Tim Salerno – Prefabricated Exterior Wall Panels

(Released on September 30)
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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Paul: Welcome, everybody. This is Paul Beers and we have a really interesting topic. It’s prefabricated exterior wall panels. And our guess is Tim Salerno with Sto Corp. Sto has a prefabricated exterior wall panel program. Tim’s well-versed in it and he’s gonna tell us about it. So welcome, Tim.

Tim: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul: Yeah, I am really excited about this. So can you just tell everybody a little bit about your background and experience?

Tim: Sure, absolutely. So I’ve been in the construction business my entire career, all of which has been with Sto Corp., going on about 30 years right now. My experience is mainly…it started here in Florida. And it’s widespread. It started as an office manager when Sto used to sell direct to contractors here in the State of Florida. My role changed over the years. I became involved with the sale of the product, went onto become territory manager for Sto. And for the last 10 years, I have moved over to our strategic accounts departments, mainly calling on corporate accounts and all of their people that support them, GCs, architects, wall envelope consultants.

But for the past year and a half, my focus has really changed to where it’s more focused on an exciting initiative within Sto, and it’s called Sto Panel Technology. And that’s where I’m at now, and it is an exciting time at Sto right now.

Paul: Yeah, you know, I remember I think it was about a year ago, I ran into you at the AHCA, Agency for Healthcare Administration hospital show in Orlando. And you guys were just really starting to talk about this and you were telling me about it, and it was really…it’s very interesting and very exciting. So that was why I thought it would be good to see if we could get you on the podcast because I don’t think…you know, probably not a lot of people know about it and it’s a different slant on the way to do things. And to me, it looked like it was a really good idea. But before we do that, can you just tell everybody, for those that don’t know, I think many probably do, just talk a little bit about Sto, what their business is and what they do, particularly here in the U.S.?

Tim: Yeah. In the U.S., most people know Sto as an EIFS company and we are. That’s still our core business in the U.S. But Sto’s an international…

Paul: Let me stop you for half a minute… EIFS, let’s just tell everybody what EIFS is real fast and then continue on.

Tim: Sure. EIFS is short for exterior installation and finish systems.

Paul: I was gonna say again… So EIFS…just describe kinda what the parts and pieces of EIFS are because I know that’s part of this whole discussion as we go forward.

Tim: Sure. EIFS is comprised of several components starting with the substrate whether it be masonry, concrete or a sheathing, studs and sheathing, followed by a waterproof air and moisture barrier, and then, adhesive to attach a number of different insulations to the substrate, followed by a reinforced mesh with basecoat and several different exterior textured, intricately colored specialty finishes to choose from.

Paul: Right, so sorry I interrupted. So you were talking about what Sto does.

Tim: Yeah, so most people know of Sto here in the U.S. as EIFS. Sto is the international global leader in various market segments. We’re currently in approximately 70 countries around the globe and people are surprised of what else Sto is into from rainscreen wall systems, ventilated rainscreens, to acoustical seamless ceilings called StoSilent, to high end interior coatings, floor coatings. But here, in the U.S., our focus today is still with EIFS, higher end stucco systems, specialty finishes, high performance, or what we call functioning coatings. They’re coatings with a purpose. Waterproofing air barriers and more recently into prefabrication.

Paul: You know, it’s pretty funny. You were talking about Sto being in all these countries. And my wife and I, we go on these hiking trips overseas and I remember being in Europe, I can’t remember, Switzerland, Germany, and I’m seeing StoBuckets around. And it’s just kinda funny because I wasn’t expecting that.

Tim: People ask me, Paul, you know, “You’ve been with Sto 30 years. What’s the trick? How come you stay here so long?” I say, “Well, it goes back to the family, the Stotmeister family.” And their mission has always been building with conscience. And the family and the company really practices, and that’s one of the reasons I’m at this company. And it’s truly a commitment to quality, sustainability and doing the right thing. That’s what we’re all about.

