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Air Intrusion Impacts in Seam-Fastened, Mechanically Attached Roofing Systems

May 15, 2009

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Editor’s Note: This article presents the
summary of a research study. A peerreviewed
paper on the study was published
at the 15th Canadian Conference on Building
Science and Technology in November 2017.
Air intrusion is termed as “when conditioned
indoor air enters into a building
envelope assembly [such as a roof
(Figure 1)] but cannot escape to the exterior
environment” (Molleti et al., 2009).
In seam-fastened, mechanically attached
roofing systems (MARS), the membrane’s
flexible and elastic nature and its attachment
mechanism cause the membrane to
flutter or balloon under the action of wind
and mechanical pressurization. This volume
change causes negative pressure or bubble
pressure below the membrane, which is
equalized by the air intrusion of the indoor
conditioned air into the assembly.
The Special Interest Group for Dynamic
Evaluation of Roofing Systems (SIGDERS)
field measurement data indicated that the
bubble pressure or the negative pressure
below a fluttering membrane in mechanically
attached roofing systems is around
30 to 35% of the suction pressure on the
membrane. This pressure gradient
is significant enough to
cause air intrusion into the
assembly. This intruded air is
a binary mixture of dry air and
water vapor; thereby, air intrusion
becomes one of the major
driving forces for the movement
of moisture in the form
of water vapor into mechanically
attached roofing systems.
Moisture can also migrate into
the roofing system by means
of water vapor diffusion during
the winter season. All previous
studies focused only on
the diffusion process, which
has often been blamed for condensation
problems that might
have been due to mass air
movement by the air intrusion
process. Controlling air intrusion
is critical to ensuring good
roofing system performance, because if left
unchecked, it can have effects on wind
uplift resistance, moisture accumulation,
Figure 1 – Air intrusion in mechanically attached roofing
Figure 2 – Dynamic Roofing Facility – energy-efficient roof testing apparatus.
and thermal resistance.
As of today, MARS have not been fully
evaluated with regard to their moisture performance,
particularly from the air intrusion
process. The National Research Council of
Canada (NRCC), in collaboration with the
Canadian Roofing Contractors’ Association
(CRCA), the National Roofing Contractors
Association (NRCA), the Roofing Industry
Alliance for Progress, and the Single-Ply
Roofing Institute (SPRI), addressed the
issue of air intrusion and moisture movement
in roof assemblies through a research
and development project designated Air
Movement Impacts on Roof Systems (AIR).
The objectives of this research study are
threefold: to understand moisture movement
in MARS under the influence of air
intrusion; to evaluate air intrusion mitigation
factors; and to establish air intrusion
limits for a code of practice.
This article presents the summary
of this research study. A peer-reviewed
paper on this research study was published
at the 15th Canadian Conference
on Building Science and Technology in
November 2017.
Test Apparatus
The experimental study was conducted
on the new Dynamic Roofing Facility’s
Energy-Efficient Roof Testing Apparatus
as shown in Figure 2. This is an integrated
test apparatus that has the capability to
quantify all the energy-influencing parameters
on roofing assemblies in one apparatus—
namely air leakage, air intrusion,
hygrothermal performance, and thermal
performance. The major components are
the insulated top and bottom chambers,
air system, pressure-measuring apparatus,
airflow-measurement system, temperature
sensors, deflection sensors, humidity sensors,
and data acquisition system.
The insulated top and bottom chambers
have interior length and width dimensions
of 20 ft. (6.10 m) and 8 ft. (2.44 m), respectively.
The outdoor climatic conditions are
simulated by a relative humidity (RH) and
temperature conditioner with RH capability
of 15% to 85% at an accuracy of ±0.5%,
and temperature capability of -4°F to 158°F
(-20°C to 70°C) with an accuracy of ±0.4°F
(±0.2°C). The membrane assembly specimen
to be tested is installed horizontally in the
bottom chamber. The test specimen is supported
on six load cells with a total capacity
of 1323 lb. (600 kg) that are used to quantify
the moisture performance of the roofing
system following the gravimetric approach.
The load cells have an accuracy of ±0.22 lb.
(±100 g). Figure 3 shows the test apparatus
arrangement for this hygrothermal testing.
