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Contractors and Building Envelope Consultants: Allies in Quality Construction

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Many contractors we work with have corporate bylaws or internal due-diligence protocols in
place that require a third party to oversee building enclosure QA/ QC aspects of a project. Even when architects or developers have their own consultant on board, many contractors choose not to leave anything to chance. They simply do not want to be called back to fix leaks or other issues after turning the project over to the owner.

An independent third-party building envelope (BE) consultant is an effective—and inexpensive—form of insurance for any builder.

As BE consultants, we serve three primary client groups—architects, developers and general
contractors. In previous articles in this series, I have shared how we can bring value to the table for architects and developers. I will now discuss how BE consultants can be a highly valued asset and an integral team member for contractors.

After all the planning, design, entitlement, financing and permitting is completed on a project, the construction phase is where the rubber really hits the road. It is the culmination of all the previous preparation and hopefully yields the sought after results for all parties involved.

However, the construction process is prone to many potential pitfalls along the way. All of us in the building industry have experienced things going wrong in the field in one form or another—whether from inadvertent omissions by the design team, uninformed value engineering by the owner, improper applications and assemblies by inexperienced subcontractors, or any number of other unforeseen glitches in the process.

Let’s face it: Constructing buildings is a highly complex endeavor with many moving parts and multitudes of people and interests involved. If something is missed or overlooked at any one point during the process, it often causes a ripple effect, potentially resulting in time delays and cost overruns, or worse yet, building damage, construction defects and litigation, or even human harm.

The BE consultant industry arose out of this reality. BE consultants make it their job to help prevent mistakes with timely recommendations at whatever point in the process they are involved.

How Contractors Can Best Use a Building Envelope Consultant

While much of the planning and design of a project takes place prior to the construction process, it is never too late for a contractor to engage a BE consultant. This can include reviewing the details and specifications the contractor has inherited, providing design-assist (recommendations) to the architect, testing mock-ups of the assemblies, providing production window and enclosure testing, and (most importantly) providing comprehensive field inspections of all critical envelope assembly installations. The BE consulting industry can play a vital role in any and all aspects of the construction process.

Here are a few questions general contractors should consider:

  • Did the architect or owner take on the plan/peer review for QA/QC?
  • Does the superintendent have the time to inspect waterproofing installation?
  • Do the field engineers have the expertise to inspect window and door installations and flashings?
  • Who will track and document product installations and warranties?
  • Is there qualified staff to review enclosure product submittals and shop drawings?
  • Who will be responsible for accurately assessing enclosure-related RFI responses

These considerations and many more can all be addressed by a BE consultant.

Who is Responsible for Waterproofing Oversight?

Although we are starting to see building codes tighten up somewhat when it comes to weather resistance, most building department officials are fairly hands-off on the matter. The vast majority of building inspectors do not inspect waterproofing installations at all. Depending on how the construction contract is written, the party responsible may be either the owner, architect or contractor.

Some owners will engage their architects in a Construction Administration (CA) role during construction, thinking they can provide all the oversight needed for the building enclosures. However, there can be problems with relying on the architect to inspect waterproofing assemblies:

  • Architects serving the CA role often do not have infield training (OSHA 10, scaffold safety, fall prevention, etc.) or inspection expertise.
  • Many architects do not carry insurance that covers the liability risk that comes with QA/QC inspections. They usually can only perform “observations.”
  • Architects have a myriad of other issues to focus on and it is not reasonable to expect them to be responsible for the inspection of waterproofing installations during the CA phase.

For the same reasons, the general contractor’s superintendents should not be burdened with
comprehensive waterproofing installation oversight. They need to focus on ensuring that all other jobsite activities run smoothly and safely.

Waterproofing subcontractors are often saddled with ensuring the water-tightness of buildings. However, their construction work starts late in the game. They depend on the subs that came before them to provide adequate substrates to waterproof, such as flush-struck CMU joints and proper sheet metal flashings to work into their assemblies. By the time they step foot on the job site, they often encounter assembly sequencing issues that do not allow for the required lapping of materials, priming of substrates, post-installation damage to products, testing procedures, etc.

A building envelope consultant is able to cover all the gaps between the architect, superintendent and waterproofing subcontractor.

The Value of BE Consultants

Typical fees for a BE full-service scope of work (which includes plan review, mock-up design and testing, Construction Phase inspections, AAMA and ASTM window testing, and closeout documentation) is typically less than 1% of the overall project cost.

Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear to experienced contractors that BE consultants more than pay for themselves by ensuring a weather-resistant final product and by preventing future water-related building damage and legal action. Those who have been on the receiving end of construction defect litigation appreciate this value and have put great stock in their BE consultants.

In our continuing effort to assist our clients, including architects, contractors and developers, we provide accredited “Lunch and Learns” in which we discuss a variety of important building-related issues. We would welcome the opportunity to host a session to share our expertise with your team.

 


Kirk O’Brien is a licensed California architect and senior building envelope consultant for Xpera Group. He can be reached at kobrien@xperagroup.com.


Topics: General Contractor, Building Envelope, Waterproofing Systems, Kirk O'Brien, Quality Assurance

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