ANALYSIS OF BUILDING ENVELOPES

What follows will require a few minutes of reading, but it is vital that you invest the time!
What is the building envelope?  It is just like a letter envelope…it protects the letter inside.  The building envelope is the part of the building that separates the cold exterior from the warm interior in the northern climate, and the reverse occurs in the tropics.  Although not actually part of the envelope, balconies and decks can be a very weak part of the building exterior.

Does STUCCO DOCTOR recommend analysis of the Building Envelopes?
Absolutely!   However here is a caution! 
Many condominium Strata Councils and Property Managers have called a company for an inspection and later received a report that condemned their building, calling it a ”Leaky Condo”.

At least a number of those buildings later ended up on a “Leaky Condo Blacklist”. 
Once that happened, the Owners could not sell their properties without disclosing that a Professional had condemned their building, and that it would have a $1-$3,000,000.00 dollar assessment to pay.  Banks would not remortgage the properties because they were unsure that there would be enough equity in the property once the repairs were completed.  Some individuals have had to pay $100,000.00 assessments…..and more!

Why is it that the majority of these professional firms recommend
the total tear-off of the cladding with the huge assessments that it brings?
Simply put, they are unable, and/or unwilling, to accept any liability or responsibility
for any repair strategy other than the “Rain Screen System”.

About 15 years ago when the “Leaky Condo” problem came to light, the Engineers and Architects were implicated in the design and construction of these failed or failing buildings.  Some Owners took legal action against these companies and many of them had to pay huge settlements.  Of course besides the financial hit that these professionals took, their Insurers also took a massive hit.  This led the Insurers to insist on certain standards to be met in order to be eligible for E&O insurance (errors and omissions).  Many of these Engineering and Architectural companies went out of business and closed their companies to re-emerge under different names and numbers.  At the same time, there was a law-suit against one of the cities in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, and the City lost the suit and had to pay millions of dollars to the Owners.  It was determined in that court action that the cladding system used was faulty and that the only system that could be counted on was the “Rain Screen System” and it became the new Building Code for new construction.  As a result the E&O Insurance Companies advised some, or all of their clients, that they would not insure any company for E&O if they did anything but “Rain Screen” on their buildings.
Does this mean that only “Rain Screen” systems work on building envelopes and that “Rain Screen” is required for all repairs or restoration of existing buildings.

Far from it!

New construction requires it, and it is a better system.  On new buildings it does not add a huge amount of cost to the construction and definitely improves the life of the envelope.  Stucco Doctor certainly endorses and agrees with the improved Building Code regarding these buildings… and especially those that have no overhangs, or those that have many balconies and/or penetrations into the Envelope.

However, is it required for existing buildings?

No it is not!

Each Building has its own ratio, but basically if you leave over 50% of the wall in place you do not need to tear off the other 50% that is perfectly fine….(some say 40%, and some 60%). 
Your building does not require the removal of all of the cladding to function well!
At this point let us tell you that our President, Ken Brandon, has spent well over 50 years in this business like his father before him, and he confirms that with the exception of only one building complex, in all these years, he has never seen a building with more than 5% rot!!!  That right not 50% rot….not even 5% rot.!!

How is that all of these other companies and professionals
condemn the buildings as unsalvageable?

How do they arrive at their conclusions that all the cladding must
totally be torn off and replaced by a “Rain Screen”?

What we are about to reveal to you is based upon dozens of Professional Reports that we have read and analyzed.  When we were asked to look at the Reports to see what they claimed and recommended, we replied, “before we do, let us tell you what they will say”.  And we were correct ….every time!  These reports often claimed that “the building is about half rotten, and there is no point in trying to save the rest of it….and the only system that really works is the “Rain Screen” system so you might as well ‘bite the bullet’, as the saying goes, and get a loan and get it done.  You have no choice!!!”

Is that true that you have no choice, and is it true that your building is half rotten????
It could be that there exists a building out there like that, however, in 50 years we have seen only one complex like that.  Compare that with the other hundreds of buildings that we have inspected and investigated….that had less than 5% rot???

How is it that the companies doing the reports come up with these condemnatory results?
They do it by conducting a number of moisture tests, and then later some destructive testing that reveals the substrate.  You might well reason, “How can that go wrong…I have seen the rot where they cut a circle out of the stucco….and seen the reports that show we have to take it all off!”
The problem exists with the manner in which the moisture testing has been done,
and  the “conclusions” presented in the Reports.

The Reports generally indicate that there are certain Envelope features that usually fail, such as balcony connections, expansion joints, vents, large horizontal cracks….in short any penetration into, or failure of the Envelope, that has a chance to allow water ingress. This is true.  However, these areas only represent about 5% of the wall surface.  So when testing is concentrated in these areas the overall percentages of rot are not representative of the entire building!! Yet this is what these reports usually claim.

Their report of 30-50 pages will contain a lot of generic information from other reports and books copied and pasted into your report.  However, the Moisture and Destructive Testing is particular to your building.  Everyone in the industry knows, or should know, that windows are a weak point in the Building Envelope, as are balcony connections, expansion joints, vents, large horizontal cracks….in short any penetration into, or failure of the Envelope, that has a chance to allow water ingress.

