What Every Building Owner Needs To Know About Doors & Windows

Paul Del Vecchio – Owner TJDCCI  Construction Consultants

    Understanding the current condition of your doors and windows and their possible vulnerabilities can protect your building from future damage, protect people from harm, and protect your investment for the long haul.

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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Derek: Welcome to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Derek Segal, and I’m a building envelope consultant with GCI Consultants. And I will be your host today. We’ve got a very special guest today, Paul Del Vecchio, who’s the owner of PJDCCI Construction Consultants, based out of Boca Raton, Florida, who is joining us. And today, we we’re talking about fenestration. Welcome, Paul.

Paul: Thank you, Derek.

Derek: Paul, can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and also, I’d like you to maybe just give us a brief description of what we’re talking about today being fenestration so all of our guests can understand what the topic applies to.

Paul: Okay. I have been a contractor in Florida since 1979. And I’ve worked in Florida in the construction industry since 1970. I sold my construction company about 12 years ago or so, and ended up providing consulting services as I do today. A lot of the consulting services I provide have to do with building envelope and, more specifically, windows and doors, the world of fenestration, if you will.

Derek: Thank you for that. So wow. So you started your career here in 1970, which, obviously, I guess, things were quite a bit different back then, regarding building codes and the construction industry, so I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit of changes over the last 40-plus years.

Paul: Absolutely.

Derek: Yeah, I mean, things are changing on a rapid pace here. So, maybe just to start out, let’s talk a little bit about, because I think you were pretty active, as you said, in the construction industry licensing board, what is that board? What is it responsible for and how is it structured? And what did you folks do while being a part of that licensing board?

Paul: Well, the Construction Industry Licensing Board is a division or element of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation of Florida. That’s the entity that, basically, as the title would infer, regulates our specific businesses, among them construction as well as architecture, engineering, and building inspectors and building officials. On the CILB, which is an acronym for the Construction Industry Licensing Board, there are 18 members. The vast majority of them are contractors of various disciplines, two of them are building officials, and two are consumer people who have no connection to the construction industry at all. And the CILB is tasked with regulating construction in the state of Florida. So we have a statute, like all disciplines do, and it’s Florida State Statute 489. And it really dictates the requirements of a contractor, since it’s considered a professional license in the state of Florida.

Derek: Got it. So you folks sat on this board, and you managed, if you will, the construction industry, or the licensees in the state of Florida, actually of which I’m one. I’m a state licensed roofing contractor, so I’m very familiar with the board. I got licensed in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. What type of disciplinary cases would you folks hear and how many involved fenestration, windows and doors, openings, building envelope issues? Do you have any type of percentage or…? And what type of cases did you guys listen to while sitting on the board?

Paul: Well, as you pointed out earlier, the industry changes during my twelve and a half years on the board. We disciplined people for the vast majority of time for financial mismanagement. However, about 15 or so percent of the work has to do with defective work, where contractors had performed the work improperly resulting in damage that was not recovered through the civil proceedings. So complaints would be filed against these contractors. And the vast majority of those issues were breaches in the building envelope, failures in doors and windows. And the last or most important point would be a vast number of them were due to improper installation, failing to follow the NOA as we have today, previously, just following good standard practice, and, you know, following the building code and the provisions within the building code that are conditions precedent to installing a window or door, prepping the opening, properly flashing it. The issue with developing the primary seal between the window and your door and the structure, and understanding what a buck is, what a continuous shim is, tending, if you will, the fasteners beyond their strength, if you will. I have had unfortunately seen all sorts of issues, usually after we have one of our hurricanes, where I’ve seen windows that were attempted to be fastened with drywall screws that were foamed into place with Great Stuff foam, just all sorts of silliness if you will.

Derek: So ultimately, the responsibility of a proper installation sits with the contractor and not with the building official that’s looking at or inspecting the work. Is that what the premise is? It’s ultimately…because I guess when the building official gets there, you know, that opening is covered up and it looks pretty and everything looks fine, but oftentimes they can’t see what went on behind the finish or the drywall. Am I correct in saying that?

Paul: Correct. Building officials or building departments and their delegates, building inspectors are…only come out and do spot inspections of the work as it’s progressing. Responsibility for complying with code is actually placed in the Statute 553 and the responsibility rests with the permit holder, the contractor. So, compliance with code, there’s 9 volumes in over 3800 pages of code material. Obviously, a building department and its staff are not there to do quality control for the contractor. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to comply with the building code, understanding the code or the minimum standards for safe construction in the state of Florida. It’s what it is.

