The Building Envelope

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Over eighteen years of work experience in the forensic investigation, design, analysis, consulting and inspections of residential, commercial and retail building envelope components. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are our Building Envelopes Ready for a Powerful Hurricane?

As an experienced building envelope consultant specializing in hazard mitigation design, I feel compelled to pass along some advice to those not familar or aware of the possible dangers and aftermath of a powerful (Category 3 or above) hurricane.  I do not want to focus on preparedness since there are many sources available to the public in today's media speaking to that topic.  I want to focus primarily and uniquely on what I consider to be issues in how we structurally address the building envelope.  After nearly 18 years in the business of design, inspection, analysis and consultation in this field, I can say, without a doubt, that we have alot to learn in order to bring our building envelopes to an acceptable level of protection.  Even in the state of Florida home to the country's strictest building codes with respect to hurricane mitigation there is much work to be done.  I have made it one of my firms highest priorites to raise awareness and bring attention to these issues.  Not enough emphasis has been placed on securing the building envelopes in the other coastal states that are more and more being threatened.  I am writing this blog now because of the heightened awareness and potential test to our nations northeast building envelopes.  My issues of concern are:

1.  The afffects from wind load are being considered in most cases but the affects of windborne debris have not been given due attention from our northeastern neighbors.

2.  Installation of windows, doors and storefronts are being installed in substrates that are not adequate to transfer those forces to the main building structure...such as improperly attached wood bucks, inadequately designed metal stud framing, excessive shimming of anchors.

3.  Envelope products are being sold and installed without proper engineering and testing.

4.  Products that are properly engineered and tested are being installed improperly and with disregard to the testing and design limitations.

5.  The impact resitant glass types on installed products are sometimes being substituted with cheaper, weaker glass.

6.  Many municipalities approve building envelope shop drawings and calculations without proper review just because it contains an engineers seal.  You would be surprised how many signed and sealed shop drawings and calculations I have reviewed,, that have been prepared by seasoned engineers in which I have found gross misinterpretations or even disregard for the code.

7.  There exists a lack of awareness from architects and structural engineers on the intracacies of designing the building envelope and on the product approval process.

8.  There is a misconception that the glass on impact resistant products will not break during a storm.  In fact, the glass might very well break but if installed properly will not separate from the frame.

9.  There is a serious lack of knowledge with many of todays building inspectors regarding interpreting and enforcing approved shop drawings.

10.  There is much work needed to bring shop drawings up to par with being an adequate representation of the product approvals and the specialty engineers design intent.

11.  There is rampant fraud and lack of oversight in the hurricane mitigation inspection process performed for the insurance companies.

I could seriously go on and on but will stop by saying that it will not be until an Andrew or like storm hits a major metropolitan area that these issues will start being addressed.  Let's hope and pray that the time is not now for the sake of our northeastern neighbors.

The answer to the question, in my opinion, is.....NO!



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