The 1940’s play “The Iceman Cometh” examines the dangers of an illusory life. Fortunately, when it comes to building science, there’s no need to live under illusory pretensions about whether a building will fail or thrive.
Florida-based LBFG, a leading building forensics firm that has solved some of the world’s largest and most complex building moisture and mold problems, asserts that avoidable building failure patterns can be detected, leading to risk being reduced or even almost entirely eliminated.
After a challenging winter, many building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors are now dealing with the fallout of cold weather building issues. LBFG believes many of these problems could have been avoided had precautionary steps been taken during design and building phases.
“Preventing cold weather issues really comes down to controlling the direction of air flow in a building,” said LBFG President George DuBose. “A perfectly designed building envelope can be savagely destroyed by a poor HVAC design.”
The design objective should be to install correct thermal, vapor, and air barriers, and also to ensure that the HVAC system allows correct airflow.
“The trick is to attain a slightly negative pressure in the building so that moisture is not pushed into the envelope during the winter, while also keeping cold air from overcoming the thermal comfort of the building’s perimeter space,” DuBose explained.
LBFG recently worked with a midwestern medical facility experiencing buildup of frost and ice in above-ceiling spaces and clerestories during winter months two years after construction. The frost/ice eventually melted, causing damage and leaking into occupied rooms below.
LBFG discovered the causes to be an improperly designed air barrier system, improperly operating humidifiers set so high as to cause excess humidity, and exfiltration of humid interior air through HVAC-induced building pressurization.
Properly operating the humidifiers solved the frost/ice problem without having to disrupt facility operations or sacrifice occupant comfort by replacing the air barrier or changing pressurization. Wireless, internet-accessible data loggers were left in place to allow the owner to continue monitoring.
LBFG’s experience includes over 30 years of successfully assisting the Disney Corporation in completing over 500 highly complex construction projects worldwide; as well as successfully resolving the largest moisture/mold problem in the last 20 years and recovering $60MM+ in repair costs for the Hilton Hawaiian Village.