Building sustainable homes that stand the test of time: Quality assurance of the building envelope

September 24, 2020

When someone makes an investment in a new home, they expect the building to last long after they have moved on, especially when it comes to the structure itself. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Details may be overlooked, and one place that this sometimes happens is with the building envelope of the home.

Saskatchewan New Home Warranty Program (SKNHWP) has seen instances where this has occurred in newer, more energy efficient homes. One of the hallmarks of an energy efficient building envelope is air tightness. But if that tight seal isn’t managed properly, problems can form.

“We have seen moisture destroy walls in as little as four years. No one wants to buy a home that will cost a significant amount of money to repair,” said Keith Hanson, president of Sun Ridge Residential.

The importance of controlling moisture

Sun Ridge is a third-party partner on a new quality assurance program SKNHWP is offering builders that focuses specifically on the building envelope.

Buildings have two important elements when it comes to controlling moisture: a waterproof and vapour permeable weather barrier, and an air barrier. Both of these elements need to be airtight. The air barrier keeps moisture in, and the weather barrier keeps moisture out — and both keep moisture out of the walls.

“If you get moisture in the walls, rot may occur,” Hanson said.

In one unfortunate scenario, a condo development didn’t have a proper building envelope application, and not very long after it was built, the walls and decks started to rot. The siding had to be removed and the walls and decks had to be repaired by the building’s condo board, which ultimately translated to a pricey special assessment being passed on to the condo owners.

Not surprisingly, SKNHWP CEO John Kozole says rotting walls are actually less of a problem with older homes because they are less energy efficient, since there is more airflow.

“The tighter, the more energy efficient a home, the greater the attention required to the building envelope,” said Kozole. “There’s a high cost if it’s not done properly”

Taking it to the next level

Kozole says that usually, no one performs a detailed inspection and verification of the building envelope, especially in residential builds, which is why the new building envelope quality assurance program was created.

“The idea is to ensure energy efficient houses are durable and stand the test of time,” said John Kozole, CEO of SKNHWP.

Kozole says SKNHWP has always engaged members by promoting education and offering seminars on best building practices, however, detailed independent validation of building quality through testing and verification on-site has not been a common practice in the industry.

“Once you get to the field, it’s different,” he said. “We might put on a seminar at the office, but who’s in attendance? What we’re trying to do is get comfort that the job is done properly and where best to ensure this has happened, but on the site, with the trades building the home.

It’s a voluntary program, but builders who participate get confirmation they have taken that building “to the next level,” Kozole said.

“The whole residential building process has become more sophisticated and in order to achieve energy efficiency and durability, the incorporation of such programs is essential.”

Greater peace of mind for builders, home buyers

As part of the process the third-party partner, Sun Ridge, employs a thorough inspection process which may include a depressurization test, thermographic imaging and visual assessments which results in the generation of verification documentation. 

The program just started to roll out this summer but has been in development for about a year. Big Block’s Net Zero / Net Zero Ready building at Willowview Heights in the Willowgrove neighbourhood of Saskatoon was one of the first projects in the program, and there is great interest from other builders who want to participate.

Much of this work actually starts at the outset, in the plan and review stage, Kozole said, so by participating in the program, builders and home buyers should have greater peace of mind, in the construction of the new home.  

The Saskatchewan New Home Warranty Program and Sun Ridge Residential are partners on the Willowview Heights project. We're so grateful for all the amazing partners who are helping to make this first-of-its-kind project a success.

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