Every building project is unique because the work is determined by the specifications, requirements, budget, and time. However, the goal is always the same - to construct a building that is aesthetically pleasing, leak-free, weather-proof, on-time and within budget.


What are the stages of construction?

Before we explore the different sides of a building envelope, we first need to have a high-level understanding of the stages of construction (from concept to completion) so that we know what is done during each stage. building stages - concept to completion

As you can see, the first part of the construction is the earth work. This usually involves excavation of the soil or unformed rocks to create a new shape for the foundation of the building. 

Following this, the next stage of construction is the substructure. The main purpose of the substructure is to transfer the load of the superstructure to the supporting soil. At this stage, construction will typically involve foundations, basements, retaining walls, plinth, abutments, or any other element that is built below ground level.  

Once the substructure is complete, only then can work on the superstructure begin. The superstructure refers to any part of the building that is above ground level. Some common aspects include the walls, beams, columns, windows and doors (entrances or openings), curtain walls, roofs, stairs and lifts.

The final stage of construction will be to add the finishing touches – painting, fixtures installation, carpentry, electrical, lighting, plumbing, landscaping, or anything not integral to the structure of the building. Once this is done, the construction process is deemed complete, and the building is ready to be furnished.

The Building Envelope

Think of the building envelope as a cube – the bottom, the top, and all four surrounding sides inside and out. No matter the type of structure you are building - be it residential, commercial, or manufacturing - these are the common areas that make up the building envelope and form the basis of the structure and skeleton of the design.

building-envelope

As mentioned above, the six sides of a building envelope can be categorised under the two construction stages - substructure and superstructure. Let’s take a deeper look at the factors to consider when building for each part:

Click to enlarge the image.

Substructure

1.    Foundation

The foundation is the single most important part of the building structure because it literally keeps the building from collapsing under its own weight. A good foundation must remain in position without sliding, bending, overturning, or failing in any other way. 

Concrete and Waterproofing

The word ‘foundation’ is synonymous with the word ‘concrete’ because it has become the standard by which most buildings are constructed. It is safe to say that water is one of the main sources of concern when it comes to protecting your concrete foundation. 

The biggest issue is that underground water brings in chemicals that are harmful to concrete. The two most harmful chemicals are sulphate and chloride. A sulphate attack changes the composition of concrete, decreasing its compaction level and making it prone to cracking, and may ultimately lead to the disintegration of the concrete. While sulphate attacks the concrete, chloride attacks the steel reinforcements within the concrete. In the presence of oxygen and water, chloride attack corrodes the steel (pitting corrosion) and drastically reduces the strength and durability of concrete. Coastal and offshore structures experience extreme chloride attacks.   

Since moisture from the ground can cause concrete to lose its strength and toughness, the best way to prevent this water migration is to install a form of barrier between the ground and the concrete. The most common method is via positive-side waterproofing, where an impervious barrier is installed between the source of water and the concrete. This barrier can come in the form of waterproofing membranes (sheet-applied) or coatings (liquid-applied). 

Read more: Sheet vs. Fluid Applied Waterproofing

2.    Basement

Depending on the location of your structure (is it near a train station?) and its basement usage (is it for a car park?), there are numerous factors to consider. However, the following are the core components involved in basement construction. 

Ensuring Your Basement Is Watertight

Similar to the points mentioned for the foundation, the basement also requires proper waterproofing to reduce the risks of damaging the structural integrity of the building. In essence, there are three ways to have water tightness in your basement:

  1. Negative Side Waterproofing: Negative side waterproofing is the term used for waterproofing that is applied on the inside surface of a basement wall. Applying waterproofing on the interior surface of a basement is not optimum and should only be done when there is no other alternative. The reason for this is that the hydrostatic pressure comes through the basement wall from the exterior and imposes a delaminating force at the wall/waterproofing interface. This can lead to premature failure.
  2. Positive Side Waterproofing: This is waterproofing that is applied to the exterior surface of a basement wall. Since the exterior surface is the direction from which water will enter the wall, this is referred to as the positive side. Applying waterproofing membranes and sheets on the exterior surface is the preferred method. But in general, positive side waterproofing can only be practically applied during the construction phase of a project.
  3. Drainage – Lastly, proper drainage of water away from basement walls is needed to keep it dry and reduce hydrostatic pressure. Installing drainage boards can serve as both a protection course and replacement for traditional pipe and stone drainage systems.


Considerations For Basement Car Parks 

Depending on the basement use, concrete and flooring requirements will vary.  

For example, in a car park basement, the concrete must contain properties that enables it to withstand vibrations and compaction due to constant traffic. One way to do this is by adding synthetic fibres to the concrete admixture to enhance its flexural toughness and mitigate plastic shrinkage cracking. Remember, unsuitable or poorly installed concrete will lead to cracks and ultimately compromise the foundation.

Read more: Top 5 Fibre-Reinforced Concrete FAQs

Using the same car park example, the surface of the flooring is equally important in protecting the concrete. Suitable traffic coating systems should be used to ensure that the surface is durable enough to endure constant vehicular traffic, while adding an anti-slip texture can simultaneously reduce tire squeal and promote safety for drivers and pedestrians. 

