

And it works both ways. You might not want the impact of the interference coming from the outside, from somebody else, maybe you don’t want your neighbor’s Wi-Fi flooding into your space, and you don’t wanna be pushing your energy out of the space. So if you think of it that way, and I like to use it when relating it to building envelope, you think about the water tests that you do when you’re done putting together a system and you do a test. Well, this is similar, not quite the same but you can kind of put it on that parallel and say, “Look, I don’t want to lose my energy, I don’t want people coming and going.” And I’ve kind of coined a term around this called RF predictable or radio frequency predictability. If you can control your environment, then you can be a lot more efficient and secure on top of it.

Paul: Yeah, it’s funny because when you’re talking about that, I was just thinking, I was in a building in downtown Miami a few weeks ago. Right around this new Brickell City Centre development which has, you know, a lot of big high rises all around. I remember looking for the Wi-Fi of the guest Wi-Fi office I was in, and I could not believe how many other signals were showing up. And you know, I could see where that would be a big concern because you don’t know…you know, everybody’s got a way in, you don’t know who they are, you know, you always try to keep people out, but you try to, you know, protect stuff with passwords or anything. But having that much stuff coming in, I would think, would give security concerns also.

Eric: You hit the nail on the head there, Paul. And it goes that way with any technology, right? Everything was developed with a good intent in mind, and all of this technology, the convenience is fantastic. The way we move information is quick, it’s efficient, it’s tremendously positive for the majority of our society and all those ethical uses for it every day, whether it’s health care, education, you name it. Our technology helps us do things so much better than we used to. Unfortunately, all that technology find their way into many unethical hands and unethical users.

And one of the biggest threats we see, and whether it’s the amount of Wi-Fi access points in this space, which is scary enough because whether it’s encrypted or password protected or not, there’s plenty of tools to get into people devices through every day Wi-Fi. But one of the biggest emerging threats we see is the use of drones. And it’s not just the use of the drone itself, and there’s plenty of recreational and corporate uses and benefits out of drone technology. But what the drone does is it brings all those traditional threats into a new up close proximity, right? We’ve seen them crash on the White House lawn, we’ve seen them flying on corporate events or speeches, and we’ve seen them potentially deliver a destructive or maybe explosive device.

Well, in the RF space, now, you now have a tool that can pull right up to the 15th floor of a building and hack the Wi-Fi. Now, it used to be when you were on the 15th floor or the 20th floor or even the 10th floor, or if you had a 30 meter step back with a fence because you had a nice corporate campus, that what you were doing was pretty safe. Well, the drone has eliminated that boundary. And in this country, we can’t just shoot down a drone because that’s invasion of privacy. So think about the new scary, unethical uses of these devices. And now we can use Wi-Fi to heat map what’s on the other side of a wall.

So the drone just makes another tool to get that technology closer to you. And so we’re seeing kind of the dawn of a new evolution of shielding requirements because now you can just drive an RF device or a hacking tool right up to somebody and there’s enough smart people out there who know those kinds of tools to get in to your system. It’s just certainly not the world it was even 20 years ago.

Paul: Yeah. Some of the smartest people are probably some of the most unethical too, it seems. So if you have a building that is fully protected with RF shielding, what do they do, like with the cell phone call if they’re inside the building? Is there…is that just doesn’t work or is there a workaround for that?

Eric: That’s a great question and it’s a very, very common question. So cell phone technology is very, very powerful. It operates in the gigahertz space. So gigahertz is another higher set of frequencies. So if you think of your your FM radio, right, you’re operating in the megahertz, okay? When you dial your radio in, and for those of us that still do that, and you dial in your radio, you are capturing a megahertz signal of that station. And then in AM, it’s kilohertz. Well, our phones operate in the gigahertz. So, and here we are coming up on 5G technology for phones and more and more towers, more and more bandwidth and data because everyone wants to be able to do everything fast and do everything immediate.

