General Contracting

Vapor Barriers


Between 55% and 78% of the human body is water, 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, and the water you’re drinking may actually be melted ice from Earth’s last Ice Age. The food everyone eats is dependent upon the water cycle of our planet, and agriculture uses the largest percentage of available freshwater as well as precipitation. Without evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, human life simply would not be possible. Water affects so much of our lives, and construction is no different. Failing to correctly control moisture in any building can cost you more than money.


As we attempt to domesticate our planet, our construction comes at direct odds with the environment we live in. We can’t escape the water cycle, but we have to find ways to engineer around it, and water is a factor in every single project. Builder Online notes that incorrect moisture control not only causes structural damage to buildings, but secondary issues like mold and accidents create litigation nightmares for building owners. An experienced commercial or industrial contractor knows can safeguard a project from catastrophic failure.


An expert contractor knows which building components, based on the location and climate of your construction site, are right for your project. Design elements like the slope of the roof or the angle of the walls will directly affect how moisture collects and is moved through your structure. One component is present in both the roofs, walls, and possibly floors, of a modern construction project. The unsung hero of construction is a leading force in controlling how moisture is moved through a building: the vapor barrier.


As we discussed last time, vapor barriers are one of the most common areas of fault and energy loss in a building. What is this pivotal and ingenious innovation? And what does it do?



What is a Vapor Barrier?


A thin membrane rests between the layers of a building’s construction. Measured by its permeability and created with a wide variety of materials, a vapor barrier doesn’t control the movement of air but attempts to control and divert the movement of vapor.


Chosen with factors like exterior material in mind, a vapor barrier for a building with brick will differ from a metal building system, for instance, or a steel building with factory-insulated metal panels.  Choosing the correct material is important, and a contractor has to understand which materials to choose for your climate and business.


Vapor barriers are one of the top places we see issues in a commercial or industrial building and an even bigger issue for cold-storage structures.


Why It’s Important


From the top of the roof to under the floor, almost every inch of a modern commercial, industrial, retail, and residential construction project must be thought about in terms of moisture control. In “Moisture Control Guidance For Building Design, Construction and Maintenance”, the Environmental Protection Agency agrees and adds that most of the issues are the direct result of flaws in the original building design or construction and subsequent failures of proper maintenance.


Unchecked moisture issues lead to mold and bacterial growth, and the pooling of water can create rot, mildew, and safety hazards. Water appears in solid form (like ice) as liquid water, and as vapor, and diverting solid and liquid water is more straightforward. Pipes and sloped roofs help deal with the places water can collect, but vapor can pass unseen.


Vapor prefers to move from warm parts of a building to colder areas, whether that is a cold-storage area, the exterior of the building, or an office. Unfortunately for building maintenance managers, cooling of vapor causes condensation: liquid water. The enemy.


This is where a good contractor can choose a tool that will help change the vapor movement in a facility. The knowledge to create the proper airflow, as correct ventilation will help divert unwanted vapor, is gained through knowledge and education. For example, at GALBRAITH, we use thermal imaging to see where vapor, heat, and cold are collecting and traveling. Using this evidence to guide our projects takes the guesswork out of construction.


Installing, inspecting, repairing, and replacing vapor barriers isn’t easy. For decades we’ve perfected our methods for diagnosing issues with vapor barriers and other building maintenance problems. For a consultation of your current location or to design a new commercial or industrial construction project, contact GALBRAITH today.

Cold Storage Vapor Barrier