Project Services for Metal Buildings and Roofing: Part 2

In our last blog posting, we identified the project services that are available from MBCI and the typical process that contractors for metal buildings and roofing might experience in using them. In this posting, we will take a closer look at why so many contractors are taking advantage of these very helpful services and reaping multiple benefits.

We start by pointing out that, while it hasn’t historically been well-known that these project manager led services are available, things are changing. MBCI in particular has seen a 40 percent increase in service requests in just the past 2 years! The biggest growth has occurred in the areas of custom designs, high-end architectural buildings, and projects that use insulated metal panels (IMPs). Nonetheless, it has been recognized that virtually all types of projects benefit from these services. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the combined MBCI project management teams are servicing 100 to 150 projects at any one time.Project Services Part 2 March 2019 Blog

While it is hard to pinpoint why this impressive growth is happening in the use of project services, there are some commonly reported advantages such as the following:

Single Point of Contact: By having a designated project manager at the manufacturing company, communication is direct and streamlined. Further, the project manager takes care of everything from start to finish in regards to the metal building or roofing package. That means the contractor is freed up to focus on the site-specific aspects of the installation without needing to worry about managing the process on the manufacturer’s end.

Applicability: The range of building types that have benefitted from these services is all-encompassing, indicating that these services are applicable to virtually any metal building or roofing project. Project service teams are experienced in virtually all types of non-residential construction including commercial, retail, hospitality, institutional, schools, higher education, hospitals, government buildings, and many more.

Regional Expertise: The MBCI project service teams are organized so that they can focus on one of four specific regions of the United States. That means contractors receive attention from people who understand localized concerns.

Assistance During Design: When architects and engineers need some information on using metal building or roofing systems, the project manager can, as a courtesy, assist the contractor in providing design assistance. This includes helping designers become more familiar with metal product offerings and generally to become more informed and up to date on options. There is never an intent to lead the design or move the project in any particular direction.

Price Quotes: This is often the biggest and most noted benefit of working with the project service team. By having a relationship with a manufacturer, accurate quotes can be obtained quickly to allow bid deadlines to be met with a clear understanding of scope and confidence in the numbers.

Engineered Drawings: The ability to provide complete, engineered drawings is a big advantage instead of needing to find a local engineer take on that task.

Detailed Bill of Materials: All of the take-offs and ordering are done right from the information prepared by the project services team. There is no need for the contractor to spend the time on a separate take-off.

Scheduling Flexibility: The project manager can work with the contractor and work out a production, fabrication, and delivery schedule that meets the needs of the project. For large projects, this might mean phasing delivery of different parts of the package to suit the overall project schedule. Overall, projects have been done with coordinated schedules that are as short as 2 months, or phased up to 2-1/2 years.

Full Erection Drawings: Along with the full package of building materials, a full set of erection drawings are provided that serve as a virtual “installation manual” to help streamline the work in the field.

There are certainly other reasons for using these project services, but considering that most contractors don’t have the capabilities to do all of these things in-house, it can be a real time and money saver to take advantage of them from the manufacturer. Once contractors become aware of the availability of these services and the streamlined results, they often sign up for them repeatedly.

To find out more about how to successfully take advantage of these services and work with a project manager, contact your local MBCI representative.

Understanding Today’s Vapor Barriers

One of the most misunderstood aspects of a metal roofing system is the proper use of a vapor barrier. There are many sources of information about this topic – some of which are based on science, some based on anecdotal field experience, and some based on journalism. Here, we will try to break it down to the basic principles that can be used to understand the latest options for a metal building roof system today.

What is Vapor?

The observed science tells us that water can take three forms, depending on temperature and its ability to interact with other things around it. Water can be a liquid that we drink, solid ice that we can skate on, or a gaseous vapor that is part of the makeup of the air we breathe. We can’t see water vapor in the air but we can feel it – we call that humidity. High humidity means a lot of water vapor is in the air, typically coupled with higher air temperature – and both can make us feel uncomfortable and “sticky.” Low humidity means the air is dryer – more typical in lower-temperature air – but this may also be uncomfortable for our breathing, skin dryness, etc.

Why is Vapor a Concern?