So these devices are truly smart and they’re ultra, ultra powerful. The whole intent of architectural shielding in the first place was not intended to turn off or shut down somebody’s cell phone. And we’ve gotten plenty of phone calls from schools or other places that are having a hard time getting their kids to maybe stop pulling out their phones during class. Well, that’s really hard to do. In order to stop a cell phone, you need a tremendous amount of RF attenuation. And the whole purpose of architectural shielding in the sense that we’re talking about here today was not to provide impenetrable, 100% blockage of everything. That’s really difficult to do, that’s a lab type environment only. To incorporate it into everyday building technology, we’re not gonna achieve that kind of shielding levels that you need to shut off a cell phone.

Now, that said, today’s construction market and the growing use of in-building wireless. So with that being said, today’s construction market and especially in new buildings, but in retrofit as well, the in-building wireless or IBW is one acronym or distributed antenna systems, DAS, D-A-S, those systems have been growing again at a pretty fast rate over the last 10 years, and what those are is the pre-wiring or post-wiring of a building to provide all those services from the inside. So traditionally, you would park a car in a parking lot and your phone might be connected to the tower across the street or down the highway, and you would come in to your building and your phone is maybe still connected to that tower that’s half a mile away. Well, especially in denser urban environments, and due to changing life safety codes across the country, but mainly large metropolitan areas, we must provide coverage in these building for these life safety codes for cell phones across the board.

So that means first responders, anybody coming for emergency response must be able to access all of those emergency channels. And everybody working in the building could be a first responder as well. So they expect cell phones and data to continue to work in a building in every corner of the building all the time. So what that means is you’re gonna start to see, from the inside out, it’s becoming another utility in these facilities or any building, any commercial building in downtown Manhattan today has a distributed antenna system being built in from the ground up, which means when you’re in that building your phone connects to the building, not the tower on the top of the building across the street, but you’re actually connected to the building. And you don’t know it, but your phone makes a hand-off from one tower to, basically, the antennas inside the building.

And then the other technology that’s been around for a while is what most people might think of as repeater systems, which means they capture that cell phone signal from the outside and pull it to the inside. So in some cases, it’s possible that architectural shielding might inhibit or reduce some cell phone coverage, but it’s really hard to stop that service to begin with. And secondly, many buildings today are incorporating that service from the inside anyway. So we don’t see it being an issue going forward, and it’s really gonna make those systems work better.

We’ve done a few studies with iBwave, which is a company who does software modeling for in-building wireless systems. And architectural shielding can actually benefit and improve. Remember that RF predictability term I used earlier, architectural shielding can actually improve the efficiency of your space inside, including your cell phones if you have a DAS or a distributed antenna system already incorporated.

Paul: So there’s a workaround, and even better, if you’re starting with a clean sheet of paper, you can really design a really great system that gives you what you want but doesn’t let in what you don’t want.

Eric: That’s where we see the future going with this, is as awareness grows around not only the security piece, but the efficiency piece, is these buildings are getting smarter and interfering with each other. You’re gonna want to start to isolate yourself. Depending in the environment that you live in or and work in, you’re pretty soon gonna wanna have your space to yourself for many different reasons. And that includes the RF. You’re gonna wanna have your own RF space and not have somebody else interfering with it.

Paul: You know it’s funny because I just had some issues with my wireless, my home wireless. And one of the problems was, if I’m saying this right, my frequency was like too close to some other people’s frequencies that was picking up in my house. So that makes a lot of sense in that context.

Eric: We’ve all seen the garage door opener that opens up the neighbor’s accidentally and/or the car keys that maybe one in a million times it opens up somebody else’s car on the other side of the country. But it’s pretty amazing, there are lots of little everyday examples, but what I’m really trying to address is that it’s only getting worse. And the more stuff we make more convenient, the more RF, radio frequency energy we’re putting into our space.

Paul: So as far as using RF shielding technology, what do you do outside of the windows and doors or the glass?

Eric: One of the big services that we provide that not many folks do is the consulting piece around this. So there are RF, radio frequency testing labs across the country, but there’s not a lot of folks doing assessments specifically for this kind of concern. And so we can actually bring some folks on site to assess your current building skin or a wall here or some glass there. Some of this can be done in a lab, but we can actually do that in the field and provide data, real-world data on what you’re building is doing, and this happens every day. We get phone calls from folks who have concerns with a new satellite dish that was put up and what that might mean, or there’s a new wireless signal here that wasn’t here before and it shouldn’t be here or… Those types of concerns come in and we have the ability to provide in field assessments and recommendations on how to improve.

