Building Envelope Science 101: Missing Paint and Escargot

Date: 18 Sep 2017 /
Posted by: Ivy Group /
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By Mitch Wright, RWC, IACT, and Bob Bitterli, AIA, NCARB

An old tale goes that you can set out a small dish of beer to catch and rid your garden of snails, but you may attract local vagrants as well. What does this have to do with Building Envelope Science?

It was a large multi building apartment complex in central Florida. Only about 6 years old, and the owner wanted a new paint job to freshen up the buildings. It was a typical painting/sealants job to clean, prime, seal and paint. A minimum one primer and one finish coat using a high build water-based elastomeric paint system. A consultant was hired to develop the specifications and provide quality control and assurance. Bids were solicited, and a qualified painting contractor was selected. After a few months, the buildings were all painted and ready for turnover and final payment. All was fine, until, damage begins to appear!

Damage Begins to Appear

Within a few months of completion, the property management noticed areas where paint was deteriorated or missing in areas of the wall surfaces. Spots, about a half dollar in size, were scattered about the wall surface in random locations. The spots indicated that the tan colored top coat was largely gone, leaving only the white primer exposed. It was isolated and primarily in the lower five to six feet of the exterior wall. Very minor areas of the damage occurred higher up, but always below the second floor accent band. It was a peculiar phenomenon. The most peculiar aspect of this case was that there were no paint chips on the ground below the damaged areas.

Where we saw paint spots were deteriorated or missing, we always noticed something extra. Small, dark, tube-shaped objects stuck to the surface of the wall. At times as many as ten to fifteen of these objects within a square foot area. They were stuck to the painted wall over perfectly painted surfaces. Many were curiously pigmented the same color as the paint. They were very small, so we pulled out our pocket microscopes and loops to get a closer look. Now, hold your breath.

Hold Your Breath

What were we looking at? Turns out the objects were the excrement of some small animals, colored with paint pigment. But how could this be? Could the painting contractor actually have painted over this much debris? Not according to the consultant’s records. These walls were thoroughly cleaned prior to any painting work being started. This residue problem had to have come after the painting was complete. There is only one practical way we know of to get paint pigment inside the stomach of an animal. It has to eat it. Then the undigested remains would be excreted in the animal’s waste product. This might explain what had happened and exactly what we were seeing. Armed with this information, we hunted the wall surfaces, the soil below and the bushes adjacent to find the culprit animals. Bingo, we found some small snail shells! Could this be the culprit?

Could snails be depositing pigment-laden waste to the walls adjacent to the damaged areas? This stuff was full of undigested paint pigment. It was completely embedded within the excrement of snails that had traveled across these walls, stopping only for a meal, and to relieve themselves along the way.

The Hunt Continues

We continued to hunt for some actual living snails, as the shells alone could not have done this damage. Then we saw him. We spotted the first snail on the lower portion of a column. He was a small snail observed in his ‘not-so-natural’ habitat, actually during his feeding time. We caught him red-handedi, munching away on that nice new elastomeric paint. Then we saw a few more of the culprits. These guys really seemed to like the paint. It became clear that the hungry snails were causing all of this mischief. At this point we didn’t know who they were, or why they were methodically devouring the paint on these buildings. Come to think of it, we basically knew very little about snails. So we gathered some specimens, and enlisted our colleagues in academia to help identify these shelled vandals.


With the help of two talented biologists and snail experts in North Floridaii, we now know our paint-eating friends as the Asian Tramp Snail, a.k.a. Bradybaena similaris. Terrorizing backyard gardens in America since 1939, this invasive species comes all the way from Asia and has since traveled into Florida. Now, these guys typically feed on soil and foliage–not paint. Something was afoul here. It wasn’t time to break out the garlic and butter just yet. What did these guys like so much about the paint? A little more research would soon answer the question.

Building Blocks

Something about this paint was attracting the snails, so we began to research the composition to see what secrets it held. What was the delicious ingredient that this paint contained? It turned out to be Calcium Carbonate, CaCO3. The paint from the bucket contained 33% by wet weight measurement, and upon drying contained up to 54% by dry weight measurement. This simple compound, CaCO3, responsible for so many things on our planet, is also the building block for the shells of these guys, which they call home. Snails typically eat soil and vegetation to get the calcium carbonate they need, but in this case the paint was much more tasty!

Our friends had atypical appetites. These guys were like a kid in a candy store with grandma’s coin purse. They could get everything they needed to build their home–without leaving home–simply by devouring the new paint on the walls. Time to issue an eviction notice!

Eviction Notice

These guys had clearly overstayed their welcome. So what was the solution? Simple enough: Iron Phosphate, a non-toxic snail bait recommended by the local Extension Office to “evict” the unwanted guests. This material would be applied around the perimeters of the buildings as often as needed, essentially acting as both a barrier and a poison to the creatures. That was the first step. Then, time to repaint.

Only the lower portions of the buildings needed repainting. (The horizontal accent band was heroically acting to deter the snails from climbing any higher up the wall.) And maybe we should try a not-so-delicious paint this time. With the track record here, we selected something that contained none of the goodies responsible for this mess. No Calcium compounds to tempt any stubborn snails that might remain after the Iron Phosphate attackiii.

