Victorian Windows – Beautiful and Functional

There are so many things in life that we take for granted, and windows in older buildings are probably high on that list.  Most towns and cities in the U.S. have areas where homes from the Victorian era still exist, and we probably all have driven by them and been struck by the ornate features employed in their construction.  But how many of us have actually stopped and wondered why?  Most of us probably just assume it was a decorative touch and left it at that.

I believe there was a designed purpose that went beyond simple ornamentation.  The decoration above and around these windows was very functional.  It was there to move the water away from the top and sides.  Door and window penetrations in buildings are some of the most difficult details in buildings to moisture-proof.  By creating architectural details that moved water away from the top and sides of windows and doors, architects and builders of 19th Century buildings created structures that were more sustainable.  Why haven’t we continued with this practice on a much greater scale?

Many modern buildings have made it too easy for moisture to enter the building envelope.  There are too many windows and doors that have little above them to keep water from running into the opening where it can more easily penetrate the seams at the top and sides of the opening.  Also, overhangs have disappeared or been diminished allowing water to run directly down the building facade until it finds a crack or seam to penetrate and enter the building envelope.  If we aren’t going to protect the exterior of a building from moisture penetration, we had better equip the building envelope with tools to get the penetrating moisture out quickly!  Drainage planes and weeps, if correctly selected and correctly installed, will do this.

Take a look at the accompanying photos and notice the details used in an earlier time that have allowed these structures to have a long life.  In the near future I will be presenting more information on a product that goes inside the building envelope but functions like the details above the windows in these photos.  Those are my thoughts, I welcome yours!

 

Drainage Planes, Weeps and Motorcycles

I love to ride my Harley!  It’s a great stress reliever to role through the countryside; on a bike you can truly feel the world.  You can actually smell, feel and hear nature, not just see it through the car window.

That leads me to a revelation that I had while riding in the rain last August.  Riding a motorcycle in the rain is a lot like moisture management in the building envelope.  Consider the following scenario:

It’s a nice sunny day, so I decide to go for a motorcycle ride.  Being an experienced motorcyclist, I always have raingear in my saddlebags because it’s summer and anything is possible!  As I move through the countryside, I notice that the sky is darkening, and a storm is imminent so I pull over and put on my rain suit.

In a matter of minutes, the rain starts.  It’s light at first but soon becomes heavy, and it’s coupled with a driving wind.  Rain is forced around my windshield and into my eyes greatly limiting my ability to see the road.  Water cascades off my helmet and runs down the back of my neck soaking my shirt.  The water on the highway flies upward leaking into my boots through the seams and around the tongue.  To make matters even worse, it’s a hot, humid day so beads of condensation start to form on the inside of my rain suit making for an increasingly miserable ride!  Obviously, even though I thought I was prepared for rain, I hadn’t looked at all possibilities.  So what did I learn?

In analyzing the situation I realized I had only looked at a part of the rain vs. rider problem, and in doing so, had left several other points of water penetration unprotected.   I realized there were several single solutions that had to be used in concert to solve the “hole/whole” problem.

  • Wearing a rain jacket with a hood under my helmet would keep the water from running down my back.
  • Wearing goggles would keep driving rain from limiting my visibility.
  • Using waterproof over boots would keep my feet dry.
  • Finally, the condensation problem could be solved by purchasing a rain suit with vents that allow for air movement under the suit.

Handling moisture problems in the building envelope is much the same.  It takes a holistic/systemic approach to solve the problem.  There isn’t a single fix in most cases, especially if the moisture issues are multiplied or take place over an extended period of time.  The more protective elements you incorporate into the moisture management system, the more likely you are to prevent permanent building envelope failure.

We need to get all parties on the same team.  Architects, specifiers, contractors and owners need to work together, and they need to work with moisture management experts to create the right solution for their specific building.  Don’t just trust a sales force to give you the right fix.  Work with companies that are willing to give you individual attention and actually take your project’s unique details into account.

Those are my thoughts, I welcome yours!