When to Bring an Exterior Wall Consultant On the Team
Involving an exterior-wall consultant in the initial design phase can not only save time in the design process, but also saves time by assuring the installation is going to perform as expected.
A building’s cladding can be a headache for architects, engineers, contractors and owners if they are not experts in problematic facades. That is where an exterior-wall consultant comes in, possibly saving the team time and money and improving potential for a high-quality, long-lasting exterior.
|Joseph P. Solinski is president Stone & Glazing Consulting in Dallas (stoneglazing.com). He may be reached at 972-539-4059.
Although every building has an exterior wall, this seemingly simple feature can be complex due in part to the vast number of options available on the market. Cladding can be comprised of aluminum and glass curtain wall, stone veneer, brick veneer, precast, metal panels or a complex mixture of these or many other components. Typical exterior wall components of glazing, sealants, and aluminum should theoretically last for a minimum of 20 years. Unfortunately, many buildings’ facades require major renovation sooner. Installation defects and material product failures are primary reasons for repairs. Such defects often manifest in the form of water penetration, stains, unexplained glass breakage or cracks in stone, brick or precast panels. Remedies may include sealant replacement, flashing repair, glass replacement, stone-precast-brick repairs or total recladding.
The damage that can be inflicted on exterior wall components if the façade is not properly installed or maintained can be catastrophic. An architect, engineering firm or general contractor may be contacted for assistance and if they do not have in-house expertise or a qualified exterior-wall consultant, they can unfortunately make recommendations that do not directly address the defects. The worst case could result in further water penetration to stone panels, brick veneer or chucks of precast fall from the building.
An exterior-wall consultant provides evaluation, quality control and testing of exterior-wall systems during construction or renovation. They focus on only one aspect of the building–the envelope, providing expertise that may save the building team from future financial burden from ill-conceived or poorly executed installation, repairs and “fixes.”
Exterior-wall-consulting firms specialize in the evaluation and renovation of exterior wall systems. New construction is typically reviewed for compliance with industry standards and project specifications. As the exterior wall is installed, periodic site visits assure the cladding is installed according to the architectural drawings and industry requirements. These measures provide a means of quality control. Errors can be caught and corrected with minimum cost impact.
During the design phase, an owner often wants a unique look to a building. This involves interfacing different cladding material resulting in a challenge for the construction team. Although most cladding components are commonly used, it is always prudent to test not only the combination of the materials, but also the contractor’s ability to install these materials. Exterior wall consultants and testing facilities specializing in the testing and evaluation of the building envelope came into existence for this reason. Laboratory testing for air infiltration, water penetration, structural performance of full-size exterior curtain walls, skylights and roofing systems can be provided for new construction to confirm compliance with the architect’s design specifications. Manufacturers also utilize testing laboratories to verify the performance of products under simulated extreme weather conditions during design.
On-site water testing of exterior-wall systems is a useful tool to verify the installation contractor’s ability to produce leak-free cladding. On-site testing of cladding can be performed during the study phase in forensics to help an exterior-wall consultant determine sources of air infiltration and water penetration, providing data to develop repairs.
After a building has been in service several years, minor problems may surface. The most common is water penetration. Existing buildings can be surveyed for general maintenance or reviewed to determine the cause deficiencies. Once problems are identified, remedial solutions are designed to correct the deficiencies. Quality control measures such as periodic water testing, installation verification and sealant adhesion sampling are typically performed to ensure installation compliance throughout the renovation.