Facade Systems: The Three Faces Of Warranty And Lifespan
By Jeff Ker, Sr Technical Advisor at EA
(Architect) What is the relationship between warranty and lifespan?
When we are interested in the lifespan of a product, why then is there so often a focus on a warranty period?
(Jeff Ker) Often nothing.
(Architect) Should we focus on warranty and compare warranty periods to help chose a product?
(Jeff Ker) It deserves some attention, but it tells us nothing of product quality nor lifespan.
While most materials and systems come with a variety of warranties, what is seldom spoken of is how to maximize their lifespan. My intention here is not to diminish the value of a warranty, but to outline its function, spell out its boundaries, and to champion the notion of designing for success, while looking at the needs of a material and clearly identifying how it can thrive.
This is the best Value Engineering proposition we can make towards a facade, and the overall investment a client makes towards it.
For some time the construction industry has been looking for solutions to reduce excessive energy usage and waste. Sustainability and building resilience are centre stage these days and terms such as ‘serviceable life spans’ and ‘embodied energy’ are being used more and more often.
The subject of material lifespans is a critical component in these matters, however little discussion is being had on maximizing lifespan. One of the key components of embodied energy is the secondary element referred to as ‘recurring’ – which is the energy it takes to repair, replace, and dispose of a material that did not achieve its expected lifespan.
To truly fulfill our commitments to the environment however the focus must be placed on lifespan.
I have often suggested to clients that the warranty of a given material or system is there to protect the buyer should there be an unintended failure in materials and/or function due to a shortcoming in manufacturing. If there was a flaw in manufacturing, the issue should rear its head in the time outlined within the warranty period, and the manufacturer will be responsible for that in some capacity.
The warranty is seldom a representation of the lifespan of a product, hence a long warranty makes no more guarantee on lifespan than a short one. Some long warranties may be designed to prorate the purchase of replacement material – potentially without labour fees for removal and re-installation that are often the lion’s share of the cost – which isn’t helping towards the recurring energy issue previously mentioned. Warranties have their place, but they are not the be all and end all and certainly don’t speak to the environmental sensitivities in our midst.
Many of the systems I’ve dealt with have 10-year warranties and yet have expected lifespans that vary from 50 to more than 100 years. In addition, specifications often call for labour warranties (installation) of one single year.
Coincidentally the effect of a good installation should provide the promise of multiple years of high function, while conversely the effects of a poor installation may not arise for 15 years and yet shorten the lifespan from 40 to 20 years.
Let’s put the emphasis on the right Sy-llable. Starting with proper care and handling of a material is a great first step. This is often found in a manufacturer’s material documentation. Ensuring these steps are respected is key and yet this can be far more complicated than it sounds.
ONE: Material handling and storage
Materials often have recommendations on storage and processing such as for cutting. Storage requirements are extremely vital as well. Many materials come from abroad and are wrapped and/or bound and sealed for protection during shipping. Acclimatization to the area where they will be installed may be necessary. In today’s construction market where space on site is a premium, this is often a major challenge. Furthermore, construction schedules are reconfigured on a daily to weekly basis. Materials may arrive at a site and require proper, secure, and sheltered extended storage until a given area is ready to receive them because of a schedule change.
This is a sensitive matter as the weather in most parts of Canada can change dramatically throughout the duration of a construction project. Protection for materials may need to be augmented and space is an issue. We need to be mindful of the needs of materials.
Complicating things further, many trades have to order material months in advanced because of production lead times. Schedules can change dramatically during this lengthy period. Will there be space on the site when the material arrives? Will the weather be favourable to un-package and acclimatize the material if there is no shelter? Standard billing practices in the industry require a material to be ‘physically’ on site before a trade will be compensated for it. The trade may also bring it in early, well in advance of the project’s specific requirement, as they need to ensure they have all they need when they are engaged to start their phase, or risk suffering penalties/fines for delaying the project.
At this point, experience suggests that there is not a lot of consideration for the complexities of material storage in the current construction market. From a financial standpoint, most of the cost-infused responsibility falls on the subtrades who often don't have the means to carry it with the changes that traditionally prolong the schedule. In fact there should be allowances built in to ensure this material is cared for in the best manner possible, for the sake of the client’s investment.
All in all, if material is not stored/handled properly there can be serious negative outcomes in material lifespan. And the signs of poor care will not necessarily make themselves apparent until after the ‘Standard Warranty’ has lapsed. So does warranty cover us properly in this case? The answer is no.
TWO: Material installation
Once material is ready to install we have to ensure that all the manufacturer’s installation guidelines are being followed for warranty purposes. We want the warranty to protect us from manufacturing shortcomings and provide peace of mind. This is a primary principle but it can’t stop there.
Ensuring that the guidelines are designed to meet the needs of the specific climate and intended application is crucial and often overlooked. We may need to consider the manufacturers' guidelines and then potentially step outside of them to include more ‘local best practices.’ Seldom does a warranty forbid you from adding beneficial ancillary design and engineering. Looking back to a former article, ‘The Five Common Mistakes Made in the Facade Industry’ (June2020/Construction Canada) we see measures that are seldom included in warranty requirements but undeniably increase the success of a material and/or system.
