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In Depth: The Building Envelope

When it comes to symbols of winter, there are few that are as ubiquitousas the igloo. Although often associated with all native Inuit people, igloos were traditionally used only by the people of Canada’s Central Arctic and in the Qaanaaq area of Greenland.

It seems counterintuitive that these dome-shaped structures that are made of snow can keep a person warm, but because snow is filled with miniature trapped air pockets—up to 95% of snow is air trapped inside tiny ice crystals—it actually can make an effective insulator and barrier against foul weather. On the outside, temperatures may be as low as -49°F, but on the inside, the temperature may get as warm as 61°F when warmed by body heat alone.

Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on snow to insulate our houses. Modern insulation and weather barrier products do a much better job of keeping us toasty in winter, cool in summer, and dry year-round, and building envelope product manufacturers are constantly developing new products that deliver even better performance.

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“The building envelope is an essential area of focus for building teams when it comes to managing performance risk and timelines,” explains Kristin Michael, growth marketing director for Huber Engineered Woods. “We see interest in this product category only continuing to accelerate. From online content to building science events, the dialogue on the best way to apply control layer management unique to climate zones and designs is always a highly-engaged topic.”

Xtreme Corners from Tamlyn are ridged corners for the flashing of window and door sills. Used in conjunction with a single piece of self-adhered flashing, the manufacturer says these corners provide a cost effective, simple, water-tight solution for window and door openings. These corners also offer an alternative to the traditional method of using multiple layers of flashing to properly cover a sill.

Codes bring change
For the building envelope segment, the coming year has the potential to bring wins tempered with headaches for LBM dealers. Variations in code requirements across the country can bring uncertainties, depending on what codes are currently enforced, say industry leaders.

“It depends on the building codes where you are and if any updates are due to take effect,” says Neil Freidberg, building science manager at LP Building Solutions.

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“Some in our segment may see little-to-no change while others may see sweeping changes. For example, if your state already uses 2018 codes and is moving to 2021, a lot has stayed the same. That is the same for areas abiding by IECC 2009 and set to continue under those regulations. But for those who are moving from IECC 2012 to IECC 2018 or 2021, for example, there are some major changes ahead.”

Huber’s newest product within its ZIP System portfolio is ZIP System Rainscreen. Engineered to help meet new code required 3/16″ air gap requirements in stucco and adhered stone assemblies, ZIP System Rainscreen consists of a rigid drainage mat covered by a heavy-duty fabric that can be used as a secondary water resistive layer required for “absorptive” or “reservoir” cladding assemblies.

As Freidberg explains, a good example would be if there was a ceiling height change from 12 ft. to 10 ft. “The two-foot section would need some sheathing to prevent airflow from an attic down the wall and into the conditioned spaces. Air sealing requirements stipulate that more insulation is needed in attics and walls, and so some may require continuous insulation. The ICC tracks the most recent code changes and state variances on its page and is a great resource for builders.”

Considering the dynamic nature of building codes, manufacturers advise LBM dealers to invest in creating close partnerships with knowledgeable code experts. “My recommendation is for all dealers to either work with someone who is knowledgeable on codes or attend their local Home Builder Association (HBA) meeting to gain the necessary knowledge,” says Freidberg. “There are a lot of resources that they bring in, from local code officials and other subject matter experts to provide general updates for the areas that can affect your business.”

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To address thermal bridging, LP Building Solutions has launched LP NovaCore Thermal Insulated Sheathing. LP NovaCore sheathing provides an R5 per inch and a modified shear table based on PRN139, a report that provides two different nailing options with individual shear values.

Labor woes
At the risk of sounding like we’re beating a dead horse, the lack of labor is a major concern for the building envelope industry—especially properly trained labor. At the time of this writing, the number of open construction sector jobs currently averages between 300,000 and 400,000 every month, and the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed that there were 374,000 construction job openings.

