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Roundtable: Discussing Facade Maintenance, Pt. 2

Friday, May 4, 2018

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For this roundtable discussion, six industry professionals took part in a call to delve into the topic of facade maintenance, including challenges; misconceptions; and what architects, specifiers, building owners and facility managers need to know.

Participants included: Danny Carillo, business development manager, Graco Inc.; David de Sola, founding principal, 3iVE LLC; Steven James, president, Digital Facilities Corp.; Tom Tipps, national accounts manager, KEIM Mineral Coatings of America Inc.; Brian Trimble, director of industry development and technical services, International Masonry Institute; and Corey Zussman, director of quality management, Pepper Construction.

© iStock.com / Arpad Benedek

For this roundtable discussion, six industry professionals took part in a call to delve into the topic of facade maintenance, including challenges; misconceptions; and what architects, specifiers, building owners and facility managers need to know.

The conversation, which was limited to an hour, follows, and has been edited for length and clarity. This is the second segment of the discussion; Part One appeared in last Friday’s (April 27) Durability + Design News, in which the panelists discussed challenges of facade maintenance and material selection. Part Two appears below:

 

D+D: Would you like to talk about some of the things building owners should be aware of?

Zussman: To get back to access, access points for high-rises need to be maintained and tested prior to the building restoration. Using those access points, more often than not, they’re being neglected, and they’re not tested by the owner, which poses a huge threat to the safety of the worker. It’s one of the items that should be part of that schedule on top of the maintenance of the materials that are being corrected.

Tipps: I have to agree with that—how many times I’ve been on built-on ladders and they’re just barely hanging on to the wall and I’m thinking, “Man, this is my last walk.” I agree.

Trimble: Sometimes I wonder if owners are really naïve or uneducated about some of this stuff, or if they really know what’s going on and they just don’t care. We see these facade ordinances popping up all over the United States and it’s because the owners aren’t doing what they should be doing. If we would let owners off on their own they might never maintain their buildings because they don’t want to spend the money. I think it’s the changing face of ownership. We had companies who were in it for the long haul, and certainly that’s true of universities and places like that, but the developer-led construction that’s happening now, they’re short-term owners and so we don’t have the kind of owners we had in the past and again for some reason they don’t seem to care.

Zussman: I’m really hoping that it’s more that they’re not educated, and I think we as a building industry need to do a better job explaining not only the access points but everything that goes in the building. And they need to hire professionals like commissioning agents to provide them with a list identifying what needs to be looked at when, and that needs to include the access points and any kind of dangerous conditions for the general public as well as the individual who’s trying to restore the building.

De Sola: I’d like to pick up on that thread because you know we’ve borrowed the commissioning process largely from the mechanical guides. That whole need for that system was because the mechanical systems were such a disaster that they said, “Somebody’s got to help us verify this is right.” And I think they’ve done a really good job, on the mechanical side, of establishing protocols for how you build something once—it’s really hard to build something once and get it right; you really need lots of steps during the process to basically build redundancy into the process.

But the last thing we do as exterior commissioning agents is hand a document of some nature over to the owner that sort of says, This is your building. This is what you need to do for the care and feeding of it for the next X years you have it. And I have to say that the least attention is paid to that portion of my job, but I think that, as these buildings are so sophisticated now and the owners are going to need to do this stuff, it’s a very important part of it.

So, whoever mentioned sort of getting the owner’s manual is exactly right. You need to know what systems you have, what the longevity of each of those is, what the recommended maintenance protocol is, and just how often you review it. I recommend in all my projects an annual walk of the project of the entire facade. You want to clear your roof drains and see how all your materials are aging and if there’s any premature failure, then get on top that—but it’s sort of built into the commissioning process, so naturally into that comment I would weave that you need to have some third party who knows what they’re doing as we finish up.

James: I think a related factor is that there’s a lot of coordination in terms of the people that touch the building with some responsibility for the long-term maintenance of the facade. The building owner, once they have the building in place, may assign or anticipate other people being responsible for certain parts of the maintenance of the facade, and that coordination usually doesn’t happen very well. In a perfect world, you’d have a gatekeeper that manages this whole process for them. I don’t think it happens very often; a lot of maintenance activities are not coordinated and therefore nobody knows exactly what’s happened on the building and they don’t know what’s been done, what was installed. There tends to be a lot of confusion and, therefore, a lot of mistakes are made.

Carillo: Even with the best-designed buildings out there and with everybody trying to do it right, if there are some people in the chain that do substandard work, it really falls on all the trades. It might not look evident in the final inspection, but if it was done improperly to begin with, it’s going to fail at a sooner date than it normally would fail and no one is going to expect it to fail.

