Face to Face: Michael Luna, Intertek
CWQ speaks with a specialist who explains why there is more to a building's envelope than an attractive facade
Doha and towers are synonymous. So too are Doha and dust and, more frequently, Doha and floods. When you combine these ingredients there is place aplenty for disaster.
Michael Luna, business line leader, Building & Construction and Electrical, Intertek, Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan has been in the construction industry for nearly 20 years. With his field of expertise in the assurance testing and inspection certification business for the building and construction industry, he is well-versed in exactly what is required in ensuring a structure’s integrity.
According to Luna, “in North America, 80% of all the construction claims come from air and moisture-related failures in the building envelope, through air and water leakage”, and he emphasises that protection of the building’s envelope is a complex process, given that windows and metal and glass curtainwalls usually comprise as much as 50% to 100% of the exterior cladding of large buildings.
Materials comprising the façade are therefore decisive elements in the performance of the vertical building envelope and, often an important architectural feature, contributing significantly to the overall cost of the project. As a determining element in the performance of the vertical building envelope, the façade must be air and water tight, prevent condensation from occurring on the interior surfaces and resist wind load and other exterior forces impacting on the building envelope.
He explains Intertek’s focus and what exactly it takes to create a protective building envelope: “We have four main focuses within the company: insure, test, inspect and certify. Initially we insure, mitigate and identify the intrinsic risk for any operations, supply chain or management systems within the built environment, normally to building owners and contractors.
“Next is testing, where we evaluate building products and materials to make sure that they meet and exceed the quality, safety, sustainability and performance-related standards in whatever region they are trying to gain market access.”
The company undertakes inspections where it evaluates the specifications of products, on-site. “We provide value and safety of raw materials from the manufacturing plants and their products; and any assets that are related to the building. We also do inspections to ensure they meet the specifications required.
“Certification is a big part of our business. We certify building materials that are used in markets, to ensure that they meet the safety standards for those regions to which they requiring access. We follow this four-step approach in all of our business lines, but specific to building and construction,” he emphasises.
Luna says that while the government bodies within each country in the Gulf have their own specific standard, they do and can adopt international standards as well. He elaborates: “In the GCC they are adopting international standards with their own twist, depending on the country and its requirements. It is our job as a third-party to understand all those requirements and help contractors or manufacturers enter that market.”
In the past, the standards were traditionally UK or European-type, he maintains and explains “however, as they start to adopt the international building code, which was developed in North America, there is a growing trend towards US-based standards”.
While this leaning is being adopted more and more in the GCC, the regulators are allowing entry of products into their markets from different parts of the world. Luna comments: “They are not trying to ban any type of product because they have a European safety standard certification. They are saying ‘We are adopting the North American-based standards and codes, but, if you can provide similarities in the standards that you have used in the past, then they are allowed to be used in this market.’
“Safety standards are used to gain market access. The codes are built in a way that they are assuming that the products are already allowed to be used in the market, and now it’s about application of these products in the built environment.
“So the codes prescribe that a building has to have a certain amount of say, ‘acoustical ratings’ or the exterior façade has to have a specific type of fire-retardant material.
“These are the primary differences between market access, product testing and certification – and codes that drive the performance of these products in the building,” he says.
Commissioning of an entire building however, is not governed by anyone, but rather by a body Luna points out. “We are experts in the façade or exterior building envelope; we look at all the sides, roof and floor of a structure, determining the degree of dust, air and moisture egress.”
To do this, the companys uses the Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECX) principles, which he explains: “BECX is a method of ensuring that the building's owner meets with all the safety and performance requirements of his building.
“An architect will specify a building to have either a certain amount of LEED or ‘green’ points/applications, or they can specify certain performance characteristics. This is where BECX comes in.
“We take a structure from a pre-designed stage and consult with the owner and architects in their initial thought processes of how they want this building to interact with the environment. Then it moves to the design phase where we can assist with design, or we can help in reviewing the design, where we mark-up drawings and highlight issues, eg between interfaces, materials, structure and design etc.”
During the pre-construction phase Intertek helps the owners develop the pre-tender documents, “what specifications we need to put on the building etc”, Luna explains and continues: “Then we assess all the materials and/or contractors that are applying to win this job, and we go over their documents and ensure that they have the qualifications that are necessary to build the structure according to its specifications.”
