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U.S. markets seeking air barrier expertise

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While air barriers are a common feature of Canadian construction projects, only an estimated one per cent of commercial buildings in the U.S. are protected by the systems. Canada’s National Building Code (NBC) incorporates air barrier requirements for commercial buildings, while only a few U.S. states have any requirement at all.

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Common build element sought south of border

While air barriers are a common feature of Canadian construction projects, only an estimated one per cent of commercial buildings in the U.S. are protected by the systems. Canada’s National Building Code (NBC) incorporates air barrier requirements for commercial buildings, while only a few U.S. states have any requirement at all.

"What we think of as very basic building science is brand new to these people."

Laverne Dalgleish

Building Professionals Consortium

“Wisconsin, Michigan and Massachusetts have air barrier requirements, but if you take a good look at Massachusetts, their regulations are virtually a photocopy of Canada’s NBC,” says Laverne Dalgleish, principal of the Winnipeg-based Building Professionals Consortium, and executive director of the Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA).

“What we think of as very basic building science is brand new to these people.”

The upshot for Canadian companies with air barrier expertise is that their skills are in demand south of the border.

A Canadian company was chosen to install the air barriers in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. “We worked with Clark Construction to install the air barriers and to complete the complex concrete work,“ says Channing Strom, project manager with G-A Masonry, with offices in Breslau, ON and Crestwood, KY.

“The insulation was initially specified to be a blueskin vapour barrier with rigid insulation on top. We convinced them that the rigid insulation would not stay there against the curves of the building. They had been unsatisfied with the spray-on work of local contractors who probably suffered from lack of experience — but we were able to convince them that we could handle the job.”

Dalgleish says the province with the greatest concentration of air barrier expertise is Manitoba. Winnipeg contractor Durwest Construction leveraged its expertise to create a joint-venture air barrier company in Boston.

“It started a few years ago when a group of Canadians traveled to Boston to help set up the ABAA,” says company president Frank Ernst.

“I met some people in the industry and we set up a company called Soep-Durwest LLC, specializing in spray polyurethane foam, insulation and air barrier systems. Americans absolutely recognize Canada’s expertise in this field, and there’s a huge market potential for both contractors and manufacturers of air barrier materials. Our sales have been doubling every year for the last four years and we’ve worked on some high-profile projects.”

It’s expected that Canadian air barrier standards will become even tougher and more detailed by 2010 when the next NBC is rolled out.

“The NBC tells us that a surface has to be airtight, but we’re still missing requirements for air-tightness around junctions,” says Dominique Derome, past president of the National Building Envelope Council.

“If you take a wall made of concrete or gypsum board, you know that air can’t pass through it. But air does pass through the gap between the gypsum board and the window.

“The next code update will be more descriptive and we will see an increase in the diligence of installations.”

Tougher air barrier regulations will be good news for Canadians who will find themselves possessing even greater expertise to serve the North American market.

Ernst offers his advice for Canadian contractors looking to make their mark in the U.S. – “The approach we took was to proceed in baby steps and to learn the U.S. marketplace because it’s considerably different from Canada in term of regulations, safety considerations, relationships with general contractors, and operating practices. That said, the U.S. is a big marketplace, and full of opportunities.”

by Peter Kenter last update:May 24, 2007

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