What External Membrane Failure Means for Sustainable Architecture

What External Membrane Failure Means for Sustainable Architecture

With the increase of extreme weather events due to climate change, sustainable architecture is only becoming more important. 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, that means working to mitigate 11.4 Gt of CO2 emissions.

To help, architects should ensure their specifications are sustainable. External membranes, for instance, are often a go-to waterproofing method, but they come with many risks, including the tendency to fail frequently, and they are not environmentally friendly. In short, a better alternative is necessary.

It’s Time to Step Out of the Comfort Zone

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Courtesy of Kryton

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

However, that reassurance can lead to a false sense of confidence. It can stop many from trying out better alternatives even though membranes are known to tear frequently. It can also lead to less effective concrete construction as stakeholders may overly rely on membrane features like the crack-bridging ability to protect the integrity of a concrete structure, instead of taking the time and care needed to properly manage concrete placement, curing, and control joints.

Waterproofing Membranes Have a High Risk of Failure

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Courtesy of Kryton

As noted before, membranes tear easily. If workers aren’t careful, backfilling can tear a great big gap into them. Even something as simple as leaving a void in the concrete can trap air between the concrete and membrane, forcing the air to poke through the membrane once the concrete heats up.

What these two examples have in common is poor handiwork: one of the most common issues for waterproofing in general. In fact, around 90% of waterproofing failures result from it. These failures on their own are quite common too, leading to it making up 80% of the complaints in Australian construction and 70% of construction lawsuits in general.

They Are An Unsustainable Construction Option

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Courtesy of Kryton

Membranes not only often fail to meet their expected waterproofing performance, but they also fail at performing sustainably. 

For one, they are currently suffering from the ongoing materials shortage that has affected both plastics and crude oil. Both of which are materials that are often used to manufacture membranes.

In the case of plastics, there is a shortage in 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 fared much better. While the product itself is fine, there is a shortage of tanker truck drivers in the United States of America. Currently, 50,000 more drivers are needed to eliminate that shortage.

All of which makes acquiring membranes unsustainable and costly.

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

It’s Time to Seek a Better Solution 

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Courtesy of Kryton

To make architecture more sustainable, we need to rethink how it’s designed. In the case of concrete waterproofing, Krystol Internal Membrane™ (KIM®) provides an accessible solution for architects.

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

This reaction will work to protect the structure for its entire life, as KIM will remain dormant when there is no water nearby. It also comes with multiple sustainable advantages, including the fact that KIM is VOC-free and can come in custom-size pulpable bags

In short, it removes the carbon concern from concrete waterproofing, helps eliminate waste, and earns LEED points. In the constant battle that is fighting climate change, every action counts, and this is no exception. As concrete continues to be a material in high demand within architecture, we must turn to solutions that can transform it into a more environmentally conscious choice.

Cite: "What External Membrane Failure Means for Sustainable Architecture" 13 Jan 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/974413/what-external-membrane-failure-means-for-sustainable-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884
Courtesy of Kryton

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