Rigid Boardstock Insulation Moisture Management Issues

Rigid Boardstock Insulation: Friend or Foe?

“When the message is absolutely critical, and not heeding the message increases the likelihood that a disastrous outcome will occur, then repeating the message is (or should be) a professional imperative! This has never been more true than with the issue of specifying and installing rigid boardstock insulation exterior of WRB’s and exterior sheathing on the exterior building envelope.”

The preceding paragraph is from the introduction to John Koester’s new white paper on potential moisture management issues architects, contractors and building owners face when they choose to use rigid boardstock insulation directly behind the exterior veneer of the building envelope (see image below). Normally, we release these articles after they have been published in industry-related magazines; however, this one addresses a topic that is so timely, we are going to release it immediately via our electronic newsletter, our website www.MTIdry.com and our social media sites. There is absolutely no charge nor are there any other conditions to access this article. It is immediately available as a PDF document via the link at the end of this article.

The following are some highlights from the “Exterior Rigid Boardstock Insulation Moisture Management Issues” article.

  • Most boardstock rigid insulation has some moisture-resistant characteristics.
  • When layered against a weather-resistant barrier (WRB) on exterior sheathing, an undrained cavity/void will be created that may entrap moisture.
  • Installing a thickness of rigid boardstock insulation over WRBs and exterior sheathing may have an impact on the fastening patterns and/or structural requirements to secure thin veneers (stucco, adhered thin stone and thin brick and various other siding systems).
  • Rigid boardstock insulation may have dynamics of its own.
  • Installing a thickness of rigid boardstock insulation over WRBs and exterior sheathing will impact exterior building envelope rough openings…

The article goes far beyond simply pointing out problems. Through the use of text and numerous detailed drawings (17) it shows how to solve or avoid the problems. We hope you find this information helpful, as well as timely. MTI believes that too much time is spent on the energy-saving side of the building envelope detail while often ignoring the moisture management side of the equation.

Building envelope moisture management must be equally involved in the building envelope detail if sustainability and energy efficiency are the goal!

Download the Rigid Boardstock White Paper

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Wright and the Middle Class – The Usonian Dream

For an architect of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stature and ego, to pursue affordable architecture for the average person seems out of character.  But that was the goal of his Usonian dream.  Based on the Populist and Progressive ideas of elevating the common man, Usonian (a term pulled from United States of North America) architecture sought to democratize building.  Wright’s Usonian homes were simple, one-story homes, of modest square footage, without a garage, a basement, or much storage.  They were also modest in exterior adornment.  Like the earlier Prairie School houses, the Usonian homes usually featured low roofs with large overhangs and open living areas.  Bernard Pyron wrote that for Wright, “Nature, Democracy, Spirituality, Culture and Art all became talismans that he used to promote the ideas spawned from this worldview.”  As a result, Wright came to believe that members of the middle and lower classes might be cultivated to appreciate great art and to develop as individuals in a free, democratic culture. In Frank Lloyd Wright’s mind, to accomplish this meant developing a uniquely American architecture that was affordable for all.  All these beliefs led to the development of his Usonian architecture.

Wright’s Usonian homes aimed at using as much local material as possible, a sustainable idea that Wright had long supported, and one he used in the construction of his own home, Taliesin.  Wright also wanted these homes to be compatible with their natural surroundings; to flow from them and blend naturally with the landscape.  He wanted organic structures with lots of natural materials and lots of windows that made use of natural light, and that allowed the inhabitants to experience the land around them.

My wife and I happened to stumble on an open house at one of Wright’s Usonian homes while on a motorcycle ride in southern Wisconsin this past weekend.  I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to walk around the grounds and to take pictures of the exterior of the home.  I am not going to reveal the location of this property as it is still occupied by family members of the original owner, and their privacy needs to be respected.  For that reason, I am going to be purposefully vague on certain details.

