WHY AIRTIGHT BUILDINGS?

ARTICLE BY TIM DELHEY EIAN, TE STUDIO
This article was written in response to the common assumption that airtight building
envelopes cause problems for buildings.
From the designer’s desk: Airtightness of the building envelope (that’s the walls, slab,
and ceiling—basically what separates inside from outside) is essential to efficient and
durable buildings.
What caused a lot of problems in the past were envelopes that were not airtight enough!
Here is the reason: The leaking of warm moist air into assemblies during periods where
conditions are conducive to condensation—combined with lack of drying potential of
these assemblies—can cause early building degradation, rot or mold. By making the
envelope very airtight, and field testing the tightness—thus eliminating potentially failure
points—builders and owners can be assured that no worrisome leaking is occurring to
promote this process. In addition, the selection of proper building materials that allow for
drying of any moisture inside of assemblies can further make the building envelope more
robust.
So in short, an airtight building envelope is the way to avoid building envelope
problems.
Regarding vapor transfer: Airtightness does not mean that moisture cannot migrate
through assemblies, or drying to occur. As a matter of fact, the safe approach to building
envelope design is to create airtight but vapor-permeable assemblies. All this means is
that leaking into the assemblies is eliminated (as stated above), and drying potential is
increased. This combination warrants safe assemblies in just about any climate zone.
Whenever building with wood and organic materials this should be the preferred
approach.

But What About The Air I Breathe?
What I describe above is only remotely tied to the air you breathe in your home. It is true
that in a leaky home without mechanical ventilation, the air that you breathe inside
eventually came through imperfections of the building envelope (as well as open doors
and windows of course). I call this random ventilation, as it is not controlled and
continuous to all spaces within the building; in addition, its quality is affected by the
layers is has to pass through on its way in. In short, this works, but the quality and
quantity of the air you breathe is unknown.

© TE Studio, Ltd.

Page 1

5/25/15

WHY AIRTIGHT BUILDINGS?
ARTICLE BY TIM DELHEY EIAN, TE STUDIO
An airtight building will suppress random ventilation. Therefore, a mechanical ventilation
system needs to be installed. The result is controlled and continuous fresh air to all
spaces within the home.

© TE Studio, Ltd.

Page 2

5/25/15