5 Causes of Building Envelope Failure

The best way to think of a building envelope is as a shell around your building that keeps out the elements and helps to control the indoor environment. It can be thought of as an interwoven system, encompassing various design elements that all work together to control moisture and temperature, establish air pressure boundaries, and increase the structural integrity of your home. The building envelope is possibly the most important engineering system that goes into the design of your home, and it is critical that it be implemented properly, so as to be fully functional.

In order to ensure a good building envelope, the building’s design should be carefully planned and meticulously implemented, reducing the possibility for the formation of any cracks or imperfections that could allow air or water to come in. 

When a building envelope is designed carefully and installed properly, most people pay very little mind. But if, and when the building envelope fails, the effects can be noticed by everyone. Even the most carefully designed projects can fail from time to time.

The consequences of a failed building envelope can include a decrease in curb appeal, a decrease in indoor air quality, a decrease in energy efficiency, and corrosion. In the worst cases, serious structural failure to the building can result.

Deficient Design

Occasionally, inappropriate materials or systems may be recommended by the architect during the planning process. The use of materials that are incompatible with each other, or inadequate for the intended use of the building are mistakes that are sometimes seen in the context of building envelope failures.

If a subcontractor were to make an executive decision when it comes to the weight, size, or amount of materials used during the construction of the building envelope, you can also run into the decreased performance of the envelope as a whole.

Material Insufficiencies

On some occasions, even when the right materials are used for the job, those materials might not stand up to the performance levels which are published. This is often the result of manufacturing errors or improper storage and handling of the material.

Some common examples might include the degradation of sealant or adhesives over time or the warping and degradation of metal. While the level of performance of these materials can often be anticipated based on a measured statistical standard, the actual performance can vary.

Poor Workmanship

Poor workmanship is a problem that should be taken care to prevent on any construction project. In times of high project volume, the problem can be worsened by the influx of inexperienced, underqualified, and unsupervised workers. Many times the failure of a building envelope is simply due to improper installation.

Mother Nature

Even with the use of proper materials and a good crew, the building envelope may not hold up if it is exposed to environmental conditions that are more extreme than the design was meant to accommodate.  Excessive winds, high levels of rain, and extreme fluctuations in temperature can overwhelm even the most carefully designed and implemented building envelope, damaging the system and leaving it vulnerable to additional problems, or even complete failure.

Even the best building envelopes and can sometimes fail, but some of these problems can be prevented through the use of careful planning,