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.

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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.