And it’s never…as we kind of alluded to earlier, it’s never eliminate, it’s very difficult to completely eliminate radio frequency transmissions, but we can reduce it to the point where it doesn’t impact you or it’s safe of it’s secure. So that’s a huge, growing piece for us. That also goes for new construction as well. There are so many little things that you can incorporate, and if you’re thinking ahead at the time of inception, you can incorporate small little things along the way that make your building a little bit better. And of course, it’s always harder to go back and fix something later or add something or increase a budget. But when you address some of these issues…because you’re already addressing physical security, regardless of who you are. You’ve already decided that you’re gonna have a certain kind of door or a certain kind of lock or certain kinds of cameras. But again, this RF space, this radio frequency space gets lost and it’s not really being addressed soon enough in the job, and we can help with that.

Paul: So this all began with the government, you know, obviously makes sense. And now others have taken this type of technology and secured it very seriously. So what other kinds of applications are customers are benefiting from this?

Eric: We have examples of a host of different things. And some of them I alluded to where we have a client, for example, in a very dense urban environment who is in a historic structure and they were about to occupy several new floors, and they told us, “We have 1500, count it 1500 wireless network access points passing through our space.” To your point earlier, Paul, about being down in Miami, this company was…they couldn’t even operate because they had so much interference from other people and residential locations and cell phone hotspots, etc. And they just needed a simple shielding solution to cut down and isolate themselves a little bit from their neighbors, the DAs and in-building wireless example. It doesn’t fit every distributed antenna system project or building because some of those, they’re great, they work really well, they provide efficient coverage for the occupants inside. However, you never know.

There have been scenarios where we’ve been asked to come in and help make their system better, make it more efficient because those systems are competing with an outside signal. So if you think about the inside of a building that is generating its own cell service, there’s still a cell tower somewhere outside that building. And your phone might be confused as to who it’s supposed to talk to. My smartphone here might be trying to connect to the outside tower, but trying to connect to the building at the same time. We’ve had clients call us and say, “We’re having a cell phone problem, but it’s only this one carrier and it’s because of this system is confusing the phones.” Shielding helps put a little bit of a barrier up there and make it really easy for those systems to work.

And every day other examples just occur around, “I’m concerned about my Wi-Fi. How far is my signal? How many of my neighbors can see my Wi-Fi?” And I always use that example for folks, how far can you walk away from your office or your home still connected to your Wi-Fi on your phone? Can you get 5 meters, 10 meters, 30 meters? How far can you go? However far you can go as is the limit of your vulnerability, that’s where folks if they get into your air space… So really, the security pieces build the primary driver around all of this.

I will throw in one other benefit and kind of go back to that electromagnetic spectrum discussion, is all of us in the glazing space, in the glazing world, we understand that solar energy, the majority of the solar energy in the sun heat comes from infrared. So hopefully nobody was out there staring at the eclipse the other day without all the proper protection, because it’s not just about making it dark. It’s about those infrared wavelengths that you can’t see that have nothing to do with visible light, that’s what does the majority of the damage. And so that aside, Signals Defense technology is the best product for taking care of radio frequency and infrared energy for security purposes. But because of that, it does a tremendous job at solar energy rejection.

So you actually get a pretty high energy savings benefit out of a product that you were probably gonna put in because of a security concern. So that’s a great side benefit, and we can actually perform energy modeling that says, “If you’re gonna do this on your facility, you’re gonna realize some savings over time and actually help provide some of that ROI.”

Paul: So I think when people think of radio frequency shielding, you know, obviously the first thing I thought was security. But it’s really interesting that there’s so much clutter, I guess, I’d say for lack of another thing. You talk about the 1500 signals going to the building that the the efficiency aspect, and then on top of that even possibly some energy efficiency. It’s really nice to have all those, you know, multi-benefits basically out of the same technology.

Eric: A host of benefits there that…and some of those you can actually apply real-world dollars to, especially on that energy side.