Test Specimens and Procedure
In this research study, 16 roof assemblies
were tested. The performances of 12
key roof assemblies (Table 1) are discussed
in this article. The assembly layout was
comprised of (Figure 4):
• Steel deck (22 Ga): Mechanically
fastened to the steel joist, spaced
at 6-ft. (1.82-m) centers. The deck
perimeter is air-sealed to the bottom
chamber to ensure that the
air intrusion occurs along the deck
seam overlaps and not along the
• Vapor barrier/air retarder (VB/AR):
Figure 3 – Experimental setup for the hygrothermal testing.
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Dual-function vapor barriers (control
vapor diffusion and air leakage)
used in this study included
asphalt-impregnated building paper
(15-mil thick [0.38-mm]), selfadhesive
sheet (40-mil [1-mm]), and
polyethylene film sheet (single-layer
of 10-mil [0.25-mm]). All vapor barriers
were installed with 6-in. (152-
mm) laps. With appropriate sealing
techniques in the bottom chamber,
the perimeter air intrusion along the
vapor barrier edges was completely
• Polyisocyanurate insulation:
4- by 4-ft. (1.2- by 1.2-m) boards,
mechanically fastened to the steel
deck with four fasteners per board.
The insulation layout maintained a
gap of 1/8 in. (3.1 mm) between the
boards along the length of the table.
Three insulation layouts were tested:
single-layer, 2-in.- (51-mm-) thick;
two-layer staggered insulation layout
with each layer 2 in.- (51-mm-)
thick; and a single layer of 4-in.
(102-mm-) thick polyisocyanurate.
• Roof membrane: Three types of
membrane roofing systems were tested,
including thermoplastic, thermoset,
and modified bituminous (modbit).
Within the thermoplastic, a
45-mil PVC membrane with two sheet
widths—6 ft. (1.8 m) and 10 ft. (3.0
m)—was tested. It was a one-sided
weld (OSW) system. The thermoset
systems were tested with a 45-mil
reinforced EPDM as the waterproofing
membrane with a sheet width of
10 ft. (3.0 m). The membrane attachment
is a typical inseam attachment.
The mod-bit membrane layout comprised
a base sheet and a cap sheet.
All the tested systems, irrespective of
the membrane type, had a fastener
spacing of 12 in. (305 mm).
Test Methodology
The potential condensation and moisture
accumulation in MARS depends on the
air intrusion rate, indoor conditions (temperature
and RH), and outdoor conditions,
including wind and solar loads. Based on
ASHRAE Standard 62-1989 RH requirements,
the indoor air conditions beneath
the roofing system were set at 70°F (21°C)
and 40% RH. The air pressure differences
influencing the air intrusion rate are typically
the wind loads acting on the roofing
Based on SIGDERS field-monitoring
data from seam-fastened mechanically roofing
systems, a suction pressure of 5 psf
Figure 4 – Test specimen construction.
Label System details Label System details
S1 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch iso S7 Thermoplastic (10 ft.) —
2 inch staggered iso
S2 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
4 inch iso S8 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch iso, kraft paper adhesive seam
S3 Thermoplastic (10 ft.) —
2 inch iso S9 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch iso, kraft paper seam tape
S4 Thermoset (10 ft.) —
2 inch iso S10 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch iso, polyethylene seam tape
S5 Modified Bituminous (3 ft.) —
2 inch iso S11 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch iso, self-adhered sheet
S6 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) —
2 inch staggered iso S12 Thermoplastic (6 ft.) Vapor
Diffusion — 2 inch iso
Table 1 – Description of tested specimens.
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(239 Pa) was finalized as the testing pressure
on the roofing system. While this suction
pressure might be higher than the daily
pressures produced on a roofing system, it
was adopted to be in agreement with ASTM
D7586 test protocol that has 5 psf (239 Pa)
as the lowest testing pressure. The gust
duration for this testing pressure is set to
12 seconds.
Selecting experimentally feasible outdoor
temperatures representative of those
experienced by in-service roofs was necessary
in this study.