Tipps: I have to agree with all of that. My experience just working with different projects and the people involved with them across the whole spectrum—from the professionals to the owners to the people who do the work—I’m surprised at how much work is unsupervised or uncoordinated, maybe that’s the better way to put it, in that some folks get ahead of the other guys and then there’s no opportunity to get it right. The schedule is such that we gotta move on, and you miss those opportunities to get it right that time. Oftentimes I hear “We’ll catch it next cycle.” It’s definitely people in a rush trying to get it done within a certain amount of time. Stuff happens like that and its really disappointing.

Zussman: You know a lot of that happens because the tradesman might not fully understand the drawings or even fully understand what he’s installing, you know, with all these new products on the market. So, the best thing to do is go over with the design professional and the manufacturer how to install the product and what expectations should be met. That actually helps to solve a lot of those concerns.

De Sola: I’ll throw in a bid for third-party testing. I think Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” To me, if you don’t have the testing component while a building is going up, it’s very hard to enforce your standards. But if you can show, “You know, your window just leaked. In fact, the last six windows just leaked, and you’re responsible not only for fixing them but also for paying for the tests and the next six additional tests,” then that tends to get somebody’s attention. So, for owners who are considering these sorts of issues, I would strongly advise to put the mockup and testing protocols in place.

There are a lot of tests which you can do after the fact, like infrared and whole building air tests, and those are great tests—they tell you a lot of things—but what you really want to be doing is doing your window tests and your infiltration tests while the project is going up. And hopefully, before any of that even starts, you have a really good mockup that has all the performance characteristics represented that are important on the project, and you just test it until you are very sure that it’s going to perform as expected. So those are the kind of cards I would hand to the owner and say, “Do these and your likelihood of a long-lasting building goes way up,” because you’re going to take care of some of those unknowns in construction.

Trimble: I’d like to second David’s point about mockups. I mean, how do things go together? You certainly find out a lot of stuff as you start constructing these mockups. Although we focus on materials, we need to talk about things such as compatibility, and you only learn that kind of stuff during the mockup and before it actually goes into the building. So, I don’t know how we get owners to do more mockups, but I think, because of the complicated materials and systems we’re dealing with today in systems, we need them.

Tipps: I agree with that, too. I have one other thing to think about. You brought up the new products and how oftentimes it’s new and the guys aren’t completely sure of what they’re supposed to do. I have to say, projects where the manufacturer’s representative was working shoulder to shoulder with the applicators to get them started off on the right foot have fewer and fewer problems than those when they charge forward. That has absolutely been my experience on that.

Zussman: I agree 100 percent. When we do a mockup, when we have the preinstallation meeting, the manufacturer is there because these products change frequently. The architect’s specifications sometimes reference products that are no longer available with that product line, and the manufacturer is there to quickly get that straightened out and clearly show the installer an example and how to install it quickly without losing any time.

De Sola: To the architects and specifiers: Be aware not just of the product but of the support of the product. Warranties don’t matter to me so much, but the support of the products during installation? That’s huge.

Carillo: What I see happen is that many of the competing manufacturers of products will turn their backs on something that they see going wrong because they don’t want to miss the next job. They come out with good intentions and make sure it’s done right initially, but, as the job goes on, they don’t follow up. And that’s why I think third-party inspection is definitely an asset to the building owner—but it has to be the right third-party inspector.

Zussman: It’s an asset for the contractor as well. For the general contractor, we want a third party to review the work. No one wants to go back to the project.

Carillo: Well, proactive is definitely better than hindsight and saying what we should have done, correct?

Tipps: Yeah, it is, and you don’t want that phone call later either. You know if your products are going up on to the building and something’s not right and you don’t step forward, you can anticipate that there’s going to be that phone call you don’t want to get. Nothing’s worse—I can’t imagine anything worse than having to go back and make things right. That’s the worst of all outcomes. In my opinion.

James: And expensive.

Zussman: And disruptive.       

Carillo: Time is money.

James: I’m just going to add that, at least in my experience, a lot of damage on the job site causes long-term problems, and sometimes it’s hard to prevent. You’ll get an installation that’s done to spec and then you’ll have subs in and other people come behind and, just because of the nature of construction, damage causes a tremendous amount of not just immediate failures but also substandard performance.

Zussman: And that’s where that preinstallation meeting helps. Because then a conversation could take place about protection of material sequencing, who’s going to be on top of what after they’re done. That conversation should take place beforehand.