Paul: And that’s refreshing to hear that instead of just being focused on the bottom line, which unfortunately happens out there. So we’re gonna talk about the wall panels. But let’s just talk in general about cladding systems and it can be EIFS or stucco. Just kind of how things traditionally been done and how does…and let’s segue into talking about what the idea is with the prefab panels.

Tim: Sure. And as you probably know, over the last 10 years, construction industry in this country changing drastically and quickly, especially because of new code requirements for air barriers and continuous insulation with the CI requirements. And as I travel around the country, I’m seeing the trend where contractors are dealing with a severe labor shortage, lack of skilled labor and that’s no matter what the construction industry. It’s not just EIFS and stucco, it’s widespread. And contractors are looking for ways to continue to grow their business, they’re managing their future, and in the case of family-run businesses, and for those younger generations that’s interested in carrying on the business, they’re looking for a sustainable growth pattern. What’s out there? What are the trends? What are the technologies that are gonna keep them moving forward and enable them to grow their company?

So there’s several sophisticated, reputable contractors around the country that are looking at that and prefabrication is just one approach that gives them this other opportunity of what’s to come and what’s upon us right now.

Paul: Yeah, so if we look back… Actually you don’t even need to look back. Let’s talk about what we’re doing right now. So right now, basically, with buildings, whether it be masonry or studs and sheathing or whatever, would you agree it’s generally all field assembled?

Tim: Yeah, for the most part. We’re seeing pockets around the country where you’ll see the steel studs and the glass met sheathing prefabricated and then flown on the walls, and then a different subcontractor will come in and apply the waterproofing. And maybe another subcontractor comes in and applies the cladding, whatever it may be. So everything in what we do in our lives is changing so drastically, construction is one of those items that has changed very slowly. I mean, we can go to a job site today and see 50 to 100 guys working off scaffolding. That’s one item that I know keeps up contractors up at night worrying about the safety of their employees working off scaffolding.

Paul: And it’s slow. You gotta put it up. You can’t…it inhibits you from doing other things when it’s in place, in the way and whatnot. And I agree with you, the construction industry has been to slow to change in a lot of their means and methods. I think we know it’s coming, but people don’t like change, I think, in general. And change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. In my company we say, “You know, if we’re not changing, we’re going backwards.” And I think I really believe that applies to a lot of things including construction practices and cladding systems and everything else. So…

Tim: And [crosstalk 00:09:36]… You know, Paul, we’re seeing owners and GCs, there’s a certain clientele out there that are looking for that next technology to solve the myriad of issues that they’re facing as owners and design professionals today. So one of those solutions is what Sto’s offering with Sto Panel Technology.

Paul: So what’s some of the… I assume you may by, on the other hand, also getting some resistance from some or people have some concerns and questions. What kind of things are you guys hearing in that regard?

Tim: Well, typical concerns are most people know Sto as a EIFS stucco company, so they feel they can only use a prefabricated panel with Sto products on it. Or it looks like the normal or standard or blasé EIFS or stucco, which is not true. Our program incorporates whatever the owner and design professional would like to see on their building whether it be an EIFS type building, or if they wanna use metal, and brick, or a variety of other claddings, they can do that with our program. We have some standardized details and each panel starts the same way, so no matter where an owner has a job around the country, they can expect to see a standardized process. At a certain point, they would switch to the cladding of their choice. And for the most part, we’re seeing many owners like to see a combination of products on their buildings anyways. So we’re offering them a one source way to do that whether it’s a Sto product for the final finish or a metal cladding or a thin brick, for example.

Paul: How built out are these panels? I mean, obviously you’ve got…and correct me if I’m wrong. You have the framing system, the sheathing, the cladding material, is there anything else that comes up? I mean, just for example, would windows be installed or…I don’t know.

Tim: That’s a good question. Sto’s approach around the country is we’ve teamed up with what we call “Sto panel affiliates.” So these are independent contractors that are either existing panelizers or they’re companies that have this vision and they want this growth pattern, so they’ve become involved with prefabrication. And we leave that decision up to the individual panel affiliate to choose if they wanna install windows. I can tell you that we do have some in our program that are currently installing and flying panels as we speak. I mean, panels with windows in them, as we speak.

