What Outer Membrane Failure Means for Sustainable Architecture

What Outer Membrane Failure Means for Sustainable Architecture

With the increase in extreme weather events due to climate change, sustainable architecture is only gaining in importance. After all, to mitigate the impact of climate change, the International Energy Agency has recommended that industries aim for a net zero energy system. For the construction sector, this means working to mitigate 11.4 Gt of CO2 emissions.

To help, architects need to make sure their specifications are sustainable. External membranes, for example, are often the waterproofing method of choice, but they carry many risks, including the tendency to fail frequently, and they are not environmentally friendly. In short, a better alternative is needed.

It’s time to get out of the comfort zone

Courtesy of Kryton
Courtesy of Kryton

External waterproofing membranes are one of the best-known concrete waterproofing methods, which means most architects are very familiar with the inspection and installation process. This familiarity and the fact that architects can see and physically touch these membranes before they are covered can be reassuring.

However, this assurance can lead to a false sense of confidence. This can prevent many from trying better alternatives, even though the membranes are known to tear frequently. It can also lead to less efficient concrete construction, as stakeholders may over-rely on membrane characteristics such as crack-bridging ability to protect the integrity of a concrete structure, instead of taking the time and care required to properly manage the placement, curing and control of concrete. joints.

Waterproofing membranes have a high risk of failure

Courtesy of Kryton
Courtesy of Kryton

As stated previously, the membranes tear easily. If workers are not careful, the backfill can dig a big hole in them. Even something as simple as leaving a void in the concrete can trap air between the concrete and the membrane, forcing air through the membrane once the concrete heats up.

What these two examples have in common is poor handwork: one of the most common problems for waterproofing in general. In fact, about 90% of leaks result from this. These failures themselves are also quite common, making them 80% of complaints in Australian construction and 70% of prosecutions in construction generally.

They are an unsustainable construction option

Courtesy of Kryton
Courtesy of Kryton

Not only do membranes often fail to achieve their expected sealing performance, they also fail to perform sustainably.

On the one hand, they are currently suffering from the continued shortage of materials that has affected both plastics and crude oil. Both are materials that are often used to make membranes.

In the case of plastics, there is a shortage of the petrochemicals that create them. This has led to a significant price increase, including a 70% increase in the price of polyvinyl chloride, which is often used to make membranes. The situation for crude oil has not improved much. While the product itself is good, there is a shortage of tank truck drivers in the United States of America. Currently, 50,000 additional drivers are needed to eliminate this shortage.

All this makes the acquisition of membranes unsustainable and expensive.

The manufacture of membranes is therefore not ideal for a LEED building framework. It almost always involves the use of crude oil, and whether people are drilling it, transporting it, refining it, or doing something else, there is always an environmental cost to consider. Even its extraction can destroy the surrounding land, impacting the well-being of plants, soil and animals.

It’s time to look for a better solution

Courtesy of Kryton
Courtesy of Kryton

To make architecture more sustainable, we need to rethink its design. In the case of concrete waterproofing, Krystol Internal Membrane™ (KIM®) offers an accessible solution to architects.

As a crystalline waterproofing admixture, KIM becomes part of the concrete, making it inherently waterproof, self-sealing and free from the risk of physical tearing. Once inside the concrete, it allows the material to chemically react with water and unhydrated cement particles to form needle-like crystals (which you can see here). These crystals then fill voids, capillary pores and micro cracks in the concrete to prevent water and waterborne contaminants from passing through.

This reaction will work to protect the structure for its entire lifetime, as KIM will remain dormant when there is no water nearby. It also has multiple sustainable benefits, including the fact that KIM is VOC-free and can be delivered in custom-sized pulpable bags.

In short, it takes the carbon problem out of concrete waterproofing, helps eliminate waste, and earns LEED points. In the ongoing fight against climate change, every action counts, and this one is no exception. As concrete continues to be a highly demanded material in architecture, we must look to solutions that can turn it into a more environmentally friendly choice.

Shirlene J. Manley