At BE Structural, we see our fair share of building envelope failures. Think of a building envelope as the shell or skin of a structure. When exposed, the structure’s primary framing and building systems beneath it become vulnerable. A building envelope is therefore an essential component of the building’s infrastructure, creating a barrier in protecting it from external forces, primarily weather. Moreover, a building’s envelope regulates interior heat and moisture levels, while offering first impressions of its aesthetic appeal. A building envelope includes walls, doors, windows, foundations and roofs. So, why do building envelope failures happen?

Five Common Reasons Why Building Envelopes Fail

  1. Design Flaws
    The building envelope is a unique system requiring precise design-build engineering expertise to get it right. While facades may present desired aesthetic impressions, they may not be the best choices for intended uses. To err is human, architects may create designs that specify inappropriate materials.A common mistake occurs when building materials do not meet thermal movements in the area. Architects may forget Mother Nature always has the last say. Regardless of stone or masonry, temperature changes inevitably create cracks and loosen joints in structures. Design deficiencies also occur from water penetration, resistance and structural capacities. When water penetrates the building envelope, moisture becomes trapped, causing materials to warp. This also creates the perfect breeding ground for mold to grow—and introducing a new problem.
  2. Construction Defects
    Building envelopes fail due to construction defects or poor workmanship. This ultimately results in serviceability issues or worse—structural failures. For instance, subcontractors may minimize costs by reducing size, weight and the number of different components essential to maintain structural integrity. This is where BE Structural engineers mitigate defects by inspecting and assessing every required code is incorporated, to uphold the highest building standards to ensure the building’s lasting value.
  3. Poor Workmanship
    Poor workmanship arises during construction booms with many inexperienced, untrained and unsupervised personnel working on projects. Often, building envelope components are improperly installed, disregarding manufacturer specifications. Minimize this danger by putting the right people in the right job and providing a quality control program of installation, observation and inspection.
  4. Natural Disasters
    When a building envelope is exposed to major storms, wind-driven rains and hurricane-force winds, problems compound. This scenario includes structures that have been designed properly. A homeowner may have diligently installed siding and sub-systems correctly; but disasters happen, exceeding design expectations. Unexpected fluctuations in temperatures, hurricanes, and pounding rains damage even the best designed and installed features of any building. Tip: To lessen these weather effects, perform routine checks and regular maintenance repairs.Building envelopes are exposed to numerous elements, making them susceptible to damage even when “looking safe.” Be sure transitions and areas around doors and windows are checked regularly to avoid water from penetrating. Also remember that siding and other envelope components do not last forever; sometimes it makes sense to replace them, than spend lots of money later, on repairs. Be Structural is experienced in building envelope mitigation issues, and ready to offer cost-savings tips.
  5. Costs of Repair Will Only Increase
    Late maintenance and poor repairs inevitably contribute to problematic transitions and joint seals. Say a homeowner decides to remove a gutter expansion joint instead of repairing it. When it rains heavily, water will flow in all directions, with gutters receiving more water than they can handle. This example of poor maintenance adds to water intrusion, further weakening building envelopes.Seasoned property managers and homeowners know putting off repairs always costs more in the long run. Weather and natural deterioration of materials over time exact heavy tolls. Wintry conditions and freeze-thaw cycles severely impact building exteriors, leading to cracks in masonry, split caulked joints and deteriorating mortar joints. Roofing systems weaken and degrade with snow piling on and melting off. If a building’s degradation is not monitored and maintained, it snowballs to unsafe living conditions.In addition, expenses to repair and fix degraded conditions are more exorbitant. However, being proactive and conducting routine inspection, repairs and maintenance, will protect property owners from unnecessary emergencies. BE Structural engineers are happy to inspect and detect problem areas before water and moisture cause extensive and expensive damage to properties.

Tips for Mitigating Envelope Failures

  • How to mitigate, even prevent, building envelope failures? At BE Structural,
    We start with a properly designed building envelope engineered to follow all applicable codes and standards.
  • Second, we select appropriate building materials.
  • Third, prioritizing these first two critical functional steps means incorporating them into the early stages of design-build, to prevent future failures and serviceability issues. Every building component must be well-maintained for the building’s weatherproofing and structural soundness.
  • Fourth, we recommend consistently inspecting and maintaining the building envelope.
    BE Structural uses thermal imagers to detect moisture intrusion and building envelope failures.

If a building is well-maintained and kept safe, current tenants and potential buyers will continue to enjoy living and working there. Tenants spared from leaks are happy tenants. That’s why BE Structural believes an ounce of prevention saves pounds of costly cures.