Construction Industry Labor Shortages and the Rise of Robots

The In-situ Fabricator is an autonomous construction robot capable of laying bricks into pre-programmed structures. Can robots mitigate the labor shortage crisis in the construction industry?

The In-situ Fabricator is an autonomous construction robot capable of laying bricks into pre-programmed structures. Can robots mitigate the labor shortage crisis in the construction industry?

Automation has long been considered the harbinger of future unemployment, and experts have in fact predicted that the widespread adoption of robotics and other technological advancements — artificially intelligent (AI) software and smart machines — could lead to millions of people losing their jobs. Many tasks in transportation, manufacturing, even insurance, law and taxation are already being taken over by machines.

Increased automation is expected to dramatically disrupt worldwide employment as early as 2020, but in the construction industry, which suffered massive job losses in the Great Recession,  automation could help mitigate the impact of current labor shortages and improve efficiency.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the construction sector lost more than 2.3 million workers (40% of the workforce) between April 2006 and January 2011. The share of builders reporting serious labor shortages skyrocketed from 21% in 2012, to 46% in 2014, 52% in 2015, 56% in 2016 according to Construction Dive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that almost 200,000 construction jobs were unfilled in the United States as of February 2017.

Can an industry plagued by labor shortages get help from automated systems and machines? A number of AI-powered systems that could help alleviate the construction industry’s woes are currently in development. These include a mobile construction fabricator as well as a 3D-printer for buildings, both of which are capable of adapting to their immediate environment. And equipment giant Caterpillar has just invested $2 million in Fastbrick Robotics to develop and sell the Australian company’s robotic bricklaying technology. These construction systems are typically able to finish their tasks more efficiently and quickly than their human counterparts, so construction companies may benefit from certain  automated systems.

Some critics are wary of intelligent automation because they view it as an attempt to shut out and replace human workers. But in an industry that is already suffering from a lack of skilled labor,  intelligent automation is making inroads. In the race between man and machine, the pace is now quickening


Atlanta Ranks Third in Nation for Green Office Buildings

Atlanta ranks #3 in the nation for green office buildings according to a recent study. The Georgia Tech Living Building in Atlanta,  pictured here, will be one of most environmentally friendly buildings in the Southeast.

Atlanta ranks #3 in the nation for green office buildings according to a recent study. The Georgia Tech Living Building in Atlanta, pictured here, will be one of most environmentally friendly buildings in the Southeast.

According to  a new study, Atlanta is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country when it comes to office buildings.

The fourth annual Green Building Adoption Index a study conducted by researchers at the Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE) and Maastricht University in the Netherlands — showed that more than half (55%) of Atlanta’s office space is “green certified,” either through the USGBC LEED program or through Energy Star.

Out of the 30 largest office markets in the United States, Atlanta ranks third on the list of eco-conscious office spaces, following San Francisco (#2) and Chicago (#1). Almost 25 percent of all offices in Atlanta are Energy Star labeled—second only to Manhattan and nearly double the national average.

In 2015, the city of Atlanta adopted the commercial buildings energy efficiency ordinance requiring that commercial buildings spanning at least 25,000 square feet, must annually measure and publish their energy and water use. The goal is to see a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from commercial buildings by the year 2030, according to Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed.

Less than 5 percent of U.S. office buildings in 2005 were certified as “green” or “efficient,” researchers wrote. Since then, the statistic jumped to 38 percent. The CBRE study confirmed that institutional owners of office buildings continue to pursue green building certifications in the 30 largest U.S. markets.

As the trend for green design and renovation continues, clearly, these top 30 cities nationwide are receptive target markets for all those in the sustainable, environmental building and design sectors.


The First Sustainable Tourist City in the World Planned in Mexico

Amaitlan is a new tourist city being planned along the Mexican coast that will be totally sustainable.

Amaitlan is a new tourist city being planned along the Mexican coast that will be totally sustainable.

With its cultural heritage, endless beaches and amazing landscapes, Mexico is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It will soon be home to the world’s first sustainable tourist city.

The new city will be called Amaitlán which means “The Land of Rest” in Nahuatl – a Uto-Aztecan language native to Central Mexico. It is being built near Mazatlan on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Amaitlán will boast a “tropical architecture” with green technologies and renewable energies, extensive recycling, residue management, green recreational areas, clean transportation and an environmentally friendly lifestyle for its residents and visitors. The city’s residential areas, recreational zones, hotels, parks, schools and hospitals will cover close to  5000 acres.  It’s estimated that the project will create over 370,000 jobs.