Paul: So Eric, this is really fascinating. So people wanna find out more about radio frequency shielding and Signals Defense and what it is you guys, how do they…

Eric: Yeah, Paul, our website is fairly informative and has quite a bit of content in there. You can go to for more information. We do get around the country quite a bit with a few trade organizations and security events as well. We have some international partners. We’d be happy to help out any way we can with any concerns or questions. We have examples of work all across the country in the US here. And that includes all 50 states. Now, sometimes it’s hard to get good references depending on who we were working for in those areas. So sometimes that’s difficult, but we’d be happy to answer any questions and schedule a meeting or call with anyone who wants to talk about this.

Paul: So when you say it’s hard to get good references, it’s not because you guys do a crappy job but because of the confidentiality, right?

Eric: Perfect, correct. Thanks for the clarification there. Some of our clients…we’re in the security business and so the security functions of what we do, our clients expect us to maintain that confidentiality. And so we do get that often where somebody says, “Hey what did you do here and why? And I need five references.” Well, that might be hard because quid pro quo with some of that stuff and we got to be careful as a security company here.

Paul: All those confidentiality agreements I’m sure you sign every day.

Eric: Plenty of those in this business, that is for sure.

Paul: Well, Eric, really really interesting, and I thank you very much for coming on. I know the listeners are really gonna get some good stuff out of this. So thank you very much.

Eric: So, Paul, thank you, too, to you and the Everything Building Envelope team. I really appreciate the discussion today.

Paul: Yeah, really happy to have you. And I’d also like to thank all of our listeners at Everything Building Envelope. If you wanna get more information about the show with the show notes, please visit And until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, “So long.”

Hurricane Windows, Fact or Fiction

Will Smith – GCI Consultants, LLC

  • Talk about Irma and water leakage that occurred throughout Florida
  • What is a “hurricane window?”
  • How do the structural requirements for windows compare with water resistance?
  • Why can’t operable windows be made with higher water resistance?
  • What happens when severe windstorms such as a hurricane exceed the rating of a window or door for water leakage?
  • Is duration of the storm a factor?
  • Does this permanently damage the product?
  • What should be done in advance of a storm to lessen the amount of infiltration?
  • How can one tell the difference between a leak that was caused by conditions that exceed the rating of the product vs. construction or maintenance deficiencies?
  • How would you go about investigating and repairing water intrusion problems? (E2128, test, fix, test to confirm)


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 “Hurricane Windows Meet hurricane Irma“.

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

Paul: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Podcast. And in this episode, we’re gonna talk about Irma again. I’d like to welcome back the first three-time guest Will Smith, who we work together at GCI Consultants. Welcome again, Will.

Will: Thanks, great to be here, Paul.

Paul: So Will, we’re gonna talk today about Irma, which as we’re recording this was two, three, weeks ago and kind of what we’re starting to see some of the trends are with regards to damage I guess, I would say, and kind of just a big broad brush is obviously, there were some devastating winds that struck the Florida Keys and some areas in Southwest Florida.

There was a big storm and it affected virtually the entire state. And the big story in the rest of the state, once you get beyond power outages and trees that landscaping and things like that was a lot of buildings leaked water. So that’s my two cents. Are you hearing the same sort of things?

Will: Yeah, having lived through the storm myself and experienced another hurricane. I’ve been here for many years. So I lived through several of them. This is not anything new but it’s always something that we learn a little bit about. In my case, located in Palm Beach County, we had hurricane winds it’s somewhere in the upper 90-mile per hour area and which in itself, those of us who live in the hurricane zone don’t look at that as being horrible. It’s bad enough but it’s not as bad it could be.

But the fact is that they go on for so long. And you have that with heavy deluge of rain at the same time. As one person told me the other day, going through a hurricane is not so much a wind storm or a rain storm, as it is a durability test. I thought that was a pretty good insight into what we experienced during a heavy hurricane.

Paul: That really is good stuff. You know, as you were saying that I was just thinking, 90-mile an hour winds. I mean, those are high winds. But I don’t think Florida gets enough credit for how well-built things are down here. We have the strongest wind codes in the nation, probably the world.

And a 90 mile an hour winds in some parts of the country are certainly offshore internationally, would cause much, much more damage than it does in Florida. And I really think that there is a lot of credit due to the design and construction industry for doing such a good job to where it’s not necessarily a catastrophe like it would be, had the quality not been as good as it is.

