Strategic Projects Division and Testing Methods

(Released on May 3)
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

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

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Chris: Welcome to today’s “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, Vice President and Senior Consultant for GCI Consultants, and I’ll be your host for today’s podcast. My guest today is Jason Bondurant, Director of Strategic Projects from GCI. Hi, Jason.

Jason: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris: Glad you’re here today. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Jason: Well, I’ve been a consultant for GCI for about five years now. Right now, working in the Strategic Projects division which is mostly dealing with problems with existing buildings and things like leak investigations, like we’re going to talk about today, due diligence, condition surveys, various services for existing buildings, essentially.

Chris: And I have told Jason several times, I think he’s got the most fun job in GCI, as far as I’m concerned. Because he goes out and sees lots of different things all the time, different types of problems in all different types of buildings, all different types of envelope systems. And then he gets to really do the detective work to figure out what the problem is and how to resolve it. And to me, he’s, kinda, putting it all together, everything we do at GCI. So, Jason, we get a call from a client with a problem at a building, why don’t you just run through with us what your process would be then once you get that call?

Jason: So, specifically, that call is usually related to a leak through the envelope of a building. And this has been especially a huge problem we’ve been dealing with in South Florida since Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Basically, the structures, down here, were exposed to water driven by winds in a way that they never may have been exposed to before. So it was an extreme test for all the buildings down here and a lot of the buildings didn’t past the test, and there were a lot of leaks down here. And so when we first get that call, I guess, the first thing we try to do is learn what we can over the phone from the potential client about what’s going on.

Is it hurricane related? Has this been a recurring problem? You know, what’s, kind of, the history of the issue? You, kind of, want to start by finding out what is the history of the issue, and what is the history of the building. And usually, I’ll ask them to send us some drawings if they have any drawings or any other documents about the building. And the reason why we like to look at that is we like to see, you know, what is the overall design concept for the structure, are we dealing with exterior wall problems? What’s on the exterior wall? Is it stucco typically for buildings in this area? Or is it metal panels? Or what is the construction?

And then the reason why we like to look at that is because we want to determine how that system is managing water. Typically, down here, it would be a barrier-type wall system if we’re looking at a wall problem. So all the water is, basically, getting deflected at the exterior surface of the wall, or are we looking at a system where it’s a rain screen system and it’s draining water, you know, different types of envelope systems will manage the water differently. So we like to figure out what is the overall design concept. Then, typically, what we would do is have an onsite meeting with the client and have them show us the problem. What we’re looking for is any evidence of water leakage, water damage at the inside of the building.

A lot of the times, when we go in, it’s not actively leaking, so we’re just looking at any evidence of prior leaks. Then obviously, we would want to look at the exterior of the building and see, you know, what are any possible deficiencies with the exterior of the building that could be causing that?

Chris: I was just gonna say that a lot of times when I’m doing those kind of things, the information you get because you’re dealing with people who may not specialize in looking for sources of leaks in a building, it could be a little unclear sometimes, those initial impressions you’re getting from the people at the site.

Jason: Yeah. An anecdotal-type evidence and you could get a different story from different unit owners. And sometimes if it’s not a residential building, you might not get much information at all from the tenants there, if they’re not paying really close attention to the leak when it’s happening. So, yeah, it can be tough. And sometimes, we don’t have a whole lot to go on, and that’s why, you know, it’s important that we do the visual inspection and look at everything for ourselves and not rely on the owner’s reports. Although, that obviously is useful to us. And then the most critical step is really the next step, which would be where we’re performing some kind of testing.

And the reason why that’s important is because really, we can go out there and we can look at it and we can say, you know, “Well, the ceiling joint over here looks like it’s in pretty rough shape,” you know, that could be it. Or, you know, you look over here, well, there’s a stucco crack over here, that could be a problem. Or, you know, the window looks suspect. And, you know, we could say all these things are questionable, but the only way to really know for sure is to do some kind of testings.

Chris: And when you do that testing, I know your experience like mine is what, kind of, proves to you that looking at those suspect conditions isn’t always the answer. Because, you know, I know you found like I have that you do this testing and sometimes it’s not the most obvious visual thing that ends up being your problem.

Jason: Yeah, exactly. And honestly, sometimes when you’re dealing with these issues, the problem may not be something you can see visually. If you’re looking at a deck or waterproofing system that may have pavers on top of it, you can’t visually see the waterproofing membrane down there. Or if you’re dealing with some kind of a rainscreen wall system, you know, you can’t see the weather barrier behind the exterior cladding. So this type of testing is what we use to, kind of, further isolate different areas and try to pinpoint, okay, is it this? Is it that? Is it the window? Is it the wall? Is it the deck?