As long as the gaseous water vapor stays in the air at a moderate or comfortable level, there is no real concern. However, since water vapor responds quickly to temperature, it can turn back into water as soon as it encounters a surface that is cold enough for it to make the transformation. We know this phenomenon as condensation, and anyone who has seen a cold drink collect water on the outside of a glass on a humid summer’s day has experienced it. It is the same phenomenon that shows up on the surface of windows in a building when there is a big difference between inside and outside temperatures. We know that the amount of water vapor (i.e., humidity) present and the air temperature can both be variable at any given time, but there is always a predictable point at which water vapor will condense and form water drops – this is called the dew point. When vapor in the air encounters a temperature at or below the dew point, condensation occurs.

What Does This Have to do With Metal Roofing?

Metal roofing systems and condensed moisture are not a good combination. If airborne moisture seeps into a metal roof assembly, finds a cool surface, and condenses on any surface there, it likely won’t be visible from inside or outside of the building. That trapped water can then cause rust and corrosion of metal parts, resulting in real damage. It can also collect and saturate building insulation, rendering it ineffective. If enough water condenses, it can cause visible staining or grow mold, causing concerns for people inside the building.

Vapor barriers are used in metal buildings to reduce the rate at which vapor can move through a material.

Do Building Codes Address This?

Absolutely – they require that the building be protected from the possibility of damage caused by water vapor. Since the concern is to restrict the flow of airborne moisture in relatively warm air from reaching a cooler surface to condense on, they call for something to be installed on the “warm” side to prevent that flow. For most buildings across the United States, the warm side is the interior face of the roof and walls. However, if the building is kept cold as in a refrigerated warehouse or storage building, then the warm side is likely on the exterior. The same is true in southern climates where warmer, humid air is the exterior condition and cooler interiors are common.

What is the Best Solution?

Manufacturers of insulating products have been involved in addressing the best ways to provide not only insulation to keep building temperatures warmer, but also vapor barriers to restrict the flow of airborne moisture. After literally decades of trying different types of vinyl and polyethylene facings over fiberglass insulation, most have realized that those membranes simply don’t provide enough protection to be effective. Instead, most are now offering a choice of laminated facings over the insulation that can be installed so they are exposed to the appropriate warm side of the roofing system. These fairly sophisticated laminations include:

  • Polypropylene-scrim-kraft consisting of layers of white or metalized polypropylene, fiberglass reinforcing, and white kraft paper on the order of 11-30 lb. weight
  • Polyprolene-scrim-kraft consisting of aluminum foil, fiberglass reinforcing, and 30 lb. kraft paper
  • Vinyl-reinforced polyester

All of these latest advancements in vapor barriers can provide comparable, high levels of protection, but their selection can depend on a variety of other building factors. Therefore, it is always best to engage an architect or engineer in the design to review the needs of the entire building to select the most appropriate, specific solution for an given project. It will also be important that all seams, connections, and penetrations of the vapor barrier are addressed in the design and construction, which are similarly best addressed by an architect or engineer to assure there are no breaches in the protection provided by the barrier.

To find out more about vapor barrier and insulation products for metal roofing systems, contact your local MBCI representative.

The “Fuzz Factor” in Engineering: When Continuous Improvement is Neither

Sometimes, being an engineer makes want to put my finger through my eye, into my brain, and swish it around. Reading and interpreting code requirements is one of those times. I’m not that old (please let me live in bliss on that one) but in my almost 25 year career as an engineer, I have seen some 75 code and standard revision cycles representing thousands of pages of text to review and interpret for laymen who are cursed with having to make a living selling building materials in this brutal marketplace.

