2023 04 17

Sensors enabling enhanced maintenance in environmentally-friendly wood-based façades

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In this guest article, our project partners, SINTEF, share their technical insights on the challenges and benefits of developing an environmentally friendly hybrid façade. 

Researchers at SINTEF are working on a project together with Staticus on a project titled “Developing a more environmentally friendly automated façade system that is integrated into the building’s control systems.” The project is funded by the 2014-2021 Norwegian Financial Mechanism Program “Business Development, Innovation and SMEs” and EEA and Norway Grants. In short, the project aims to develop sustainable, wood-based façade solutions that can prevent moisture and rot damage through automated technology.

Anticipating risk and potential damage

Johannes Georg Brozovsky is a project manager and SINTEF researcher who specialises in the fields of  building physics and urban physics. He explains that the project is part of the goal of achieving emissions-free buildings. Anticipating risk and improving the methods for predicting damage is a key element in reaching this goal

“Wood cannot withstand moisture over extended periods of time in closed cavities, so we must have full control over the conditions to which the wood is exposed,” he explains “In this project, we use sensors that are built into the façade and on the building itself. We then use numerical models that calculate the conditions at critical locations in the building. In this way, we will be able to detect potential façade damage before it occurs, and we will have an overview of the risk areas.” 

While not all of the hybrid façade systems being developed through this project will be sold with sensors integrated in them, the use of this data will lead to improvements in every unit produced. That is because the findings allow us to further optimise the system itself, addressing critical areas with preventive design.

Suspended façades with a smaller climate footprint

The load-bearing elements in a building with a suspended façade usually consist of either steel or concrete. The use of wood-based façades results in a smaller climate footprint, but at the same time presents challenges. In the intense Nordic climate, wood is exposed to major stresses such as wind, moisture and temperature fluctuations. It cracks, swells and shrinks in step with different weather and climate. 

“But finding solutions to these challenges bring significant benefits”, says Johannes.

“Using a lot of metal such as aluminium in constructions requires large amounts of energy. It is very CO2-intensive to produce. If you replace aluminium with wood, you can reduce your carbon footprint and create more sustainable buildings. The expected reduction in CO2 emissions in production will be approximately 45%. Having said that, SINTEF’s task in this project is not life cycle analysis – we are focused on moisture damage and moisture problems in the construction,” Johannes explains.

Integrated measurement data

Hygrothermal simulations are the key to preventing leakage, condensation, moisture and rot damage. SINTEF’s project group is developing technology that uses data on temperature and moisture in gaps, small spaces in the construction, and in the wood. The data is used in simulation models in combination with the indoor and outdoor climate, so that you can calculate what the conditions are like on the entire facade, not just where the sensors are measuring. By connecting the data to the weather forecast, you can predict specific conditions and act to mitigate them.

“If there is a lot of moisture or very cold weather, it will be possible to adapt the ventilation inside the building and thus reduce the risk of condensation,” explains Johannes. “Rot and mould on the wood do not occur “overnight”, so if you exceed a limit for one or two days there is usually no danger. It is over time that problems arise.”

Another question the team is considering is whether the system should be monitored all the time, or should it be automated instead?

“The aim is to integrate the measurement data, weather forecasts and the models into the building’s monitoring system, so that the person responsible for the building’s operation receives a notification if measures need to be taken,” Johannes points out.

Positive spin-offs

Johannes believes that the expertise SINTEF is building up through this project will have positive ripple effects for sustainability in the construction industry.

“It is becoming increasingly important for companies and large property developers to have as small a carbon footprint as possible,” he says. “Façade systems that are prefabricated and can be easily installed mean that you do not have to develop new systems every time. This can help to lower costs and lower the threshold for investing in such solutions.”

But who will own the technology, SINTEF or Staticus?

“The product itself is owned by Staticus, but the project is giving SINTEF useful knowledge that we can make further use of,” Johannes says.

The project “Developing a more environmentally friendly automated façade system that is integrated into the building’s control systems” is funded by the 2014-2021 Norwegian Financial Mechanism Program “Business Development, Innovation and SMEs” and EEA and Norway Grants.

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