Derek: So would you, for example, on a large commercial building or a commercial building as a whole, even on a on a home, would you recommend or feel that it’s a good idea for a property owner or building community to retain an outside third-party expert to kind of be that quality control inspector to make sure that whomever is doing the work is doing it in a safe and effective manner and in accordance with the NOA and the building code? Is that a recommendation you would make to someone putting up a building or retrofitting a building?

Paul: Absolutely. In the long run, the additional cost to have this additional set of eyes is outweighed by the benefit of having the work done properly and completely. And it’s not only the windows and doors, it’s roofing, it’s the cladding on the exterior of the building structure, all of those elements are what protects the building occupants, their contents and the structure itself.

Derek: Oftentimes, these owners are, “Well, I’m already spending money, why do I need the…?” They’re oftentimes penny-wise and pound foolish and really, I’m in agreement with you. As a roofing consultant, I feel it’s so important especially, when it’s a large project and a lengthy project to have someone as your advocate, your eyes and ears. And also not someone to be adversarial, but someone who understands the challenges that a contractor has, because it’s not an easy job, but someone that can kind of be the middleman and kind of keep this process moving along smoothly and communicating with both parties.

Paul: I would agree. And there’s a side benefit I have found through the years. By going through this exercise as an independent third party, you tend to educate the contractors and the staff that are doing the work. They further understand the nexus, if you will, between the information, in the NOA and the engineer practices that went in to that window and door and understand the minimum requirements by the building code. Ultimately, it makes them better trades people, better contractors. Information is something…

Derek: It helps everyone. Yeah.

Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Derek: So, say the top four or five points what property owners should be cognizant or conscious of when having windows or doors installed. Are there some key factors that one should really keep in the front of their mind when it comes to replacing these, what I believe are critical building components because they form part of the structure? What should they be cognizant of?

Paul: Well, the ones that I have come across both as a consultant and my time on the board is the lack of flashing and sealants beyond what we refer to in the field as the beauty bead or exterior sealant between the cladding and the window. They do not deal well with flashing and the primary seal between the window and door-door assembly and the structure. Most of them are missed and/or when a contract is written, that gray area is omitted from the window or door subcontractors installation. The assumption is well, the general contractor must have that or the waterproofing contractor has that. You have to look at it as a complete assembly. It’s not just the window or not just the door. It’s that connection to the structure, and it being watertight, long before cladding goes up and the beauty bead goes on.

Derek: Well, the intersection or the connection of two building components, in my opinion, is the most critical area of any structure. It’s where two materials comprising different formulations come together because typically, they’re gonna expand and contract and move at different rates. And it’s vital to have that connection perfect.

Paul: Correct. And you know, avoiding three-point adhesion between a third piece between these different materials because everything has a different coefficient of expansion and contraction. Sun rises and sets every day, so we have different thermal, if you will, acts on a material, so it’s going to move. And assuming it’s not just because the screw is very tight against a wood buck doesn’t mean that it’s sealed. That frame is sealed. It isn’t. So you need that primary seal. You usually need the backer rod to avoid the three-point adhesion at shims so you don’t tear your sealant. There is a number of small items that are important to success because, as you pointed out, once the drywall is up, the stucco or the woods siding is on, the trim is on, that’s not the time to find out that you have a failure in the primary seal or the window connection to the structure. Too late.

Derek: Right. And often what you don’t see is really the most dangerous stuff out there. Because you know, we’ve all seen you know, everything looks pretty on the outside. Most owners get a false sense of security thinking that, “Since it looks good, it must be good, and I don’t see any problems. So I’m fine.” I mean, is that a bad approach?

Paul: Absolutely. And I will share with you an assignment I had after Wilma, up in Vero Beach on some low-rise condominiums where they had recently installed impact-resistant windows. And when I went out there, every window was in perfect condition. Unfortunately, none of them were in the rough out. They were on the ground, in the living room, in the hallway, and other places. They just came out of the opening because you buy the window, you would assume that the faster is the proper faster, that it has the right depth, that it is anchored properly into the structure, that the primary seal that we just talked about was actually installed. In this case, they tried to handle that with Great Stuff foam. And the windows certainly didn’t have sufficient connection to the structure. So although the window itself was fine, it didn’t fail, the installation failed and the window blew out of the opening. Same result as though the window had failed itself as far as the consumer is concerned. But as you pointed out, this is all things that a homeowner or consumer doesn’t see till it’s too late.

