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Mile-High Megamess: The True Story of an Epic Building-Rescue Mission

MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2012


More items for Building Envelope

The Beauvallon Condominiums in Denver started life in 2001 as one of the hottest addresses in the city.

But the upscale condos’ Wow Meter took a big plunge not long after the complex’s arrival on the Mile High cityscape.

The problem? Big-time water damage.

The Beauvallon’s descent into a waterlogged morass—and its rise, Phoenix-like, from multistory sponge to renewed inhabitability—made for one of the more interesting narratives at the RCI International Convention, wrapping up today (Tuesday, March 20) in Dallas.

The story of the Beauvallon, told by Ryan Barnes, a buildings forensics expert with SBSA Inc., Golden, Colo., offered evidence that buildings clad in EIFS (exterior insulation and finish systems) can fall victim to the same woes that plagued the technology early on in its 40-year history in North America.

Such a fate, the Beauvallon experience showed, can bedevil building owners and residents if the wall system is not designed and assembled with the proper water-shedding and draining capabilities, no matter how solid the actual EIFS components are formulated, produced and, at least theoretically, integrated into a working system.

Barnes, addressing a nearly packed lecture hall in the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, detailed the comprehensive—and expensive—program of remediation that essentially stripped the Beauvallon of its exterior wall system, repaired water-related damage, and installed a new EIFS exterior.

The presentation was part of a top-notch education-program lineup that included expert discussions of various building-envelope, roofing, waterproofing, cladding, and related issues.

More information on RCI Inc.: www.rci-online.org.

Salvaging a Leaky Wreck

In his highly detailed review of the Beauvallon failure forensic investigation and remediation program, Barnes said it was determined that the building’s barrier EIFS system had not been “properly interfaced with adjacent claddings, fenestrations and other building components, and was unable to control water that had infiltrated behind the cladding.”

 The Beauvallon Condominums in Denver.

 SBSA Inc.

 The Beauvallon Condominums in Denver.

Actually, the wall system issues were not restricted to the EIFS. Metal panels that served as claddings on the penthouse level were also not water tight, and weather-resistive barriers and flashings were either installed incorrectly or “entirely missing” around windows and slider doors. The resulting damage to interior finishes in the penthouse units included staining and deterioration of drywall, biological growth behind baseboards and deforming of wood flooring. Unseen damage affected metal wall framing, insulation and sheathing.

The wall system’s shortcomings were only part of the story, as improperly installed EPDM waterproofing membranes on plaza decks caused water to penetrate and wreak havoc.

The lack of proper flashings and other water-management components in the EIFS assembly that constituted the majority of the building’s exterior wall system contributed to water damage that affected building units below the penthouse level.

The Price Tag: $18 Million

We can’t go into all the gory details here, as the inadequacies of the wall system and the resulting damage are too extensive to list in the abbreviated review we are seeking to provide. Suffice it to say that the litigation stemming from the defects led to what was reported to be the second largest construction-defect award in the history of Colorado, which occurred as a result of a legal settlement between the developers and the condominium owners’ association.

The repair program that followed also made history, as it was reported to hit a price tag in the $18 million neighborhood—“the largest construction-defect repair project” ever seen in Denver, according to Barnes’ account.

Again, the scope of the repair program constitutes much too massive and painstaking an undertaking to begin to describe here, based not only on the measures taken, but also because of the decision to execute the program while the building remained occupied by the residents.

In short, the remediation program included removal of the exterior cladding, repairs to damaged wall components and interior finishes, and installation of a water-management system—properly integrated weather barrier and flashings and waterproofing. Essentially, the existing barrier EIFS wall system was replaced with a water-managed EIFS assembly, a radically different approach than was taken with the original cladding.

The program also required extensive repair and replacement of water-damaged sheathing, insulation and steel framing components. Interestingly, these measures included the use of a sealer material on corroded steel framing members that converted the rust into stable magnetite.

The water-managed EIFS assembly consisted of installation of corrugated building wrap that was properly interfaced with all required weep mechanisms and flashings. The assembly facilitated drainage and discharge of water at interfaces with deck surfaces, projecting cornices, window heads, soffits, and other horizontal terminations of the moisture-managed EIFS.

Finally, the EIFS assembly was completed with installation of metal lath, expanded polystyrene insulation boards, modifications of projecting cornices on penthouse units, and installation of the new EIFS façade.

For its $18 million price tag, Barnes said the five-year forensics and remediation program delivered a new exterior wall system and façade that seamlessly blends “practical engineering principles, architectural form, and beauty.”

And best of all, it works, Barnes said, adding that no reports of any water intrusion have been heard from residents subsequent to completion of the restoration program.

Looking for Economies in All the Wrong Places

So, what’s the moral of the story?

Barnes offered this epic story of the Beauvallon’s rescue from waterlogged woe as an illustrative lesson in what might be called the Building Envelope 101 chapter on proper EIFS design and assembly, along with footnotes related to waterproofing and non-EIFS cladding water management.

Prior to taking the audience on the trip through the Beauvallon’s long day’s journey into nightmare, Barnes provided a summary review of EIFS origins and evolution as a cladding technology, including its introduction to the North American marketplace in the 1970s, its expansion as a common building material since then, and of course the moisture-related black eye that sent the EIFS industry reeling in the 1980s. Those problems, he emphasized, were the result of installation inadequacies attributable largely to lack of experience, training and supervision of trades engaged in EIFS installation.

The EIFS industry responded, providing guidance on design and installation and with moisture-managed assemblies that take into account the reality that water entry of exterior cladding is nearly inevitable. Barrier EIFS rely on exterior surfaces to be totally sealed and “100% weatherproof 100% of the time”—an unlikely outcome.

Joint sealants—a crucial element in ensuring this total moisture-proof exterior in barrier EIFS cladding—inevitably will experience adhesive or cohesive failure, allowing moisture entry into the wall assembly. Other entry points, such as gaps around fenestrations—are also a good bet.

The harsh lesson provided by the Beauvallon disaster offered a stark reminder that EIFS—or any cladding system for that matter—won’t perform without an effective defense against water entry and retention. The blame can’t simply be assigned to EIFS as a class of cladding technology, as the industry has formulated moisture-resistance moisture-management technologies that perform when properly installed.

No, the Beauvallon experience simply offered a painful reminder that trying to cuts costs on a critically important building system such as the exterior cladding can backfire in a big way.

An $18 million price tag certainly looks big from here, anyway.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; EIFS

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