The story behind this house is a great one, and is certainly true to Wright’s goal for a democratic architectural style.  The house was built in the early 1950s by a young professional who wanted to construct a house for his family for a maximum of $15,000.  In order to accomplish this, he would act as his own general contractor, doing some of the work himself.   Two things led to Wright’s involvement with the project.  First, the owner had attended the University of Wisconsin where a professor had fostered his interest in Wright’s designs.  Second, his wife had worked for and developed a relationship with Wright’s sister, Jane.  These two bits of fate put him in touch with the architect, and Wright accepted the challenge of designing a home for under $15,000.  After all, wasn’t this perfectly aligned with his goal of affordable architecture for the masses?  (Like many of his projects, the final costs were well above the initial $15,000, but were still modest in comparison to projects done by world-renowned architects like Wright.)

The house was designed around a core structure of limestone that juts above the main roofline.  This central structure contained the kitchen, laundry and a small bath.  To the east of this core was the master bedroom and a carport.  (The carport was later turned into more living space using a design by a Wright apprentice.  The addition blends seamlessly with Wright’s original design.)  Projecting out to the north from the core limestone tower is a hexagonal living space adorned with lots of of windows.  There is also a patio area with a partial low rock wall adjoining this portion of the house.   The bedroom wing stretches south from the hexagonal living area, and is also heavily adorned with windows on its west side.   A flower garden flows alongside the bedroom wing culminating in a man-made rock glen patio at the south end.

The stonework in the walls of the home is beautiful and intricate.  Although Usonian homes were supposed to be lacking external adornment, the walls of this house feature individual pieces of limestone that jut out creating interesting patterns and shadows, as well as lending a sense of organic construction.  Much of this limestone was actually quarried by the owner and then hauled to the building site early each day before he went to his office.

The home is a treasure, and I feel fortunate to have spent some time with it.  It blends naturally with the surroundings, and is easily missed from the street.  When first built, it had an open view overlooking a valley to the north-northwest.  Sixty years later, Nature has reclaimed much of the hilltop, but you can still see the valley through a small opening.  Wright said, “I would like to have a free architecture.  Architecture that belonged where you see it standing—and is a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace.”  I think he and the owner succeeded here!

*The slideshow below was organized as a counter-clockwise walk around the property, beginning in the paved parking area at the front entry.  The walk goes towards the east, around the original master bedroom area, then around the family-main living area, along the bedroom wing then through the flower garden and back to the paved area in front of the house.

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Restored Frank Lloyd Wright Park Inn Hotel Opens

101 years after it first opened, Wright’s Park Inn Hotel is back in the lodging business.  While work is still taking place, guests can once again make reservations to stay at the renovated hotel, and a Grand Opening is planned for September 5-11.

I spent some time last week walking around the hotel and adjoining bank building, and the architectural detailing is amazing.  Spend a little time around this structure and you will begin to realize why it was worth the nearly $20 million that was spent restoring it.  Words cannot do justice to the mix of stained glass, rich woods, brass, copper and brick that have been blended together by Wright’s masterful touch into an architectural symphony.  I have included some recent photos below to help tell the tale, and more are available on our Facebook page.

The original bank and adjoining hotel were designed for James E. Blythe and J. E. E. Markley, two Mason City attorneys.  They wanted a building that could compete with the new, eight story bank that was being constructed across the street.  Markley was familiar with Wright because his daughters attended a school in Spring Green, Wisconsin, that Wright had designed.  The original Blythe and Markley structure contained a bank, the law offices of Blythe and Markley, and the 42 room hotel.  It opened in 1910.  It remained the area’s premiere hotel until 1922 when a more modern, upscale eight story hotel opened nearby.  From that point on, the story of the Park Inn was one of decline.

The Wright on the Park organization has overcome many obstacles to bring the Park Inn Hotel back to life.  Their website, wrightonthepark.org, has numerous photos covering the renovation process as well as background information on the building, the community and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Anyone with an interest in Wright should make a visit to see his only remaining hotel as well as the Stockman House, a private residence designed by Wright.  There are also several other homes designed by Prairie School architects in Mason City.   If you enjoy Prairie School architecture and the Arts and Crafts period, a trip to Mason City is well worth your time; and now you have a place to stay that epitomizes these styles.

Saving the Environment – One Digital Business Practice at a Time!