Will: I think that’s very true. And just so the listeners know, there was just recently there was an article published obviously it’s still very early and a lot of investigations are going on and it’s gonna take some time to get the final results. But the early news is that the changes in the Florida Building Code were proven to work. And the extent of the damage in Florida was far less than it would have been, had the same storm occurred 20 or 30 years ago. Just simply because of the improvements in our code and our building methods.

Paul: That’s really great. So one of the big improvements to the code obviously has resulted in what we’ll call, for lack of a better term Hurricane Windows. And so I would pose a question to you. What’s your definition of a Hurricane Window as it exists in Florida these days?

Will: You know that’s a great question. And I think if you were to ask that one question from 30 different people, who are manufacturing windows you’ll get 30 different answers. Essentially though one of the things that I look for in hurricane-resistant windows are windows that have been tested and proven to number one, resist the wind pressures that can be expected in this environment. And secondly, be able to resist damage from wind-borne debris, which is called the impact test. And third, have a higher level of water infiltration resistance than it’s normally seen in most other parts of the country.

Paul: Now, you said hurricane-resistant windows. So I picked up on that. And if people out there that think windows should be hurricane proof, what would your thoughts be, the differences between a hurricane-resistant window and the misnomer I would call that there is such a thing as a hurricane-proof window.

Will: Yeah, good point. There really is no such thing as a hurricane-proof window. Windows can be made to resist wind pressures, made to resist impact, made to resist water. But there is always gonna be the possibility of circumstances when the wind pressure exceeds the ability of the window, or the tested ability of the window. The same thing for impact, the same thing for water, we can design and manufacture products that provide a certain level of protection. But at some point in time, that level of protection can always be exceeded. So there is no such thing as hurricane proof.

For example, if you have a window that has impact resistant glass. Many people misunderstand that just because it’s impact-resistant, that’s resistant. That doesn’t mean the glass can’t be broken. It can and it will be broken if it gets hit by some big, large, heavy object. But the point is that and the purpose of that impact resistance is to prevent that object from going through the glass and creating a big hole in the side of the building, where the glass used to be. So it has resistance, but it’s not hurricane-proof.

The same thing with water, it can resist water up to a certain level, it’s not a submarine. We don’t build windows so that they can go on in to resist water at huge levels and volumes of water and wind pressures.

Paul: So can you talk a little bit about what the structural requirements are for windows? Required by the code and also by industry standards and then how that compares with what the water resistance requirements are.

Will: There is a difference for example and some people would call it a disparity in the pressures that are required for wind resistance versus pressures that are required for water resistance. For example, a typical single or even a two-story residence in Florida will probably require a capacity of let’s say, approximately 60 pounds per square foot of pressure resistance. That can be converted into wind speed and in this case, let’s use the 60 pounds per square foot. That’s approximately 150-mile per hour wind.

So the thought is the way it’s tested is that when it’s in a laboratory and that window is attached to [inaudible 00:07:55] laboratory. They blow wind on this thing, in this window at a wind speed of about 150 miles per hour and it’s not supposed to fail. It’s not supposed to come out of the building. It’s not supposed to come apart. It’s supposed to hold in place.

Now at the same time when you test that very same window for resistance to water pressure instead of using 60 pounds per square foot, the code says that you have to use a percentage of that, which works out to be approximately nine pounds per square foot. So there is a big difference between winds at 60 pounds per square foot or 150 miles an hour, and wind-driven rain at nine pounds per square foot, which is the equivalent of approximately 59 miles per hour instead of 153.

Paul: So, why can’t windows, be made with higher water resistance? Like the structural requirements.

Will: Well, some windows can. But they’re pretty rare and obviously, they can be rather costly. And they also have a lot of limitations for example, one way to make a window, water type and be able to resist this kind of pressure is to design a window that is completely sealed shut, where the glass and the aluminum or wood that makes the frame is all sealed together and provides an impenetrable seal to resist water from coming through.

This would give you a very high resistance to water pressure and there are a couple of manufacturers that make a high-rise glass windows, for high-rise buildings like all glass buildings, curtain walls that have very high resistance to water at those kinds of pressures. But obviously, the deficiency in that for the typical homeowner is you can’t open the window. There is no ventilation. There is no emergency escape in the event of a fire from a bedroom, which is a requirement of the code and so on.

