Over the next few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles on practical applications of what has come to be known as “Building Science”.  Yes, there is such a term.  “They don’t build them like they used to” is quite true, but in a good way, we build much better now.

We have learned so much since the days of the log cabin in the real old days, and Sears kit houses which symbolized the emergence of fast and efficient building techniques after WW2.  Every year there are new products offered by an industry that has a world wide market.

In North America we build primarily with wood because that is a resource we have available.  In more Southern countries cement and masonry are the  dominant building materials.  High-rise buildings are made primarily of steel.

The concepts of preventing moisture infiltration, of creating healthy and comfortable buildings is similar in all.  What is important is a thorough understanding of how to combine materials so as to prevent holes.  Holes that allow water to enter or air to both enter or exit uncontrolled.

In the evolution of building techniques we have both improved our buildings in terms of energy efficiency, and at the same time created some flaws such as trapping moisture.  We have made our buildings more comfortable but at the same time sealed in some very harmful chemicals.

That is where building science comes in, it is the well studied concept of best practices.  It is how to have an energy efficient comfortable and healthy building. Topics this series will cover:

  • We will address what constitutes a high performance building or home.  
  • We will learn how to avoid the pitfalls of moisture build-up and mold creation.
  • We will learn why we now split insulation into both inside and outside the wall to create what is called CI or Continuous Insulation. 
  • We will learn why we want to think of a building enclosure, and not building envelope.

Due to the horrific fires suffered by so many residents of California in the last year, we will also cover ways of lessening vulnerability to fire. For example, we are finding fire often entered attics through vents and started burning the roof structure from the inside.

In the next issues you will find information on:

  • Thermal movement control in homes (heat and cold)
  • Water barriers and rain screens that allow the building’s skin to breathe but repel water
  • Various new products that are worth considering in new construction
  • Fire prevention measures
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Are We Over Structuring Today’s Buildings?

Are We Over Structuring Today’s Buildings?

Quite often we find ourselves removing an existing structure prior to building a new one, or making substantial improvements to an existing building.  Once the above ground structure has been taken down, (hopefully deconstructed not demolished), the old foundation has to be removed.  This often is not too bad; some jackhammering, some hydraulic equipment, some loads to the concrete crushing plant.

What strikes me is the huge difference in the amount of concrete that we are pouring into the ground now compared to the old foundations we are removing.  What currently is not that big a deal to have a large excavator dig up and truck away is being replaced with five, eight, ten times the amount of concrete and steel.

Someday these structures we are building now will be remodeled or taken down. I wonder what future builders will need in terms of equipment and energy usage to remove the massive amounts of concrete and reinforcing steel that we are now putting in the ground.

Is it all necessary?  Are we overdoing it?  Is the safety factor getting exaggerated?  Is CYA at every level making it just too much?

Building code has a typical safety factor of about 40%, and that is considered the absolute minimum.  The structural engineers want to add their own safety margin.  Then there is perhaps the civil engineer with their concerns about drainage, etc., and don’t forget the soils engineer who also makes a recommendation. Here in Marin County California we need to add seismic considerations so our structures can withstand potential earthquakes.Richard Wodehouse's Over Structuring 1
Before pic
So all these factors add up to a lot of structure, which may appear ridiculous to the owners who are paying for it. We seem to build as if our structures will be here forever, which is probably the same mindset that the builders of the structures we are demolishing had.

So what can be done to better this situation?  Safety is certainly a key component of building, and as your Construction Project Manager I can help ensure that your home has the foundation and structure it needs. I also take into consideration the environmental impact our buildings will have on future generations and can help eliminate excess without compromising safety.

If you bring me in as a Project Manager during the design process, I ask structural engineers to simplify for constructability. I can examine the plans and question items that might seem excessive or perhaps suggest how the needed result can be achieved in another way.  A mutually respectful evaluation is bound to result in some improvements.  My expertise can help your project strike the proper balance between safety and cost-effective environmental consciousness.

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