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  4. What do building walls and your skin have in common? Trapped water can cause damage
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  • What do building walls and your skin have in common? Trapped water can cause damage

    By Sue Casement, 3M Storyteller and Monica Hanson, 3M Videographer

    Air and vapor barrier applied on the exterior of a building

    • Your skin and the walls of your home need to breathe.

      Building walls and skin wounds both need protection from water droplets, but they still need to let moisture out in the form of vapor. The same technology that allows bandages to breathe while protecting skin is used to protect buildings while letting moisture-laden air out.

      When Martin Widenbrant, a 3M product developer, saw a customer need for a new air and vapor barrier for commercial buildings, he knew he had an array of technologies to explore within 3M. Builders liked the efficiency of pre-coated wall wraps, but it would be a challenge to create barriers with an adhesive coating that would breathe. 3M scientists had already developed a bandage that fostered healing by letting moisture vapor out while protecting skin so Martin looked at their solutions.

      “To start, the team looked at the capabilities within 3M,” he says. “We found pretty quickly that medical products, like 3M™ Tegaderm™, have pattern-coated adhesives that lets water vapor pass through it. We took that idea and modified it.”

    • 3M pattern-coated adhesives on the back of an air-permeable barrier
      3M pattern-coated adhesives on the back of an air-permeable barrier

      Why do we use air and vapor barriers?

      Air barriers help control the flow of air between indoors and outdoors. Air naturally flows from warm to cold areas, so air barriers help control the temperature indoors and lessen the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your space. They also help maintain the air quality and health for the people inside.

      According to Martin, air barriers can make a big difference in your energy bill. “By using an air barrier, if you are in a climate where you heat your home, you can save up to 40 percent of your energy usage,” he says. “If you are in a cooling climate, you can save up to 25 percent of your air conditioning bill.” Thirty five percent of all energy used in the world is used to heat or cool buildings. As a result, many governments around the world are looking at how to cut energy usage, and in many cases, builders need to meet new energy regulations when they build a structure.

      Vapor barriers are used to prevent condensation from forming between your interior wall and exterior wall, which can eventually lead to problems, including mold. They are typically used on the inside walls of buildings in colder climates and on the exterior of walls in warmer climates. The vapor barrier’s job is to prevent warm, humid air from leaving droplets of water on cooler surfaces.

    • Francis and Martin of 3M demonstrate how to apply air and vapor barriers
      Francis and Martin of 3M demonstrate how to apply air and vapor barriers

      The evolution of the building envelope

      3M introduced flashing tape in 2008 for builders to use around windows and doors to prevent water from entering the wall, and it quickly became a favorite.

      According to Francis Tate, a 3M technical service engineer, the adhesive was what first attracted customers to the 3M product line. It meant a primer wasn’t needed, which makes application easier, plus it reduces the risk of having a spill on a finished wall section.

      3M experts gathered additional input from customers to find out their pain points and how they could best meet their needs. One of the most important features – being able to use the air and vapor barriers in all kinds of weather. “You can apply 3M solutions to surface temperatures up to 150 degrees or down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Francis. “In the Midwest and Canada, construction doesn’t stop just because it gets cold.”

      And that’s something Mike Spence, Vice President of Building Science at Kraus-Anderson Construction, says is important to their business. Kraus-Anderson constructs institutional buildings for education, government and health care, and they can’t slow down because of the weather. “Water-based primers or water-based adhesives have to be above freezing to properly work,” he says. “Life doesn’t stop because the weather does. School needs to open in late August or early September, so we drive on program needs – we build throughout the year.”

    • “Construction doesn’t stop just because it gets cold.” – Francis Tate, 3M Technical Service Engineer

      Mike also likes that 3M’s air barriers withstand longer UV exposure compared to competitive products, so the building schedule is not dictated by the air barrier’s need to be covered up. This flexibility makes schedule changes and interruptions more manageable. Kraus-Anderson also likes the lighter weight which means it’s easier to lift onto the scaffolding.

      “When we first looked at the 3M products, they were much lighter than comparable products,” says Mike. “They didn’t have an asphaltic base, which we didn’t understand, but it actually improves the ability to go onto the wall and to apply fasteners later. The idea that thicker is better is not based on science, just preconceived ideas.”

      While some installers and architects initially are put off by the lightness, they quickly see the benefit in its ease of use. It’s also translucent, so installers can see where the studs are when you nail through the barriers, and the material seals around the nails.

      Research and a holistic approach to new building materials are important to construction companies like Kraus-Anderson. While many builders like tried and true products, they also are looking for new technology that helps them do their job.

      “More subcontractors are preferring the 3M product over other traditional approaches,” says Mike. “As we look at building products today, it’s about how the products integrate into the whole. Those companies that have the breadth and multidisciplinary approach for research are going to be in a far better position to do the necessary science.”

    An air barrier being applied to a wall

    Hear from experts about challenges and solutions for builders.

    Learn about a variety of building envelope solutions including air barriers, flashing, sheathing, and sealing tapes, and roofing and thermal protection.