Relating to the solar
absorptance of the membrane,
the experimental
testing for the summer
conditions was finalized
as 59°F to 118°F (15°C to
48°C) for roof assemblies
with reflective membrane;
and for roof assemblies
with nonreflective membrane,
the test conditions
were set to 59°F to 154°F
(15°C to 68°C). For the
conditions designated as
winter, irrespective of the
membrane color, it was
assumed the average roofing
membrane temperature
at night would be
around 23°F (-5°C) and
that, due to solar heating,
it would rise during the
day to about 41°F (5°C).
Figure 5 shows the simulated
summer and winter
exposure conditions.
The test procedure
involves measuring the
air intrusion of the constructed
roof system following
the ASTM D7586
test protocol, and then
subjecting the roof system
to diurnal winter and
summer exposure conditions
with simultaneous
application of wind pressures.
At the completion
of each cycle, the weight
of the system is measured
to determine the moisture
gain and loss of the roof
Figure 6 – Systems responses after winter and summer cycle exposure conditions.
Figure 5 – Simulated diurnal summer and winter exposure condition.
Air Intrusion Transports Moisture
into MARS
For all the tested systems, the temperature
and RH across different components
of the roof system were measured and
recorded. Figure 6 shows the visual observations
of the systems’ responses at the
end of the 24-hour winter cycle. All of the
systems that had one layer of insulation
and no vapor barrier showed frost formation
along the sides of the membrane, and hand
inspection under the membrane showed
the presence of liquid water. At the end of
the summer cycle, there was shrinkage of
insulation observed in all of these systems.
Figure 7 shows the relation between air
intrusion per gust and moisture accumulation
that was measured from these systems.
The moisture gain presented in the graph
is the moisture accumulated over 24 hours
of the winter cycle. The air intrusion data
indicate that, with the increase in the membrane
sheet width or fastener row spacing,
the rate of air intrusion increases. The modbit
membrane is a two-ply membrane with
a granular cap sheet and base sheet. The
weight of the mod-bit membrane (1.6 psf
[7.81 kg/m2]) is four times heavier than the
single-ply membrane (0.4 psf [1.95 kg/m2]).
Being heavier, the mod-bit system measured
less deflection under wind pressures,
so the air intrusion was 25% to 30% less
than the single-ply membrane assemblies,
which translated into lower moisture gain.
In MARS, during the heating season, the
membrane is the coldest part of the roof,
and if it is below the dew point temperature,
the air intrusion has the potential to cause
condensation on the membrane underside.
In all the systems shown in Figure 7, the
accumulated moisture over 24 hours was
above 0.02 psf (0.08 kg/m2), and this weight
is the combination of the liquid condensate
and the moisture absorbed by the insulation
facer and the insulation. Therefore, in
heating-dominated climatic zones, MARS
should be designed to minimize air intrusion
into the systems.
Air Intrusion Transports More Moisture
than Vapor Diffusion
In the current study, experiments were
also conducted to differentiate the rate of
moisture transport from air intrusion and
vapor diffusion. Two systems with identical
layouts provide the comparison between
these two moisture-driving phenomena.
With simulated diurnal winter conditions
atop the roofing system and constant indoor
conditions of 70°F (21°C) and 40% RH, there
was a vapor pressure differential of 15 to
18 psf (718 to 862 Pa) across the system.
This gradient allowed moisture movement
of 0.55 lb. (250 g) over the 24-hour winter
uptake period. There were no signs of frost
formation or visible moisture under the
membrane or on the insulation.
When a similar system configuration
was subjected to wind conditioning of 5
psf (239 Pa), the bubble pressure or the
differential pressure of 3 psf (144 Pa) across
the system was able to drive 4.08 lb. (1850
g) of moisture over the same 24-hour winter
uptake period. Frost and water were
observed under the membrane and on the
insulation. This sevenfold increase in the
moisture gain clearly indicates that air
intrusion in MARS is a major driving force
of moisture into the system. This combination
of air intrusion and vapor diffusion—as
both mechanisms can operate at the same
time—could be critical to initiate potential
damage to the roofing components.
Air Intrusion Can be Mitigated by
Proper Installation of Vapor Barrier/
Air Retarder
Three commonly used vapor barriers—
namely kraft paper, polyethylene, and
self-adhered sheets—were tested to evaluate
their functionality as air retarders in minimizing
air intrusion into the roof assembly.
