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3 Must Know Materials for Your Multifamily Building Envelope

The envelope or exterior construction of all buildings directly impacts the energy performance and related energy costs. Therefore, conducting an analysis of a new or existing building envelope is one of the first and best steps a design team can take to understand how to achieve an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building. This is especially important in the renovation of existing buildings, particularly if the building is being converted from some other use (i.e. warehouse, school, etc.) into multifamily housing that has become very popular in many areas.

This analysis can be done in-house by architectural firms using available computer modeling software or by working with manufacturers who have customized software to analyze the options of different systems in a given building envelope system. Either way, a baseline building can be modeled, while the relative changes can be compared using specific envelope designs, types, and options.

Let’s dive into a few of the many options for your next project.

Stone Veneer

A fast-growing type of exterior wall treatment that has been specified on multifamily housing in recent years involves the use of masonry veneers. We have already discussed how they can be used as part of a wall system, but the details of the veneer itself warrant some further discussion.

Masonry veneers are comprised of thin pieces of stone or brick but give the appearance of solid masonry without the weight or cost. Stone veneers provide a natural surface exposed to the weather that allows the finished building to emulate the great aesthetics of solid stone or brick but in fact they are non-structural. This means they install much quicker than natural stone or brick due to their simplified installation process with much less weight and potentially less cutting.

The options on the market for veneer masonry are broad and varied. Available choices range from a standard smooth or split face unit to veneers that look just like natural stone in varying sizes. The range of colors of the finished units is equally extensive and includes stone earth tone colors of grays and browns, a range of brick reds and oranges, and even white cast stone products. It is worth noting that these products have advanced considerably since they were first introduced several decades ago such that many have integral color worked into their makeup so the product color is consistent throughout each unit. The shapes and sizes are also varied to allow for details to be more authentically addressed.

Single-Wythe Masonry

For larger building projects where full-size masonry is needed or desired, but budget constraints are tight, there is an alternative worth considering. Single-wythe masonry is made from concrete masonry but in an innovative sizing arrangement. The most popular choice for the best structural performance is for a 16-inch width and a 4-inch height. The width can vary from 4 to 8 to 12 inches depending on the overall look and economy desired. The broader depth thus eliminates the need for a separate CMU wall backup and gives it the name of single-wythe masonry.

The one-step installation is a time- and cost-saving benefit that also eliminates the need for anchors to a framed wall assembly. It can be combined with insulated wall systems to provide increased energy efficiency, moisture management, and acoustical comfort or used with other standard construction systems.

Although single-wythe masonry is a concrete masonry unit, it is available in a range of colors that are formulated to match a variety of common and popular clay brick colors. These include reds, oranges, and even some yellows that are common for different design schemes. This type of masonry is very common in retail buildings due to the brick appearance coupled with the savings and durability of CMU. This also makes it very appropriate for mixed-use buildings that incorporate retail spaces with residential units. In some cases, it may also be appropriate for an entire multifamily building.

Hybrid Storefront and Curtain Wall Systems

In some settings, curtain wall systems are preferred for low- to mid-rise multifamily residential buildings. In some cases, the design does not call for the high performance of a curtain wall system and a storefront system may be appropriate.

A new ribbon wall style of system has become available that combines the best of storefront simplicity and the performance of a curtain wall into a single hybrid wall system. This design flexibility provides the option to utilize one system in multiple areas throughout a building, depending on the design needs of the project. Essentially, it is a pre-glazed product that combines exterior cladding, glass, and an integrated support system.

This type of a hybrid between a storefront and curtain wall system can be used in many storefront applications, as well as in many smaller curtain wall applications because of the ability to be glazed similar to a full curtain wall system. With options available in sunshade mullions and slab edge covers, plus vent and entrance integration similar to that of a curtain wall, the whole system is customizable to meet specific project needs. The factory or in-shop pre-glazed option also provides a quality, economical solution for architects and glaziers, allowing them to save on labor costs and time associated with on-site glazing. Like many glazed wall solutions, both snap-together screw spline and shear-block fabrication methods are available.

Know Your Design Options

In the end, each project presents unique challenges. When it comes to the envelope of a building, the challenge is not determining whether or not it’s possible to meet the design specifications. The real challenge is being aware of the multitude of options and determining which one is the best fit for your project. Download the guide on advances in multifamily building materials.

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