Architect Jaime Lerner is the master mind behind the master plan. Lerner, who has been recognized by the United Nations as the “greatest urbanist humankind has ever seen”, hopes that this project will prove that a balance between environment, society and quality of life can be achieved, and that these elements are not necessarily contradictory.


Sealant, Waterproofing & Restoration Institute (SWRI) Taking a Lead

SWRI logo

SWRI is an international non-profit trade organization comprised of member companies in the commercial sealant, waterproofing and restoration construction industry. A valuable industry resource, SWRI has taken the lead in providing important technical data and training via its educational programs and publications, thus promoting industry-wide standards of application and products.

The Institute provides a forum for contractors, manufacturers, design professionals and consultants to learn about current trends and new products, as well as to exchange ideas, discuss new methods of application and network with other professionals. The organization has developed technical and safety manuals, as well as training videos, and twice a year they host a technical conference – the next one will be October 1-3, at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center where workshops, seminars and training will be offered. The Winter Technical Meeting with be in San Juan Puerto Rico March 4-7, 2018, at the La Concha Resort.

SRI has also developed validation programs that offer third-party verification of products and services offered in the industry. Additional sealant, waterproofing and restoration information may be gleaned from their trade magazine The Applicator which provides technical updates and news impacting the industry (available in print or digital format).


Building Better Walls PART THREE: Vapor Control & Thermal Control

Nike World Headquarters in Oregon where Sto VaporSeal® was used as an air moisture barrier.

Nike World Headquarters in Oregon where Sto VaporSeal® was used as an air moisture barrier.

The fact that many vapor barriers also retard or eliminate airflow sometimes causes confusion about the functions of the ABS and vapor barriers. The function of a vapor barrier is to control  water/vapor diffusion and reduce the occurrence or intensity of condensation. As such, a vapor barrier has one performance requirement: it must have the specified level of vapor permeance and be installed to cover most of the area of an enclosure.

That being said, vapor control systems are either vapor permeable or impermeable membranes. Determining which type you need primarily depends on climate and wall design.

There are a wide range of products and systems available today that employ formulations suitable for any climate. These will protect buildings from water infiltration in high-rainfall regions, as well as from water vapor drive and unwanted air movement. (Example: STO VaporSeal®) Fluid-applied, vapor-permeable building membranes are especially versatile, and may be used under a variety of mechanically attached claddings, including cement board, wood, vinyl, brick, stone and metal panels.

Providing thermal comfort without overspending on excessive space conditioning costs is also one of the primary requirements of today’s building designs.. Therefore, thermal control is an important aspect in almost all buildings. Understanding heat transfer and the temperature distribution through building materials and assemblies is critical for assessing energy use, thermal comfort, thermal movements, durability, and the potential for moisture problems.

The key components for controlling heat flow in building walls requires insulation layers that aren’t penetrated by thermal bridges, an effective air barrier system, good control of solar radiation and management of interior heat generation.

So, in conclusion of our three-part series, a “clever” wall (we’ll even venture to say a “smart” wall), needs resilient design components that control air, moisture, vapor and thermal conditions. Get the wall right and it can make all the difference in creature comfort, energy efficiency and economics. Whether you’re retro-fitting or building from scratch, wall systems that can provide all four key controls are what you want.


Building Better Walls PART TWO: Air Control

The second part of our series on Building Better Walls focuses on air control and the basic requirements for air barriers systems in walls.

The second part of our series on Building Better Walls focuses on air control and the basic requirements for air barriers systems in walls.

The management of airflow is important for several reasons: It controls moisture damage, reduces energy losses, and ensures occupant comfort and health. Airflow through a building enclosure is driven by wind pressure and the stack effect – movement caused by warmer air rising and colder air falling that create pressure differences. These, in turn, can lead to air leakage, unexpected airflows, and indoor air-quality problems. Mechanical air handling equipment such as fans and furnaces also impact air flow.

A continuous, strong, stiff, durable and impermeable air barrier system is required between the exterior and interior conditioned space to control airflow driven by these natural phenomenon. Wall air barriers provide critical protection in all buildings, regardless of region or climate. Controlling air leakage within the building envelope also enhances a structure’s energy efficiency.

