By: Marek Patrosz

As building envelope consultants, we are often brought on to projects to review ongoing issues such as active leaks at the building’s exterior systems or to assess potential future maintenance issues. Preventative measures such as proactive maintenance can prolong the performance and lifespan of a building’s envelope. Restoration projects in NYC typically include buildings beyond 15 years of age. However, this past year we were involved with an increase in opportunities to work on newer buildings that require extensive investigations on envelope components that have only been in service for 5 to 10 years. Some of the issues on these newer structures include water infiltration, curtain wall system failure, and improper installation of materials. These deficiencies correlate to the construction boom that began in 2009 and spread across the northeast coast of the United States, especially in major cities like include New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

Vapor barrier seams atop a bulkhead were not fully adhered and required reinstallation

In our experience, most of the deficiencies we have uncovered are not typically related to the design of the building but rather the gaps and lack of oversight during construction. If quality control is not present on site, work can be performed hastily and materials installed improperly or out of sequence, often making the failure of a building’s components inevitable. To name a few common problems, this year we have encountered building envelope systems with improperly installed waterproofing membranes, incorrect or insufficient integration of building assemblies, and components that were never even installed despite being specified in the project design documents. All of these conditions could have been corrected during the construction phase, but were missed by the design professional that was in charge of the project. While construction professionals are managing teams and trades, building the structures, monitoring budgets and schedules, and tracking all of the project’s moving parts, it is commonplace that oversight of seemingly trivial items are missed. Having a third-party building envelope consultant on-site can prove to be a high value return on investment, as qualified individuals can track all of the project’s components and ensure that all issues are being addressed proactively.

Open seams were identified along the main roof and required removal and reinstallation

Third-party inspections can help ensure that all work is being  performed in accordance with the project design documents and specified details. There is a much higher degree of ensuring the integrity of the building envelope by following the project’s specifications; this is imperative for making a building watertight for years to come.

Third-party inspections may seem like “just another soft cost” to the overall the building development budget. However, the up-front cost of consultant supervision is just a fraction of the cost of the investigations and repairs that are required if leaks and exterior system failures are discovered after construction is complete. Those high costs do not include the revenue that is often lost when a building’s interior is unusable due to necessary repairs that are caused by active leaks, flooding or unsafe conditions.

A third-party inspector can help keep track of the contractor progress and compliance with system details as well as provide the expertise that many general design professionals do not have when working solely in the field of construction. At the end of the project, the client should have a high confidence in a closely monitored project without having nightmares about the “what-if’s,” because the building codes, details, and system installation requirements have been executed to meet the performance specifications. Instead of pulling out the warranty paperwork and hoping that a contractor can come back to own up for their deficiencies, there is another way to get better construction results.

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