So it’s very useful, the testing. And the testing can…it can vary by a lot, you know, it’s typically some form of water testing. And there’s lots of different methods we use. You know, if we’re looking at a deck, we might do some kind of flood testing. If we’re looking at a wall, we might just do some kind of rudimentary hose testing. Or if it’s a window, you know, we have our various methods for testing windows and doors using the exterior spray rack and things like that. So we do a lot of water testing when we’re evaluating these leak-type issues.

And then occasionally, even do some more invasive testing where we’re actually pulling things apart and, kind of, digging more into what’s beneath and what’s going on, especially like I said, if we’re dealing with, like, plaza decks, where we can’t see the water proofing. Or if we’re dealing with walls where we can’t see the weather barrier. You know, things need to be opened up for us to do our job, basically. And sometimes that can be challenging to convince a client that it’s necessary to do that.

But our whole approach to this is, we need to do whatever is necessary to really be able to pinpoint the problem. Because we know that if we’re not able to find it, and we recommend something that’s not actually the main source of the problem, then we’re gonna be getting called back later because the problem is still going on. So there’s a lot at stake for us too with all this, and we wanna make sure we get it right the first time.

Chris: You don’t wanna just…and I’ve seen some people whose approach or maybe the first approach on some of these buildings where people have a problem is just to, kind of, put a giant band-aid over everything and hope that the problem goes away. But what you’re saying is we’re not gonna take that approach. We’re gonna dig in and know for certain, here is what the problem is, and here is how to fix it.

Jason: Right. And if the client doesn’t wanna go that extra step for the destructive testing, let’s say, then we’re still gonna help them the best that we can. But we’re gonna be clear about, you know, these are the unknowns, or these are the potential results that could come from taking that approach, basically. But what I was gonna say was, actually, a lot of the times when I’m getting involved in these types of issues, this is not the first attempt that they’ve made to try to resolve the problem. Typically, when a building owner has a problem with their building, they’re gonna call a contractor first.

You know, I understand completely, you know, it’s gonna be less expensive. You know, they figure, why do I need to hire a consultant to help me with this problem? And in some cases, you know, if you are hiring a really knowledgeable contractor, then they should be able to resolve that issue. But in a lot of the cases where we’re getting involved, there have been, sometimes, multiple prior attempts to fix the problem that have been unsuccessful. So that’s why we take this whole approach because we don’t want our clients to be in that position by the time we get done. You know, we want this to be the last time that they have to go through this process for this problem.

And, yeah, usually by the time I get there, that’s what we’re seeing, is we’re seeing sealant that’s been smeared all over the wall or on the deck somewhere to try to mitigate water that’s been coming in. And sometimes it’s done by facilities personnel that may not be the most knowledgeable about the envelope of the building, and they’re just doing what they can. Or sometimes they just don’t have the budget, so they’re just doing what they can to try to mitigate the issue. When in some cases, we’ve even seen those attempts actually worsen the problem before they start to correct it.

So I’m thinking about things like flashings where their ceiling over, you know, drainage channels in the wall or underneath the window to try to keep water from getting in there because it’s leaking inside there and then they just make it worst. And I know you’ve seen a lot of stuff like that.

Chris: Yeah. A lot of people have the idea that mortar caulk is the better thing. So as you said, you sometimes…these that you go out to, they’ve already got three layers of caulk on there from people trying to, you know, put the band-aid on it. It can have no affect or as you said, if it’s over in a location that’s intended to let water out, you end up just holding more in and making it an even more severe problem. So you do your water testing. You do your destructive testing. You find out where the sources are. And then what’s your next step?

Jason: At that point, obviously, we’re gonna provide a report to the client that’s documenting all the prior steps, you know, reviewing all the project documents, evaluating the design, the service history, the inspection, testing. And we’re saying, okay, you know, “This is everything we’ve done. This is what we’ve come up with. Here’s a report, it has pictures.” You know, typically, it has some section details where we’re tracing a leak path through the building, trying to, you know, show them as best we can, you know, this is what we think is going on. And at that point, obviously, you know, the client is most interested in, “Now, okay, what do we have to do to resolve the problem?”

So, typically, what we would do at that stage is we would get a contractor involved and mock-up some kind of repair based on, you know, what our findings with the leak investigations. And if it’s a window leak, as an example, we would have a contractor come out, pick maybe one or two windows on the building and mock-up what we’re recommending would be the repair for those windows. And then, kind of, the final step before we determine, okay, this is the final scope for the repair procedure is we would wanna test that repair. So in the case of a window, we would perform another water test on that window to make sure that it’s no longer leaking.

