A Few Predictors of Building Failure in New Construction

The following suggested predictors of building failure in new construction are based on years of experience tracing building failures to their causes. While the failures may express themselves as discrete detail flaws, underlying causes are often found in contractual decision making, project administration and management, and in conceptual design. The following predictors do not guarantee building failure, but they do indicate a heightened risk of failure.

  1. Building from Schematic Design or other preliminary design documents – Schematic Design Drawings or other preliminary drawings that are prepared in CAD or a related computer program can appear quite precise, so it is possible to mistakenly expect such drawings to be sufficient for construction. Schematic Design Drawings typically lack sufficient detail for construction and may not be well conceived in terms of how materials and building components relate to one another. There is a high risk of building performance problems, including but not limited to building envelope leaks, when Schematic Drawings or other preliminary drawings are used as the basis of construction.
  2. Eliminating or drastically limiting the Architect’s role during construction – If the Architect is dismissed from the construction phase of a project, or if the Architect’s services are reduced below the standard of practice in order to save cost or expedite construction, there is a heightened risk that changes and substitutions will be made without the review and scrutiny of the Architect, who would be expected to consider the compatibility of changes and substitutions with the design intent or even with code requirements and is expected to know more than contractors do about these matters. (Similar problems can occur if the Architect’s construction administration services are delegated to inexperienced staff, who may not have sufficient knowledge about the materials and systems they encounter on the construction site.)
  3. Insufficient consideration of climate and weather – Success of building designs and design features in one climate are not good predictors of success in a different climate. This is true for building envelope designs in different geographic locations, and it is true for interior design features, materials, and details that are mistakenly used in exterior applications where they are inadequate for exposure to weather, including precipitation and exterior variations in temperature. It is also true for moisture sensitive interior materials that are subjected to high humidity related to building use (e.g., a swimming pool environment).
  4. Assuming that the selection of an innovative, energy efficient product or system will, on its own, lead to a durable, energy efficient building – Examples include rot failures related to SIP (structural insulated panel) construction where panel joints were not properly sized and sealed and where OSB facing material was exposed to moisture in the belief (espoused by the panel manufacturer) that OSB was a waterproof material that need not be protected from moisture.

Certainly, there can be other predictors of building failure in new construction, and avoiding the predictors above may not lead to a trouble free building every time. Still, the issues above appear to be common enough to warrant their listing as predictors of building failure.

Posted in Construction Administration, Design, Practice Management, Project Administration, Project Management

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