I know the purpose of building codes and standards is to protect the public who need protection from the very real threats of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and freak snow storms. As an engineer who has taken an oath to protect the public, that responsibility is paramount to me and is one I carry with pride, I guarantee it. But the system we have set up to protect society in this regard has grown beyond a manageable state into monster status. Moreover, it is a venue filled with hundreds of hyper-sensitive, over-reacting people with individual research and commercial agendas, ballooning paper and free-running ink. In a recent personally defining moment, I stepped away from the tree trunk pushed firmly against the end of my nose and decided to gander upon the whole forest. What I saw concerns me because of the responsibility I have to protect the public. You see, I’m beginning to believe that the biggest threat to human life in a building is not the possibility of natural disasters but instead the threat of simple human error that increases in probability every time we plant a tree in our precious forest of public duty by introducing a code or standard change proposal. The requirements in these documents are long and complex already and getting them applied correctly to a project in a reasonable amount of time while battling the constant barrage of phone calls, texts, and emails a feat worthy of the likes of Albert Einstein and Carl Fredrich Gauss. (If you’ve never heard of Gauss, I suggest you Google him. He was one of the greatest minds of all time.) It has been called by those who have ventured down this thought path before me as the “Fuzz Factor” and I believe it to be a very real threat to public safety in today’s engineering world.

Let’s start by looking where the rubber meets the road. In 1960, the AISI cold-formed steel specification had 22 pages of requirements. In 2007, it had 114.  The latest edition, 2012, has 150 pages. That’s a 680% increase in 52 years. Congratulations, AISI. You have the smallest growth rate of all the standards I track at a little under two pages a year. Hey, stop laughing at your thin-walled brother, AISC design specification because you should be ashamed. In 1941, you had 19 pages of requirements. Twenty years later, you had 57 pages.  Ten years after that, 157 pages. In the most recent edition, 2010, you’ve ballooned to 239 pages. That’s about 3 pages per year not including the seismic provisions. That little piece of work did not exist until 1992 at 59 pages and is now a fat 335 pages in length. Growth rate: a whopping 15 pages per year. That’s something akin to sumo wrestlers in training. It is no better on the load side of the equation, either. ASCE 7, the standard that establishes the load levels to be expected from environmental phenomena like snow, wind, earthquakes, etc., was 92 pages in the 1988 edition. The latest edition, released in 2010 is a sporty 368 pages. That’s a growth rate of 15 pages per year as well.

Now, let’s look where pencil meets paper. Ultimately, the problem manifests in the fact that people reading and applying the code provisions are human beings with all of the limitations bestowed upon us by our creator(s) or evolution, however you choose to view that. The question is: Have human minds grown in requisite ability to read and understand all of this information? Being that Gauss died in 1855 and there has not been another mathematician like him since then, I’d answer that question with a strong “no” and I’m not alone in that. There are quite a few educational psychologists who buy into the theory that we are actually getting less intelligent as time goes on, even though we are much better educated as a society, because education tends to stifle creative thought at an early age and that skill is not developed.

So, how do we address this trend of growing complexity and shrinking time? In my opinion, the answer is relatively simple. Instead of continuing to further define the problems and solutions like we’ve done so well in the last century, we need to consider evolving the engineering process to match the complexity level thrust upon the practitioners. Buildings don’t fail if the diaphragm resistance was wrong in the second significant digit because there was no torsion considered or because a column had second order effect that magnified its load by an unexpected 10%. Instead, they fail because the resistance was overstated or the load understated on a global level by 50% or more because that’s the level of conservancy in the code typically. Case in point: The 1983 Kansas City Hyatt disaster. The initial design by the engineer was a good one and likely would not have failed. It was a later revision to that design, one that gave it less than half of the capacity of the original, that ultimately caused the disaster. The proposed change came to the engineer at a time that they were busy working on something else and was not given proper consideration. A simple human error that any of us, no matter how smart we might be, are capable of.

To me, today’s environment is one where “can’t see the forest for the trees” problems flourish. Fortunately, those problems are fairly easily spotted when put in front of a person who is capable of seeing the forest because they don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the trees growing in it. In this case, that could be a peer engineer performing a simple cursory review. To make this fully effective, it should not just be one or two peers. It should be more like 5 or 10 people with widely varied experiences and preferably strong cultural diversity, each one spending an hour or so scanning the results of the design, rather than the design itself.  Diversity is more important than you might think because each of us brings to the table a unique set of skills but at the same time, we are all limited to our experiences. It’s the old adage that the oncologist will tend to suspect cancer and the dietitian will tend to cite nutritional problems with the same patient. So, let’s do what doctors do in this situation: Swallow our pride and ask for a consult from a practitioner whose experiences are different from our own. It’s simple, easy, and could save lives, let alone all of the trees consumed by the printing of fat building codes and standards.

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