- by Mr. Peter Spafford, Quality Assurance Manager for ABAA
Air barriers are a relatively new technology in the construction of buildings, and few people in the construction industry fully understand the concept of air barriers and exactly what role they play in the performance of the building.
Numerous contractors have recognized the growth in this field and are taking advantage of the opportunity to install various types of systems. Due to a slow- down in some of the other types of work their company has traditionally done, some companies see installing air barriers as a new way to increase their annual income. The general consensus among many contractors is “anyone can install these membranes - there doesn’t seem to be many contractors doing this work in the area so let’s get into doing this type of work - the last air barrier company in the area that did this type of work probably went out of business because of the recession”.
- The new air barrier contractor bids on the installation and is awarded the contract because he was the lowest bidder.
- The time comes to install the system, and he shows up to a job-site and begins the installation process. They are going to install a peel and stick system where they are required to have a clean, smooth, dry substrate, free of any contaminants that would affect the adhesion of the system.
- The contractor has seen other companies in the past installing the same system or one that was very similar, and thinks “that other air barrier contractor seemed to do a good job and no one questioned the fact that the materials were installed over rough surfaces, spanning large gaps, delaminated in numerous locations within a short period of time, and had numerous fish-mouths”.
- The contractor was able have some very inexpensive laborer prime the walls prior to immediately installing the peel and stick membrane.
- The project was inspected and accepted as the various components of the system were installed. The air barrier contractor was paid in full the work he was contracted to do.
- The walls were then covered with insulation and the exterior cladding system installed.
- The construction schedule moved forward and the completed building was handed over to the excited new owner for occupancy.
Shortly after occupancy, the owner starts to experience numerous problems with the new building:
- Some of the occupants are complaining that they are too hot; others are too cold.
- Others are saying that they are feeling sick since they have started working in the new building.
- Some are complaining that they feel drafts in their work areas.
- A few people say they can hear water running in the walls during a rain event.
- The owner says the heating and cooling costs for the building are far greater than expected because they had the latest energy efficient system installed and it should be a fraction of the cost to condition the air in the building.
The building owner brings in a consultant to determine what is causing these problems:
- The consultant conducts a whole building air leakage test and it is soon determined that the building is extremely leaky.
- The consultant also determines that there is water damage in the wall cavities in numerous locations.
- Some of these locations have water damage from moisture leaking into the cavities from rain events.
- It is determined that there are numerous other areas that have water damage as a result of condensation from air leakage into and out of the wall assembly.
- The owner is informed by the consultant that air leakage can carry an incredible amount of moisture in the form of water vapor into the wall cavity. As the temperature decreases in the cavity from lower outside air temperature or inside air conditioning, the water vapor condenses because it reached the “Dew Point” inside the walls of the owner’s brand new building.
- The consultant has also discovered that there are numerous areas where mold and mildew are located in the walls.
- Other areas in the walls are already experiencing rot and corrosion of some of the wall assembly members.
- Air quality samples are taken and it is determined that there are contaminants in the air that are not good to breathe and these contaminants will affect the health and safety of the occupants.
- In the report that the consultant provides to the owner of the building, it is determined that the air barrier that was designed into the building was improperly installed, resulting in all of the damage and health and safety concerns to the new building.
- The owner consults his lawyer and they begin litigation against the design professionals, the general contractor, and the air barrier contractor.
- The air barrier contractor is found to be negligent in the installation of the air barrier and subsequently declares bankruptcy.
- As a result, everyone else involved in the litigation is left with trying to resolve the situation for the owner.
This is a fictional example of what can and does happen many times each year somewhere in America.
How can everyone reduce their liability that can result with an improperly installed system?
How can you be assured of a properly functioning air barrier on your next project?
The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) has implemented a comprehensive Quality Assurance Program (QAP) to address many of the problems that design professionals and general contractors have struggled with for many decades.
Most trades such as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, masonry contractors, etc. have used apprenticeship programs, training, and certification for these trades-people for many decades. Until 2001 there was little to no training or certification for air barrier installers in America. Since 2001 ABAA has instituted a training and certification program as part of their comprehensive QAP for installers and contractors that install various types of air barrier systems. These training and certification programs include: self-adhered systems, fluid applied systems, and spray polyurethane foam systems.
In addition to trained and certified technicians, the QAP also has accredited contractors. These contractors are required to meet a number of very high standards set out in the requirements of the ABAA QAP. Some of these requirements include: bonding and insurance requirements, and certified installers. They are also required to install the air barrier system in compliance with the manufacturer’s installation requirements. The contractor is also required to use materials that have been tested in compliance with air barrier materials and system standards. They must inspect, test and document the result of their installation on a daily basis.
ABAA also conducts audits on all ABAA specified projects. The auditors provide a comprehensive written report that documents the results of the installation during the audit. The audit report is given to all of the individuals that are listed in the design and construction of the air barrier in the building. These audits are designed to ensure that the owner gets a building with a properly installed air barrier.
A properly installed air barrier results in a building that is much more energy efficient and comfortable for all of the occupants. An air barrier also functions as a rain screen when it is properly installed. In addition to controlling air leakage through the building envelope, a properly installed air barrier keeps out liquid water. As a result of controlling all of these forms of moisture and air leakage, the building will be much more durable, comfortable and safe, serving the owner for very long time.
To access the ABAA master specifications, please visit our website at www.airbarrier.org. Go to Supporting Documents and see Master Specifications. You can choose the type of specification that best meets your needs. The ABAA specifications include all of the QAP requirements. Please try to utilize the entire wording of the specifications. There is no such thing as a partial ABAA specification. If you specify ABAA in your requirements, you will be getting the entire ABAA QAP.
If you would like some assistance in specifying the Air Barrier Association of America Quality Assurance Program for your next project, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 1-866-956-5888.