Although digital meeting and digital publication options for business have been around for some time, many businesses don’t take full advantage of them.  At MTI we realized several years ago that the old ways of doing business weren’t sustainable.  We also realized that if we were touting products that made buildings more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, we should probably be doing business the same way.

Technology is not going away.  While it certainly has negatives, the communication possibilities are so great, it needs to be embraced by businesses of all sizes.  The digital communication practices that follow are sustainable business practices we firmly recommend.

Minimize print matter.  There is no reason to maintain a binder full of product catalogs in the 21st Century.  PDF versions of product catalogs and product flyers are easy to search and easy to store, and they are much more environmentally friendly.  We have all been to major tradeshows and conferences where we’ve witnessed volumes of discarded catalogs, brochures, etc. packed into overflowing trash receptacles.  If we feel compelled to hand out some print matter, why not a business card with our URL?  Or better yet, let’s just put our QR code on a sign and let interested parties take a digital image.  The QR code reader on their smart phone can take them to our electronic media when they have time to look at it.

Digital media can do so much more than print media.  PDFs aren’t just about sending print and images.  They can also contain video and audio.  My document written in English can contain links to translations in other languages or explanatory movies with narrations in other languages.  The possibilities are endless, and they can be delivered in seconds around the world at little cost and on demand.  Utilizing email for product updates and company newsletters is also much quicker, much more economical and much more environmentally responsible than the postcards and brochures we used to rely on for getting the message out.

Rethink business travel and training.  Web meetings can and should supplant sales calls and business meetings.  Most of us complain about the cost of gas, the hassle of airport security checks, the threat of bedbugs, etc., but are we still heading off to a meeting in some other state or some other country?  Sure there are times when we have to be there in person, but many times we don’t; and the savings to the bottom-line and to the environment are huge!   There are many ways we can do meetings online, and the costs have come down tremendously because of the number of services competing for your business.   Not only can you hear and see each other, you can even work on the same documents online, and the down time involved with travel can now be used more productively.

Web conferencing can also be used effectively for training.  Most web conferencing software has a record function built in so that people who are unable to attend can get a rebroadcast of the session.  This saves on the instructor’s time and expense, and it makes the content available in the same format so you’re confident everyone received the same message.

Old habits die hard, but businesses large and small can benefit greatly from adopting 21st Century digital communication practices.  They are sustainable, economical and effective.

I know that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery; however, when imitation is based on false claims, I’m not flattered!  MTI’s Sure CavityTM rainscreen drainage plane is the first and only rainscreen drainage plane on the market today that has “true” channels.  Sure CavityTM has always been configured with this channel technology since its innovative birth more than two decades ago.  Our competitors know that it is the “best” technology to quickly drain water from a high point to a low point and out of the rainscreen building envelope.  That’s why some are now claiming that they have “channel” technology, even though they don’t.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a channel as “a tubelike passage for liquids.”  Most school kids, if asked to draw a channel, would probably draw a couple of straight lines with some blue water in between.  When I did a Google image search for channel, the pictures that came up generally showed relatively straight banks (or sides) with water between those straight sides (ie. the Panama Canal, Erie Canal, etc.)  I am totally amazed how someone can look at a piece of fibrous plastic (think of a kitchen scrub pad) and see channels!  The whole idea behind an effective rainscreen drainage plane is moving moisture “quickly” down from a high point to a low point.  Water does not move quickly when it has to twist its way through a maze of fibrous material!  You can even add some vertical waves to the pattern but you aren’t really creating channels, and the fibrous makeup of the drainage material still puts a myriad of roadblocks in the path of the water you are trying to “quickly” get out of the wall.

A wise marketer once said, “It’s your ad, you can say what you want.”  I suppose that is true, but is it right?  MTI doesn’t have to make up product features in order to market our Sure Cavity rainscreen drainage plane products as the best moisture management solution.  We are the leader; our rainscreen drainage plane products have the technology others envy (and attempt to imitate), and our ICC and CCMC Evaluation Reports confirm that Sure Cavity works the way it is supposed to work.  No other manufacturer of drainage plane products on the market today have both a CCMC and ICC Evaluation Report for their drainage plane products.  None!  So I guess the old “Caveat Emptor – Let the buyer beware!” adage still hold true; kind of sad, isn’t it.

