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Why ‘Failure Is Not An Option’ For Healthcare Building Envelopes

Glenn Johnson reviews a curtainwall installation.

One of the greatest threats to a building’s structural integrity is water, which, when it makes its way into places it does not belong, can cause extensive damage that requires costly repairs.

If the building is a medical center, the threat of water damage is even greater. 

Water can form in hospital’s enclosure systems from two sources: exterior precipitation or interior humidification resulting in condensation on cold surfaces. Hospitals are unique due to their specific interior environmental conditions such as elevated humidity levels and pressurization requirements for various spaces. 

“Humidity at certain levels will cause condensation in walls and on windows, which may lead to biological growth such as mold,” said Glenn Johnson, a principal at engineering firm Klein & Hoffman. “That's something that we, unfortunately, find more often than one would realize in healthcare buildings.”

Johnson leads Klein & Hoffman’s building enclosure commissioning team, which has grown exponentially in the past five years. Known as BECx, the team has commissioned and peer-reviewed more than $2.7B worth of projects and managed more than 10M SF of facility space, mostly in the healthcare sector.

Johnson said his team’s goal is to assure new multimillion-dollar buildings’ enclosures will meet the client’s performance expectations. The focus is on various building enclosure components — roofs, walls, windows, foundation walls, etc. — with particular attention to the interfaces between these elements because the majority of water-related issues result from overlooked detailing or workmanship. 

The BECx team works on a variety of commercial building types, all of which are vulnerable to mold if not designed and constructed properly. But, as Johnson said, “With hospitals, failure is not an option. Mold growing in the wall or roof systems are unhealthy for patients and staff, especially for people with compromised immune systems.”

Members of the BECx team spoke with Bisnow about the importance of building enclosure commissioning for healthcare facilities.

“What we try to accomplish is to provide quality assurance,” said Enzo Amirzadeh, who serves as a project manager and enclosure consultant on projects. “We review documents such as the Owner’s Project Requirements and Basis of Design early on as a part of the BECx process. These are very important in defining performance expectations of building enclosure systems.”

Klein & Hoffman has performed BECx services for projects throughout the country, ranging from less than 30K SF to more than 1.3M SF. But they all have something in common.

“All our clients generally want the same thing: a building that performs as intended, without problems and that comes in on budget and on time,” Johnson said. “Most of our clients are the owners of the property and they’re in it for the long term.”

The BECx team can get involved with a building at any stage of its design or construction, but Klein & Hoffman said its early and continued participation in the process will be most effective for the client. Amirzadeh said that the team’s engagement in the review of a building’s design and specifications can save the owner “a potentially tremendous amount of money and energy.” Problems caught later in the process, when the construction is nearly completed, are much more expensive to fix. 

The BECx team members have decades of combined experience in architecture, engineering and other disciplines as well as expertise in code compliance review, project management and other relevant tasks. This allows the BECx team to notice things that other members of the building owner’s team may miss.

“The building owner might request a LEED Silver building,” said Allison McSherry, an architect and associate with Klein & Hoffman. “But the architect, engineer and contractor might have a different interpretation of what that means, so we can help owners develop some of the technical requirements or the actual performance values they're looking to achieve for their buildings with our technical expertise.”

Although the BECx team is in a unique position to notice things that owners, architects and contractors might overlook, its members note that their job is not to peer over the shoulders of stakeholders to find fault.

“We're working for the owner, but our goal is to put the architects and contractors in a position where they can succeed,” associate Brian Mathus said.

Klein & Hoffman’s recent building enclosure projects include a new nine-story, 240-bed hospital for a client in the upper Midwest. The team was involved early in the design and construction phases of the 517K SF building. It was able to suggest modifications to its enclosure systems and interface coordination to improve constructability, performance and durability. It also weighed in on the use of appropriate components — such as roofing, metal panels, curtain wall systems and insulated precast panels — for the $450M facility. 

Klein & Hoffman’s BECx team recommendations can save a building owner money and time, but Amirzadeh, who worked on this project, said that is only one of the benefits of performing enclosure commissioning. He said the BECx team is passionate about the work it performs because the ultimate beneficiaries are the people and local communities served by hospitals.

“I personally like to work on hospitals and other healthcare facilities because the work has a long-term, positive effect on the health of the patients and hospital staff,” he said.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Klein & Hoffman. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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