Architects as Educators of Air and Moisture Control Issues

Air and Moisture Control Education

Sometimes the additional knowledge an architect brings to a project can serve the project in completely unanticipated ways.

Air and moisture control is a critical component of building design. It is important for the health and comfort of the inhabitants, as well as for structural durability.

Architects understand what air and moisture barriers do and how they have an affect on a building’s integrity. Most potential consumers also have some sense of their significance even if they don’t know the specifics of their function.

Sometimes projects don’t go as planned. When this occurs, architects may need to step up educators in order to salvage those projects.

An example from a small Midwestern town, Algonquin, Illinois, illustrates how architectural expertise shared with a community might have eased the minds of a potential buyers when an air and moisture barrier was severely compromised.

In 2006, construction began on a beautiful condominium along a river in a town center. Residents in the area initially watched with excitement as the project developed, and many surely viewed unit designs online. The units were spacious and beautiful, with views of the quaint town center and the river.

Shortly after the construction team applied the air and moisture barrier, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit. Area residents watched for months and then years, as the building stood there, clad only in its barrier. The wind blew, it rained, it snowed, it froze, and the unfinished building, with its moisture barrier still exposed, alternately froze in the winter and roasted in the hot summer sun, soaking up UV rays.

After a lot of legal wrangling, another company took over the project and construction began again.

When the exterior was finally completed, the building was beautiful, with residences on the top three floors and space for shops and restaurants below. The building ultimately passed inspection, but the units sat unsold.

Loss of Interest or Realization of Risk?

Ten years after the beginning of the project, newspaper reports indicate that the second builder petitioned the city to change the interior to rental units, stating that the condo market was dead and the bank wouldn’t fund such a project. When the city finally approved that request, builders tore apart the interior and rebuilt it with smaller units.

One has to wonder, though, if potential buyers didn’t simply lose interest. A condo is a substantial investment. A rental unit may carry a high monthly price tag, but that’s not the same as a long-term investment like a mortgage.

After watching a building sit for years with nothing to protect it but its weather barrier, prospective buyers may have been afraid about potential damages could surface any time. This large investment, perhaps the largest of their lives, was now too risky to pursue.



City planners put a positive face on it, indicating that luxury living spaces were always their plan. Perhaps the condo market is indeed dead . . . but perhaps people were just not willing to invest in a questionable structure.

Educating the Community

Completely changing the nature of the project could have been avoided. An educational campaign in the community could have turned things in a different direction.

Such a campaign would have been a two-step process, first educating investors and project sponsors and management, then educating the public, the potential purchasers.

Project management, guided by the expertise of their architects, could then have provided evidence to the public that they addressed these issues and had:

  • Replaced the air and moisture barrier.
  • Closed any thermal bridges that developed
  • Dried any interior components that contained moisture, including walls, floors, ceilings and roof.
  • Replaced any damaged components.
  • Examined and replaced any equipment with parts affected by excessive moisture, including the ventilation system.
  • Tested and certified all building systems and equipment as well as the internal air and moisture status. Additionally, a whole building blower door test would have proved valuable.

While it is beyond the scope and concern of an architect, legal assurances can go a long way toward restoring public trust, possibly a replacement guarantee related to issues that emerge if caused by the long exposure.

A building that suffers damage so publicly requires a transparent and well-publicized process of repair to re-engage community interest, trust and support. An architect’s expertise might have salvaged this project by easing the community’s concerns that were not diminished by a new contractor.