Basic Requirements of Air Barrier Systems for Walls

Typically, several different materials, joints and assemblies are combined to provide an uninterrupted plane of primary airflow control. Regardless of how air control is achieved, the following five requirements should be met to achieve a proper air barrier system (ABS):

  1. Continuity.  Enclosures are 3-D systems! Continuity must be ensured through doors, windows, penetrations, around corners, at floor lines, soffits, etc.
  2. Strength.  The ABS must be designed to transfer the full design wind load (e.g., the one-in-30-year gust) to the structural system. Fastenings can be critical, especially for flexible non-adhered membrane systems.
  3. Durability. The ABS should continue to perform for its service life. Ease of repair and replacement, the imposed stresses and material resistance to movement, fatigue, ambient temperature, etc. should all be considered.
  4. Stiffness. The air barrier must reduce or eliminate deflections to control air movement into the enclosure; it must also be stiff enough that deformations do not change the air permeance (e.g., by stretching holes around fasteners) and/or distribute loads through unanticipated load paths.
  5. Impermeability.  Typical recommended air permeability values are less than about 1.3 x 10-6 m3/m2/Pa. In practice, the ability to achieve continuous insulation is more important to performance; the air permeance of joints, cracks, and penetrations outweighs the air permeance of the solid materials that make up most of the ABS. Hence, a component should have an air leakage rate of less than Q< 0.2 lps/m2 @75 Pa, and the whole building system should leak less than Q< 2.0 lps/m2 @75 Pa.

It is important to note that increased airtightness must be matched by an appropriate ventilation system to dilute pollutants, provide fresh air, and control cold weather humidity levels. Good airflow control through and within the building enclosure will bring many benefits including reduced moisture damage, lower maintenance costs, energy savings, and increased health and comfort.


Building Better Walls PART ONE: Moisture Control

The key components to building better exterior walls systems are: sheathing joint treatments, rough opening protection, transition membranes and an effective air/moisture barrier.

The key components to building better exterior walls systems are: sheathing joint treatments, rough opening protection, transition membranes and an effective air/moisture barrier.

The moisture layer in an enclosure assembly controls the passage of water even after extended exposure to any moisture. The water control layer is the continuous layer (comprised of one of several materials and formed into planes to form a three dimensional boundary) that is designed, installed, or acts to form the wall’s rainwater boundary. In face-sealed, perfect barrier systems, this is the outer-most face of the enclosure. In concealed barrier perfect systems, it is a plane concealed behind the exterior face. In drained systems, the water control layer is the drainage plane behind the drainage gap or drainage layer. In storage reservoir systems, the rain penetration control is typically part of the innermost storage mass layer.

Key components for moisture control in wall systems are: sheathing joint treatments, rough opening protection, transition membranes and an effective air/moisture barrier. Pre-formed drainage mats can also help remove water, as well as promote drainage and drying in vertical wall assemblies beneath stucco, stone, siding and thin brick veneers. (Example Sto DrainScreen)

Fluid-applied, waterproof air barrier membranes in wall construction have proven their worth as excellent protection against moisture intrusion and air leakage, delivering thermal value in the form of significant energy savings in hot and cold climates. (Example: StoTherm® ci XPS) These fluid-applied air/moisture and vapor barriers may be used with all types of above-grade claddings and wall substrates. Trowel-applied air/moisture barrier and adhesives may be used for above- and below-grade walls and for attaching continuous insulation.

Look for wall systems that provide seamless air and moisture control as opposed to building- wrap barriers that are typically penetrated by staples and fasteners for attachment. An entire wall assembly that provides seamless protection will provide reliable control layers for air and moisture intrusion.

Wall coatings can also offer protection against moisture and rain, along with UV degradation, heat, salt, wind and humidity. Coatings with permeance can help resist blisters and mold in a wall cavity, which can be caused by moisture resulting from vapor migration.

In addition to repelling external water and moisture, an advanced coating system can also help resist cracking and prevent corrosion in substrates containing steel. While every building is different and coatings will vary based on cladding types and other variables (such as regional climate), wall coating formulations today are not only weatherproof, but can offer vapor permeability, crack-bridging capability, and mold resistance; some are so high-tech they create a durable surface that both beads water and sheds dirt, thus self-cleaning a wall. (Example: StoColor® Lotusan®)