All the vapor barriers were constructed with
seam overlaps of 6 in. (152 mm). Figure 8
compares the air intrusion and moisture
performance of these four systems relative
to a system without vapor barriers.
Systems with polyethylene and selfadhered
sheets as vapor barriers completely
mitigated air intrusion, demonstrating
their air retarder functionality. With kraft
paper as a vapor barrier, the seam overlap
bonding techniques influenced the rate of
air intrusion. The seam overlaps bonded
by adhesive measured higher air intrusion
compared to seam tape-bonding mechanisms.
This could be attributed to the lack
of proper bonding of the adhesive seams
of the kraft paper, as the test was started
immediately after construction without
allowing curing of the seam adhesive.
Using seam tape similar to that used in the
polyethylene seams, the kraft paper
decreased almost 97% of the air intrusion
rate. The moisture gain comparison in
these systems indicated that minimizing air
intrusion can significantly reduce the bulk
movement of moisture into the roof system.
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Figure 7 – Air intrusion vs. moisture gain in MARS – effect of sheet width and membrane type.
Figure 8 – Air intrusion and moisture performance of MARS with and without vapor barriers.
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Air Intrusion Can Be Minimized
by Installing Insulation
in a Staggered Layout
A staggered two-layer insulation layout
offsets the insulation joints and is a recommended
approach for minimizing thermal
bridging. In the current study, the staggered
layout was evaluated for air intrusion performance
relative to the one-layer insulation
layout, and Figure 9 shows their relative air
intrusion and moisture performance. The
staggered layout minimized air intrusion
by almost 60% compared to the one-layer
insulation layout, irrespective of the sheet
width. Offsetting the insulation joints simulates
channel flow paths, extending the
length of the flow path for the air intrusion
into the system. Within the same gust duration,
if the flow path is increased relative to
the membrane fluttering time or membrane
response time, there could be less air intrusion.
This is because the fluttering membrane
might potentially push the air out of
the roof system into the building interior
before it reaches the coldest part of the system,
i.e., the membrane.
Comparing the moisture accumulation
at the end of a 24-hour winter cycle, systems
with a two-layer staggered insulation
layout had 60% less moisture compared to
systems with a one-layer insulation layout.
Unlike the latter, which experienced insulation
shrinkage, there was no shrinkage
observed in the staggered insulation layout
systems, indicating that moisture and
temperature play a role in the dimensional
stability of the insulation boards. Although
staggered insulation did show favorable
results in minimizing moisture accumulation,
the measured air intrusion of 0.08
cfm/ft2 (0.77 L/s-m2) was critical to initiate
surface condensation.
Air Intrusion Aids in Moisture Removal
Figure 10 compares the moisture performance
of the reflective single-ply or thermoplastic
systems, nonreflective single-ply
or thermoset systems, and nonreflective
two-ply or mod-bit system. In nonreflective
membrane systems that had one-layer insulation
layouts, the accumulated moisture in
the winter cycle completely dried out in the
24-hour summer cycle from the combination
of solar absorptance (higher membrane
temperature) and air intrusion. However, in
the reflective membrane systems, the same
combination of solar absorptance (lower
membrane temperature) and air intrusion
removed only 50% of the moisture in the
Figure 9 – Air intrusion and moisture performance of MARS with and without staggered
insulation layout.
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same 24-hour summer cycle. Having similar
air intrusion rates in both the single-ply
membrane systems, the higher membrane
temperature of the nonreflective membrane
systems was critical in demonstrating complete
drying within the scheduled 24 hours.
However, with staggered insulation layout
that allowed lower moisture intake, the
same reflective membrane system demonstrated
complete moisture removal within
the 24-hour summer cycle. This indicates
that if the air intrusion and moisture accumulation
were minimized in reflective membrane
systems, they could perform similarly
to the nonreflective membrane systems
without the concern of progressive wetting
and drying.
The solar absorptance of a membrane
definitely aids in moisture removal, but
when combined with air intrusion, the rate
of drying is expedited. Moisture removal
by separate mechanisms of air intrusion
and vapor diffusion was also investigated
on a reflective membrane system. With the
same membrane temperature, the process
of vapor diffusion took seven days to remove
the same amount of moisture that air intrusion
removed in a day. In summary, air
intrusion not only transports moisture into
the roof system during the heating season,
but also can contribute to drying of the system
in the summer (cooling) season.