The tenders are then analysed to make sure what is the best value for the owner, with the main part taking place during the construction phase, he expands. “While we have used BECX for about a decade in the US, it is still very new to the region, and we have started implementing it here in the last 18 months or so.
“Typically, in the construction phase a mock-up test is necessary or mandated to ensure that the building is going to perform correctly. The contractor will go to an approved lab to get the mock-up tested,” he adds.
This is a crucial phase of the project as between 80% and 90% of cases the mock-up will have some barriers which will have to be re-engineered or re-designed in order to pass the mock-up test.
The mock-ups are built to size, typically two to three storeys high and cost about QAR100,000 to run this task. This cost is included in the design specifications of the tender document, so the contractor normally pays for it. “The specification will outline that proof is required to meet the requirements of the mock-up test, so the contractors know what they are bidding on and have to include these costs as part of their bid,” Luna expands.
Once the mock-up has proven to be successful, the assumption is that the on-site installation will be equally successful. Nevertheless, on site, further small performance tests are conducted according to the specification tests. Luna explains that these additional tests however, do not constitute all of the testing required to assure that the building owner is getting what he wants in his design.
“This is the importance of BECX as we go on to the site and check the installation. Installation by the way, is the most common problem when it comes to this part of the world,” which, he attributes directly to a lack of skills in the region.
“The skills of the labourers that the contractor uses to install are typically expats from the non-Western world and aren’t trained and skilled to perform the installation to the manufacturer’s specifications. So we have lots of problems in the field and inspections are really crucial.”
He continues, “During the inspections, elements may have come from far afield, from China, for example. What we do with our global network of labs and locations is, we take people from our locations in-country (China in this example) and have them sit directly in the manufacturing locations, to ensure that every component that arrives here is to the specification required, so there are no rejections when they are on site. That is the quality assurance piece of the project.
“Then we also have quality control checks on the job site, when the product arrives. The product may have been damaged during the shipment or we may require another piece. This aspect can be undertaken by a third-party such as Intertek. We follow the product all the way through until we commission it with air tests of the whole building, to ensure that the performance of the building is intact, to the owner’s directive.”
While the entire management of the process falls within the consultant’s domain as he/she is working for the owner, it’s a matter of teaming with the design team, the architectural team, the building owner, the main and subcontractors and the on-the-ground quality control people; “it’s full engagement”, he points out.
“We may work in parallel for the owner or the consultant, who may need a third party’s assistance to meet the technical specifications in the absence of an in-house team of experts,” Luna explains, as the process is not mandatory. “There are A-level contractors that have this type of skills set on-board, (about 5% of contractors in the world have this) and are able to do the task without a third party, which is not mandatory. But, it’s been shown that the use of a third party would definitely improve the sustainability of the building which, in the long-term, will reduce the owner’s cost,” he says and adds that he believes it “should be done on every project regardless”.
While 80% of all the construction claims in the US are through air and water leakage also, about 40% of (lost) energy worldwide can be attributed to the building envelope, he maintains. “If you have air-leakage, thermal radiation – heat escaping from glass, this is substantial. So if we can provide energy-efficient buildings this can make a significant impact on the bottom line.”
With so many elements involved in ensuring a building’s integrity, he points out that the biggest challenge is within the design phase. “We have to make design changes based on how much energy is lost through glazing. Glazing is huge in the GCC and to me, this is the weakest link. Maybe designs need to be more robust with the right amount of glazing used? This means reducing traditional glazing. With products improving every year and innovations coming out, including different types of glazing with energy-efficiency increased etc. maybe glazing won’t be an issue within five to 10 years.
“However presently, we do have a lot of issues where the glazing is attached to the structure, sometimes with actual gaps,” he comments.
Educating the public as to the necessity of BECX is another challenge he says and adds, “While there is a lot of excitement when these principles are discussed at conferences, generally the benefits are not understood. However, we have convinced a few main contractors that this is the way to go and they are starting to see the benefits over time.”
The initial cost of having the BECX method done averages out at less than 1% of the total construction cost of the building, amounting to between three and 5% of the design fee. “But the hardest part is convincing the public that this is needed and is necessary, as building owners cannot seem to understand that buildings can be more energy efficient with the help of BECX” Luna concludes.