Up Front: The Building Envelope Contractor
Construction has changed. Today, we have building scientists, LEED experts, envelope consultants and next will be energy consultants. There are consultants for everything and if you think it will get easier for you in the future, I seriously doubt it. Some consultants are beneficial; some consultants have created more problems than they solve and add unwarranted costs.
The concern for the wall and ceiling contractor is that he bids for his work and his bid is based on some basic assumptions. Too often he finds out that the game has been changed and the hired consultant sees things quite differently. The consultant makes changes that can have a significant impact to the subcontractor’s bottom line. I know the consultant believes he is doing what is needed and right but some consultants can be driving good subcontractors into bankruptcy.
I have spoken with consultants who are sympathetic and try to work within the subcontractors established budget, but all too often I hear the consultant make a callous remark, such as “I am doing what is right for the building and cannot be concerned about the wall and ceiling contractor’s bottom line. He should have allowed for this in his bid.” While on the surface that seems logical, the reality is the other higher bidders who did allow for the extra costs lost the job.
All too often, the bad news for the building owner is that leaks still occur and they just spent even more money. I have been involved with many projects where the detailing and oversight by the envelope consultant failed to stop the building from leaking. This is not meant to infer all envelope consultants are bad or produce leaky buildings, but consider the facts.
There is no license or test that qualifies an envelope consultant. They are an expert because they say they are.
There are no standards. Even the fledgling associations for building envelope consultants have not been able to produce a standardized test or qualification criteria. Why? They are all over the map on design concept, water management and detailing. The proof of my statement is the fact that no two jobs seem to have windows flashed the same way. We reinvent the procedure every time on every job. It seems insane, but that is only part of the story. Buildings still leak and the envelope consultants are not liable.
When the building leaks, liability does not typically extend to envelope consultants.
How can this be? Envelope consultants are not stupid. They make sure they write contracts, proposals and inspection letters clearly noting “they are not liable.” It has been a solid 10 years of envelope consultants dominating the landscape and some building owners are fed up with higher bids, more change orders, and leaky buildings. There is a move to change that: It is called the building envelope contractor.
The idea is to have a single subcontractor be the envelope contractor. Typically, it would be the contractor with the most exterior work. For example, on a large glass building, it would be the curtain wall or glazing contractor. On a stucco building, it would be the stucco contractor. This envelope contractor would be 100 percent liable for the building envelope. That would include windows, doors, vents, flashings, siding installations and all penetrations. The envelope contractor also has complete control over all work and products used.
While at first that would make the subcontractor cringe, it should not. The fact is, if the building leaks for any reason, you will be dragged in and raked over the coals, regardless of any fault you may or may not have. If you are the envelope contractor, you have control over the other subcontractors on your wall. You coordinate all flashing, and direct and have control over your destiny.
On large projects, you would probably engage the services of an envelope consultant to monitor your men or hire an in-house consultant. The independent envelope consultant may say, “This is a conflict of interest-the envelope contractor will force us to pass whatever they want.” Really? A subcontractor who knows he is liable will knowingly place his company in jeopardy? I think not. In fact, he may be more intent to listen to the envelope consultant and they would work more as a team. After all, he wants the repeat business. And the best way to get that? Cost effective, weather tight buildings; and isn’t that all the building owner really wants?
Doesn’t this place more liability on the wall and ceiling contractor? You already are liable. Your insurance is the first policy in line after the general contractor gets sued by the developer.
A few projects have already been done with the building envelope contractor concept and with good success. Building owners saw a savings in construction costs, less change orders, the job ran smoother and no leaks. Even the envelope consultants, reluctant at first, seemed to be on board afterwards. W&C