Need LEED? Bay Area Builder Wrote the Book!

Anyone contemplating a LEED project could learn a lot from Mike McDonald.  McDonald Construction of Oakland, California, has become a recognized leader in the sustainable design and build industry of Northern California.  Over the last three years, Mike McDonald and company have created some of the most recognized LEED projects in the U.S.  Masonry Technology Inc. is proud to have been part of them.

The national recognition started in 2009 with the completion of Margarido House.  Margarido House, located on Margarido Drive in Oakland, was the first LEED Platinum Home in Northern California.  Margarido is a study in wise choices.  Great thought went into the location for the home, the selection of craftsmen and artisans chosen for the work, the materials used to create the house, and the fixtures and appliances installed in it.  You can find out more about the people and products McDonald selected for Margarido House here.

With a successful LEED Platinum project under his belt, Mike worked with architect Scott Lee of SB Architects in San Francisco to create the beautiful Hillside 131 house.  Tucked into a hill in Marin County, Hillside 131 became the first LEED-H project in Marin County.  As one writer put it, there is a “real feel of zen” about Hillside 131.  That feeling comes from the perfect combination of sustainable materials, beautiful craftsmanship, and gorgeous design set into the perfect space.  Learn more about the people and products involved in Hillside 131 here.

The final component in the LEED trilogy was just completed.  Tiburon Bay House, also located in the Bay Area, offers a slightly different take on how to create a LEED Platinum home.  Unlike the first two projects, Tiburon sprung up on a lot that was previously occupied by another home.  That home was deconstructed and 95% of the materials were reused or recycled.  With a south facing exposure, Tiburon is the perfect place to employ passive solar into the design, and that is just one of the environmentally-friendly features of this home.  You can learn more about Tiburon Bay House here.

Whether you are planning a LEED project for the immediate future or thinking about one down the road, these three LEED success stories by McDonald Construction are well worth your study!

Tiburon Bay House

Tiburon Bay LEED Platinum House SF Bay Area

Of Parapets and Peril

MTI has put together a series of articles on “special moisture management problem areas.”  The first of these articles was the Window Rough Opening piece we blogged about last time.  This month we are making available “Moisture Management of Parapet Walls.”  The following text is an excerpt from that article.  The entire piece can be downloaded at http://www.mtidry.com/news/ParapetWallArticle.pdf.  You can also find links to this article and the previous “Moisture Management in Window Rough Openings” on our News an Views page at http://www.mtidry.com/news/index.php.

Parapet walls – what are they good for?  Parapet walls perform a number of important functions:

  • They can be designed in various shapes to create a desired façade
  • They can be designed to hide roof top equipment (AC units, etc.)
  • They help prevent roof edge blow off by diverting air flow up, over and away from the roof edge.
  • They can be a stable termination point, for roof edges and flashings.

However, even though parapet walls perform a number of important functions, they are moisture management headaches!

The phrase ‘Out of sight out of mind” is, unfortunately, the rule of the day with construction details that are not easily accessible.  Parapet walls fall into this category.   The required timely maintenance is neglected because of this and regrettably, the need for maintenance becomes apparent only as a result of a failure such as a leak.  On top of this, parapet walls have a rather rough life since they are subjected to wind, dramatic temperature changes, moisture from three sides and roof system stresses.  The result is a construction detail that is both neglected and abused.

The answer to the question “Why do parapet walls fail?” seems obvious.  The solution is just as obvious – design them to be better and maintain them properly.

The most fundamental rules of moisture management “Keep moisture away from, off of and out of a construction detail” and “Move moisture away as quickly as possible” always apply.  However, two additional practices should be employed.  First, use good moisture management design and identify and isolate the moisture risk zones in such a way as to separate high risk from lesser risk.

Like all structures a parapet wall suffers the fate of its roof – the coping.  Failure of the coping is closely followed by wall and interior failure.  Use the link above to access the entire article with proposed solutions to the parapet moisture management dilemma.Adobe House with Parapet