Derek: So yeah, these windows are tested, presumably for the end of the notice of acceptance, which is the Dade County Protocol. They’re tested, and they’re certified. But, you know, we need to keep in mind that these products are tested in a controlled environment. It’s a beautiful 72 degrees in the area that they’re being tested. And the assumption that once it’s installed, it’s still in a passing, if you will, state is really a false assumption. Because once it’s installed and handled and moved and screwed through, then it’s almost… Is there a type of testing that you can do following the installation to make sure that a window…would you do a sporadic or testing, a random testing of windows once they go into make sure they’re watertight and sound?

Paul: Well, typically, on the high-rise buildings that I constructed and those that I consult on. Typically, on new construction, we do the water tests on random windows of each type in a building in a high rise to determine whether we have a problem long before all the windows are installed. Typically, it’s, as you pointed out, not the window or the window manufacturing, but the issue is with the installation. I’m not suggesting that windows are perfect, but the likelihood of having a defective window is significantly less than a defective or deficient installation. So you perform the ALMA or ASDM test, usually ASDM on new, ALMA on an older window, six months or so, and determine the suitability of the window. And I think everyone also assumes, when they look at the NOA, they look at the rating and the window is rated for 170 miles an hour, and I’m just picking a number. But water intrusion occurs at a much lower rate. You need to read the whole NOA to understand what you’re buying, specifically. And and I think a lot of consumers really make their selections based on price point rather than performance.

Derek: Right. So I’ve read some articles, done some research recently on some of the challenges we face in Florida. I think a couple of the concerns we have is with the quality of workmanship in Florida seems to be under some stress now. We’ve got a couple of the issues. One is we’ve got so many people moving into the area. There’s just more traffic out there. There’s more productivity being affected, commute times are longer, worker productivity is down because, you know, folks are needing to spend more time on the road. And also the availability of affordable housing close to where you work is scarce. And so there’s more commuters on the road as people live further and further away from their place of employment. Would you suggest that it’s becoming even more critical to have this third party kind of overseeing the project given some of these challenges that are coming to the surface on just time on the road and folks commuting for the distances is more fatigued? How do you see the workmanship? In your opinion, it’s getting better? Is it stable, or is it dropping off? What’s your response to that?

Paul: I would tell you as someone who has been in the construction industry a long time and more specifically in Florida, Florida has its own set of challenges. It’s a very transient state. We have people from different parts of the country in different countries coming here with their known skill sets, and many of them trying to adopt to perhaps the most difficult building code in the nation, and they don’t understand it. They have difficulty in following it. I can’t tell you how many times in my career I’ve heard, “But I’ve been doing it that way for 20 years.” That’s not an answer. Having a third party…because remember, buildings are constructed by human beings. High rises are constructed by hundreds of human beings on the project at the same time. I mean, none of us are infallible, and the chances of having an error run much higher. The additional cost for an independent set of eyes to walk through the critical details and elements that eventually get covered up, I cannot stress, is money well spent. In the end…

Derek: When should they hire? When should they…sorry for jumping in. When should they hire a third party? Should it be from development of a set of specifications or should it be right before the project starts? What would you recommend?

Paul: In the perfect world, and we have some clients that hire us to do this, it’s in the develop stage, actually looking at the products, looking at the details on the drawing. I typically stress, because I come from a background of doing a lot of government work, a lot of Army Corps and Navy work of going through the process with each step of the work, having a pre-construction meeting with the foreman or superintendent for that discipline and making sure we understand all of our materials here on time, all of the parts and pieces are here, what codes, what inspections, what level and finish are we anticipating on the following work to the work being installed. Those are all elements that should be gone over by an independent third party.

Again, it assist the general contractor. I think most general contractors in the world do not understand. They believe they have and they do statutorily a one-year warranty period. But beyond that, there’s a 4-year statute of limitations on defects and a 10-year statute of repose for unforeseen site conditions or damages or defective work. So essentially, as a contract, I am on the hook for 10 years for the work I perform. What’s the cost of a third party to just give an objective view of what I am having done? It’s cheap.

