Do rain-screen requirements for B.C. buildings make sense?

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      Nathan Edelson and his neighbours saved a ton of money when they retrofitted their Vancouver condo building a few years ago.

      Edelson recalls that he could have shelled out four to six times the $35,000 he spent as his share had they accepted one retrofit plan that seemed to make some sense. But the total estimate was a staggering $5 million.

      “It was a lot of money,” Edelson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      The suggestion was to redo the Fairview condo’s building envelope according to a provision in the B.C. Building Code that requires two layers of protection with an air cavity in between called a rain screen.

      A rain screen is a space rainwater and condensation that penetrate a building’s outer cladding can escape from, instead of seeping through to the inner framing, causing what’s known as the leaky-condo phenomenon.

      The strata received another proposal to keep water away from the building without having to do a rain screen. It had a more affordable price tag of $1.2 million. The residents went with this one, and no one has complained about leaks since the renovation was completed. (According to the engineer consulted by the residents, retrofits such as this one that involve less than 60 percent of a building are exempt from the rain-screen provision.)

      “People are satisfied with the work,” said Edelson, who was the strata’s president at the time the work was done.

      The retrofit plan for the 66-unit building was developed by Uwe Naumann, a former BCIT building-envelope-technology instructor. The German-trained engineer has huge suspicions about the rain-screen requirement for residential buildings west of the Coast Mountains, adopted as part of the 2006 provincial building code.

      “It’s the biggest fraudulent thing going on in British Columbia,” Naumann told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Naumann, a consultant for housing co-ops and strata corporations, claimed that the rain-screen requirement benefits mostly engineering and construction companies, not homeowners. According to him, stopping water penetration is as easy as putting the right flashing or weatherproofing material on windows, doors, vents, and other openings, as was done with Edelson’s building. “That’s the simplest and most effective way to do it,” Naumann said. “And if people do it that way right, I tell them the building is good for as long as a whole building lasts.”

      There’s also no substitute for good, old-fashioned design sense. “I always say the old architects, they knew it was raining in Vancouver,” he said. “The new architects, they don’t seem to think that it’s raining in Vancouver.”

      The Homeowner Protection Office, a branch of B.C. Housing, licenses residential builders and building-envelope renovators. The agency also monitors the home-warranty insurance system provided by the private sector. Under the Homeowner Protection Act, builders and envelope renovators are required to provide a third-party warranty, which covers labour and materials for two years and water penetration for five years.

      “That’s where the trick is,” Naumann said. “With a rain-screened wall, you don’t see that water ingress is taking place already within the five-year period. If on the sixth year you see the water ingress, well, you missed your warranty already.”

      Naumann wonders why—if rain-screening is good—the government mandates only a five-year warranty on envelope integrity. “Why don’t you give them 50 years of warranty that there is no water ingress?” he asked rhetorically.

      According to Naumann, a few “honest” engineers and contractors agree with his views.

      The Burnaby-based Homeowner Protection Office punted the Straight’s request for an interview regarding rain screens to the Victoria-based Office of Housing and Construction Standards. However, the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Natural Gas, which has jurisdiction over housing matters, did not make anyone available for an interview before deadline.

      According to Naumann, it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that rain screens are required for buildings that are undergoing renovations even if they still have sound envelopes and have only a little water penetration around windows. That means a lot more money out of homeowners’ pockets, and, for Naumann, “That’s where the scam is.”




      Feb 21, 2013 at 12:22am

      Any engineer that speaks out against rain screening in BC is shunned and cant get a job.

      rainscreening is a huge scam.

      what the engineers wont tell you is that a lot of rain screened buildings leak. new buildings. expensive buildings.

      its not the rainscreening that protects the buildings, its proper design and installation of products. proper flashing and roof overhang are the most important features.


      Feb 24, 2013 at 1:48pm

      i have been around the industry for over 50 years and have very rarely seen a building with over 10% rot and usually far far less. the idea to take off the other 95% which has probably worked well for over 15 or 20 years is just a rip off not just a tear off. I have seen dozens of buildings who chose an alternative water management system which have performed perfectly for more than 10 years and testing shows a perfectly functioning building. the engineers and architects have been hauled on the carpet by the insurance firms for their original shoddy designs and now will not give them E&O errors and ommisions insurance if they recommend anything except a total tear off. i heard a well qualified person get asked a question by a ctv television you think the engineers are cheating the people?
      the answer was.....if you took your car into a mechanic and he told you the motor was totally shot and had to be totally replaced at a cost of 8,000 dollars and then you heard of someone who was a very honest mechanic, well experienced, with a good guarantee and a long reputation. you go to him and you show him your motor.....he says it is nothing but a good tune up...change a few parts and away you go....cost about 1900 dollars. he shows you other cars he has worked on....he shows you the parts that are failing and gives you a written quote and a guarantee. you get the work done and it turns out that everything he said was true and your car now works great for a cost of 1945.00. then the person asked the ctv interviewer....what would you call the first mechanic? he said that it what i think of the engineers that always recommend the same thing....a total tear off.

      that is my opinion and i have probably more experience in this field than almost any other person in british columbia.