So as soon as you introduce the requirement that the window not only must provide protection against wind that it also must function and be able to open and close. You start to introduce other materials into the window like gaskets, weather-strips and other seals that have to be able to move, slide, compress and as a result, water can bypass those gaskets and seals.

Paul: So we have a 59-mile an hour water resistant window and we have 90-mile an hour wind-driven rain. What happens?

Will: Well, in a normal rainfall event like the day-in day-out use of a window in the state of Florida, it’s not gonna be a problem. And the reason is simply that not only do you not get rain or wind storms that typically have 59 miles per hour. But even if you do, the typical rain storm lasts for a few minutes. You have the wind. It’s blowing and it blows in gusts and but it doesn’t go on for a long duration, a long period.

In the event of a hurricane, it’s a little bit different story. Having just gone through Irma, I can tell you that we went through it for like 16 hours. Now, granted during that whole time that the wind wasn’t blowing for 97 miles an hour here in West Palm Beach for 16 hours but we certainly got a good constant pressure blowing through that rain storm.

What happens is the water starts to build up in the track of your sliding door or your window, and then all over sudden you get a gust that’s added on top of that constant pressure and that gust speed, which is what you see at the airport, in the weather stations. That gust can then push the water and force it to overflow the track.

Now, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna have a constant flow of water coming in. But you can have spurting water. Water is gonna start to bubble. You’re gonna see it start to what we call percolate, where it bubbles up around the bottom of the window and it could even overflow the track. Not a whole lot, but it can happen.

Paul: So and we actually saw that in multiple buildings, probably virtually every building was sliding glass door up and down the Southeast Coast of Florida. Had the phenomenon that you just described, when you said as you said not a lot but what happens to not a lot if it goes on for 16 hours?

Will: Well, again, it depends on how often the wind gusts. If you have an instance where the wind gusts for a minute and it overflows, you’re gonna get a little water on the inside. And like I said, it’s not gonna be very much. If the wind gusts repeatedly, you can get a fairly significant amount of water on the inside and when I say significant, I mean enough that if it’s not mopped up or cleaned up, it can cause damage into your finished materials next to the window.

Paul: Yeah. So I’ve often said in these storms drip can turn into a lot of water over a duration of time. So we talked about duration being a big factor and I think that’s something that’s really missed in the analysis. We talk about 16 hours. When windows are tested in the laboratory, how long are they tested for typically?

Will: Yeah. That’s obviously is a big difference that you’re hitting on a very important point. The standards and codes require that the window manufacturers have to test their windows to these various pressures before they can even…and water resistance. Before they can even offer them for sale in the State of Florida, they have to go through these tests.

But they also, require that the test be a 15-minute duration not hours like we experience during a hurricane. So there is obviously a big difference between a hurricane event and the performance requirements that the code mandates for windows and doors.

Paul: So these windows and doors which, many of which in exposed conditions were exposed to factors that were beyond their rating and they leaked. They were qualified, did meet and continue to meet the requirements of the building code standard. Is that not true?

Will: That’s probably correct. Yes. They were specified and manufactured in accordance with a set of standards and codes which demand a certain level of performance. But even, for example, we were using numbers earlier, where the percentage that is used for determining how much water pressure, we used a number of nine pounds per square foot. The maximum that’s required by the applicable standards is only 12, 12 pounds per square foot. And like we were talking about earlier, when you can convert that into wind speed and it’s nowhere as near the 100-mile per hour winds that you’re gonna get, plus the gusting factor on top of that in a hurricane.

Paul: So we have the… Irma came through and caused water leakage through windows and buildings up and down the coast. Does this primarily damage…no, we’re talking about here like the newer hurricane. We call hurricane windows or the windows that meet the new hurricane codes, which have been in effect for the last 20 years or so. The water leakage event in a hurricane, does that permanently damage the window or door?

Will: No. That’s an important factor that you brought up. Understand this that the damage that occurs or could occur to the surrounding finishes on the inside if you’ve got paint stains and drywall stains and stuff like that on the interior, even that can generally be cleaned up and repaired without a major problem.

