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An Ounce of Prevention: How Building Envelope Consultants Can Prevent Future Problems, Litigation

September 1, 2020

“Waterproofing disasters can often be prevented with the stroke of a pen.”

This is how my previous article on the subject of waterproofing mistakes began. I would like to point out that waterproofing disasters can also be created with the simple stroke of a pen.

Far too often, waterproofing materials, assemblies, and details are either value-engineered out or compromised in other ways in an effort to cut project costs – to the ultimate detriment of the project.

We get it. For the most part, waterproofing cannot be seen in the finished building product. It is not sexy or glamorous, and when it is done properly, it is not even noticed, acknowledged, or appreciated (unless you are a facilities management professional reading the metrics on the building’s performance). However, if waterproofing does not do its job, and water intrusion occurs, everybody involved in the project – from the top on down – is going to have a very bad (and expensive) day.

Who is Responsible for Waterproofing Oversight?

Although we are starting to see building codes tighten up somewhat when it comes to weather resistance, most building department officials are fairly hands-off on the matter. The vast majority of building inspectors do not inspect waterproofing installations. (In fact, in my 40 years in the field, I have not encountered a single one that has.)

Due to the myriad of other issues that architects need to focus on, it is not reasonable for them to also be responsible for the inspection of waterproofing installations during their Construction Administration phase.

For the same reason, a general contractor’s superintendents should not be burdened with comprehensive waterproofing installation oversight. They need to focus on making the rest of the job site activities run smoothly and safely.

Waterproofing subcontractors are often saddled with ensuring the water-tightness of a building. This also presents a problem, because they depend on the trade contractors that came before them to provide adequate substrates to waterproof, such as flush-struck CMU joints and proper sheet metal flashings to work into their assemblies. They often encounter assembly sequencing issues that do not allow for the required lapping of materials, priming of substrates, post-installation damage to their products, testing procedures, etc.

This leaves many owners and developers asking who they can rely on to ensure the following:

  • The architect’s details of waterproofing assemblies are correct and the appropriate products and materials are specified.
  • Substrates are properly inspected prior to receiving waterproofing.
  • The waterproofing is applied per the manufacturer’s instructions and steps are taken to prevent subsequent damage to the materials.
  • All assemblies are thoroughly tested.
  • Product and manufacturers’ warranties are tracked and documented.

The answer to all of the above: A Building Envelope (BE) Consultant.

How to Effectively Use a BE Consultant

BE consultants are often hired by architects and builders. However, we feel the BE consultant can be most effective as a direct consultant to the developer. This eliminates natural conflicts of interest that can arise if contracted by the design and/or construction entity.

Over the last decade, experienced developers and owners are increasingly finding that BE Consultants more than pay for themselves by ensuring a weather-resistant final product and by preventing future water-related building damage and legal action. Those who have been on the receiving end of construction defect litigation understand this very well.

However, the perception of BE consulting as an unnecessary additional cost still persists. Those who are unsure of the value should ask themselves:

How much are peace of mind, confidence in our final product, and insurance against future litigation worth to us?

What is the cost involved with hiring a BE Consultant?

For a full-service scope of work (including plan review, mock-up design, and testing, Construction Phase inspections, AAMA and ASTM window testing, and closeout documentation), a BE Consultant’s fee is typically a fraction of the overall project cost. Is this a good value? That is ultimately up to developers and owners to decide, based on their own cost-risk analysis for their projects, but many of our clients have found that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Today’s Building Envelope consulting industry was born in response to new and increasingly complicated code requirements. While BE Consultants can be hired by any of the OAC clients, they really should be viewed as more akin to engineers, architects, building commissioning agents, and other consultants hired directly by developers.

BE Consultants can provide value to a project during the design phase, as well as in pre-construction and (of course) construction, assisting with waterproofing-related specifications, product and shop drawing submittal review, and RFI responses.

Additionally, the BE consultant can manage the all-important (and often overlooked) Construction Phase observations, inspections, and field testing – the critical step of documenting that the assemblies are installed and working correctly per design. By managing all of these functions together, the consultant can help prevent future water intrusion and resulting damages that may lead to litigation.

In our continuing effort to assist our clients, VERTEX provides AIA CEU accredited training where we discuss many important building-related issues, such as this. If you are an architect, contractor, or developer, we would welcome the opportunity to host a session to share our expertise with your team. For more information, call 888.298.5162 or submit an inquiry.

This article was originally published by Xpera Group which is now part of The Vertex Companies, LLC.

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