Paul: Wow. What’s a typical size of a panel? I’m sure there isn’t a typical size. I guess a better question would be, what’s the size range of panel?

Tim: A lot of it depends on the panel type they’re using. If they’re using a thin brick panel, it’s gonna be heavier so it’s gonna be smaller. But let’s just take a cladding that uses our EIFS type acrylic renders on it. Typically, you may see a 10-foot wide by 30 or maybe even a 40-foot long panel. A lot of it is dictated on transportation. Are you going through a tunnel? Are you going through a bridge? The lightest weight panel we have is about eight to 10 pounds per square foot. And I’ve seen them as wide as 14 feet up to 40 feet. All depending on trucking, what the flatbed can handle and jurisdictions on highways, for example.

Paul: Are there any limitations with building sizes that they could be used on?

Tim: Not that I’m aware of, no. They’re going on anything from one-story buildings, large footprints, currently installing panels on a 30-plus story right now in Texas. So they’ve gone as high as 40 or 50 stories.

Paul: So these panels go up on the building and obviously, you have a big building, you have lots of panels. How do they weatherproof between the panels and things like that?

Tim: And that’s one of the concerns you had asked me about earlier. One concern was limited cladding, which we know that’s not true anymore. We offer them several claddings to choose from. But the other concern is the panel to panel joints. But like, typical with the precast industry, prefabrication does require joints to be dealt with in the field. And we have partners or affiliates in our network that have been installing panels for about 30 years. And they’ve successfully installed these things over the years. And they used to use single-stage sealant joints with success. Our requirements today require a dual-stage silicone sealant joint. And we have two white papers to support testing of that joint.

So we’re confident that with good building practices, with flashings, and windows and pan flashing along with the two-stage sealant joint, we can provide an owner with piece of mind and a quality water tight, air tight, thermal efficient building envelope.

Paul: Yeah, I know the dual sealant joints are nothing new. They’ve been around a long, long time and it’s kinda like an air barrier type of system where if you have a problem with the outside, say it weathers or gets damaged or whatever, the inside joint is much better protected. It provides a moisture barrier and because it’s there, the air can’t blow through the joint either, which helps a lot with keeping water out. So I know that as being a proven technology like you say with precast and things like that for probably as long as you and I have been out there doing this. So you talked a little bit about the cladding options that are available for owners and design professionals to choose from. Just kind of a related question. With the finishes that you guys have…say we’re talking about EIFS. You can…talk about what kind of looks can come up with beyond just a traditional stucco.

Tim: It’s amazing out there right now. Some of the contractors that we have in this country are excellent. The quality that they can put out is amazing. And we have developed finishes that can replicate other higher end materials, whether it’s a stone look, a limestone, a granite look, ultra smooth finishes, which is a trend right now. As well as a faux brick where certain contractors can replicate what appears to be real brick on the wall. Typically, we’ll see panels flying second floor and above, typically, it’s not done on the first floor unless there’s reason to do it. So in the case of brick, somebody may use a thick brick, real brick on that first floor, but above that second floor, they may change to a eight-pound, 10-pound per square foot Sto Panel with what we call our Creative Brick. And again, it’s amazing what can be accomplished with some of these newer finishes in today’s market.

Paul: You mentioned trends and you said the smooth finishes. Are there any trends that are really prevalent right now that architects and owners are looking for?

Tim: We see that they wanna see multiple claddings on the same building, colors, color options, we see a lot of darker accents being used. And again, that smoother metal panel appearance is very well received.

Paul: So when these panels are put together by your applicators or your affiliates, should I say, how do they do that? Do they go out in the field somewhere and just build the thing and bring it out or do they have a big factory? How’s that done or what are the requirements for somebody who wants to be an affiliate?

