An Inside Look at Building Enclosure Trends
Article Date: December 6, 2021
BLD sat down with industry veteran, Jeff Peskowitz, to take a closer look at the trends affecting commercial construction as it relates to the building enclosure. Jeff has spent nearly 40 years in sales and marketing for major building materials manufacturers, and has extensive experience in product management for rainscreen and other commercial building envelope products.
QUESTION: What are the latest trends in commercial construction as it relates to the building enclosure?
ANSWER: One of the major trends we’re seeing is an increased use of insulated metal panels (IMPs) because of the stringent building code requirements that demand the use of continuous insulation. IMPs serve as a complete solution for commercial structures by integrating insulation directly into the wall panel. Right now, there is also an emphasis on attachments that decrease thermal bridging, providing an additional boost in energy savings.
Manufacturers are also putting serious thought into fire safety and NFPA 285 requirements. While rigid foam insulation still dominates as the continuous insulation material of choice, we are seeing an increase in mineral wool board because it is a totally non-combustible solution.
QUESTION: What about trending styles, designs, or colors?
ANSWER: Over the past ten years, there has been a big increase in the number of cladding types and styles for exterior panel and rainscreen systems. Manufacturers understand that architects and building owners are seeking a variety of color and texture options. Therefore, many of the leading metal panel manufacturers are offering a range of traditional paint colors as well as finish appearances that mimic woodgrain, slate, stucco, and more.
There has been growth in the IMP segment, but architects and designers are seeking to deliver natural appearances for the buildings they design in other ways as well. Often, this is achieved using high pressure laminate (HPL) products or the many new variations of fiber cement as a rainscreen cladding.
In addition, the industry is experiencing growth in alternative materials such as concrete-based panels, colored laminated glass, and composites – all of which are being used successfully as viable rainscreen cladding panel solutions.
Overall, it is important for manufacturers to provide a variety of finish options so that architects of any building type (museums, hospitals, schools, etc.) have a plethora of design choices to deliver any appearance from traditional to ultramodern.
QUESTION: How is the ongoing push for sustainability impacting how materials for building exteriors are manufactured?
ANSWER: The need for increased energy efficiency – dictated by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – is driving the use of rainscreen systems with attachment systems that minimize thermal bridging. When a commercial building can be constructed to reduce the amount of heat exiting through the structure in the winter, and the amount of heat entering the building in the summer, the owners save big on heating and cooling costs in the long term. Plus, it’s better for the environment. The less energy that an expansive, multi-story building consumes means a decreased effect on our environment. When this logic and building practice is applied to thousands of buildings worldwide, the effects can be profound.
QUESTION: How have code compliance and fire safety considerations increased for manufacturers of exterior building materials, and why is this the case?
ANSWER: Incidents such as tragic fires around the world have changed the way we look at commercial buildings and the products that we use to build them. For example, the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 in West London altered how the industry views, manufactures, and specifies exterior building materials.
Similarly, the ongoing need to fulfill energy code requirements has increased the use of materials with foam insulation. However, these materials were being used in traditional non-combustible construction, which drove manufacturers to realize that their products needed to be tested to the NFPA 285 standards, or officially, the Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components.
There is certainly an emphasis on it in today’s marketplace. It is commonly understood that NFPA 285 approval is required for buildings taller than 40’ when any plastic-based component is used on the exterior envelope.
QUESTION: How important is long-term product performance for architects and builders?
ANSWER: The requirement for long-term performance is critical for architects and builders in the non-residential sector. It is also very important for building owners.
Commercial buildings are expected to last at least 50 years, and in most cases, 100 years. Therefore, the durability and continued performance of a building enclosure material is one of the driving factors in product selection and specification. The systems that manage the energy efficiency and ventilation of a building over time need to be taken into consideration as well. This is especially crucial for buildings such as offices, hospitals, and medical buildings with consistently high occupancies.
QUESTION: What new materials or technologies are driving innovation across the industry?
ANSWER: It is difficult to point to one specific material or technology that is driving innovation. However, it is abundantly clear that manufacturers are spending a great deal of research and development time on fine-tuning materials to offer greater durability, enhance energy efficiency, and expand their available design options to include natural finishes, new colors, and unique textures.
QUESTION: What are some new trends and how may they affect the future of commercial construction?
ANSWER: One of the biggest new trends is panelization and pre-fabrication of entire sections of walls, which has changed how we manufacture and install large-scale commercial building enclosure systems. These approaches have been facilitated by the emergence of building information modeling (BIM) and the growth of project delivery methods such as integrated project delivery and design-build methods.
Architects are always looking at ways to improve the performance of the building envelope, while contractors are seeking to expedite construction timelines without diminishing quality. These trends are helping meet those demands, and they can be attractive to building owners as well.
QUESTION: Has the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the way builders, architects, and manufacturers look at the building enclosure and commercial buildings in general?
ANSWER: The pandemic has changed the types of buildings that are in demand, which has had an influence on the materials used to build them.
With an increase in employees working from home, we have seen a decrease in the construction of traditional office buildings. On the contrary, we are seeing an increase in the need for data centers, medical buildings, and cold storage and warehouse facilities because of the surge in online retailing and digital grocery. Consequently, there will inevitably be an increase in demand for building enclosure materials that meet the requirements – performance and aesthetics – specific to these applications.
As a society, we have been forced to spend much more time inside over the past 20 months, which has opened our eyes to the buildings we inhabit. One of the first considerations to the safety and performance of a building is its exterior, and that will continue to be a priority for manufacturers, architects, and owners moving forward as we shake off the pandemic.
BLD Marketing is a results-based, digitally-focused, full-service strategic marketing firm exclusively serving the commercial and residential building materials category.