Read more: How to Achieve Perfection in Multi-Storey and Underground Car Park Protection

Superstructure

3.    Structural Elements

In a building’s superstructure, the structural elements refer to the beams, pillars, columns, or anything constructed above ground level that is load bearing. For the majority of buildings, fire is the biggest threat to its stability. Therefore, it is a requirement that all buildings are equipped with fire protection methods, be it active or passive, to safeguard the integrity of the structure, minimise destruction to the property and assets within it, and to protect lives. 

Fire Protection

Active fire protection requires some form of action (trigger motion) to function in the event of a fire. This includes things such as fire/smoke alarm systems, sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers. 

Passive fire protection refers to methods and systems that are already built into the structure and do not need to be triggered. Its main aim is to confine the fire for a prescribed period and within a compartmentalised space to allow for the evacuation of people and the intervention of emergency services.

Read more: What is the role of fire compartmentalisation and how is it done?

While active fire protection works to fight and suppress the flames, passive fire protection works to maintain loadbearing capacity of the structural members for some time in order to protect the building from collapse.  

The three main types of materials used for structural support are steel, concrete, and timber. However, listed below are different methods for passive fire protection for structural steel and timber, since concrete by nature has poor thermal conductivity and is inherently fire resistant. 

  1. Boards – Usually made from rigid mineral-based wood and rock that protect the structural member for up to 180 minutes.
  2. Cementitious Sprays - Made up of cement or gypsum that encase the steel or timber member and has a chemical reaction when it encounters moisture to produce a highly fire-resistant surface.
  3. Intumescent Paints - Applied as a paint (coating) so when it comes into contact with fire it will rapidly swell (intumesce), providing an insulating char much greater in thickness than the original coating. This thermally insulating char barrier reduces the rate of heat transfer and contains the fire in areas of manageable risk. 

Read more: Different Types Of Intumescent Coating And Their Benefits 

4.    Glazing and Façade

A large part of a building’s architectural appeal comes from its façade – how it looks from the outside. Since the building’s exterior is almost always the first thing you see, the elements that encompass it must serve its function and at the same time be aesthetically attractive to give a good and lasting first impression. That said, these elements can be grouped under two categories - glazing and façade. 

Glazing - Understanding The Right Usage

In modern construction, glazing refers to the act of fitting windows with glass for the purpose of providing natural light and/or ventilation, weather protection, thermal and sound insulation. Glazing has come a long way in terms of its functionality and design, with numerous iconic structures employing this concept to elevate and showcase its uniqueness. This in turn has led to the progression of framing materials and glass manufacturing. 

Depending on the requirements, there are usually two main areas to consider when dealing with a glazing project – Sealant Glazing and Weather Sealing. The table below summarises the important aspects of each area:

AreaSealant GlazingWeather Sealing
Usage TypeStructural Glazing Insulated GlassMembranesSealants
PurposeTo seal or support glass to or with the surrounding metal frame.
To provide a lasting and reliable barrier to moisture penetration and for thermal insulation.
To ensure an internal air-tight barrier, especially at the connecting joints. To accommodate varying coefficients of thermal expansion and resilient to climate change.
Application AreasFor 2- and 4-sided structural glazing and curtain wall.
For Insulating Glass (IG) unit manufacturing.
For sealing the perimeter joint between the window and adjacent structure.For curtain walls, facades, perimeter calking and moving joints.
Core Properties- High tensile strength 
- Fast cure
- Resistant to UV, extreme temperatures, and vibrations.
- Good mechanical resistance
- Strong adhesion
- Non-corrosive 
- Odourless

- High strength and tear-resistant
- UV stable
- Excellent moisture vapour barrier

- Good mechanical resistance
- UV stable
- Strong adhesion


Façade 

The façade is the exterior wall of the building that incorporates some architectural design element. Like glazing, the façade of a building also acts as a physical barrier to protect against external weather elements, ultimately extending the longevity of the building. With advancements in new technologies, facades are also able to maximise energy efficiency through the use of cladding. Thus, allowing architects and developers to design new ways to incorporate sustainable form and function. 

From timber and metal, to stone, brick and glass, there are many types of traditional cladding options that cater to a vast amount of aesthetic and functional requirements. 

Advancements in insulated cladding technologies are increasing in popularity due to the demand for more energy efficient properties. Exterior Insulated Finishing Systems (EIFS) are a great example of how modern developments are improving the standard of façade finishing.

EIFS is a complete wall cladding system that effectively protects and insulates a building’s exterior wall. On top of boosting its durability and resistance to the elements, EIFS are designed to reduce energy consumption to meet stringent building and energy codes. The five biggest reasons to incorporate EIFS into the façade are:

  1. Design Versatility – EIFS allow the building façade to mimic the appearance of stucco, brick, granite, stone, limestone, travertine, wood panel, weathered steel, etc. Practically any desired look or texture can be customised to suit the architectural style. 
  2. Continuous Insulation – High-performance EIFS provide continuous insulation which work to eliminate thermal bridging, cavity insulation and air leakage, resulting in long-term energy savings. 
  3. Air and Water-Resistive Barrier (AWRB) – EIFS offers seamless waterproofing protection against air and moisture infiltration that can come in either vapour permeable or impermeable barrier membranes with proper drainage. 
  4. Prefabrication – EIFS prefabricated panels allow you to exercise greater quality control in the factory and minimise the challenges faced on-site (i.e. bad weather, limited space).  
  5. Contributes to ‘Green’ points – EIFS energy conservation properties boost R-value, improve air flow, and reduce moisture retention. All these ultimately contribute to a building’s ‘Green’ accreditation.