“Trained labor and conflicting industry information remain a challenge for quality execution on the jobsite,” explains Xuaco Pascual, director of building science for Tamlyn. “The best of products may not perform well if they are not utilized, installed and detailed as intended. This starts with executable details at the design phase and proper jobsite implementation with trained labor. To avoid confusion, simple product selections and installations are essential for proper execution on the jobsite.”

According to LP Building Solutions, its WeatherLogic water-resistant sheathing can be used for both roof and wall applications, is available in 4-foot nominal widths and 8-, 9- or 10-foot lengths, and comes with a 30-year limited warranty.

Conflicting market information by manufacturers, trade associations, consultants, codes, and standards as a whole creates confusion and frustration at the jobsite level, Pascual explains about the need for trained labor.

“Some manufacturers offer so many different options and requirements that they become overwhelming and daunting to execute properly on the jobsite. Contractors are having a hard time deciding what to use where and when. As a consequence, builders and contractors are frustrated by no simple or clear way to execute measures on the jobsite. We find builders and contractors moving away from manufacturers who are difficult to work with or have very rigid requirements that are difficult to navigate.”

MFM’s WindowWrap PSX-20 is a patented, self adhering 25 mil waterproofing flashing tape constructed of an aluminized, multilayer polymer film coated with a specially formulated rubberized asphalt to stand up to UV exposure. According to MFM, the aggressive adhesive securely bonds the window flange to the exterior wall, and the rubberized asphalt self-seals around nails and staples.

David Delcoma, operations manager for MFM Building Products Corp., agrees about the impact of the lack of labor. “Labor, labor, labor,” he laments. “Finding and developing good employees with a hardworking attitude has been tough to come by. There definitely is a different mentality in some of today’s younger generation as witnessed by our production manager, who has been with MFM for more than 30 years. Things have certainly changed. That is one of our No. 1 problem areas.”

To mitigate these challenges, Delcoma recommends hiring young people who are hungry for work. “Mold them how you want them—it is a lot less difficult to train than to un-train,” he advises. “Once again though, the younger workers are hard to get motivated. We offer a bonus program that rewards our employees for increased efficiencies, which definitely has helped. Perhaps other incentive plans can help overcome retaining a good employee.”

It’s because of the lack of labor that it’s become so important for LBM dealers to provide products and solutions that simplify the job for their customers. “Multi-functioning exterior wall products are becoming more and more in demand for a variety of reasons,” says OX Engineered Products’ director of marketing, Todd Gluski. “Most evident is that builders are looking to embrace new technology that allows them to simplify the build process. All-in-one products such as OX-IS that provide structural, insulation, and WRBs in one product will continue to drive growth in the segment. Builders are always looking to build faster and easier and the products that allow them to do this will continue to be an area of growth in the segment.”

Better performance, increased sustainability
In order to meet the requirements these new code updates require, product manufacturers are increasingly releasing building envelope products that are higher preforming.

This year, Tamlyn launched TamlynWrap Elite, a new WRB specifically targeted at the residential market. According to the manufacturer, the product offers a cost-effective alternative for the residential market.

“This trend bodes well for manufacturers who make quality systems and provide opportunity for significant growth even if the market stagnates or even retracts,” says Tamlyn’s Pascual. “Over the last two decades there has been a significant shift towards more energy efficient measures for the building envelope that have been implemented by code in recent years.”

These energy efficiency measures have resulted in consequences, say industry experts, when it comes to water intrusion and a reduced level of tolerance for it by the building envelope.

“Buildings fail quicker today from moisture intrusion because they can only handle small amounts of moisture,” Pascual points out. “We are seeing building failures show up within 3-5 years due to the use of inferior or code minimum products. This is a common challenge we hear in all climates and there is a shift towards managing that moisture effectively with better performing systems. This means using better, stronger products (and systems of products) that demonstrate better water management and mitigation of these issues.”

OX-IS from OX Engineered Products is a structural insulated sheathing panel with built-in air and water barriers. Engineered to meet or exceed ever more stringent residential building and energy code requirements, the manufacturer claims OX-IS is the industry’s tightest air barrier for lower air infiltration, with air exchange per hour performance that’s 15 20% better than standard OSB with housewrap.