Examples of this are comprehensive shop drawings and more substantial deflection limits (L/300). These measures are a perfect example of what we are driving at here. They are not included in warranty requirements, so seldom will they be considered in detailing and installation, yet they will most certainly impact the lifespan of the product.
As suggested previously, we want the warranty, but we really want the success of the product and the lifespan that’s expected – or better than expected. How do we get there? What should we know and where should we be looking?
There are many great resources for addressing best practices in facade installation. For example, one well recognized resource is the Engineered Assemblies system2 design guide. This is a comprehensive and holistic guide that covers the broad and finer strokes of detailing and installing lightweight facade systems. Its guidelines relate to a plethora of materials and products throughout the North America façade market.
One of the key issues it addresses is the effects of climate change on facades that are always on the front lines of the weather battlefield. Considering the threat of climate change and the impositions it makes on facades, subjects such as coefficient of expansion and contraction should be taken very seriously.
In Ontario and throughout many parts of Canada we see severe deltas in temperature over the course of 24 hours, whether it be over the freeze thaw line or not. This dynamism mixed with precipitation, often found throughout the Maritimes, is a mighty adversary when not designed for.
In the seven fundamental design principles outlined in the EA/DG2 (Engineered Assemblies design guide), there are elements that certainly determine the success of a facade material, or at the very least thwart unnecessary stress. Another example would be respect for traditional points of deflection in a concrete and steel superstructure, or ensuring the implementation of a high-performance active plenum to moderate thermal variations and stress. No material ever benefits from stress, and whenever stress can be avoided, it should be. This will certainly prolong the lifespan of any material.
THREE: What does warranty tell us about the lifespan of a product?
Let’s look at how many product warranties are designed. Warranties are typically an insurance policy. Here’s an example: A company manufactures a product and based on variables that may include some or all of the following:
•The cost of the product
•The record of success
•The cost of replacement
•The expected success during the suggested warranty period. Some value in the form of compensation is attributed to some components deemed a ‘failure’, as defined by the manufacturer, and offered to the purchaser. Sometimes the warranty is transferable to new owners through sale, sometimes not.
We may also see some initial support by the manufacturer for a warranty that does not reflect the quality of the product whatsoever, simply to earn the product some market recognition and share. Alternately we may also see a warranty that is rather short and seemingly insignificant that doesn’t reflect the product’s remarkable structural integrity, resilience, and general quality.
A warranty is an insurance policy and is meant to behave that way. Like any insurance policy, seldom is it a 100 percent complete and accurate reflection of all the facts surrounding what it represents. The cost of the policy is determined by the insurance company offering it, is based on the risk of failure versus success, and is passed on to the manufacturer (the manufacturer in this case is providing the warranty). The manufacturer divides the cost of the warranty across the products it pertains to ($/sf for eg) and the resulting figure is added to the selling cost of the product. Done.
So the warranty is based on vectors that are completely separate from the innate quality and lifespan of a material and/or system. It’s a short-term objective and, one could argue, completely at odds with the long-term objective that is our construction project.
Durability in buildings works hand-in-hand with lifespan. TCSA S478-2019 is a perfect example of some of the measures we should be focusing on. It is the second edition of CSA S478, Durability in Buildings and supersedes the first edition, published in 1995 under the title Guideline on Durability in Buildings. The first edition of CSA S478 was issued as a ‘guidance document’ only. This second edition has been developed as a standard that can be referenced in the National Building Code of Canada (NBC).
This is something that has been addressed in recent months through institutes such as Facade Tectonics. The standard lists minimum requirements to assist architects and engineers in developing durable buildings, as well as providing a framework addressing the expected service life of a building or various building elements.
Annexes to the Standard provide general guidance on environmental and other design factors that have an impact on the durability of a building, a building material, and/or a building component. This Standard was prepared by the CSA technical committee on designing for durability, under the jurisdiction of the Construction and Civil Infrastructure Strategic Steering Committee, and was formally approved by the Technical Committee. It was also developed in compliance with Standards Council of Canada requirements for National Standards of Canada and has been published as a National Standard of Canada by CSA Group. This is a fundamentally significant move in steering the market towards success and the subject of lifespan.
We have the science, the ability, and a multitude of specific regional best practices to employ towards bettering the lifespan of our facades and complete buildings in general. Selecting products to accomplish this can be a comprehensive task and, will likely involve a holistic approach, encompassing material handling, detailing, storage, and installation.
Warranty is an important component for the aforementioned reasons, but lifespan is not determined by the design or provisions of a warranty. Uniting the experience and skill of the house of design and the field of construction, along with quality materials and a success driven design/installation mindset, will certainly yield the best outcome of performance and lifespan we can hope to gain.
To view the full article in Award Magazine, click here: