Remember some of your earliest science classes in school? Earth’s water cycle is a complicated process that contains all three forms of water: liquid, solid, and gas. While water in all forms is a constant consideration in construction, it can cause disastrous effects in a building if left unchecked.
In the past, we discussed the top 3 areas most cold storage facilities, and most buildings really, have issues. This time we’re going to go in-depth about one of water’s most damaging processes: condensation. We’ll discuss a few important, and interesting, topics including:
- What is condensation and how does it affect a building?
- What areas are most commonly affected?
- What can you do about condensation in your facility?
What is Condensation and How Does It Affect a Building?
Water moves in many forms through every building. Cold storage buildings and facilities are more vulnerable to water, just due to having areas where cold air inevitably meets warmer air. Every building needs to be designed and constructed for proper water flow: from a wood-framed residential house to the largest pre-engineered metal buildings.
When constructing a building, vapor barriers remain one of the most effective means of controlling the movement of water in its gaseous state. Condensation, however, is the process of water “condensing” from water vapor into liquid water, and a vapor barrier can’t be your only defense.
Water condenses in two ways, both of which can occur in the deep cracks and crevices of your building. First, water vapor is heated water, so when it meets an area of colder temperatures and cools down, the molecules slow their movement and form back into liquid water droplets. This is called the “dew point.”
Second, just like oversaturated ground, the air can be full of enough water molecules that it simply cannot accept anymore. When that happens in a cloud it rains. When it happens in your building it “rains” in places you don’t want it to! Cold storage facilities in particular have many junctures where an area with one temperature meets another. Incorrect, faulty, or insufficient water control will lead to building damage, rot, and bacterial and mold growth.
Most Often Affected Areas of a Building
The Air Infiltration and Ventilation Center lists the 5 sources of moisture in a commercial or industrial building as moisture intrusion, moisture created in the building itself, vapor diffusion, air leaks, and capillarity. “Capillarity” describes the phenomenon you see on some buildings that seem to always be wet around the foundation. Water tension and the natural porosity of construction materials allow water to seep in on the foundations of these buildings, but it doesn’t stop there.
The changing seasons can also create unforeseen condensation issues and roofs are one of the most problematic areas of any building. Snow drifts, torrential rain, heavy winds, and the constant barrage of the sun eventually wear down even the Butler Manufacturing™ MR-24®
— with over 50 years of proven in-place performance.
Also, areas where heat exchange occur are obvious culprits. Doorways, windows, the walls between cold-storage areas and the rest of a building, and the roofs and walls of any climate-controlled building. Even non-climate-controlled buildings can accumulate lots of condensation!
What Can You Do About Condensation in Your Building
● Building Maintenance
● Vapor Barriers
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: your first line of defense is building maintenance. A knowledgeable contractor, like GALBRAITH Pre-Design, can inspect your building for issues — regardless of who built it.
Sometimes, however, proper maintenance is missed or skipped, or an untrained eye failed to see an area of concern. Whatever the cause, condensation begins forming: creating pooling water, draining water, dripping water, and all sorts of other unsightly and destructive water collection problems.
For instance, we discussed how unknown issues can cause damage to your new metal roof. While some of our roofing systems have decades of guaranteed performance, you should still consistently check them to assure that performance. One good inspection can save you thousands in repair costs.
Vapor barriers, as discussed, work to control the movement of water through a building, but they can also become worn or damaged, and then fail. They need to be repaired or replaced by a competent contractor.
Vapor barriers are located inside your roof and walls, so they’re not easily spotted as being problem areas. At GALBRAITH, we use special cameras to pinpoint areas of temperature changes and find where heat and cold loss is happening. A good inspector combines this technique with construction knowledge and reliably locates any issues.
Proper ventilation is another method for controlling water movement in commercial and industrial structures. Keeping water and air moving, hopefully to a designated place rather than within your walls, creates the best possible outcome for your building.
Designing your facility, whether a cold-storage structure or not, should include careful attention to ventilation. Strategically placed, well-operating ventilation systems can’t reverse previous damage, but they can prevent further or future damage.
We often think of insulation as just a way to keep heat or cold air inside, but it does so much more. Energy Star agrees that proper insulation lowers energy costs, and it also keeps ventilation systems, interior structures, and areas of heat exchange from temperature fluctuations that lead to condensation.
Ventilation systems without proper insulation collect condensation, which leads to far more disastrous effects. Water pooling can create bacterial growth, including black mold. Your building’s roof is the most common area of concern for insulation and other issues, but the entire building should be inspected at regular intervals.
As we showed in our article on repairing metal roofs, insulation and water problems that are not properly corrected can result in even bigger issues. As a Butler Builder, GALBRAITH can repair or completely replace your old, leaking roof, and this is the perfect opportunity to add new, efficient, and thick insulation to control your condensation problems from the top down.
What can you do about condensation in your facility?
You don’t have to scrap a facility and build an entirely new one! Water damage can often be repaired, and your condensation issue may not have even caused too much damage yet. Early intervention is your best bet, as it’s only going to get more expensive to fix later on.
For example, GALBRAITH was contacted to repair the water damage on this building.
Using our expertise, we removed and repaired any damaged areas. We then went about reconstructing the client’s facility in a way to avoid future water damage in the same area.
A professional and experienced contractor can assess your home, commercial building, pre-engineered metal building, or whatever other type of facility you may have. Make sure to ask about the contractor’s experience and certifications, but don’t put off necessary maintenance and inspections!