So that way, everybody has confidence at that point, that okay, we did testing when we first got there. We tested the existing conditions. We found out this is how it’s leaking. We recommended a repair. Then we did testing after the repair, and we said, okay, you know, it’s no longer leaking in that way. That gives everybody confidence, the contractor, the client, and GCI that this repair is successful at addressing this problem. So that, kind of, comes full circle then and now at that stage, typically, the client would hire the contractor to do the repair on all the similar conditions on the building. And then sometimes we would be involved in that process, overseeing that work and sometimes not. But that, kind of, closes the loop on the leak investigation at that point.

Chris: Sure. And as you said, it could be just one location, or it could be a situation where the same problem’s occurring in a hundred different places on the building. And the level of oversight in the repair process could be different depending upon the owner’s budget, how many problems they have, those kind of things.

Jason: Each project we deal with is completely unique. And each client we deal with is unique. So our process, even though we have a very specific method, it’s gonna be tailored to the individual circumstances that we’re dealing with and the individual client’s needs.

Chris: And that goes back to what I was saying, is the variety in the work that you do because as you said, “Everyone is unique.” Unique problems, unique building, unique arrangements in situations with the owner’s budgets, type of building, residential versus office, all those kinds of things, as you said, you have to have a protocol, but you have to have the knowledge and confidence to be flexible in how that’s applied as well. So talk to us then, what’s some of the common problems that you see in these water leakage-type situations that we get involved with?

Jason: So like I mentioned, the majority of these types of leak investigations we’ve been doing since the hurricane, you know, we’ve been doing quite a few. And the majority of the issues that we’ve been looking at since the hurricane, I would say have been window and/or wall issues. And the reason why, is just with the wind-driven rain from the hurricane, driving this rain into the windows and the walls in a way that they were never exposed to before. So with the windows and walls, the main things that I’m seeing, obviously with the walls, stucco issues, which, I think, most people would expect. But I think that people would be surprised as to just the amount of water that can make its way through a little crack in the stucco.

Obviously, we demonstrate that through our leak investigations, but I think people would just be shocked to see the water that’s pouring in through some of these stucco cracks. With the building construction down here in South Florida, any of those cracks that you see is basically a compromise to your building envelope and that’s water that’s getting into the wall. And there’s stucco cracks on probably, say, the majority of buildings in South Florida. So that’s a big one. Glazing window issues is another big one. Again, in South Florida, here, the buildings that we’re dealing with, there is no flashing underneath the windows, so any leaks through the windows itself are getting into the wall system.

And so, you know, we’re looking at…and in some cases, these are just older buildings that we’re looking at. So the window products, you know, maybe they’re gasket glazed at the exterior, the gaskets have deteriorated, they’ve shrunk. Now, you have a lot of water that’s getting into the window and the window can’t manage it. So we see a lot of that type of stuff to. Sealant joints in general, anywhere where there’s sealant joints in the windows, in the wall, the issue with the sealant joints is they’re just so dependent on the workmanship from the individual contractor and the individual person that’s applying those sealants. So any little deficiency in sealant is gonna be letting water into the walls and around the windows, down here. I don’t know, do you have any other ones that you see, typically?

Chris: Well, sure, yeah. And I think as you were saying the severe weather conditions that we’ve seen recently have brought about a lot of the kinds of problems that you described. But I know you and others in GCI have done other investigations in other areas where it doesn’t take the severe event, it’s more the combined long term wetting of the walls, where you see problems that may result from sealant joints or underlying problems that you were talking about earlier with weather barriers, those kinds of things. All of the different parts and components of the walls that have to work together to keep the water out, we often see that some areas where those aren’t joint together, integrated well, and the water finds the way in through that path.

And what you were saying really struck, you know, hit home to me, in that it doesn’t take much of a void, crack, or a small void, or what have you can really end up in a lot of damage. The good thing about the South Florida construction is the CMU walls, in that, even if they’re wet, you’re usually not gonna get deterioration of the structure itself. But we get into other areas and some of the other types of projects you’re working on where it’s wood-framed or metal-framed walls and, I think, your experience like mine has been then you can have a lot worse than just water problems, you can actually be getting into structural damage to those kind of walls.

Jason: Just to add to that, just in general, the issues that we’re seeing could be related to the original installation or the original design of these buildings, or they could be related to differed maintenance and maybe prior remediation attempts being unsuccessful and things like that. So, I mean, we do these types of leak investigations on newer buildings and older buildings. Though the actual cause, or in terms of who is responsible varies by quite a bit.

Chris: So those are, kind of, some of the vertical issues, you know, walls, glazing systems, those kind of things. But I know you also get into horizontal issues with waterproofing, roofing, terraces, those kinds of things as well.