The door itself in all probability is or the window itself is in all probability has not been damaged beyond repair. It’s pretty rare that such an event occurs and in fact, for it to occur normally, the storm has to exceed even the wind pressure capabilities of the products. And like we were talking about earlier, that could be 150 miles per hour.

So it’s doubtful that the window or door itself has been permanently damaged. But you need to make sure you need to check those windows and doors and make sure there is no damage so that they can weather another storm.

Paul: Yeah. So basically, that’s the water leakage issues that are problems that we solve and well might, can be considered a one-time event?

Will: Yes.

Paul: Until the next one, I guess.

Will: Yeah.

Paul: One time can happen more than one time. But it wouldn’t cause any problems, any ongoing problems with the normal weather patterns in South Florida, which includes severe thunderstorms and some pretty intense weather just not anything to compare with obviously, a hurricane.

Will: That’s right. It should not affect that performance of the product like that at all. And you should still be able to get many years of performance out of the product.

Paul: So for many owners that have operable windows that are the newer design, the impact-rated and all that. What can they do now or in advance to the next storm, to lessen the amount of infiltration?

Will: A couple of things. First of all, they need to go back and look at the windows and doors, to make sure that they’ve weathered the storm okay. There is gonna be like we talked about, gaskets, weather-strips, seals, things such as that. And just a simple inspection can be done to check and make sure those accessory materials, which are very important for resistance of water, make sure they’re in good shape and they’re performing their intended functions.

Make sure that the window hard work, operating [Inaudible 00:19:11], the locks are able to close and stick the window tight and shut that you don’t have flopping, like in the case of a sliding door when the door is in a closed position it should not be able to move and slide back and forth slightly. It should fit tightly. It should be tightly-fitted. So check those things and make sure they’re working properly.

And then check around the outside. Around the perimeter of the door and window to make sure that the frame of the window and door is properly sealed to the surrounding wall finish material whether that’d be stucco or siding or anything else. You need to make sure that no water can get in around the window. We’ve been talking about water getting through. But water can also come in around it if it’s not properly sealed. So in general, it’s just a matter of checking all those accessory materials in the windows and making sure they’ll all be able to serve their intended function.

Paul: Because one thing I was thinking about when you were saying that. Is that there is a lot of movement during a storm with windows and doors. They’re designed to bend in and out with the wind and in a hurricane, you have cyclic wind gusts. So you talk about perimeter sealant. Well, if there are some movement in the perimeter sealant beam that’s got some age to it, it can actually crack split open and form an opening that could cause water intrusion going forward along with just general, over time maintenance requirements as you were saying with all the different weather-stripping sealants, things like that.

Will: Yeah, it’s really important too, for the listener to understand that a window that goes into your home, let’s say you had it put in 10 years ago or so. I think it’s reasonable for a homeowner to have an expectation that the windows are gonna perform for fairly a good period of time. It should last for many, many years. However, the one thing we talked about, you just talked about was the sealant. Most sealant that goes around the window that keeps water from coming in around the outside parameter of the window in is susceptible to ultraviolet degradation and drying out and so forth.

And so, it’s not all unusual to see the sealant around the perimeter of the window where it just start to crack and fade and deteriorate within five or eight years. So while the window may perform as intended, you could have a lot of water come in around the perimeter because of these sealant failures. So it needs to be checked.

Paul: Just needs like a car needs a tune-up every now and then. Operable windows and doors probably need the same kind of attention.

Will: Yeah. It’s a good analogy. That’s right. You need to look at them. There is no product that goes into your home is indestructible and especially if it’s got moving components, like a window. If it’s got something in it that moves, that means it can wear out. So you need to check it.

Paul: So the buildings that were leaking in Irma, much of the leakage I think is attributed to the intensity and duration of the storm exceeding the rating on the products. But it’s also possible that it could be some construction or maintenance issues that would cause or exacerbate leak issues. How can one tell the difference between a one-time event versus a construction or maintenance problem?

Will: Like we were just talking about with the sealant. Water leakage can occur through the window, because for example if you have the sealant failure. But one thing to remember is if the water enters around the perimeter of the window because of the sealant failure, it doesn’t necessarily happen only in a hurricane. It’s probably been going on for a long period of time.