      Mar 1, 2013 at 7:50pm

      Thank you to the Straight for putting Mr. Naumann’s extraordinary arrogance on full display.
      After several decades and millions spend doing piecemeal Condo repairs, homeowners were angry and looking for a realistic solution. Just putting “flashings over windows and doors” ala Naumann may be easy but it hardly solves the problem of systemic decay elsewhere. Ohh, but I forgot, Mr.Naumann is also able to see right through brick and stucco so he can determine the actual state of affairs throughout the building. What nonsense.

      Yes Rain screening is only part of the solution and of course proper detailing everywhere is needed to prevent water ingress. And sorry Ewe, Rain screening doesn’t “hide” water penetration as much as the walls left untouched by your “flashings only” repair method hide current decay.

      I have hundreds of condo photos from North Vancouver, False Creek, Burnaby, Richmond and elsewhere where the stucco or siding was holding up the wall: flashings alone do not make decayed walls heal, and just because a few building do indeed have “less than ten percent damage” compared to most which have much much more, when a tumour is detected do you just apply a band aid to save money or do you, after years of losing your patients, take a more radical approach.

      Complaining that the 2-5-10 Water Penetration Warranty is somehow fraudulent…err “a scam” because it isn’t a fifty year one begs the question: how long do you warrantee your work Mr. Naumann?

      And when the buildings you have repaired start to leak (or indeed have massive decay still hidden because of your technique) who will the owners sue? My guess is (because this is precisely what’s been happening because of “targeted repairs” that failed) they will sue the strata council members, the contractors, and basically anyone who touched the building. Apparently they should all have known better, according to the Lawyers. I wonder what kind of “Legal Cloak” Ewe hides under in these circumstances.

      People want certainty when they purchase their home, something that they certainly didn’t have before the Barrett Commission and the Home Owners Protection Office came into being.

      Shame on Ewe for promoting his brand of hatred against Engineers.

      Martin Dunphy

      Mar 1, 2013 at 10:32pm


      It seems the main difference between yourself--some kind of engineer, presumably?--and Mr. Naumann is his reluctance to hide behind a pseudonym.

      Gorm Damborg., Ocean West Construction Ltd.

      Mar 3, 2013 at 11:49am

      On the contrary Mr.Dunphy: I noticed none of the slanderers above used their full names. I was in fact instrumental in bringing the sloppy Condogate crisis to the public starting in 1989.
      Also, I send, by mail, many pages of evidence for Carlito to read, hoping his Journalistic ingregety would make him revisit this topic. Wes shall see.


      Mar 5, 2013 at 11:06am

      When the strata manager receives a commission for the rain screen project isn't it in his interest to recommend the most expensive option?

      Gorm Damborg

      Mar 5, 2013 at 1:25pm

      I know of no Strata Manager who receives a commission of any kind. They work for the owners, and their role (using their experience with other stratas) is to inform them of the best solution for their building.

      The nefarious undertone in your comment is simply incorrect.

      Al Stehr

      May 9, 2013 at 11:12am

      I have been installing cedar exteriors on homes since 1985 as well as renovating 3 of my own homes, 1 built in 1954 and 2 in 1975. The 1 built in 54 only had 1 problem with rot dew to the fact it had no gutters causing rain from the roof to splash up off the ground and rot the box joist. A small repair when rebuilding a house. House number 2 in Langley had minor rot do to an aluminium glass door leaking at the bottom joints. House number 3, a water front home in Qualicum beach had the same problem even when horizontal rain is common there where no other problems. I was only called back about twice for leaks on my new jobs for glass blocks leaking dew to improper installation. My honest opinion on rain screen for normal houses with the proper thickness of stucco or cedar and hardie siding is that it is not necessary provided they are no more than 3 stories without a roof skirt. Cheap stucco less than 7/8" thick with an acrylic top coat was the problem. Once the stucco cracked and the water penetrated the acrylic top coat acting as plastic would kept the water in. In my professional opinion the rain screen program is a scam that drives the cost of the average home up 3 to 5 thousand dollars as well is the home warranty which is only there to collect free money from builders also driving the cost of a new home up by thousands. A builder only has this to help sell himself as a quality builder. As a carpenter/ siding applicator when I build my next home I will not put a rain screen on, nor would I buy one with one on. As a siding contractor I make more money putting on a rain screen but it's a waste of time and mickey mouse.

      Melli MacMillian

      May 6, 2014 at 9:42pm

      I wouldn't dismiss rain-screening as a viable alternative, but I agree with the article on the whole.
      The real reason we have a leaky condo disaster is daft architects/engineers, building California style homes in a rainforest. Without eaves, it was a disaster waiting to happen. You avoid getting water on the siding, you avoid leaks and rot. Plus, type of siding, such as stucco, is not recommended in our climate...building a home with rain shedding ability is correct design. Lastly, being mindful that water splashes when it hits the ground...a two year old could tell us that.

      Peter K.

      Oct 10, 2014 at 12:04pm

      To advocate and Gorm Damborg: "When the strata manager receives a commission for the rain screen project isn't it in his interest to recommend the most expensive option?"

      So, you don't believe there is room in the process to allow managers to ask for an inflated price, get some kickbacks from the company,... You must be a manager or a construction company's boss who has benefitted or very naive/gullible. Which is it?