Protecting Facilities Against The Elements

Shield the building envelope from damaging exterior forces with routine, preventive maintenance.

By David Grandbois
From the June 2018 Issue

It’s said that “April showers bring May flowers,” but severe weather can also bring damage to a structure’s roof, foundation, interior, and more if not properly maintained and protected. Water is moved through a structure via any number of forces including: hydrostatic pressure, capillary action, wind/air currents, surface tension, and natural gravity. If there is any breach in a structure’s envelope, water is sure to find its way in. Keeping up with a routine maintenance schedule and utilizing a variety of waterproofing and protective techniques will prolong the life of any structure, maintain its value, and keep occupants and visitors satisfied.

building envelope preventive maintenance
(Photo: Western Specialty Contractors)

Protecting Concrete. For property owners and facility managers, protecting long-term investments and concrete structures like parking lots, garages, decks, and roofs is vital to ensuring their safety and longevity. Daily vehicular traffic, heavy loads, and harsh elements such as snow, ice, salt, chemicals, oil, and extreme colds in the winter bring along freeze and thaw cycles that can lead to fractures in the concrete that will grow over time.

Concrete coatings provide an ideal solution to protect properties and ensure safety, maintain property values, and avoid costly restoration. Epoxy and urethane coatings are designed to make concrete decks watertight, durable, flexible, and ready to meet demanding conditions. Elastomeric systems provide insulation, UV protection, and resistance to color fading, oil, and mildew.

Masonry & Facade Restoration and Preservation. From the tallest of skyscrapers to the corner office and the downtown warehouse district, the stressors of sunlight, changing weather, water, building movement, and settlement can break down and deteriorate building facades and create comfort, safety, and maintenance issues that can quickly add to the cost of property ownership.

Masonry restoration and preservation is very important to the life of a building. Although building exteriors are made of durable and resilient materials, they are constantly being affected by their surroundings. Elements like pollutants, moisture, ground movement, deferred maintenance, and the natural elements all contribute to a facade’s deterioration. If these problems are ignored or are not prevented, a building’s useful life can be cut short.

An experienced facade restoration specialty contractor can identify issues such as breaking, efflorescence, spalling, control joint failure, cracks, flaking, and sealant or caulk failure and recommend a repair and prevention plan that protects the property from leaks and water damage. Preventive maintenance will also reduce the likelihood of unexpected costs and repairs and help to maintain property value.

Recommended repair and protection services for masonry and facades may include:

  • Brick and stone repair or replacement
  • Re-pointing
  • Building cleaning or sealing
  • Expansion joint systems repair
  • Epoxy injection
  • Caulking and sealants
  • Exterior wall coatings
  • Wall ties, structural steel repair or replacement
  • Flashing systems

Preventive Roof Maintenance. For property owners and facility managers, premature roof failure equals unexpected and often significant expenses. Specialty roofing materials such as TPO, EPDM, PVC, Modified Bitumen or even green roofs can be vulnerable to stressors such as:

  • Organic debris, vegetation, ponding water
  • Clogged or leaking downspouts
  • Open seams or splits, blistering, tenting, wrinkling, or alligatoring
  • Poor craftsmanship or damage by other contractors

Because gravity is a leading force that pulls water into many structures, it is logical that roofs would play a major role in either the protection or damage of buildings. Overflowing and clogged gutters can lead to blocked downspouts and pools of water. This leads to damage on the roof, which can also spill down to the facade and foundation, creating a cascade of problems.

A roof with obstructions such as pine needles, decaying leaves, and dirt will almost certainly have runoff, which rarely stays contained. If the roof cannot withstand the added pressure, water entering the building will cause widespread damage if exposed to freeze and thaw cycles, even if it does not infiltrate occupied portions of the building.

As with all waterproofing challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for roofs, and having a qualified specialty contractor select the correct approach will contribute to the long-term success of the treatment.

The neglect of preventive maintenance is often the cause of premature roof failure. Making roof repairs consistently and initiating routine preventive maintenance will extend the life of any roof.

Parking Garage Maintenance. Facility managers are often tasked with maintenance of parking structures. But a parking garage comes with its own set of challenges, and an ineffective maintenance routine will quickly lead to costly repairs and restorations.

Environmental stressors expose parking structures to constant attack, and the signs of deterioration can be seen on any type of parking structure (e.g, T to T joint, conventional and post tension). Wear in the T to T joints, expansion joint failure, and flange connection deterioration are commonly found in Double Tee Precast structures, while vertical and horizontal cracking, concrete spalling, and delamination will be seen in conventional or post tension garages.

A concrete and masonry restoration specialty contractor can identify problems or hazards, recommend a repair plan, and design a maintenance schedule that will delay or avoid costly restoration, decrease liabilities, retain ideal parking volume and rates, adhere to local permitting guidelines, and maintain the property’s value. It can be difficult and costly to catch up on parking garage maintenance once deterioration starts to set in.

Below-Grade Systems. Basement walls, concrete lids, pits, and other below ground areas have long been access points for water. Over the past two decades, below-grade waterproofing systems for exterior foundations have made it possible to prevent water penetration in these areas. These materials can be applied to the interior or exterior of walls and foundations, providing flexibility based on specific needs of the project:

  • Fluid-applied elastomeric membranes, mastics, and coatings that form a tough, seamless membrane to withstand abuse and high levels of hydrostatic pressure
  • Hot-applied rubberized asphalt for horizontal waterproofing in split-slab construction
  • Single-ply sheet systems such as rubberized asphalt sheets, EPDM synthetic rubber, PVC, CPE, CSPE, Butyl rubber, and Neoprene
  • Bentonite clay panel and sheet systems that swell when they become saturated to block moisture from entering a building

Routine maintenance and preventive measures play an extremely important role in protecting every aspect of a structure’s construction. Knowing which waterproofing coverage to specify for a particular structure is more than just a science; it is an art form that comes with experience. Always consult with an experienced specialty contractor for the best options when maintaining and preserving any part of a structure. And remember, when it comes to facility maintenance, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Grandbois is a project manager with Western Specialty Contractors, Minneapolis Branch. He has a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management from Minnesota State University, Moorhead. Grandbois has seven years of construction management experience, the last three years have been with Western. An organization he is passionate about is the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI), which he has been a member of for three years and this year was elected vice president of the Minnesota chapter.

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