And an investigation can determine whether or not the leakage that you experienced was a one-time event or if it’s been going on for a period of time. And you can generally tell that by damage and deterioration of materials around the window or door that gives you a history if you will that it makes it clear that if you’ve got, for example, damaged wood trim or damaged drywall, it may be a one-time event, but it’s doubtful. It’s probably been going on for a while particularly if the damage is concealed underneath the drywall and it’s back inside the wall. That’s probably a good indicator that these problems have been going on for awhile.

So there is, other things that also can affect the water resistance capability of a window or a door but these things need to be checked out because a one-time event like a hurricane can overtax the capacity of the window or door. But if you’ve had water leakage before it might be concealed and you need to find out whether there is other damages inside the building or inside the walls that needs to be repaired, because it’s been going on for some time.

Paul: Yeah. The hurricane is like the extreme water test. That’s one way I would say one way to look at it.

Will: Very true.

Paul: So you and I did our first podcast, we did together, which was episode seven in September of 2016. We talked a lot about field water infiltration testing. So that I think maybe part of how you investigate water leakage. So just how would you go about investigating and repairing water intrusion problems?

Will: Well, the first thing you gotta do is identify whether or not there really is a problem. You need to look for the evidence of damage. You don’t just wanna just go out and start doing water testing. The very purpose of the water testing should be to recreate water leakage events that have occurred. So you need to determine whether or not there is any kind of water leakage that has occurred, and whether there is any damage.

Then you need to consider the development of a water testing program. The objective of which should be to recreate a water leakage that has caused damage. For example, let’s say a typical homeowner starts to notice that the baseboard below their window is starting to warp or starting to stain. Well, there is no damage around the window itself. But you know you’ve got something going on because the baseboard is starting to buckle and stain and get this damage.

So what needs to be done is the investigator needs to go in there, maybe remove some of that, baseboards, start to do some other invasive things and see how far what the water path is so for example, on the inside of the wall, where is the water appearing that’s causing this damage. Then do a test and re-create that water leakage path, in order to determine what the point of entry is on the exterior of the building.

Then from determining where the water entry point is and the leakage path that allows the water to get from outside the building to the inside of the building which then created the damage. By finding that disconnect from the outside to the inside of the building, you’re able to determine what the material is on the outside that need or on the inside of the wall. That needs to be repaired in order to stop that water intrusion from happening anymore. So it’s a rather intensive procedure. It can be rather intensive. But the objective is to find the leak, then re-create the leak, and track it back to the source. So you can eliminate the cause.

Paul: So you wrote an article a few years back. Didn’t you about this very thing we’ve been talking about today?

Will: Yes, I did. This goes back I think a few years ago called, “Hurricane Windows: Fact or Fiction.”

Paul: So this isn’t a new topic, necessarily. I mean, the awareness level obviously is very high. But that article really did a nice job of covering the whole issue around what is a hurricane window and what can be expected.

Will: Yes. It really discussed all the points that we talked about today.

Paul: So that article is available on the website. We’ve got a blog and there is actually a lot of articles there that would be of interest on the hurricane topic. But to make it easy for the listeners if you would like a copy of Will’s article, all you need to do is text the word buildingenvelope. All one word, buildingenvelope to 22828.

So again, if you’d like a copy of Will’s article. Text the word buildingenvelope to 22828. So, Will, this has been great. It’s really a relevant topic. I know the interest level was probably as high as it will ever be and it’s really, you know, people are asking all these questions. So I really thank you for providing some real good answers. As always, it’s great to have you on.

Will: Great to be here again. Thank you, Paul.

Paul: One other thing I just thought of. I just recorded a video last week, kind of going over this issue too, where we actually showed some footage, where we did some testing to re-enact what these leaks look like. So that’s on YouTube. So if you go to YouTube and you look for the GCI Consultants Channel, you’ll find that. And the title is shame on me, I don’t remember the exact words.

But something like water leakage and Hurricane Irma.

So there is another resource. And with that, I’d like to thank everybody for listening again to the Everything Building Envelope Podcast. Please tell your friends about it. You can subscribe to it on iTunes or Stitcher. And until next time, this is Paul Beers saying, so long.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.