Tim: For the most part, most of them have plants, facilities. Climate-controlled plants throughout the United States. There are certain areas around the country like Las Vegas, for instance, a lot of times they’ll work 24/7 by those casinos and they’ll build panels in an empty lot or an empty warehouse. But for the most part, our affiliates have strategically located plants that are situated throughout the country. Some of our affiliates are using BIM, 3D modeling, using roll formers, CNC machines. So there’s various levels of technologies being used. But for the most part, people are building these panels within factory-controlled facilities.

Paul: Now, obviously, you mentioned this before, one of the things that really thought needs to be put into logistically is getting them from the factory to the field. So is there kinda like a rule of thumb for how far away the plant would be from the site? I mean, are they generally nearby or can they travel long distance? I know they can. But would they travel longer distances? How’s that shaking out?

Tim: They certainly can and before we started this initiative, you know, we’ve had customers that were panelizing in Kentucky, shipping panels to Texas or other parts of the country. So this new approach, by providing an owner localized panel affiliates, we’re becoming closer to the job sites. But I don’t know if there’s a right number, I don’t know if it’s 500, 600 miles. But we’re reducing that mileage with the type of affiliates and the number of affiliates that we’re setting up around the country.

Paul: I know that the reduced mileage is important to those folks who are chasing lead points, obviously. So let’s talk about some of the technicalities. I don’t know if technicalities is the word. But what about meeting code requirements and having air barriers or moisture planes and hurricanes, all that kind of stuff? Let’s just start with code requirements. Are these panels capable of meeting all of the codes in the U.S. including high wind requirements and things of that nature?

Tim: Yes. Well, you know, we decided to get into this, that’s one of the big drivers. We need to make sure we can meet the codes, especially with the advancements with the continuous insulation, and the air barriers. And where we live here in Florida, you know, you have to be able to meet the Miami-Dade County large and small impact resistance and some of the other criteria such as air infiltration, water resistance and liquid wind pressure loading. So yes, our panels are designed to incorporate those elements into it starting from the air barrier.

In our case, every Sto Panel starts exactly the same way which includes your code form steel framing, your glass mat sheathing, and then your waterproofing/air barrier. In our case, it’s called StoGuard. From that point out, an owner can choose various cladding veneers. The CI, continuous insulation claddings, are the ones that are obviously the most popular right now. And you have to incorporate air barriers. You have to tie them into the other components of the building, whether it be the panel-to-panel joint where the air barrier meets the roof and the slab, as well as the rough openings with a continuous air seal around the windows.

Paul: This is a question that the architects will be interested in. Who actually does all the design and the detailing and whatnot? So let’s say we have an architectural firm that gets involved with a panel job, hasn’t done it before. What are their resources to pull this altogether and make sure they get it right?

Tim: That’s a good question because unlike your traditional design and then put the job out to bid, prefabrication is different. It becomes a design assist type building process where there’s already a GC on board and the sooner the better to involve a prefabrication company in the design of the building. Again, it becomes a design assist strategy where the contractor or the Sto Panel affiliate is working in a collaborative method or process with the owner, GC, architect, building envelope consultant. Whereas they would be involved with the engineering, shop drawings right from the start.

There’s a certain time of the design process where it may be too late to incorporate prefabrication effectively. But if the building is designed around curtain wall or a precast, then very easily to incorporate what we’re doing with Sto Panels.

Paul: So the process would be…you mentioned curtain wall. And when you mention curtain wall I think of glass curtain wall, which obviously, there’s lots of different kinds of curtain walls. But if you look at a glass curtain wall system, you know, those are typically something you have to get out ahead of, plenty time, and you do often have contractors involved that actually design the performance criteria and product shop drawings, submittals, engineering, all that kind of stuff. Is this the same sort of process with the panel systems?

Tim: Absolutely, very similar. You have to provide for enough time for engineering fabrication. And once they’ve got that going, I’ve never seen an instance where any of our affiliates have been behind. They’re usually ahead of the general contractor. Panels are loaded, they’re wrapped in boat shrink protecting them, and they’re ready to roll down the highway and be flown.