Jason: Yeah. And the waterproofing and the roofing issues can sometimes be the most damaging just because of the exposure at being on a horizontal surface. It’s gonna be exposed to a lot more water, especially if the drainage is not ideal on these decks. And that’s one of the main things that…or one of the first things that we look for when you have leaks through a waterproof deck. What is the drainage like? And the key there is making sure that you have drainage at the finished surface and also at the waterproofed surface. And this is another area where a lot of people don’t really understand how these types of components function where, you know, if you have waterproofing on a structural deck and then you have a topping slab, a lot of people don’t understand that, that that water is meant to get beneath that topping.

And when it does, you have to make sure that it’s designed and has a place for that water to go. That’s something that we look at a lot with plaza deck issues. And these can be some of the difficult to deal with, too, because it’s usually the most invasive to try to actually investigate these problems because we have components on top of the weather resistant layer that are concealing it, so they have to be removed in order for us to see it. So definitely, with waterproofing we see a lot of drainage problems. A lot of problems where the waterproofing is not integrated well with other components, so where the waterproofing transitions to the walls or where it transitions to windows and doors.

This is a big problem on new construction, especially because we’re just finding a lack of coordination between the individual trades where it comes to these types of transitions. Roofing issues, same type of thing, the main issue we see there where the roof is tying into the exterior wall, parapet walls are a big source of leaks. And also, just differed maintenance on the roof is another big problem. I think building owners should understand that preventative maintenance especially on something like a roof is well worth the investment, and it’s gonna prolong the life of your roof considerably.

So in a lot of cases where we’re looking at issues with the roof or with the waterproofing, you know, maybe nothing’s been done, no work’s been done up there for 20 years, and it’s really no surprise to us when we get there that it’s leaking because they just haven’t done anything to maintain it. And that’s something else that we try to stress to our clients through these whole processes. You know, what can they do in the future to try to avoid getting into this situation again.

Chris: Right. Because a lot of people with buildings just feel like, okay, you build it and you forget about it, and it will all be fine forever. But what we know is that, there is two things. It has to be built right in the beginning, and then it has to be maintained because nothing lasts forever.

Jason: Yeah. The owners have that responsibility to maintain it.

Chris: Exactly, right. Whether they know that or not, we help to educate them if they don’t, that you’ve got some ongoing responsibility here. Even after we come in and find the solution to your problem, there is going to be some ongoing maintenance required. In the intro you had also mentioned, in addition to the forensics where we look at buildings with problems, that you’re also doing due diligence inspections for real estate transactions.

Jason: And it’s not just that but also just general conditions surveys for building owners, which is another area where we’re talking to owners about maintenance, and we try to educate them about that because this is another type of task that we’re involved with where we’re seeing a lot of differed maintenance-type problems. But, basically, what these condition survey, due diligence-type inspections are is, it’s more general, I would say, we’re not focused on an individual leak problem as much as we’re kind of assessing the whole envelope.

So sometimes we would be called in, like you said, because someone wants to purchase a building, and they want someone to do a survey to see, you know, what are the problems, what is the likelihood that there’s gonna need to be serious maintenance on this building within the next few years. And so, typically, what we would do is, again, a visual inspection of the building. We’re looking at, what is the general condition of the envelope of the building, the walls, the roof, the waterproofing, the windows.

Again, we’re looking for things that could potentially cause moisture intrude through the envelope, or we’re looking at things that could potentially be a structural concern. But just, kind of, giving an overall survey and then, typically, providing recommendations for repair, either in the short-term or sometimes in the long-term, where we may say, “Well, you know, the roof is in fair condition now, it seems to be performing, but you’re gonna wanna think about replacing it in the next 10 years.” Let’s say, so. That way, the owners can take that and budget for that or use that in their decision whether or not to purchase the building or in their negotiation to purchase the building.

Chris: Sure. And similar too if you’re buying a home and you have a home inspection, this is valuable information for people spending millions of dollars on large building real estate transactions. They need to know. They need to know if there’s a problem right now. And then also, as you said, budgeting for what needs to be done on this building over the next 5, 10 years if they buy it and own it. And that’s obviously a very important factor in these purchased decisions that our clients in that area are making.

Well, thanks for your time today, Jason. I’m sure our listeners gained a lot of insight and advice regarding the strategic projects forensic work that you do. If you’d like to speak with Jason, you can call GCI at 877-740-9990. I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. GCI Consultants looks forward to bringing you continued interesting topics and guest to continue to talk about matters that affect the building envelope. Thank you. And I look forward to talking with you again soon on the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast series. For now, this is Chris Matthews signing off.