Solving the Commercial Building Envelope Complexity & Cost Equation

Talk to pro­fes­sion­als in the design and con­struc­tion indus­try and inevitably you will touch on two top­ics: com­plex­i­ty and cost. It is no coin­ci­dence that the two are linked. Cost is a result of com­plex­i­ty. While most of us under­stand the rela­tion­ship, do we under­stand the forces that are dri­ving it? Trends in build­ing codes fig­ures into the com­plex­i­ty equa­tion.

Con­struc­tion means and meth­ods were devel­oped to dri­ve effi­cien­cy and low­er cost. Wood and steel fram­ing, CMU and con­crete tilt pan­el sys­tems large­ly achieved the require­ments of their day. How­ev­er, with­in the last decade, those sys­tems are now being asked to meet high­er per­for­mance goals than they were orig­i­nal­ly devel­oped to meet.

Because of more strin­gent codes and chal­lenges with labor and mate­ri­als, among oth­er fac­tors we address below, con­struc­tion projects are more com­plex than 25 years ago. Archi­tects and con­trac­tors are strug­gling to work with exist­ing build­ing sys­tems to address the larg­er list of per­for­mance require­ments and still achieve effi­cient and cost-effec­tive con­struc­tion. Risk in this envi­ron­ment sky­rock­ets as they work around lim­i­ta­tions in the sys­tems them­selves. Stan­dard sys­tems that were once sim­ple and fast to build are now com­plex and dif­fi­cult to install.

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Nowhere is this pain being felt more than around the design of the build­ing enve­lope. Ener­gy and life safe­ty codes have had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on build­ing enve­lope design. As com­plex­i­ty increas­es, so does the time it takes to com­mu­ni­cate per­for­mance require­ments between archi­tects, con­trac­tors and code inspec­tors.

While the under­ly­ing con­struc­tion sys­tem looks the same as it has for near­ly a cen­tu­ry, archi­tects and con­trac­tors are now real­iz­ing that the designs required today to meet code are rad­i­cal­ly more com­plex, dif­fi­cult and riski­er than before.

Many indi­vid­ual fac­tors are dri­ving the com­plex­i­ty and cost equa­tion of the build­ing enve­lope, includ­ing:

Wind and Hurricane Standards

After Hur­ri­canes Kat­ri­na, Ike and Har­vey, build­ing offi­cials have start­ed to scru­ti­nize the details of light framed build­ings. In wood- or met­al-stud framed build­ings, fas­ten­er pat­terns, shear walls and roof fram­ing con­nec­tions must now be designed by struc­tur­al engi­neers. Spac­ing of brick ties, spe­cial anchors for block walls and oth­er con­nec­tions for steel are no longer com­mon­place.

The roof, walls and win­dows of some build­ings must also be con­struct­ed to resist the pen­e­tra­tion of wind-borne debris dur­ing storm events. These changes mean spe­cial orders, spe­cial train­ing for installers and spe­cial inspec­tions, all of which add to com­plex­i­ty and costs.

Energy Performance Standards

With the ever-increas­ing costs of ener­gy, and the devel­op­ment of a nation­al ener­gy code and green build­ing stan­dards, more own­ers are putting a greater empha­sis on ener­gy per­for­mance. The added per­for­mance require­ment essen­tial­ly means greater lev­els of insu­la­tion that can mean thick­er walls with more lay­ers of mate­ri­als, dri­ving up the cost of the assem­bly.

Addi­tion­al­ly, met­al build­ings now must have two kinds of insu­la­tion: fibrous insu­la­tion between the studs and con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion in the form of insu­la­tion boards on the exte­ri­or of studs. Thick­er walls with more steps to assem­ble them lead to more com­plex­i­ty and cost. Archi­tects must come up with an assem­bly” of dis­parate prod­ucts from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers that must be designed to work togeth­er to achieve the per­for­mance goals.

Water Intrusion

Ask most insur­ance agents what type of claim con­cerns them most and they’ll answer water intru­sion. A water intru­sion issue means that the under­ly­ing con­struc­tion is at fault, and fix­ing the issue is nev­er easy.

A wall that leaks results in dam­ages to fin­ish­es, floors and fur­nish­ings. A wall that does not pre­vent the migra­tion of mois­ture will pro­duce mold that can make a whole build­ing unin­hab­it­able. When mul­ti­ple trades have to coor­di­nate to install dis­parate prod­ucts in an assem­bly, the chances of instal­la­tion error goes up, and water has a knack for find­ing these errors.

Skilled Labor

Con­struc­tion labor short­ages have been a prob­lem for quite some time, and the prob­lem is get­ting worse every year. This is dou­bly true for skilled trades. The major­i­ty of labor­ers enter­ing the con­struc­tion work­force today are rel­a­tive­ly unskilled, yet they are being asked to per­form more and more com­plex work due to the increase in com­plex­i­ty of build­ing sys­tems.

Con­trac­tors are hav­ing to bal­ance hav­ing enough labor to sim­ply get the work done with the risk of get­ting it wrong and caus­ing re-work, war­ran­ty calls, and cost­ly and dam­ag­ing lit­i­ga­tion from con­struc­tion fail­ures. In an attempt to off­set the more com­plex con­struc­tion sys­tems and build­ing designs, con­trac­tors spend sig­nif­i­cant amounts of time and mon­ey on work­force devel­op­ment, train­ing and increased job site super­vi­sion.

While these costs do not always get cal­cu­lat­ed into the direct cost of con­struc­tion, the dol­lars and con­se­quences are real.

