Let’s Talk Durability and Resilient Design


What is it—and why should you care about it?

If you don’t care about durability, it could cost you your reputation, your wallet and ultimately your business.  The challenge is that today’s durability problems are only going to get worse because every building code is focused predominantly on energy efficiency.  Sadly most building codes don’t tend to focus on the impacts of code changes, but more so on reacting after the fact.  And it is hard to justify change when “cheap and easy” are the norm.  Well, what we do know is that by saving (energy) we are going to see things starting to cost a lot more (to fix them).

For the most part, in the case of buildings, when we talk about durability we are talking about moisture durability.  Durability is a function of potential, and moisture is a huge part of this equation…

Equation Capture

What has put the durability of today’s (and tomorrow’s) buildings at risk is the fact that as we drive forward with pushing for more efficient walls and roofs (which don’t get me wrong, is a good thing), the drying potential remains the same. However, the wetting potential remains constant and when moisture failures do occur (a window leaks, a joint cracks, etc.) there is no way for the moisture that gets in to get out.  But what you may not realize is that you, as the insulation contractor, are part of the problem and may in fact be making your customers sick as a result.

Moisture and mold are always sensitive topics.  But it affects more people than you may realize.  According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation (AAFA), 25 million Americans suffer from asthma and 50 million suffer from allergies—that is one in every 5 Americans.  Did you know that with 66% of households being family households close to half will have a child with allergies?  That means that at least 1/3 of the homes you help build will be occupied by people suffering from these issues and you are only making matters worse by not incorporating (and recommending) the healthy solutions they need.

Unfortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies will not cover repair work for mold damage due to a construction “defect/building practice”.  In those instances, it will likely be the homeowner or the contractors who are held accountable.  If the wall doesn’t perform your reputation, and your fellow tradesmen’s reputations, is at risk.  In many cases, you are relying on products and systems that are outside of your control. Did you poorly install the housewrap or siding on the outside of the wall?  Did you improperly install the flashing around the windows?  Did you improperly install foam sheathing on the outside of the wall?  Chances are probably no.  And if that is the case—then why are you relying on it to protect your contribution to the wall system—the insulation, moisture management and air-seal on the interior side of the wall?

The insulation toolkit of today’s contractors usually consists of products like kraft-faced batts, polyethylene vapor retarders and a combination of various sealant products.  These products are generally very good solutions; however, they aren’t adaptable when things go wrong and in the case of moisture things always go wrong.  They can trap moisture in the wall in the cold season and trap it there all summer long with no way to dry out.  This standard “toolkit” isn’t durable—it isn’t resilient.  So how can we adapt our toolkits to make them more durable and more resilient?

WGreen Builder 2016e recently had an opportunity to work with Sustainability Leader, Kim Erle, on the Sunset Green Home project and we made sure to incorporate several resiliency design measures to prepare this building and allow it to adapt to varying environmental conditions:

  • Membrain™ smart vapor retarder intelligently manages moisture to keep walls dry year round by adapting its permeance to varying humidity throughout the year to keep the wall cavity dry
  • M2Tech® drywall actively removes formaldehyde and other contaminants from the air

Resilient design starts by understanding what makes a building durable and what your role is in contributing to that.  You must first ask yourself – are you prepared when things go wrong?  If not, then you better pick up your very own resilient toolkit today.

What’s in your insulation toolkit? Have your tried moisture resilient products?

Plus: Understanding Air Sealing Strategies and VOCs – What’s all the Fuss About?

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