Along for the need of house envelope products that deliver better overall performance, trends are pointing towards consumer desires (and code demand) for products that offer greater sustainability and resiliency.

“Energy codes are generally updated every three years,” LP Building Solutions’ Freidberg explains, “and recent updates have continued to push the industry toward a more sustainable future with the overall goal of reducing the energy needed to heat or cool a building. As these changes are implemented throughout the industry, the efficiency of a home’s building envelope will continue to become more of a focus for builders. To that end, LBM dealers should consider the [solutions] on the market that help their builders meet these new requirements.”

Manufacturers point out that, for LBM dealers, there are green building envelope options that can help achieve higher ratings within certification programs like the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard. In addition, resiliency requirements continue to find new inclusion in codes, as states adopt codes promoting practices that give homes a better chance of withstanding wind-driven rain events.

According to the manufacturer, TRUFAST Walls manufactures energy efficient solutions for attaching continuous insulation while saving labor. It has partnered with leading insulation, building wrap, and air/moisture barrier manufacturers to develop fasteners and tools to rapidly install the material.

“Higher performing systems of products remain front and center,” says Tamlyn’s Pascual. “Systems are tested together for compatibility and optimal performance. This generally translates to reduced issues and liability to the builder and contractor but also a better final product for the client.

It is all too common to use an ad hoc mix and match approach to product selection or use value engineering measures to reduce first costs at the expense of performance. It is important to involve manufacturers when making these decisions to avoid compatibility and performance issues that may surface several years down the road.”

Eliminating infiltration
As wall systems become more efficient, they also become less tolerant of even small levels of moisture that can lead to product failure or damage to the structure. Therefore, good air sealing and drainage have become much more important.

As Tamlyn’s Pascual explains, “One trend that is causing issues in the building envelope is the use of exterior insulation for the energy benefits without consideration for moisture management or its effects on sheathing material performance. Utilizing products with integrated drainage, a non-compressible structure, proper vapor permeability, good air sealing, capillary breaks and even rain-screen systems is much more important today than just a few years ago.”

With 20 integrated sheathing panels and over a dozen flashing options, Huber Engineered Woods’ ZIP System building enclosure panels offer building teams the freedom to find the advanced, integrated roof and wall air and water management system that works for their build.

Another trend related to water management is driven by building codes for plaster or stucco systems. Pascual points out that the requirements for enhanced drainage and 60 minute rated water resistive barriers behind these systems is the new standard.

“Dealers should advise their clients that 10 minute rated barriers will no longer be allowed in marine or moist climate zones which account for about 70% of the country,” he says. “Code officials are flagging projects using inferior WRB and sheathing products that were previously accepted but no longer allowed in these applications.”

Of course, the flipside of water management is air management. According to building envelope product manufacturers, the biggest challenge is improving the envelope to perform better as energy codes are changing, and LBM dealers need to be prepared to offer product choices that deliver these solutions.

“Consider the value of an integrated systems approach to managing water, air and thermal dynamics with fewer trips around the house and products that are engineered to perform effectively under a single manufacturer’s warranty,” recommends Huber’s Michael.

LP Building Solutions’ Freidberg agrees with the idea of treating barrier products as a system. “The envelope should be sealed to prevent air infiltration to maintain performance and improve homeowner comfort,” he says.

“The building envelope is no longer just the individual components in a pile on the floor of a construction site where you build a wall. The components become a system as you build the envelope and should be looked at as a system. Yes, the components have different properties and different jobs in the envelope, but in the end they all work together to improve home performance.”

Pennywise, pound foolish
If there’s a common pitfall building envelope product manufacturers report, it’s the mistake of builders choosing the wrong products due to lack of product understanding or due to initial costs.

“The labor challenges and confusing information can only be resolved through education and by considering what is best for each individual case,” says Tamlyn’s Pascual. “Unfortunately, in the absence of knowledge or the presence of confusion, builders and contractors revert to their usual ways or will default to a first cost analysis—probably the worst thing a contractor can use today when trying to avoid building envelope or moisture intrusion issues.”