De Sola: We’ve gone so far as to take one more part of the commissioning process, which is to require coordinated exterior shop drawings. On those I want to see what the specific material is. You know the architect is often, especially for government work, obligated to put a generic window or not call for a specific product so there’s more fair play in the bidding process. But when it comes to the shops, we ask you to put the name of the window that’s going in; the name of the transition membrane, if there is one; the name of the sealant; who’s putting it in; when it goes in; what the sequence is. Contractors don’t enjoy this because it’s not actually building; it’s thinking about the building first. But it’s such a great thing because it gets that whole conversation started, and you get some of the kinks worked out—and then we try it; we do it on the mockup after that. But having that coordinated shop set go through first is when everyone can go “Can you really put the window in before the brick?” or “Can you really put the brick up before the window?”, whichever it may be, and really think through all of the steps that are around it before you do it so you have a fighting chance of getting it right.

Tipps: I’ve not heard that before—I think that’s an amazing process. Is that commonplace that people will sit down and sequence the installations that way?

De Sola: I’ve been doing that out of my office, the last seven or eight years anyway, and I borrowed it from a colleague that was trying to model hard what the commissioning guys in the HVAC side were doing. That step just seems so natural and so smart because they always have coordinated shops for where the mechanical goes to so you don’t have things running into each other and so on, but this makes equally as much—maybe even more—sense. But I get a lot of blowback from it, so the quality of these things varies greatly. I would strongly encourage anyone who’s got the office to do this, to put it in as a requirement, because, as we know, nobody reads those things anyways [laughing]. So, you can enforce it on the day they’ve got the contract awarded: “By the way, you’ll be producing these as well—I hope you saw that on page 947.”

Carillo: How do we get this industry-wide as an accepted practice—or even possibly as a code—that a building must be commissioned on the exterior? Because without the exterior being done properly, it compromises the entire building.

De Sola: LEED v4 is almost mandating it. If LEED v4 wasn’t so internally confused, this would almost be a requirement to get certification. It’s not quite, but there’s enough language to suggest enhanced commissioning requires this third-party process, which is very involved. And it references the ASHRAE documents, which have, step by step, every single thing you need to do to commission them. LEED is one way to go if you’ve got a project that’s [headed] in that direction. Otherwise, it’s really getting your spec writer involved to make that Division 1 very strong and just require it. And states like Massachusetts and the colder states tend to have more progressive codes so that you can rely on things like the enforcement of the air barrier requirement, which almost necessitates third-party inspection to get it right.

Trimble: We do actually have better commissioning guidance than we’ve ever had in the past. So, ASTM, NIBS and other groups—instead of being like 1,000 different things an owner can choose from—now we have a more coordinated list of things to consider. And, again, getting to LEED v4 or some other documents that require commissioning is the way forward—it’s just finding the right vehicle to do that.

Tipps: Well I really like the idea of it.

 

D+D: We have time for two more questions. First, is there such a thing as a maintenance-free building?

Tipps: Not on my watch.

Trimble: It depends on whether you talk to an engineer or a product manufacturer. If you talk to the product manufacturer, “Yeah, you never have to maintain our facade; it’s perfectly fine.” But then you talk to a person who actually works out in the real world, and it’s different. No, you need to maintain everything.

James: I think they confuse maintenance-free with materials which are lower maintenance, but systems are not maintenance-free.

De Sola: I guess the only wrinkle I’d throw at that from my perspective, which is mostly rainscreen construction, is if you invest in the right backup system. Maintenance-free is ridiculous, but to have it last about 100 years? I think that’s doable. You can go a couple of different directions to achieve that, and number one is to use a robust — like a masonry — exterior that’s well detailed and well constructed. That could go 100 years with, maybe, repointing. Or you could put whatever you want out there and just let it fail in 20 years because all your performance is happening on the inside layer. So again, it gets back to making sure that performance layer system is top-notch and done right and coordinated with the right materials and compatible and constructed well — that’s as close as you’re going to get to maintenance-free.

Zussman: You still have to clean the facade no matter what material you have up there.

Carillo: But really, it’s not just the material that’s going on there; it’s the transitions between all the materials as a system; as we discussed, this is the most important thing, other than just the main facade that’s on the building.

Tipps: You know, oftentimes when we’re talking about using a more costly alternative for a coating on the exterior, a decorative coating, I’ll find the decision generally lays between requirement or need. But, on the other side, if the building’s not going to be owned very long by the same group, then nobody cares — and they do treat that as a maintenance-free façade: “Three years down the road, what’s the worst that’s going to happen?” And it will become someone else’s problem, so I have run into that attitude as well.

Zussman: That’s a good point; it’s all about perspective.

Tipps: People will opt for the lower-cost materials knowing that it doesn’t matter — not to them — and the day comes when everyone’s scratching their heads wondering how this could have happened.