Air Intrusion Limits
Figure 11A shows the moisture gain of
all the tested systems where air intrusion is
the moisture-driving mechanism. By comparing
the moisture accumulation data, a
threshold of 0.01 psf (0.04 kg/m2) could be
identified as the critical moisture accumulation
as highlighted by the dotted line in
Figure 11A. It means that if the moisture
accumulation is below this limit, there is
potential for the system to dry out without
any progressive accumulation of the moisture
over the season.
Figure 11B plots the measured air intrusion
for all the tested systems at the testing
pressure of 5 psf (239 Pa). The joints of the
structural deck are the primary flow paths
for air intrusion, and if that air intrusion
could be minimized to as low as 0.002 cfm/
ft2 (0.02 L/s-m2) by a properly installed
vapor barrier that also functions as an
effective air retarder, the risk of condensation
and moisture accumulation could also
be minimized. This could be said to be a
“no-condensation” criterion.
In Canada, it is mandatory to include a
vapor barrier in most roof designs. NBCC
and provincial codes allow vapor barrierfree
designs under certain conditions. In the
United States, there are no widely accepted
guidelines for the inclusion of vapor barriers
in low-slope roof assemblies. If air intrusion
could be minimized to between 0.06 and
0.08 cfm/ft2 (0.6 and 0.8 L/s-m2), there
would be minimal moisture accumulation,
which might dry out in the cooling season
without progressive wetting. If the air
intrusion exceeds 0.08 cfm/ft2 (0.8 L/s-m2),
as in the case of systems with single-layer
insulation, there is potential for higher seasonal
wetting in heating-dominated climatic
zones, thereby decreasing the moisture tolerance
of the system.
A new, unique test approach has been
developed for evaluating climatic impacts
on the hygrothermal performance of the
roof system through simultaneous application
of wind pressure, temperature, and RH
conditions. The limitations of the current
study are the extreme testing conditions
discussed above. Therefore, the results presented
in this report are applicable at these
testing conditions only and might not be
representative of on-site performance of
the roofing systems. Based on this limited
study, the following conclusions can be
• Membrane weight, sheet width, fastener
row spacing, and membrane
elasticity are some of the parameters
that influence the rate of air
intrusion into the roof assembly. Air
intrusion and moisture accumulation
in mod-bit systems was on average
25 to 30% less than in single-ply
systems, owing to its higher material
• In the heating season, air intrusion
at 5-psf (239-Pa) wind pressure
transported sevenfold more moisture
into the system compared to vapor
diffusion. In the summer cycle or
cooling season, air intrusion also
helped to vent moisture out of the
system at a faster pace compared to
the vapor drive.
Figure 10 – Air intrusion aids in moisture removal.
Figure 11 – Air intrusion and moisture performance of MARS.
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• Three different vapor barriers—
kraft paper, polyethylene film, and
self-adhered sheet—were evaluated
to quantify their performance
as effective air retarders in MARS.
Following proper installation techniques,
these vapor barriers mitigated
air intrusion into MARS, demonstrating
their dual functionality, and
all the tested MARS showed better
performance with no condensation
and moisture accumulation.
• A two-layer staggered insulation
arrangement in membrane roof systems
minimized air intrusion by 60%,
transporting only one-third of the
moisture compared to the one-layer
insulation layout. Staggered insulation
introduces channel flow in
the system, increasing the length of
the flow paths for air intrusion to
respond to the fluctuating dynamic
wind pressures. It should become
standard practice rather than recommended
• In the cooling season, the solar
absorptance of the roofing membrane
influences the rate of moisture
removal or drying of the roof system,
and when supplemented with air
intrusion from membrane fluttering,
the drying process could be further
• With a vapor barrier that also functions
as an effective air retarder
installed on the deck, air intrusion
was very minimal (<0.002 cfm/ft2
[0.02 L/s-m2]). The mass flow of
vapor was minimized, reducing the
risk of condensation and moisture
accumulation. When multiple layers
of insulation were installed in a staggered
arrangement, the air intrusion
was minimized; however, the risk of
condensation still exists with minimal
moisture accumulation. This
accumulated moisture could potentially
dry out without any progressive
accumulation. If air intrusion
exceeds 0.08 cfm/ft2 (0.8 L/s-m2),
there is potential for higher seasonal
wetting, increased risk of surface
condensation, and higher moisture
accumulation. With more moisture
accumulation, more drying time is
required, therefore leading to potential
disparity in the wetting-to-drying
performance of the roof system.