You only get one shot at doing it right, he points out, because the envelope is costly to retrofit or fix several years later.

“Often, a small or marginal premium in costs will translate to reduced liability, much higher performance and value for their customers. Dealers should align themselves with manufacturers who can help with this consultative approach.”

The knowledge gap and confusion is driving a growing segment of Building Envelope consultants. I would encourage every dealer to be familiar with some of the Building Envelope consultants in their market. We are certainly seeing more Building Envelope consultants on multi-family, custom and semi-custom developments who reach out to us for solutions.

OX Engineered Products’ Todd Gluski echoes these recommendations for LBM dealers.

MFM SubSeal is a 40- or 60-mil-thick self adhering sheet-type waterproofing membrane composed of a multi-layer high-strength polymer film that is coated with a layer of specially formulated rubberized asphalt adhesive. According to MFM, SubSeal is suitable for use under siding, exterior plaster, as a through wall flashing, or in sub-grade applications where the membrane is protected from long-term ultraviolet exposure.

“Working closely with builders and providing products that help them save time and money on the building envelope will be the best way to stay on the forefront of building best practices,” he advises. “Suppliers that offer the types of products that help builders reduce cost, meet code requirements, and are readily available in the marketplace will continue to see growth.”

The power of knowledge
With all these aforementioned code changes combined with the need for products that offer better performance and resiliency, it’s more important than ever for LBM dealers to stay atop of product knowledge. “There are a lot of options for builders to find educational resources, LP Building Solutions’ Freidberg points out. “I always recommend dealers reach out to manufacturers as they often have an internal group that will work with them to provide the best training.”

In the case of LP, it utilizes its team of sales representatives to assist LBM dealers by connecting them with a variety of training resources such as lunch-and-learn style training where they can earn continuing education credits. Huber Engineered Woods offers a technical library, blog, how-to-installation videos, and product specs on its website.

“If seeking information on particular applications or details not on our website, teams can access our technical experts on our Technical Hotline,” says Michael. “We also post and link to frequently asked questions from this hotline on our social media channels @huberwood. We actively support and host a variety of training and education events through our tradeshows, mobile hands-on product experiences at lumberyards and seminars throughout the year. Details and schedules for these events can also be found on our website.”

Tamlyn offers a Design and Spec Team that focuses on educational forums for the design community, developers, and other influencers. As well, it offers product knowledge training to help with product selection criteria, explain the benefits of different mitigation strategies, detail installation principles, as well as customizable programs.

“One example would be mockup training sessions where we review all the key details on a project and go through step by step on how these should be executed on a project mockup wall,” says Tamlyn’s Pascual. “This ensures specific crews are trained, but the mockup also provides a point of reference throughout the project that helps avoid issues. The building envelope requires a consultative approach to solutions and it all starts with good training and a dialog regarding what is best for each individual project.”

OX Engineered Products offers a variety or installation and product literature as well as videos that LBM dealers and their employees have access to, plus OX experts are available to visit a jobsite and train teams on the latest products and installation methods.

According to RoyOMartin, its Eclipse OSB Radiant Barrier Panels are a cost-effective and energy-efficient roof sheathing solution, reducing attic temperatures in the summer by as much as 30°F. All RoyOMartin products are available Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Likewise, MFM offers on its website information on its products, installation instructions, warranties, and technical data. “Our job is to provide our customers with whatever they need to be successful,” explains Delcoma. “We can provide product samples, sample rolls, literature, etc. at no cost to the dealer. We have even provided custom literature and marketing materials for our customers to assist in the selling cycle.”

If all of this sounds a tad confusing, it’s understandable. With the dynamic nature of codes, new product releases, and evolving needs for higher-performing products, building envelope products can seems a daunting segment to effectively sell. With the help of product manufacturers, however, LBM dealers can not only boost their own bottom lines, but also serve as true resources in the coming year for their customers without forcing them to rely on snow and igloos.

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