Your building envelope protects the inside of your facility from the elements, but when it fails and allows thermal and moisture leaks to appear, costs add up whether that’s through reduced energy efficiency, reduction in occupant productivity or the extensive repairs that inevitably come with these problems.
While these issues can often be hard to track, it is important to put your best foot forward by being proactive and implementing the right practices to keep water out and regulate the air in your building.
Are you doing enough to make sure your building enclosures are properly sealed?
Where to Find Moisture Leaks
Moisture leaks can be a major thorn in the side of FMs because of the cost and widespread effects they can have on the entire building environment. Physical water penetrating the envelope typically happens through some inadequate component of construction. Various factors lead to leaks that can spread into your building, such as faulty weather and vapor barriers, the use of incompatible materials in the envelope or rushed construction. The most logical place to look for moisture leaks is at transitions between systems and materials. These areas provide the easiest access for water to enter from the exterior of the building.
Specifically, the following as some of the key places where moisture leaks are most common:
- Roof membrane to wall vapor barrier line
- Control and expansion joints in walls
- Wall vapor barrier to curtain wall transitions at the jambs, heads and fills
- Walls at floor lines
- Incorrectly installed flashings
One particular component key to preventing moisture leaks is a properly installed flashing. Although often overlooked, flashings are vitally important to the building envelope because they serve as a last defense for the building to fend off water penetration at transitions. Without proper flashings, it does not matter how well the rest of the envelope along that transition is constructed; water will find a way.
If flashings are either missing, not installed correctly or just worn out due to age, the inevitable consequence is a water ingress.
In addition to requiring costly repairs, moisture problems in buildings affect performance.
As water penetrates the building over time, damage spreads and the number of problems manifest in rising operating costs from the HVAC and electrical systems.
The $ Effect on You
In addition to the costs of repairing neglected moisture leaks making a dent in your budget, water issues in the envelope can negatively affect occupant wellness and productivity.
Once you get deterioration inside your wall, it starts affecting the structural system and interior drywall, it can lead to biological growth either inside the wall or on the surface of the interior wall.
Asthma-related medical costs attributable to mould and dampness exposure can contribute to illness and absence. Ensuring that moisture problems do not create widespread biological growth can help your organization save significantly. The following costs associated with moisture issues in the building envelope:
- Absenteeism due to illnesses like asthma
- Reduced productivity due to moisture-related health and comfort problems
- Increased insurance risk, repair and replacement costs associated with corroded structural fasteners, wiring and damaged moisture-sensitive materials
- Repair and replacement costs associated with damaged furniture, products and supplies
- Loss of use of building spaces after damage and during repairs
- Increased insurance and litigation costs related to moisture damage claims
It can be difficult to catch moisture problems before biological growth appears, so you will need to make sure you take every precaution to detect leaks before they can spread.
However, you don’t need a physical penetration for there to be a thermal leak. A considerable amount of energy is wasted simply through the building materials that comprise your building envelope. Thermal bridging is a common problem in exterior wall systems when parts of the wall aren’t insulated or there is a change in materials or systems that transfer heat differently.
Providing consistent insulation throughout the building and incorporating thermal masks to maintain air temperature are the best methods to prevent thermal bridging.
Successfully remedying an exterior moisture leak requires thoughtful collaboration with a building envelope expert. However, an active diagnostics plan can help you find these problems early on, which can reduce the emergence of widespread problems altogether.
Getting on the Front Foot
In order to stay ahead of envelope issues,a more proactive approach is optimal rather than waiting for a costly problem to appear: regular checks with a consultant might allow you to get ahead of moisture leaks and save money in the long run.
Performing a visual survey with envelope experts is a good practice, and having your maintenance team look for visual issues also gives you a chance to stay ahead of the game. Where an FM can really get ahead of the game is undertaking a program of facade inspection including the use of high resolution imagery which is recorded over time.
A proactive building manager, could do a visual assessment of the building and look for some typical visual keys that could be a sign of moisture or thermal infiltration.
A building manager can also perform water testing and infrared thermography of a building from the inside or the outside.
Avoid Band Aid Solutions
Once you find a moisture leak issue in your facility, the clock is ticking and you need to ensure that you resolve the issue completely. FMs that wait or inadequately fix moisture leaks typically face much larger problems down the road.
With budgets weighing heavily on FMs, some are pressured into make poor decisions that only reduce costs in the short term. Instead of fully addressing the problems in the exterior wall, some FMs try to come up with a temporary fix that they assume they can continue to apply over time. Others might completely ignore the problem with the hopes that it won’t cause any long-term consequences. But as the leak overcomes the half-hearted effort or becomes too widespread, costs skyrocket.
While addressing one specific failure in the envelope, it might be a good opportunity to find any other similar issues that have started to form. What went wrong in one particular location might be happening in an area that is constructed in the same way.
Leaks can happen anywhere in a building, so don’t think about envelope leaks as isolated incidents. When working with a specialist, be thorough and prepare to find leaks in any number of locations.
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