Building Envelop Failure: Reasons & Prevention Tips

A building envelope can be defined in the simplest manner as the exterior of a building capable of repelling the elements. Technically speaking, these are engineering systems that combine different elements such as moisture control, air pressure boundaries, structural integrity, and temperature control into a single strategy of designing.

At the very beginning of this discussion, it is important to understand that almost all building envelops, including the most diligently built ones may fail over a period of time.  These failures result in interior damage and aesthetic loss for the building. In the worst possible cases, it may even result in life-threatening structural issues, leading to legal consequences.

Before describing the reasons behind building envelop failure, it is important to understand what failure is. In around fifty percent of instances, building envelope failure is observed in the form of moisture penetrating into the building exterior or remaining trapped within the system during occupancy or construction. Moisture intrusion leads to growth of mold and adversely affects the envelope system’s integrity to the extent of serious structural failures. Rain penetration is the most common cause behind moisture intrusion. Other common failures are non-structural, and lead to aesthetic issues such as material finish failures, glass delamination, etc.

Mentioned below are some of the most common factors responsible for building envelop failure.

Design deficiencies: In some instances, architects make the mistake of specifying design systems or materials that are not best suited for their intended application. Common mistakes committed by them include the use of materials that are not compatible with other materials in contact with them. Errors are also made by selecting materials with inadequate performance criteria for structural capacity, thermal movement, or resistance to water penetration.  Also, subcontractors involved in the project may create issues by reducing the amount, size, and weight of the envelop components such as sealants, glass, aluminium, flashing, etc.

Material failure: The desired level of performance may not be achieved even after specifying the right kind of materials. These failures are caused because of errors in manufacturing, storage, or handing of the product or different components that make up the product. Examples of this type of failure include metal fatigue, laminated glass delamination, and degrading sealant adhesion. Moreover, though the performance expected from a material is based upon statistical performance data, the actual strength and other properties of these materials may vary significantly.

Poor workmanship: Unfortunately, in some projects, you may find inexperienced, untrained, and unsupervised personnel entrusted with critical tasks. In these projects, it is very easy to find envelop components that have not been installed according to the manufacturing specifications. It is important to remember that proper installation and performance is all about putting the right persons in the right place.

Elements of nature: Even after ensuring flawless installation, things may turn bad if the environmental conditions turn hostile, and exceed the conditions anticipated during the designing phase. Extreme temperature fluctuations, driving rain, and thunderstorms can cause serious system failures, regardless of how well the envelope system was designed and constructed. Though this type of failures cannot be stopped, routine inspection and maintenance may help identify potential risk factors for the future.

Once a failure takes place, it is important to uncover the truth by following a systematic investigative process. Without doing this, it is not possible to find out the root cause and initiate any remedial repairing activity. Mentioned below are the steps involved in such investigation processes.

  • Clearly identify the symptoms and understand the problem areas.
  • Carry out a detailed review and evaluation of the original design of the project.
  • Verify the as built condition in detail.
  • Determine the current state of the building envelop by identifying the deterioration of the components.
  • Find out the deviations between the current condition, as-built, and original design of the project.
  • Identify the potential factors that may have led to the failure
  • Decide upon appropriate testing and diagnostic investigation methods for each of the identified problem areas.
  • Thoroughly analyse the findings of the selected testing and investigative methods.
  • Implement, evaluate, and test the trial repairs.
  • Finally, prepare a detailed report clearly mentioning the failure investigation results and recommended alternatives for repair.

It is important to note that building envelope failure doesn’t take place all of a sudden.  However, without regular and adequate preventive measures, it may surprise you at any point of time. Mentioned below are some solutions that may prevent building envelop failure to a certain extent.

Proactive maintenance: Fortunately, this doesn’t require you to be a structural engineering expert. Your building envelop’s integrity will take several years to get compromised. Simple activities such as walking around the building looking for leaks, holes, or cracks it can go a long way in avoiding potential failures. If you notice any issues, get it fixed immediately by an expert.

Envelop monitoring: You can make use of advanced technology to monitor the moisture content in your building. Seek help from a certified structural engineer to carry out comprehensive regular inspections. This will certainly ensure better health for your building and peace of mind for you.

Protection against natural elements: It is certainly a nice idea to secure the walls and board-up the windows to keep the building envelop well protected against hostile weather conditions. These extra steps may prove to be the difference for your home at the end of the day.

If you still have any questions or doubts related to building envelop failure, please get in touch with us at CGS Façade Group. We offer end-to-end building façade solutions, and have completed numerous successful projects all over the world.