Buildings sometimes leak, rot and fall apart.
Jon Porter’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen — he’s the head of Kraus-Anderson’s new Building Science Group. He and his staff are tasked with making sure the company is doing its best to construct safe and durable buildings.
“Buildings contain multiple elements that interact and influence each other, such as the building envelope, occupants and their activities, electrical and mechanical systems and the exterior environment,” says Porter. “Building science looks at how the interaction of those elements will impact the overall building’s performance across its entire life cycle.”
The Twin Cities-based general contractor, which also goes by KA, is one of the largest and oldest in the state. Many companies rely on outside consultants and experts to advise on such issues. But with construction techniques and building materials constantly changing, the company decided it was important to have their own in-house team of experts.
“As the marketplace continues to evolve with new industry practices, KA is focused on providing innovative approaches to project delivery and state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise in building science,” said Al Gerhardt, KA’s president and chief operating officer.
Porter said “quality integration” is a top priority and can be a differentiator. The new team includes several experts tasked with various aspects of the building process. Porter is a licensed professional engineer who has worked for more than two decades in the design and construction industry. He formerly served as the KA’s quality manager.
The team also includes vice president Mike Spence, who established KA’s quality initiative. And the company hired Paul Whitenack as manager of building science. He’s a forensic architect, building science and exterior enclosure specialist who’s been in the business nearly three decades.
Porter said Kraus-Anderson and other general contractors often have an in-house quality control team or a program that monitors various aspects of the construction process. The building science team is far more specialized. The goal is to help building owners get a better understanding of how a building is expected to perform throughout its life.
Kraus-Anderson is headquartered in Minneapolis, and has regional offices in Madison, Wis., Bismarck, N.D., and in Duluth, Bemidji and Rochester. Because the company builds for others, the company expects the new group to become an added-value when the company is trying to sell its services.
That means helping building designers and owners make choices that lead to better outcomes for a variety of factors including the initial and long-term cost of owning and operating the building.
There was no single durability or performance issue the company is trying to respond to by creating the group, but there have been some industrywide disasters. One of the worst happened in the 1980s when a wall-cladding system often referred to as external insulating finishing system was being widely used in commercial and residential buildings. Water infiltration was the primary problem, leading to costly repairs and litigation, and considerable debate about whether the problems were caused by materials failures or improper installation.
Porter wants to avoid a repeat of that situation.
“As new building products evolve and are introduced, there’s always this constant challenge of what the long-term performance is going to be, and what do we need to be aware of even before we start construction,” he said.
Porter noted that the state building codes are updated regularly and the energy codes get more restrictive, meaning expectations and techniques are constantly changing.
“And on top of that new materials are being introduced, old materials are being retired,” he said.
Pat Huelman, director of the Cold Climate Housing Program at the University of Minnesota, said that companies are becoming increasingly aware of building science issues and are integrating such disciplines into their corporate structure, especially in Canada.
The key to the success of such teams, he said, is making sure they’re provided with adequate resources and responsibilities to affect the process and the final product.
“This looks like a great move on their part — building performance is indeed quite complex and much of it revolves around execution on the job site,” Huelman said. “It seems to me having a group explicitly focused on the performance of the building over its life span is a move in the right direction.”