Material Availability

The recent eco­nom­ic boom com­bined with Hur­ri­cane Har­vey has left many scram­bling for not just skilled labor but mate­ri­als as well. Addi­tion­al­ly, more com­plex wall designs require more mate­ri­als which have cre­at­ed a high­er demand for them and has result­ed in sky­rock­et­ing mate­r­i­al costs.

Increased tar­iffs on wood and steel have also had an impact on the avail­abil­i­ty and price of these com­mon mate­ri­als. Local and nation­al raw mate­r­i­al sources are hard­er to come by, mean­ing that they are get­ting trans­port­ed from around the globe. The added dis­tance to trans­port is cer­tain­ly adding to costs, and the lack of a local pres­ence means that rela­tion­ships are hard­er to devel­op.

Prod­uct sup­pli­ers are less behold­en to builder rela­tion­ships, mean­ing that uncer­tain­ty of deliv­ery times increas­es. This means that con­trac­tors are build­ing more time into their sched­ules to deal with unknown delays relat­ed to ship­ments of raw mate­ri­als.

Code Inspections

Wind­storm, fire and ener­gy codes, as well as new con­struc­tion means and meth­ods, are cre­at­ing a new issue in the field relat­ed to build­ing inspec­tions. Build­ing code offi­cials are now often out­sourced to those with spe­cial­ized exper­tise who have been trained around evolv­ing codes.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this spe­cial­iza­tion of code offi­cials has not made its way onto the job site where inspec­tors are often see­ing details for the first time and are put in a bad posi­tion to make a call in the field as to whether or not a sys­tem has been prop­er­ly installed. These inter­pre­ta­tions can often­times con­tra­dict the design intent, mean­ing that archi­tects and con­trac­tors are left to fight over whose issue it is to resolve. This gets tricky when nei­ther agrees with the code offi­cial in the field.

It is safe to say that this com­plex­i­ty trend is here to stay. Codes are not get­ting sim­pler any time soon, and it will be a chal­lenge for every­one in the indus­try to keep up. The build­ing sys­tems that got us to this point in time are no longer able to keep up with new demands and chal­lenges.

The rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple con­struc­tion sys­tems of the last cen­tu­ry that includ­ed mate­ri­als such as steel, wood, con­crete and block now need to include new prod­ucts, details and sys­tems to sat­is­fy the per­for­mance require­ments of this cen­tu­ry.

These old­er sys­tems can­not keep up or be sim­pli­fied; instead, con­struc­tion means and meth­ods need to dra­mat­i­cal­ly change.

Solv­ing the com­plex­i­ty and cost issue requires a fresh start. The wider range of con­cerns out­lined above has to be sat­is­fied in order to bring costs back with­in con­trol. Any new sys­tem pro­posed must be designed to address wind­storm, fire and ener­gy codes, solve water intru­sion con­cerns, use local­ly avail­able mate­ri­als and be sim­pler to con­struct. This is exact­ly the point of view from which Bau­tex was cre­at­ed. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem pro­vides sim­pli­fi­ca­tion through inte­gra­tion.

Bautex wall pull away

An insulated, wind resistive and watertight Bautex Block wall only has four elements: Block, rebar, concrete, and air and moisture barrier (shown with optional stucco finish).

Build­ing codes and own­er-dri­ven per­for­mance cri­te­ria are dri­ving up com­plex­i­ty for tra­di­tion­al build­ing sys­tems, so Bau­tex engi­neered a bet­ter block that sim­pli­fies con­struc­tion.

An inno­v­a­tive com­bi­na­tion of insu­la­tion and cement, the Bau­tex Block exceeds most build­ing per­for­mance cri­te­ria from the get-go. Bau­tex is an inte­grat­ed build­ing sys­tem that is made local­ly and does not require spe­cial­ty trades to install.

  1. The shape of the block cre­ates voids that are filled with rebar and con­crete to cre­ate a resilient wall that can with­stand wind­storm, flood­ing and fire.
  2. The block is 85% insu­la­tion so no addi­tion­al insu­la­tion needs to be applied at the job site, remov­ing a trade from the deliv­ery chain.
  3. The block pro­vides a con­tin­u­ous and uni­form sub­strate for the instal­la­tion of a flu­id-applied air and mois­ture bar­ri­er with­out the com­plex­i­ty of work­ing around mul­ti­ple lay­ers of mate­ri­als, which short­ens con­struc­tion time and sub­stan­tial­ly reduces the risk of instal­la­tion defects.
  4. Any local con­trac­tor that can build a load-bear­ing wall can install Bau­tex, vast­ly open­ing the labor mar­ket. No spe­cial­ty trades are need­ed, and Bau­tex pro­vides a sim­ple one-day train­ing course and direct con­trac­tor sup­port dur­ing the life of the project.
  5. Bau­tex is made local­ly in Texas, by Tex­ans. When you need a rep­re­sen­ta­tive or more prod­uct, Bau­tex is a click or phone call away.
  6. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem is mono­lith­ic and easy to super­vise and inspect, mean­ing that code offi­cials are less like­ly to find faults and con­trac­tors can main­tain a tight sched­ule.

Bau­tex deliv­ers a new par­a­digm of sim­plic­i­ty and per­for­mance for the con­struc­tion indus­try. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem is a com­plete struc­ture and build­ing enve­lope solu­tion that is installed quick­ly by a sin­gle trade. It can be con­struct­ed faster, with few­er mate­ri­als, less labor, few­er trades, less com­plex­i­ty and low­er risk. It is time to throw out your old con­struc­tion sys­tems and build with Bau­tex.