5.    Roof

Lastly, roofing tops off (pun intended) the building envelope. While there are several types of roofs, every one of them serves as least two main functions – to provide shelter and protection from the elements, and to provide thermal insulation. Therefore, these key areas of consideration should be addressed in order to ensure a high-performing roof that will last for decades to come. 

Waterproofing and Roofing

Since the roof has the greatest potential to pool rainwater due to its large surface area, waterproofing is undoubtedly the most important step in the roof installation process. Not only does it serve to prevent critical water damage to the building and everything residing within it, but it also protects against growth of mould which can spread to the interior ceilings and walls due to moisture penetration. Let’s explore some popular roof waterproofing systems:

  1. Liquid-applied: The liquid is applied via a roll or brush and cures to form a monolithic, seamless waterproofing membrane that is often UV resistant. Polyurethane coatings are the most common products for this method. 
  2. Torch-applied: The membrane requires a blow torch to heat fuse asphalt material directly onto flat roofs. This method can only be used outdoors and on heat resistant surfaces, such as concrete. 
  3. Cementitious Membranes: The cementitious waterproofing coating is applied as a liquid and cures to form a flexible membrane. It is usually made using a special polymer mixed with a blend of selected cement and well-graded fillers.
  4. Metallic Coatings: Metallic coatings must possess the ability to resist corrosion, rust and UV exposure. The most common are aluminium and zinc which are available in high-solids formulations and can be VOC-compliant.

Sometimes, roofs can be multi-functional. Take for example a rooftop carpark or garden, infinity pool, or even a helipad. There is really no limit to what can be done on the roof, but one thing is certain, the roof must be completely watertight so that it does not compromise the ceiling below it. 

Promoting Thermal and Energy Efficiency

As the highest exposed surface of a building, roofs also serve to maximise energy efficiency by reflecting sunlight instead of absorbing it, thereby lowering the surface temperature of a roof. By installing a highly reflective white topcoat on the roof, it reduces the amount of heat transferred into the building. This method may result in long-term cost savings on a building's cooling systems. Urban-Heat-Island-effect

On a larger scale, roofing materials such as the metallic pigmented coating Alumanation 301, help to reduce the “Urban Heat Island” (UHI) effect. The UHI effect happens when a city’s atmospheric temperature is increased due to buildings and other surfaces absorbing solar heat. Unlike rural areas where grass, trees and other vegetation grow in abundance and have a natural ability to cool the air through evaporation, most cities have a disproportionate amount of natural greenery. While this is not a structural concern per se, using roofs that aid in reducing heat and energy contribute to Green Credentials and adds to a building’s Green points.



Compliance and Third-Party Certification

In construction, regulatory compliance and validation of products and processes are held in high regard because they help builders and end-users see the value of incorporating certain building materials into every stage of the construction and design.  

Complying with building and regulatory codes are essential for construction work in order to protect the people, property and assets. However, if a company has third-party certification for its products, it will increase product value and bolster brand confidence. Furthermore, architects and developers are increasingly specifying for products and processes to have such third-party certification. 


Futureproofing & Sustainability

The term ‘futureproof’ refers to buildings designed with the intention of reducing its reliance on non-renewal resources while promoting integrated infrastructural design solutions that harmonises both the natural and built environments.

Sustainable construction has a two-pronged approach – either by adopting ethical and sustainable practices that conserve resources, or by contributing to the Environmental (greenhouse gas emissions), Economic (lower costs and higher value) or Social (public health) well-being of a community. Often, construction sustainability is synonymous with ‘Green’ accreditation.


Choosing the right Supplier

A building is only as good as the materials that are used make it. So, when it comes to selecting the right building materials supplier for your construction project, it is crucial to assess the following:

Reputation

  • Does the supplier have a good reputation in the marketplace?
  • Does the supplier conduct its own R&D?
  • What are the suppliers’ credentials? (past projects, case studies, etc.) 
  • What are the supplier’s sustainability efforts?

Products

  • Does the supplier carry a wide range of the products (single-source supplier)?
  • Are products certified and tested?
  • Are the products backed by system warranties?
  • Are the products compatible with other products or systems?
  • Are product prices reflective of its quality and performance?
  • Are the products environmentally friendly or sustainable?

Process

  • Does the supplier have local distribution channels?
  • Are there skilled specialists that provide on-and-off site training and technical advice?
  • Does the supplier have a wide network of sales representatives?
  • Does the supplier have efficient supply chain processes supported by responsive and reliable customer service?
  • Does the supplier help to provide solutions when something goes wrong? 

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