• Although this study has been limited
to one indoor RH condition and
one type of insulation that is less
absorptive, it would be ideal to validate
this classification with other
common insulation types and roof
boards across the RH range of 30 to
60% recommended by ASHRAE 62.1
and the ASHRAE Handbook.
The authors would like to acknowledge
the AIR consortium members (CRCA,
NRCA, SPRI, and the Roofing Alliance for
Progress) for their financial and research
support, and the in-kind support provided
by Carlisle SynTec, Sika Sarnafil, Soprema,
and Trufast.
ASTM International. ASTM D7586-
11, Standard Test Method for
Quantification of Air Intrusion in Low
Sloped Mechanically Attached Roofing
Assemblies. 100 Bar Harbor Drive,
West Conshohocken, PA 19428.
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating
and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc.
ASHRAE Handbook – Applications,
Chapter 3 – Commercial and Public
Buildings. Atlanta. 2003.
ASHRAE 62.1-2013, Ventilation for
Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.
Atlanta, GA.
S. Molleti, B.A. Baskaran, K.P. Ko, and
P. Beaulieu. “Air intrusion vs. Air
Leakage – the Dilemma for Low-
Sloped Mechanically Attached
Membrane Roofs.” Proceedings of
the Canadian Symposium on Roofing
Technology. Toronto, ON. March
2009. pp. 1-9.
Pascal Beaulieu is
a technical officer
in the Performance
of Roofing Systems
and Insulation
(PRSI) group at the
National Research
Council of Canada.
His work focuses on
the wind-induced
effects on lowsloped
roofing systems
and the thermal
and hygrothermal
performance of roofing systems. Pascal
earned his degree in mechanical engineering
technology from La Cité Collegiale.
Pascal Beaulieu
Dr. Molleti is a
research officer in
the Performance of
Roofing Systems
and Insulation (PRSI)
Group at NRC, where
his work focuses
on researching the
wind-induced effects
on low-sloped roofing
systems and the
thermal and hygrothermal
of roofing systems.
He is currently working on establishing energy
ratings for roofing assemblies, wind performance
of vegetated roof assemblies, energy
and durability performance of PV-integrated
roofs, and application of vacuum insulation
panels in roofing systems. He is a member
of the ASTM D08 and CRCA Technical
Suda Molleti, PEng
Dr. Baskaran is a
group leader with
the NRC and an
adjunct professor
at the University
of Ottawa. He is a
member of committees
and CIB, and is a
research advisor to
various task groups
of the National Building
Code of Canada.
He has authored or coauthored over 200
research articles and received over 25 awards,
including the Frank Lander Award from the
Canadian Roofing Contractors Association and
the Carl Cash Award from ASTM. Dr. Baskaran
has been recognized by Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth II with a Diamond Jubilee medal for
his contribution to his fellow Canadians.
Bas Baskaran, PEng
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RCI, Inc. is excited to announce the inaugural 2018 RCI Canadian
Building Envelope Technology Symposium, taking place September
13-14, 2018, at the Hilton Mississauga/Meadowvale.
We are now accepting abstracts for papers to be presented
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authors will be notified regarding acceptance of abstracts by April
20, 2018. If accepted, papers should be received by May 25, 2018,
for peer review.
Potential authors should contact Tina Hughes at thughes@rcionline.
org for a copy of the Abstract Submittal Form and RCI
Guidelines for Presentations, complete directions on formatting,
and acceptable
formats for
abstracts and
papers. A topic
description must
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Suggested topics include:
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• Unique Façade Design
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Design Statement
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• Economics and Life Cycle
• Panelized Stone or Masonry
• Sealants: Design, Selection,
Appropriate Specifications,
and Quality Assurance
• Hygrothermal Analysis in
Façade Designs
• Façades Designed to Achieve
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• Curtainwalls
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2018 RCI Canadian Building Envelope
Technology Symposium Call for Papers