June 25, 2013

Building Envelope

Life-cycle cost analysis smart move for buildings

Will managing your physical risk help you manage your financial risk? That was the topic of a session at a building envelope forum recently in Toronto.

 Graeme Scott said for long-term large multi-million developments, a life-cycle cost analysis is a smart financial move that determines when to repair and replace elements of the building over the course of many years.

“Time counts. You need to have a common planning horizon.”

 Scott, who presented the seminar, is a senior principal at Halsall Associates.

 He said building owners need to do capital expenditure (CapEx) planning that includes the what, when and why of repairs along with what comes first and at what cost. 

 One of the most important elements in CapEx planning is doing an energy audit. 

“You need to understand your upgrade options and your ECMs (energy conservation measures),” Scott said.

The money spent to improve thermal values might not show a quick payback, but often when returns are tallied over the long term, it proves to be a wise expenditure, he said.

At the same time, your building will be green and sustainable.

“It’s doing something that has the least impact (on the planet).”

Scott said in British Columbia, there has been a focus on preventing water from penetrating the building envelope. But that focus leaves out important design factors — including air leakage and thermal efficiencies.

 It has left B.C. with a crop of new buildings that are among the hardest to manage, “probably in Canada,” he said.

Scott, who called air leakage the number one issue in buildings today, said there are many new buildings in downtown Toronto that were constructed in a similar fashion to those in Vancouver.

CapEx planning methods concerning building enclosures should not be generic or desktop analysis driven, he said. Use experts who know your building type to plan repair and replacement timelines, advised Scott.

“Understand your enclosure,” he told the audience, adding that wise decisions are made when a sound CapEx plan is in place.

“Hopefully, it will shift you from doing something reactive.”

 Know whether you have a windowall or curtainwall and whether the spandrel system is properly insulated. Also, know where the thermal bridges are and understand the condition of your masonry.

 A CapEx plan incorporates an agenda for renewal of building assemblies and components, including HVAC and interior finishes as well as the building envelope, he said.

 Roofing is a key element of that agenda. What is its condition? If ponding remains after 48 hours, you have a problem. If you have a green roof, you should have a leak detection system.

Scott is a staunch supporter of green roofs.

“It gives you great storm water retention, cleans the air around the building, you get a natural habitat and free evaporative cooling.”

He said building owners need to know when repairs are necessary on your cladding system. There can be signs or markers on the exterior that should send up a red flag.

For example, precast concrete – “an incredibly durable assembly” — can show signs on the outside that should lead to an investigation of the connections on the inside. Because there is often so little insulation placed behind precast, the connections and the concrete are kept warm and dry, preventing damage.

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