Derek: Yeah. And also to cover the owner’s back in case there is an issue. I mean, that sounds like some pretty powerful ammunition that property owner could say, “Look, I had a third party do the due diligence.” You know, obviously, if you don’t have that third party involved, how can you enforce your right under a warranty? I mean, I would imagine it’s much more difficult because you really don’t know what happened. So…

Paul: That’s when they call us and it’s forensic work. Both you and I have done that and unfortunately, that’s not the least expensive way to cure a problem. That’s the most expensive way. The better money spent is at the front end, period.

Derek: Right. So let’s just lead into this. So as the construction consultant now, what are the most common cases that you were involved with? What are you doing out there presently, where’s most of your work coming from or the majority?

Paul: I would say the majority of work that we are involved in are third party, if you will, construction defect cases. We do do some first-party work. They’re basically the same from the technical point of view to failure and their subsequent damage to that failure. Again, unfortunately, a failed building envelope issue doesn’t manifest itself until sometimes years after the work is installed and the damage resulting from that failure becomes catastrophic, it becomes far more than it would have been had we solved the problem at the initial.

Derek: Early on.

Paul: Right. Right.

Derek: And then your building is more susceptible to to impact from these catastrophic events that we have. Is a building weakened by something that has a hidden defect, is there a danger there?

Paul: Of course, if we lose windows or doors and on a windward side of a storm and the eyewall is passing and the negative pressure on the leeward side, you could end up losing a roof on a residence or blowing out additional windows and doors. I just had that on several projects on several high-end residences that were constructed to Dade County’s 180-mile-an-hour program in the Bahamas. And literally, once we lost a door, it took the windows, doors, drywall and almost everything else out. Unfortunately, that storm sat over that particular area for several hours, the eyewall, it did significant damage. But that’s what happens when you lose a window. Once you breach the envelope, you’re now going to experience damage. How much? You know your personal contents, the flooring, drywall. I mean, drywall is gypsum once it’s wet it’s done. You know there’s considerable dollars and cents. And I know everyone likes to spend money in construction on what they can see. But the devil, if you will, is in the details.

Derek: Yeah, I’ve always been a proponent of what you don’t see is what can hurt you most. And, like you, I do building envelope inspections. And really, when I don’t see anything in an area where I know that the structure has been subjected to pressures in excess of its original design, I’m even more concerned and people are like, “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything?” Well, you know what’s going on behind that wall and really, the concern here as well is if you don’t identify those issues, and let’s say you go three years down the road and another storm impacts the area and then you have major damage, the insurance company may be able to tie that damage into an event that happened three years prior. And then you’re in big trouble.

Paul: Agreed, just dislodging fasteners in a window recently. You know, just dislodging the window assembly, if you will, from its original positioning. You know, yeah, it didn’t blow out during the storm and I’m good. And then the next storm comes and now you have a failure because that window is now weakened.

Derek: Right. There’s a couple of questions that I always put out there to property owners regarding windows and doors just to see if I can jog their memory or identify any issues that they’re having. One is do you hear more noise? Do you hear traffic? Do you hear more wind than you heard before? That’s one question. The other is, you know, compared to this time last year, are your utility bills higher? Are you losing air conditioning air because that window or door is no longer sitting flashed or properly aligned? Because really, they don’t understand oftentimes the way these components are installed or what they’re supposed to look like, but they certainly understand well, “You know, I’d never heard this traffic before or my AC bill went through the roof.” Are there any other things that an owner in layman’s terms can think about or that we can bring to their attention to kind of uncover some of these issues?

Paul: Well, I mean, you made some very good points. You can go to a big-box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy one of these smoke cans and you just open it up adjacent to a window or door that you’re hearing more sound through. And you’ll be able to see if there’s a draft.

Derek: Got it.

Paul: That’s the first breach. Okay. It may not have yielded water damage yet, but when we have a storm, it doesn’t rain vertically in Florida, it rains horizontally with, you know, significant force behind it. The other issue that I came across a great deal was abuse of roofs. Not to segue away from kind of [inaudible 00:30:20]

. But I have seen a number of people who are required to pressure clean their roof and they hire someone who has zero knowledge of roofing and will go up on the roof with a 2500 or 3000 PSI pressure washer and subject that roof assembly and its flashings to pressures and water greater than a category five hurricane. And then the next storm that comes, there’s a spot in the ceiling. Why is there a spot in the ceiling? Again, going back to your insurance analysis, if a carrier can determine that that damage was done by you and not by the storm, you may find yourself…

Derek: In trouble…

Paul: …paying for reroofing on your own.