The testing is generally done on the weather wall….usually the east or southeast elevation…in some areas it can be a little more north or south, but usually the east wall is implicated.  The testing then is done at the bottom corner of the window.  Here you will often find a crack or a stain, or a stain may be seen under the weeper drain hole from the window assembly where the water has been concentrated.  Under a vent also potentially allows water ingress.  Further tests will likely be performed where the balcony railings enter the wall, where the balcony membrane has failed, and/or below the bottom corner of the balcony where it attaches to the warm walls of the building.  If the building has the expansion joints on the floor joist levels (as was required by the Building Code a number of decades ago) these areas will usually show signs of water ingress on the corners, since they have no provision for a waterproof connection on the corners or on the joints.
All of that testing is correct, and we would do the same testing.

The reason is that they have tested far less than 1% of the wall and of those tests they concentrated them all in the weakest areas that they could find.  What about the good areas that they did not test, because they knew they were very likely perfectly fine.  Stucco and other claddings almost never permit water ingress out in the field of the wall….away from the penetrations…..which really is the largest portion of the building.  So, if they concentrated equally on all elevations and equally in all areas of the walls then they would have a result that showed far less than 5% rot….probably 1-2%!!!
So in our opinion it is the conclusions and the recommendations that are generally given that is wrong….not the process of testing.  These types are reflective of what we have seen many times in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. 

What conclusions would we come to after having done those tests?

Well, we would honestly reveal what the actual rot found, averages on the building.  We would explain that the areas tested are not indicative of the rest of the walls.  We would probably have tested a few more good areas to reassure the owners that all is not doom and gloom.  We would acknowledge that there are weaknesses in the envelope…..but since only 5% or less of the building is actually deteriorated we would never recommend removing the other 95% which has performed well for the last 10,20, or 30 and more years. 

So what is to be done?  Your building is not a “Leaky Condo”.  Nor did it suddenly become a “Leaky Condo” after functioning well for decades.  Water ingress has always occurred, as noted above, on specific areas of a building.  These have always been a maintenance issue.  And the maintenance repairs cost a mere fraction of the cost of a complete tear-off and rebuild! 

Of course, “Leaky Condos” do exist as an acknowledged result of faulty Architectural design and Engineering, and incorrect cladding application, etc. (see the Barret Report released by the government) during a specific period of time.  However, to suggest that all buildings fall into this category, regardless of whether or not they predated this period, is ludicrous.  On the good side, it is a fact that revealing the reasons for the “Leaky Condo” fiasco has also led to a better understanding of water ingress and superior ways to prevent, improve, and repair all buildings.

First decide to make the necessary repairs to your building.  It did not suddenly become a “Leaky Condo” after functioning well for decades The cladding system on a building is rated to a 20-30 year life depending on where it is…its style ….if it has overhangs….and the type of stucco or cladding that it is.  The cladding needs maintenance or refinishing every 10-15 years subject to the same conditions mentioned above.  So it is very likely time to do something anyways.  But it is not a leaky condo….any more than if your car requires repairs…..we don’t throw it away because it is time to change the tires do we?

We would recommend eliminated all of the weak elements on the element if the budget permits.  If the budget is more limited then at the very least do the severe weather walls to begin with.  Although usually the money saved from the total tear off estimate is so significant that most stratas can make arrangements to get it totally repaired.  When these weak areas are opened up to install the new envelope features then all of the damaged areas are revealed and can be repaired completely…..all rot removed and the structure restored to like new condition.  In areas that have a lot of repaired sections we would recommend refinishing the entire wall so that everything looks and endures like new again.  This is called the “Water Management system”.  Take a moment to click on that section to see what it involved along with some pictures of the results.

What kind of savings can be had using the Water Management System as compared to a total tear off.  We find that we can completely restore a building for about 25-30% of the cost.  That can mean millions of dollars of savings!

Here is an actual true story.  In Langley there was a very nice building, three stories high made up of 36 homes and made with conventional cement based stucco that had one problematic section of windows in a bay window assembly facing directly east.  They had tried to repair it on several occasions but had the problems of water ingress would not go away.  They called an engineering firm to do an envelope study.  The results….just as we mentioned above.  They had to tear everything off the building and install a rain screen system.  The cost about $1,250,000.00….but the severe rot could take it even higher they were cautioned.  Well they were mostly retired folks and except for the 3 units with the problematic bay window assembly there was no other problems noted…they just couldn’t agree with the report.  We were called by the strata who had heard of our good results on many other buildings.  We did our moisture tests and apart from the small section that was problematic….that everything else was excellent.  There were a few reds…..and a few orange…but remember the orange might be just fine if it is the lower part of the scale.  So we estimated everything and gave them a contract price to fix it, improve it and then overstucco the entire building.  The cost??????...... $300,000.00  But what about all that rot that we had to fix………….apart from the small section that was acknowledged bad on the east wall bay window assembly…..we did not even use two sheets of plywood to repair all the rot found. ….it was about 50 square feet. In total.  Far, far less than 1%.  That was over 10 years ago and they have never had a single problem….the building looks and acts like new….and they saved  ONE MILLION DOLLARS which for anyone, but especially those retired folks was a huge savings.

So now that you have had a crash course in envelope testing and studies you can see that there are serious options to the leaky condo tear off.  Your building is very likely not a leak condo….why get it condemned as such?  Call us to get some addresses of building complexes that are similar to yours that have been upgraded.  Call us for a free consultation, for a complimentary walk around and some good common sense advice.  We are Canada’s largest stucco care and restoration company.  We have been doing it for more than 50 years and are on our 4th generation in the family…and still never an unsatisfied complaint.

Call STUCCO DOCTOR for an honest and accurate report of the actual conditions that exist along with sensible solutions to the weaknesses…..from simple cleaning, patch and repair to envelope restoration and improvements designed to last a lifetime….and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!!