How Technology Reduces the Risk of Façade Defects

Using data-informed inspection solutions to ensure plan adherence, reduce risk and avoid errors during façade installation.
By Ori Aphek
March 13, 2023

The shell of the building is an onlooker’s first impression and crafts the architectural aesthetic, but it also plays a crucial role in enabling energy efficiency and protecting against the elements. Because façades are in direct contact with the elements, issues with water intrusion are the most common problem and the costliest to remedy, with anywhere from 30% to 70% of lawsuits related to water intrusion, half of it through the façade. Additionally, improperly installed façades pose significant safety risks because unsecured parts can fall and hit people below.

All these factors contribute to the façade being one of the most complex and costly aspects of a building to construct and inspect, making up 205 of the total project cost. Installing these systems correctly the first time is the most effective way to mitigate these threats. Teams should utilize data-informed technology that ensures plan adherence, reducing risk and avoiding errors during installation.

The Challenges of Façade Installation

Façade installation and subsequent inspection are inherently challenging, particularly for high-rise buildings. When performing post-installation verification manually, inspectors must review every element, joint by joint, window by window, stone by stone and brick by brick, which can take months to complete. Inspections of the entire building system are limited by this process, as inspectors can only access one portion of the building façade at a time and often have to inspect from indoors, on balconies or at the ground level, which doesn’t paint a complete picture. As a result, teams typically only perform spot checks on the façade and are rarely inspected to their fullest. This leaves many installation errors and defects, which serve as ticking bombs for future water intrusion or safety hazards.

As buildings in many metropolitan and suburban areas grow in height, the façade installation process has become increasingly difficult. Digital construction verification tools shave months off inspections, are more accurate than projects using only manual inspection and circumvent safety concerns during the construction process without disrupting trade production. Verification technology confirms every square inch of the exterior without inspectors having to do it from the ground level or balconies manually. Additionally, if there are any insurance disputes down the line, it’s simple to go back to the digital footprint and refer to objective details.

The Impact of Avoidable Rework

The costs associated with rework on the façade typically encompass two key construction phases. The first is installing the substrate layer of the façade, which comprises the framing, sheathing, waterproofing, flashing and expansion and control joints. The next is the finish materials application, which involves masonry, metal panels and curtain wall systems. In the case of curtain wall façades, rework usually stems from improperly installed panels or insufficient waterproofing around the panels. When teams don’t discover these defects until months or years after project completion, remediation will involve mitigating the effects of water leaks or thermal leakage. Rework at this stage is the worst-case scenario, as it impacts building occupants and can trigger legal action.

Not only is façade installation challenging, but any mistake leads to massive setbacks or requires extensive maintenance later. Rather than relying on regular maintenance down the road, construction teams must ensure a long-lasting façade by implementing solutions during construction. Remediating shoddy installation once the building is complete will be expensive and time-consuming. While some renovations to the façade are unavoidable over time due to natural deterioration and corrosion, fixing previous mistakes leaks and displacement is frustrating and can lead to warranty headaches for the building owners.

With $273 billion of construction errors made yearly, rework is more than tolerated in commercial construction—it is built in to project budgets and timelines. Avoiding rework effectively mitigates the risk of façade defects by preventing errors before they happen. When teams make essential installation mistakes, such as when a project has unseated gaskets or missing coupling bars, the façade becomes exposed. If unattended, these costly mistakes would lead to waterproofing deficiencies and warranty concerns down the line.

With the challenges of façade installation and inspection and the potentially devastating outcomes resulting from errors, technology that streamlines projects, improves coordination and eliminates costly and time-consuming rework is essential to minimizing risk factors. Digital verification platforms automatically generate element-level observations of the façade for project teams to perform work that’s out of sequence and rectify mistakes in real time—before subsequent layers conceal them.

by Ori Aphek

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