Takata airbagsAirbag maker Takata made headlines recently as a seventh airbag-related fatality forced the Japanese company to announce the largest auto recall in history.

Takata had initially recalled faulty airbags in 18 million vehicles, believing the malfunctions to be linked to cars in hot, humid climates. Although the airbags were failing in other climates as well, they interestingly had higher failure rates when humidity and moisture were involved, drawing a remarkable parallel with the root cause of many building failures.

Building forensics experts have long known that specific climates require a specific approach to building design and construction in order to avoid failure. Using the same products and techniques across the board creates a recipe for disaster that unfortunately is very common in multi-family complexes like apartments, which over the past several years have undergone significant expansion and growth.

LBFG, a Florida-based building forensics firm, has seen the following examples of multi-family complex failure resulting from design or material deficiencies:

  • In an effort to create high sound attenuation between floors and interior/exterior walls, apartment designers and contractors have inadvertently tightened the building envelope so much that there is significant chance of accumulated moisture.
  • Green, water-based products (which are fine in most climates but often fail in hot, humid climates) have been used, resulting in excess moisture and mold under kitchen and bathroom cabinets and in closets.
  • Air conditioning units with very little run time and no load led to surface mold and moisture problems because of reduced dehumidification.

Each situation resulted from well-intentioned efforts to reduce noise transfer, lessen the carbon footprint, or decrease energy costs.

“We have seen architects who design these complexes nationwide and manufacturers who supply materials for these projects making critical errors, resulting in catastrophic building envelope and HVAC moisture problems,” said LBFG President George DuBose. “You just can’t apply a product or technique that works in one climate and expect it to work the same way in a hot and humid climate.”

DuBose noted that the same principle is at play with the Takata airbags, which do not comply with requirements for hot, humid climates and unfortunately have resulted in catastrophic failures.

It’s imperative to realize that while certain products or techniques may work well in most climates, they could produce a unique set of catastrophic circumstances when applied in hot, humid climates.