Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Architectural Sheet Metal Contractors Forum: Good Communication is Key

2018011_01195_Arch_Daniel GibbonsThe Architectural Sheet Metal Forum focused on effective communication between all parties as an “important aspect of every successful project.” Daniel Gibbons, principal with the national engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz and Heger, covered the benefits of proper communication from building envelope design through installation during his session, “The Importance of Communication in Building Envelope Design and Construction.”

“From a roofing and waterproofing standpoint, the process for design and construction is a multidisciplinary one that requires input from a wide variety of professionals collaborating together to achieve a watertight assembly,” he noted. “Each part of the design and construction process can play an important role in achieving a successful waterproofing assembly.”

2018011_01188_Arch Forum AudienceTo effectively convey the roles and interaction of the design community and construction companies involved, Gibbons utilized contrasting case studies of roofing projects with both good and poor communication. The benefits of good communication he said included saving time and money by doing a project right the first time.

Communications can at times be challenging because “different disciplines are involved, and some aren’t part of a traditional architect-consultant-design-bid-build team,” he said. That can include the sheet metal trades.

“As a result, you have to breach the disconnect to take project requirements into account, so contractors understand that when they interrupt the building project that communication among all parties must continue.”

A leader in Simpson Gumpertz and Heger’s roofing and waterproofing practice group, Gibbons spoke from experience with investigating and designing commercial, institutional, and residential buildings for waterproofing issues. He has consulted with architects, contractors, and building owners to analyze and repair water intrusion problems and construction defects.

Each part of the design and construction process can play an important role in achieving a successful building enclosure project, Gibbons said.

To develop a pre-design plan that ensures proper communication, Gibbons suggested that “for any specific detail, you have to look at the manufacturer’s and contractor’s requirements for installing, how those details, such as roofing installation, are used, and, most importantly, how it is maintained.”

Today’s electronic communications tools can make it easier to provide and disseminate information, Gibbons said. “But to make the best project possible, you still need people who know how to look beyond their own screens and beyond their “turf” — someone who understands everything involved.”

Gibbons stressed the importance of installing rooftop air handling units (AHUs) according to manufacturer requirements to avoid poor drainage, leaky roofs, and leaks into floors below.

He cited a case study where water testing of a building’s AHU showed sixth-floor leakage. “There were a number of clues we found with the AHU, with the sections where units come together. They were monster units, 40 to 50 feet long, and came together in sections. These were not factory-installed and yet they had to perform for a long time in a water-tight manner.”

To solve the problem, the owner chose to lower the roof assembly itself and put in a counter-flashing to create a watertight seal. “In hindsight, there should have been better communication between the roofing contractor and the manufacturer to properly install the air handling unit,” Gibbons said.

Part of the success of a building envelope project means sometimes the contractor has to go beyond the scope of the project rather than saying, “Sorry, my scope ends here.” “You need to look at the overall installation to fully understand the leakage involved,” Gibbons explained. “You also need to look at the roofing and how that interacts with the roofing assembly.”

Often the problem is a lack of coordination from the contractor, who should have communicated the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Of course, he reflected, not every issue can be blamed on poor communication: “Nails can damage a roof membrane and even something as simple as pebbles can also do some damage as well,” Gibbons said.

The essential perspective, Gibbons said, is that “our requirements are not just one element. It is important to have the mindset that we are all working for the building owner. We have to make sure all aspects of the project are understood and incorporated.”

Takeaways from the Architectural Forum

  • Contractors need to be aware of potential rooftop water intrusion issues, especially with flat roofs, which present a variety of potential issues that must be identified.

  • The design and construction process is multidisciplinary and requires input from a wide variety of professionals, collaborating together to achieve a watertight assembly.

  • Contractors should work closely with the architect and design firm early on to learn how the project is planned and to be aware of any potential execution or installation issues.

  • Early intervention through an organized design plan allows for communication with HVAC system equipment manufacturers to identify installation issues ahead of time.