The Recladding Remedy

09/01/2013 | By Christopher Curtland

Unchecked and overlooked envelope issues require severe solutions

This New York rental property recently underwent recladding. Its former facade had so much water infiltration that the glazed white brick faces popped off. The retrofit improves aesthetics and performance.
Credit: Western Facades

The envelope is your building’s primary line of defense, but after so many punctures in its armor, you’ll have to call in the cavalry.

Some enclosure problems can be addressed with sealants and other simple solutions. But when your problems are becoming persistent, epidemic, and particularly costly, it’s time to take more heavy duty measures.

“Buildings aren’t supposed to last forever, and the envelope has a certain lifespan. It can be extended with maintenance and repair, but at some point, it will need to be replaced,” says Bill Bast, principal at engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti. “Eventually, it will literally hit the wall – or what’s left of the wall.”

Let these factors help you decide if recladding is your only remedy.

Envelope Efficiency
Begin by looking for signs of excessive air or water infiltration.

“Moisture penetration is the easiest red flag to identify,” says Mike Radigan, senior operations manager of restoration and preservation firm Western Facades. “It’s also usually the first one that causes people to start kicking, screaming, and withholding rent.”

Water infiltration manifests in a number of ways. Occupant complaints of leaks and ponding at window sills are only the early signs.

“Don’t think of leaks or drafts as normal, everyday complaints,” says Bast. “The building is not intended and designed to behave that way. There might only be a few defective sealants, but there could be a larger scale failure.”

Also look for cracking and efflorescence staining on the exterior.

“If problems are showing up on the exterior, the problem is more insidious,” says Radigan. “Especially on a concrete or steel frame, the system can start deteriorating from the inside. It’s like the skeleton of the building is crumbling.”

Even issues on the roof can indicate facade failures. “Look for cracking, blistering, and bubbling of roof membranes. Look for ponding water that’s not draining correctly. Look for a green roof that’s not supposed to be a green roof, like if it’s growing moss or mold,” says Radigan.

“Getting on top of the building gives a different vantage point,” Bast agrees. “If you have water up there, the problem goes from the top down.”

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