Vertical Wall Opportunities in Difficult Times

Posted on 5/20/2020 9:12:36 AM By Paul Bertram

Continuing the discussion regarding the ASC Growth Program, this blog is to address trending Vertical Wall trends from the report and new opportunities.

In the last blog, on roofing, I mentioned early perspectives on the Coronavirus and that the American construction industry would not be immune to respective impacts. Who could have predicted the severity of those implications and resulting shutdowns and disruptions to business? Specific to the adhesives and sealants industry, as well as most other industries, the impacts ripple across all market sectors from manufacturer and related supply chains, end use customers to shutdowns of construction sites and installing contractors.

In the article, “Building Materials Distributor Bucking Downward Trend During Pandemic” from Walls and Ceilings website, AD eCommerce reported an increase in customer online activity and orders in spite of lockdown. The story indicated sales were up this past February and down in March with anticipation of tough months ahead.

Architectural Digest reported that while construction jobs started before the pandemic have resumed in places like New York.  New data compiled by the American Institute of Architects indicates the country’s residential architects are bracing for the fallout from COVID-19, eradicating any remaining hope that earlier projections for a profitable 2020.Some in the industry are pessimistic about the prospect of new projects kicking off. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reports, some contractors predict the cancellation or at least significant postponement of new projects over the next year. The reporter felt this has less to do with COVID19 job site concerns and more about the uncertainty in the economic climate.

Contractors in Pennsylvania, Washington, and New York have returned to job sites, joining Illinois, Texas, and California, where much construction work has continued uninterrupted. The article states, that while the nature of the return to work varies on a state-by-state and even project-by-project basis, reporting so far suggests that resuming construction will mean new job site precautions and a widespread sense of uncertainty about what will happen once current work is finished.

An example of new precautions and use of technology was reported in The Times about Suffolk Construction Company’s plans to introduce new motion-tracking technology that can attach to a hard hat, sounding an alarm when workers get within six feet of each other and collecting data that can help modify work site practices. Other construction companies seem to be rethinking their supply chains, considering how certain pieces can be prefabricated for installation elsewhere so that certain elements of construction won’t require as many workers in close proximity.

Another trend of note during the COVID19 impacts is the use of Drones while design professionals were in lockdown and working from home to keep track of construction site reviews remotely.

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NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences) board member Darrell X. Rounds, who leads the electrical and mechanical engineering for General Motors’ facilities organization, Sustainable Workplaces; recently wrote an article: Safe at Work: Heath in the Pandemic Era. He addresses how these events affect facilities – specifically, engineering and maintenance managers and their staffs. Considerations include the role these departments play in facilities and communities, from ensuring the proper operation and maintenance of facility assets and equipment to ensuring a clean and healthy work environment.

The Board of Directors for the National Institute of Building Sciences ( NIBS), identified the Coronavirus (COVID19) as a serious concern to all facades of the architectural, engineering and construction industries as well as building owners private/government facilities and manufacturers including their supply chain. Speculation of getting back from the shutdown utilizing the CDC and Government phase back plans resulted in a recent NIBS online meeting where 1800 attendees participated NIBS COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall: Preparing for Reentering Buildings

Stakeholders discussed and how to prepare for safely opening our businesses and offices again to our workforce and customers. 

Topics covered:

  • Re-population of commercial buildings
  • HVAC systems and air circulation
  • Public transit and other public infrastructure needs
  • Pandemics and the future of cities
  • Sanitation standard

The next NIBS COVID-19 Town Hall: Mental Health and Sanitation of COVID-19 Facilities"; was on May 19th 2020.

Recordings of these sessions are available on the website.

Additionally, NIBS created the Building Industry COVID-19 Resource Hub that is housed on the Whole Building Design Guide at WBDG is the largest repository of building information and is a comprehensive, web-based portal to a range of federal and private-sector building-related guidance criteria and technology. It links information across professional disciplines to encourage integrated thinking and "whole building" performance. The hub regularly will be updated as new information becomes available.

Many organizations took advantage of COVID19 down time to stay in touch with AEC professionals and installers by providing continuing education programs during the lockdown.

Getting Back to Work

Assuming that sealant and adhesive producers, their supply chains, distribution and installing contractors operations have plans to address COVID19 and the Phases that have been implemented to let businesses get back to work; lets wrap up with some of the report’s insights on opportunities for adhesives and sealants in regard to some advancements in the Vertical Wall markets.

ASC’s “Grow the Vertical “ ‘Voice of the Customer Research’ – Vertical Walls Markets, reported this segment of the market as a $71 Billion-dollar market.

The vertical wall segments of the report could represent a mutually addressable combination of applications that include below grade solutions based on the prevailing industry emphasis on addressing the ‘building envelope’ as an inherently interconnected set of applications

The reports also cited growing use of fluid-applied flashings, structural insulated panels, increasing use of STPE, Silicone transition sheet membranes and structural silicone base joints that represent moderate displacement in fenestration.

The report also mentioned opportunities for alignment with various related trade associations. As I have written about in previous blogs, there are efforts between various trade groups to address vertical wall functional performance through harmonized trade and code alignment. This includes the IIBEC (International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants), ABAA (Air Barrier Association of America), NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences – BETEC – Building Enclosure Technology Environmental Council, ICC (International Code Council), PHIUS (Passive House Institute US) SIPA (Structured Insulated Panel Association). CSI (Construction Specifications Institute. All of these are leading toward installer and specifier alignment toward ‘building envelope’ of vertical wall.

During the downtime during COVID19, many organizations took advantage of the time to provide design professionals and installers continuing education programs specially directed to dealing with pandemics as related to their products. I talked to one company who said their reps were doing up to 8 CEUs per week, to keep in touch with their client base.

In an article by Lindsey M Roberts, How to Specify Building Wrap, she cites a report by University of Florida researchers that nearly 70% of construction litigation is related to moisture infiltration. This is a huge opportunity for educating teams on properly applied sealants and adhesives in the vertical wall markets. The article identifies various building wraps including self-adhesive liquid applied. Attention of flashings at penetrations through the building wrap and transition management of sealant joints was noted as requiring validation of compatibility. Manufacturers are recommended to provide a letter in writing verifying compatibility between different materials per the specifications.

Dr. Steven Doggett adds caution in regard to poor application of liquid applied WRBs (Weather Resistant Barriers).He recommends that specifications should outline formal testing requirements. And it is advised that Owner Project Requirements (OPR) include frequent sealant testing throughout installation. 

In retrofit where exterior vertical wall upgrades are not an option, aerosol-based sealants are a possible consideration to seal up leaks from the vertical envelope system interior.

Another new and emerging opportunity, as a result of COVID19,are FEMA led constructions of temporary treatment facilities in the form of Alternative care sites. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineered completed a retrofit within the Washington DC Convention that will accommodate 437 beds. These conversations have also included repurposing some hotel properties as Alternative care site. Rooms would have to be sealed appropriately to maintain air pressure requirements.

An Alternative Care Site opens at D.C.'s Walter E. Washington Convention Center in preparation for an expected surge of Coronavirus cases:

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In conclusion, COVID19 did in fact create challenges and new opportunities for the adhesive and sealants industry. They greatly vary depending on locations and State’s guidelines. We are coming back, but caution is to be ready for the potential of another round of COVID19 this winter. Many organizations are now including of Risk Management. Please take a look of some of the resources linked in this article to be prepared.

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