Paul: Question I’ve got for you, I hope it’s not a loaded question, and you can just answer in general terms. I don’t think we talked about this. I know we mentioned it. But one of the big advantages here that we talked about a year ago and that I’ve got customers now that are interested in is the schedule time savings, as well, as far as doing it in a prefab and then sending it out to the job as opposed to field erection. Can you kind of expand on that a little bit?

Tim: Yeah. And this works when you have everybody working together like in that collaborative effort. But there’s enough case studies out there right now where there’s substantial time savings. One that comes to mind is a student housing project where they had to support 1800 beds with a construction schedule of one year. There’s no way that building was gonna be built in one year unless it was a prefabricated approach. In that case, there was a 180,000 square foot of Sto Wall Panels that were erected in a 11-week timeframe in the Northeastern United States. So it’s not weather dependent and certainly they were able to meet that owner’s schedule from July 2014 to July 2015 to be open for the fall semester of 2015. So there’s…when you get to the heads and beds market, right, healthcare, student housing, multifamily, hospitality, there’s always a demand to get those people in their beds sooner and prefabrication certainly offers that solution.

Paul: I know schedule is a huge thing. That’s amazing, 11 weeks. I guess everybody else would be scrambling to keep up at that point.

Tim: Yeah, they enclosed the entire building envelope in 11 weeks. They even panelized the first floor, which is unusual. Mostly the first floor is not panelized. But in this case, it was a three-story panel where the bottom floor just had our backup panel and the GC hired a separate contractor to apply thick brick on that first floor. The upper five floors were all our EIFS type product and thin brick.

Paul: And you were saying that they don’t often put it on the first floor. Is that because of durability that they want something, a different type of product on the first floor, than they would have above where people interact?

Tim: Yeah, typically, we’ll see a combination in claddings at that bottom floor whether it be glass, stone veneer, granite, and you like you said, for durability, we usually leave that up to other contractors to finish. There’s exceptions to that obviously. But for the most part, first floors are not prefabricated. All our panels are hung outside the slab. They’re non-load bearing panels.

Paul: So what did I forget to ask you?

Tim: You know, I guess the main thing is…I get this asked a lot because prefabrication is not new to this industry. So why now? Why is Sto doing this now and why are other companies following suit? What’s changed in the industry? What are the drivers behind why prefab now, right? And I think there’s several reasons. One of them is technology advancement. The introduction of BIM and Revit and 3D modeling certainly supports the prefabricated approach, right? The building sciences. Trying to take a complex building strategy we have these days. For an architect or an owner to deal with water control, air control, vapor control, and thermal control, and then, put a job out to bid where multiple trades have to accomplish this goal in the field, wrapping that up to a panelizer, one source almost in some cases, is a huge benefit.

Lean construction. Every major GC around the country, if you go to their websites you’ll see they have this initiative to move towards lean construction, reduce waste, improve efficiencies, all of that is provided with a prefabrication approach. Other drivers are the lack of manpower, safety, speed, QA/QC. You know, as a building envelope consultant, you’re able to visit a panel plant and inspect the wall envelope and in some cases, pre-punch that building envelope before it goes on the building. Those are just a couple of drivers.

Paul: Yeah, you know what? Yeah, I think the stuff you’re saying is really compelling. I mean, I was immediately interested when we talked about this a year ago. And even more interested now. And as we were talking about before we had this call, we’ve got some customers that are seriously looking at this already, and it just makes a lot of sense. So if people wanna find out more about Sto’s Panel System, where…how do they do that?

Tim: They can go to our website, Sto Panel website, which is There’s a contact names on there as well for an Executive Director, Dominick Baruffi. They can also call me at any point and I can lead them in the right direction. My number’s 407-466-5371.

Paul: Great. Well, Tim, I think this is really interesting. It’s been a great discussion and I think it’s a thing that a lot of people are gonna be interested in, and I think a lot of people are gonna be working with as time goes forward. It just makes so much sense. So thank you very much for being a guest on “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. You know, we’ll have to do this again sometime.

Tim: Yeah, thanks for having me. These are exciting times. Thanks, Paul.

Paul: Okay. So that concludes this episode.