I don’t know what the summer has been like for each of you reading this post, but the summer of 2010 in the Upper Midwest has been extremely wet and hot! As I write this posting, it is just beginning to clear off after some morning showers and the heat index is supposed to be near 100 this afternoon. And this scenario has been repeated quite often lately. This is the kind of weather that makes one very thankful for air conditioning! It also makes me revisit the reason Masonry Technology Inc. began business nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Moisture issues are one of the leading causes of building envelope failures. Find a study on building envelope failure causation, and you will probably find moisture issues at or near the top of the list. Masonry Technology Inc. was started because of a noticeable increase of moisture problems in the building envelope that began to occur shortly after the first energy crisis of the 1970s. As energy costs began to escalate, more and more designers and builders began to institute materials and methods that “tightened” the building envelope. While the tightening process was a logical reaction to increased energy costs and diminishing energy resources, the resulting moisture-related problems were unexpected and often dramatic. Materials that used to last for decades in the building envelope often showed signs of major degradation in just a few years (sometimes even months). Even though building envelopes were tighter and air movement into and through walls was nearly zero, moisture was still able to find a way in through storm-driven rain, condensation and other means. And with no built in system to get the moisture out, it stayed and percolated leading to a rash of rot, mold and pest problems.

The 21st Century has not seen an end to these building envelope moisture problems. In fact, in some cases they are even worse. Over the last thirty years the impetus to control heating and cooling costs and the desire to find new materials and methods to create more sustainable buildings has lead to new moisture problems in the building envelope. Some of these new materials have created unintended vapor barriers while other new materials have actually acted as sponges, pulling in and trapping more moisture in the building envelope. I even saw an article recently that suggested that certain “Green Building” practices actually amplified some of the problems they were designed to overcome.

So what’s my point? I am not saying that we should abandon “Green Building” practices, and I am not saying we should abandon the effort to tighten buildings to save energy. However, I do believe we need to rethink the process. We need to move away from simply “throwing a new material” or a “new process” at a problem in the misguided belief that it won’t impact other parts of the finished product. We need to work holistically with all parties involved in the design-build process to plan for unexpected outcomes. We also need to realize that if we are truly committed to healthy, sustainable buildings, we must include the correct rainscreen moisture management systems to deal with the entrapped moisture problems that will result when we tighten and employ certain new materials. Finally, in this time of worldwide economic slowdown, it is “penny-wise and pound-foolish” to omit the best rainscreen drainage plane systems available in the fallacious belief that we will save a buck! We may save a buck, but what is the cost to our reputation?

Those are my thoughts, I welcome yours!

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