Trimble: Is that a problem for our industry or not? Do we mind that we have to replace facades every 10 or20 years? Or should we be pushing materials and systems to last longer?

Tipps: I think you appeal to two groups of people, and between those two groups of people they have totally different points of view. From our point of view, I have to say, the more often you apply material, that puts food on the table; everybody understands that. But there’s also the conservative “I-don’t-want-to-see-the-building-deteriorate” kind of idealism, and there you’re wondering, Are we doing the right thing? Should we be doing something different? I tell you: it’s really split, and I don’t know how you win that argument.

Trimble: You get into public schools, where they have a budget for construction, but they never really budget for maintenance. Those are two separate pots that they’re pulling from; the one doesn’t care about the other, and you get into those kinds of situations of, "Who is going to pay for maintenance?"

Tipps: I totally agree with you about that. How many times it’s about getting the building built and then the question of how we will maintain it thereafter. Oftentimes, this becomes a selling point for the more quality materials, knowing that they’re not coming back to this thing for maybe 20, 30 years. So I’ve found that is an avenue to help improve the situation.

Carillo: Based on my experience, 30 years as a contractor, I think any material you put up should last 25 to 30 years, regardless of the quality or cost of the material. It’s all in the application. If you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and do it properly, it will last, provided the caulking is done around it and the windows don’t leak behind it. But the material itself — if done properly — should last, and there shouldn’t be an issue of using an inferior material.

Tipps: I wouldn’t say it would be inferior but may be an inappropriate choice. I think we heard earlier that some caulks are not compatible to be applied against glass, for instance. Assuming that none of these are the problems that we’re running into, and that doesn’t drive the product, then yeah, it should work.  

 

D+D: Finally, what is the one thing you wish the D+D audience knew regarding façade maintenance? Or do you have any “lessons learned” or advice for D+D readers on the topic?

Tipps: I have to fall back to my belief that the owner or the architect should always consult with trusted engineering firms because those are the guys that have the experience of fixing everything that goes wrong. I think that helps strengthen the team and strengthens decisions. When we have buildings that are renovated by folks who have a sense that what they’re doing is correct but don’t see behind the work, that’s where those buildings get into trouble. So that’s been my takeaway all along: You need those people with experience.

De Sola: I guess my combined answer to these things is just how important it is to get this right in the first place. And, before the construction, it’s really getting the design right. I can’t tell you how many design sets I’ve seen with architects who have no idea how a window and a wall should go together. So if the drawing has got confusion on it, how is it possibly going to get built right? Getting a design review to happen is important, but then so is getting the rest of that whole protocol to take place so you are able to get your building built right in the first place. And I would advocate the commissioning process as one that’s been pretty well worked out at this point. The right people can make that happen. So this is in order to avoid as much of the maintenance issues as possible as well as to get the building built right the first time.

Trimble: Companies need to invest — design firms need to invest in their employees to get them to understand the materials and how they are installed. So yeah, get it done right the first time. First you design it correctly, and second you install it correctly; the only way you can do both those things is by having people that are knowledgeable about the subjects. Again, have architects talk to craftworkers; have craftworkers talk to architects. Have that cross-pollination or synergy or whatever you want to call it. I think it should happen more than it does, and if we do that, things are going to turn out better.

James: I’m agreeing because everybody has a lot of valid points. I think, from a building owner standpoint, a lot of it starts with them; they have to look at the building they’re going to be managing. We started out talking about how the personnel so changes quickly in the industry and how continuity is lost. In a perfect world, if you’ve got a great architect and you’ve got somebody in charge of your operation, that’s really preferred. But the building owners need to prepare to provide information to their service providers on a consistent basis that’s factual, accurate and hopefully helps them plan their work, because, in the long-term, if they don’t have the information, if they can’t keep track of the little things that are going on in the building envelope, then they’re likely to not get the service life out of the building envelope that they’re expecting.

Carillo: In my years as a contractor, we always tried to do things right — and we’d go back and do them before [the owner] even noticed that they were wrong if we thought they were wrong. But, that said, the toughest architecture firms that I ever worked for had industry-professional contractors on their force as inspectors, because they were used to putting it up from their years as a contractor or as a superintendent. Those guys knew how it was supposed to go together, so they could adhere to the plans, make sure it was done properly. So I think having industry professionals in the architecture firms is a huge asset for the industry.

Trimble: We’re missing a lot of that, that’s for sure.

Zussman: A couple of other items are making sure the owner has a well-defined schedule of material review and a good schedule of materials so he or she knows what materials are on the building, what are the proper tests and take the time to verify compatibility of any new materials that are going on top of the old materials that they’re restoring or maintaining.

   

Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building facades; Education; Facade Maintenance Design

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