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.
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.
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.
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.
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.