Derek: Right. Well, the other thing that you’re potentially affecting is even if there isn’t another storm, and now I get a leak in my roof, and I call my roofer or the manufacturer, they come out, and they’re like, “You know what? This was done by your pressure cleaner or a maintenance guy. You breached your warranty.” So, here’s a case of a guy that spent $25,000 on a new roof. And he wanted to keep this house pretty. Oftentimes, some of these homeowner associations pressure you to comply with the way you’re home looks. But really, I think it’s all about hiring someone knowledgeable and asking these questions, you know, what is your process? Do you use high pressure? Are you gonna be breaking roof tiles as you’re walking across my roof? You know, these are important, important things to discuss before you just hire somebody off the street that’s a painter who’s looking for some pressure cleaning work and just started in the business.

Paul: Correct.

Derek: So knowledge is power. And I think it’s a responsibility that’s no one else’s, but the owners initially and becoming better educated. So that’s all good stuff. Let’s wrap it up. I just wanted to ask you, after a storm goes through, I mean, we had some strong storms over the last two, three years, what are some of the things that a property owner should do? Should they hire somebody to come and do an independent evaluation? Should they call in? What should I be doing right after the storm? I mean, yes, picking up limbs and whatever. But is there something that I should really think about doing after a storm that perhaps I’m not aware of that I need to make sure that my rights are protected.

Paul: As an owner, the first thing I would do is photograph my condition immediately after the storm. Then I would contact a third party to come out and basically survey the building itself, the structure itself, all the windows, doors, roof, flashings, any of the cladding issues. All these different materials are sealed, if you will, with a sealant that has a serviceable life and the UV light dictates quite candidly how long that serviceable life is based on an exposure.

So you know if you have your house painted three years ago and they didn’t reseal the windows and doors and now we have a catastrophic storm, you may end up with cladding being affected by water intrusion bypassing, if you will, the beauty bead and maybe being stopped by the primary bead. So, now that water is going behind the stucco or right behind the wood cladding or tile cladding or stone whatever, you know, is on the structure and it begins to delaminate it. So you need to have a professional come out, quite candidly in my opinion, and look at this. Not necessarily, if you will, for formulating a claim, there are people that do that, but determining precisely what was affected by the storm, and what is the cost to remediate that. That’s helpful in negotiating with your carrier, and hopefully, will get you to a point where your hole after the storm and the remediation is taken care of.

Derek: Got it? Yeah. And I think what we’ve seen over the last couple years, my gosh, with this, the Dorian was a monster. I mean, we really need to take this seriously. And, I think the trend is that storms seem to be getting stronger, in my opinion.

Paul: And more frequent.

Derek: And bigger. And really, we’ve got to take this seriously. So with that, I just wanted to ask you, because we spoke about this earlier, PJDCCI construction consulting, how did you invent that name? Can you just tell us before we wrap up, just so I understand that for my own?

Paul: It’s just PJDCCI is the name of the company. I originally started the company with my name Paul J. Del Vecchio Construction Consultants, Incorporated. Now it’s just PJDCCI because filling out forms with that title, I ran out of space.

Derek: Yeah. And you ran out of energy maybe as well.

Paul: Exactly.

Derek: If you had to write that 20 times, man, that’s a handful. So thanks for identifying….

Paul: Thank you, Derek.

Derek: …how you came up with the name and I really appreciate having you here today. It was excellent. And I’m sure all of the listeners enjoyed it. So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to today’s podcast. Paul, if any listeners wanna reach out to you directly, how do they get in touch with you? Do you wanna let them know your website or best way for them to contact you?

Paul: Our website is www.pjdcci.com. And if you got a question, just send us an email and we’ll endeavor to give you a prompt and complete answer.

Derek: Great. And folks, to our listeners, we also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at www.gciconsultants.com. You can also reach us directly at 877-740-9990, that’s 9990, to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thanks once again for listening and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. Take care, everyone.