Proposed Building Envelope Warranty Generates Outsized Interest at CONSTRUCT Live

Demand to learn more about one of CONSTRUCT Live’s presentations was so great that its  organizers felt compelled to organize a second hour-long session just to answer all the questions they received.

The intense interest involved a new idea: A warranty that owners could buy from a construction company to protect the envelopes of their
buildings from problems. The warranty would last 10 years and would cover both installation and product defects.

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"The warranties now in the market don’t solve what we are trying to solve,” Ujjval Vyas, an attorney and principal at the Alberti Group. Said during the Oct. 7 presentation.”You might have one-year warranties that cover a correction period. This is by contract and not really a warranty the way we think of warranties.” And manufacturers’ warranties “are usually about a defective product,” he added. “But it’s rarely, for instance, the aluminum that’s defective. The problems are with installation.”

The problem is complicated by the fact that designers have to control four distinct but interrelated factors in a building envelope: water, air, thermal differences, and vapor diffusion, said Christopher Dixon, a facade specialist at Morrison Hershfield. “If we don’t solve all four, trouble happens,” he said. Of those four, water is the worst: Vyas quoted studies indicating 40% of all building-related problems and 70% of all construction litigation stems from water intrusion.

Cory Robbins, a business development officer at EDA Contractors, cited as an example a project in Philadelphia in which EDA did $2.2 million
worth of work to fix leaks in an apartment building. Consultant fees cost the owner another $800,000, and “That’s not counting the lawsuits from condo owners,” Robbins said. ‘Every owner had to cough up around $40,000 to get the building right.”

To confront this problem, Robbins worked with Vyas and Dixon to draft an integrated installation warranty, provided by the contractor, that would cover the whole building assembly for 10 years. The sample warranty still requires lots of modifications to fit specific needs, they cautioned, but it does set down the essentials. For instance, the sample warranty anticipates cases in which the ownership of the building might change. Such a transfer of ownership isn’t allowed under many manufacturers’ warranties, they said.

One advantage of the warranty, they said, is that is doesn’t use litigation to try and determine who was at fault for a problem such as the use f incompatible materials. The warranty covers the repairs. That gives the construction company that offered the warranty an incentive to make sure everything was installed properly in the first place.

“We’re a safety net,” Robbins said during the during the follow-up Q&A session. “If a leak is found, EDA will bring it back to its proper condition.” This includes either having or hiring people certified by the manufacturer to work on the materials being used, he said.

“We want to incentivize all the people involved so the contractor and designer are encouraged to move to the same goal,” Vyas added. “They want
to anticipate both cost and risk as much as possible so as to please the owner. Only by pleasing the owner can this be a success.”

Where does the architect fit in? Dixon’s answer: “The expectation for the delivery method we are proposing involves working with the owner and
architect to establish prescriptive and performance requirements for the enclosure, and then designing to those requirements as required for EDA to issue the 10-hear enclosure warranty.” For instance, the designer might specify prescriptive stuff, like aluminum plate wall panels, and performance stuff, like a designed wind pressure of 30 psf.

'There’s no need that this be the least cost option,” Vyas said. “We want to optimize the cost situation for the contractor. We don’t want control to be cheap, we want control to be appropriate.”