Sano & Associates

The Building Envelope

Currently, this seems to be a hot topic. All sorts of manufacturers from asphalt to zinc are planting their flag in this new found piece of land, claiming efficiency, ease of use, and how they are the epitome of carbon neutrality. Yawn. From my timeline in this business, it goes a little something like this:

2002: The Invention of Mold and Mildew

If you were to look in any trade publications, they would make it seem that mold spores never existed before then. All over the industry material suppliers were laying claim to eradicate mold from the face of the earth. Litigation happened….mitigation companies popped up left and right to clean up sick buildings. Was it a real or perceived problem? Who knows. At the end of the day, sticking kids in sick buildings is a bad idea. Working in an office with poor indoor air quality is not better. I can say this-through all the hype some positive did come of it all. It begged the question from designers, “how do we control this?” and those with solid science prevailed.

2006: Green/Reflective Roofing

Vegetated roof systems have been around forever, but not clearly defined in the US until the mid 2000’s. Certain forward thinking companies saw this as a fantastic way to utilize the roof space on their structure for more than equipment storage. The benefits of a vegetated roof systems are many….too many to ramble on about in this space, so look for a whole entry on Garden Roof Assemblies in the near future. That being said, not every facility can handle such a beast so enter reflective roofing, stage left. The industry went nuts with SRI values, “cool roofing technology”, and more options than you could shake a stick at. But wait for it……here is the ONE THING no one ever talked about. And it seems so simple, its no wonder why it was swept under the rug. White roofs only reflect when they remain white. How many owners/facility managers work a cleaning contract into their quote request? How long will that tight, bright, and white roof remain well……bright and white? Not long usually before the project is completed the roof is pretty well trashed. So before you have the facility up and running with all the mechanical equipment, its performing poorly.

2006-Present:Green Washing

This one needs little explanation. Around that time it was so hip to be environmentally friendly you were seeing “green” on the most ridiculous labels, from building products to inconsequential consumer items. And most of it was a complete scam. I still get a small chuckle when I see a manufacturer of anything PVC related tie their product to “green”, “sustainable”, and “eco friendly”. If you have ever seen that stuff made you would understand why in plumbing it can only be used for waste service.


It hit the scene prior to that, but around then in the Kansas City area, it was all a buzz. 1/2 of the contractor base and supply portion of the industry had absolutely no clue what this was. We would get phone calls for “leeds products”. The conversations would go like this: “Matt, this is Joe at XYZ Masonry. I need some of your LEEDS Styrofoam.” Wow. I feel the USGBC and the design community did the overall industry a disservice by setting new standards and imposing them on a world that fights change tooth and nail. Are the LEED fundamentals sound? You better believe it. I think the intent is the most responsible thing to to happen to the construction industry in quite some time. Too band some of the criteria is completely whacked. And getting LEED accredited before achieving the basics like the CDT exam offered by the Construction Specifications Institute seems a little backwards.

2009-The Building Envelope

Yes, its been a long road of my rambling to get to this point. Thank you for sticking around, I hope you have found this a worthwhile conversation so far. As I mentioned before, all sorts of manufacturers have been claiming they have “superior building envelope technology”. But what does that even mean? What is the envelope, and how does it work? That is where the huge disconnect is. Warning to any A/E entities reading this: If anyone tells you they have a single solution for the project you are working on, and the next three (without knowing any details) run. Run fast, and in the opposite direction. There is to date no single solution for any project coming out of the ground. Hold these people to task. Ask them exactly what they are trying to accomplish and provide. It seems that every project we have worked on, one of these “solutions” type companies is no where to be found when it comes to interfacing with another component on the envelope. They generally turn tail and run since their product is already bought and paid for. Don’t be that guy. Push back and demand answers. Another hanging offence is ignoring the codes in favor of a slick presentation. Recently I attended a presentation where a gentlemen was promoting a rainscreen system that he claimed was thermally broken, and adhered to the 2012 IECC. Last I checked, aluminum brackets attached to exterior gyp board fastened back to the studs is far from thermally broken, When confronted, he said, “well, its almost compliant”. Now, how do you start off your presentation with Thermally broken, code compliant, etc, and end with “almost compliant”?

Anyway…do your homework. Check it twice, and make sure you call someone with a well stocked tool box. Check this space, and check it often for tech bulletins, project profiles, and general industry related information. Please share with your peers and comment. I encourage dialogue, and look forward to others with sound opinions and logic to either agree or challenge the science we are promoting.