Huffing and puffing: Air-Barrier Makers Labor to Pass Test

From D+D Online, October 2010

by Joe Maty

The Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) is looking to set the bar high for the performance of air-barrier assemblies offered by companies that have entered this high-growth market....
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Tagged categories: Air barriers; ASTM E 2357; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Performance testing

Comment from Edward Ciechanowski, (10/21/2010, 10:03 AM)

I assume this requirement will be both for residential construction and General building construction

Comment from Laverne Dalgleish, (10/21/2010, 5:23 PM)

The research work on air barriers from the 70's and 80's until today have not separated air barriers for residential and commercial buildings. The limitation placed on the performance requirements is that the loads included in ASTM E 2357 may need to be increased in coastal areas. Therefore you can say that most of the work has been for low rise buildings and not high rise buildings. It is fairly straight forward to calculate the wind loads from the building code, the loads from the stack effect using ASHRAE documents and obtaining expected loads from the engineer designing the mechanical equipment. You would then use these loads and apply them over the life of the building. However no one that I have met wants to run a 25, 50 or 100 year test. Thrown into this equation is that most air barriers can withstand large loads over a short period of time but fail when a small load is applied over a long period of time. You should consider ASTM E 2357 an accelerated weathering test. As such the loads you would apply over a short period of time would try to represent the performance of the material over a long period of time but conducted over a short period of time. How does this relate to residential and commercial buildings? It is currently being proposed that we have "residential air barriers" and "commercial air barriers". The first thing we need to do is have a common definition for residential and commercial. When I talk to people they all say that is not required as everyone knows the definition. The problem I have is that when I compare their definition to the definition the next person I talk to gives me sometimes they are not even in the same ballpark. I think that we need the discussion. There is no question the loads are different from low rise to high rise. Is what we have now applicable to low rise and we need better performing air barriers for high rise? Will the materials and assemblies perform adequately on a 20 or 40 story building in a costal climate? Only good technical discussion will answer this

Comment from Phil Kabza, (10/22/2010, 9:06 AM)

Mr. Dalgleish' excellent comments above underscores the complexity of air barrier and differential pressure issues and their impact on the joint HVAC / building envelope design process. "Residential" and "commercial" are two categories that may need definition. I suggest that "skin-load dominated" and "internal load dominated" may be a more useful distinction. But we may need to add distinctions related to internal pressurization design, a factor that is related to occupancy specific designs. If a building is typically operated under positive pressure or has high makeup air requirements, what is the impact on air infiltration design assumptions? The design variables are numerous and baffling to the researcher trying to model real building behavior. In the meantime, architects and HVAC engineers are trying to design buildings based upon incomplete building science models while we continue to learn about these issues. These complex factors, plus the serious issues of real world field quality control of air barrier / building element interfaces, may be part of the equation behind the failure of 25 percent of LEED certified buildings to meet their design energy performance.

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