The Moral

In Building Science, we sometimes need to dig deeper, and to think outside the box. One of the most important lessons we have learned in our field is to always ask questions. Why were these little black objects stuck to the wall where we were seeing the paint “failures”? How did the paint pigment get into them? Was this an isolated incident? Or could it be responsible for other paint failure cases? Should the coatings industry now take note and look at alternate formulations for their exterior paints? Further investigation is needed, but at least for our particular client, we answered their pressing question of: “What is causing the paint deterioration on our freshly painted walls?”

Paint damage oddities in your life? Contact us for an investigation. 


Or, whatever the equivalents of hands are, for a snail.
ii  Thanks to Dr. Henry Lee and Bill Frank of the Jacksonville Shell Museum.
iii Since Iron Phosphate is very lethal to snails, we would assume any remaining strongholds to be evolutionary super snails.

AIA Florida Annual Convention Highlights

Date: 28 Aug 2017 /
Posted by: Ivy Group /
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Bob Bitterli, AIA, President/CEO of Ivy Group Consultants, recently attended the American Institute of Architects’ 2017 AIA Florida Convention and Trade Show, at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Florida.

The theme of this year’s convention was “Communicating Value,” and the experience was “insightful of architects’ positive impact on the world, the management of their practices, and their services to their clients,” Bob says.

During the conference Mr. Bitterli attended nine presentations and two social events with over 200 Florida AIA architects. Descriptions of the variety of topics covered by presenters can be downloaded from AIA Florida by clicking this link

Highlights from Bob’s attendance

1. “Incorporating Active Design into your Practice,” by Active Design Miami .

2. “Architects as Storytellers,” by Bob Borson, FAIA, author of the internationally popular architecture blog, Life of an Architect.

3. “Speak Like a Pro,” by professional speaker Mark Gai, ACS.

4. “Communicating Pride, Safety, and Beauty at the World Trade Center,” by Judith Dupré, who wrote the official biography of One WTC.

5. “Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – Promoting Architecture,” by Ruth Reed, PPRIBA.

Bob also enjoyed sitting in on “Fee Negotiation Tips and Technique Panel Discussion,” “Windows and Doors for Wind-Borne Debris Protection,” “Engage Your Clients with Technology,” and “Virtual Office Practice” at this year’s convention.

After 40 years of practice, Bob Bitterli continues to love the profession of Architecture. He currently applies his time, efforts, and insights as a Forensic Architect in solving complex building defect issues for his clients.

If you have any thoughts or questions on architecture, email Bob.

Sunset from the Naples Grande boardwalk

St. Petersburg’s Tiny Home Movement

Date: 07 Aug 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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The St. Petersburg Tiny Home Festival, sponsored in part by Ivy Group’s Sustainable Living Foundation, was a huge success. Over 1800 people flocked to St. Petersburg Eco Village to attend tiny home workshops and tour the 10 tiny homes on display.

Photo Credit: Charlie Kaijo, Tampa Bay Times

The event raised $10,000 that will be used to further tiny home and alternative housing development locally. Ivy Group’s sustainable technologies specialist Scott Bitterli, through our Sustainable Living Foundation, is at the forefront of these efforts. Working hand in hand with St. Petersburg Eco Village and the City of St. Petersburg, he is working to develop a tiny home community, legalize living in tiny homes on wheels, and help others take action on their own tiny house ideas.

Sustainability efforts have become a centerpiece of Scott’s life, both professionally and personally.

Scott Bitterli, CDT, LEED GA

In 2013, he helped establish the St. Petersburg Sustainability Council, a non-profit community organization focusing on local environmental issues and developments, while promoting sustainability. He is now leading the formation of the Ivy Group Sustainable Living Foundation, which exists to explore and promote sustainable housing and building strategies, techniques, materials, and practices, to improve quality of life without compromising the quality of life for future generations.

Scott has even designed a 3D model for his own tiny home, to be inhabited by himself and his parter, Jasmina. The pair are talking with local builders and plan to have a finished home later this year. They are working closely with St. Petersburg building and zoning officials to develop a tiny home village and make it legal to live in tiny homes on wheels.

Due to their low environmental impact, tiny homes are growing in popularity among people looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Some of the challenges of building tiny include zoning and code compliance, and ensuring an energy-efficient design.

Photo Credit: Charlie Kaijo, Tampa Bay Times

With Scott’s uncommon expertise in tiny homes and tiny home communities, and our firm’s extensive building science and building code knowledge, Ivy Group is thrilled to be a part of the flourishing tiny home movement. We see a bright future for sustainable building and development in St. Pete.

In the Mix at Construction Law Institute Conference

Date: 19 Jun 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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Ivy Group’s booth at this year’s Construction Law Institute (CLI) conference was a hot spot of activity, with countless attorneys stopping by to meet Ivy Group representatives, discuss claims, and talk about their practices. The CLI is sponsored by the Florida Bar Association each year, and currently hosted by the magnificent JW Marriott Grande Lakes resort (pictured above).

Ivy Group’s booth

For years now, the CLI’s conferences have brought together industry professionals, including construction law practitioners, architects, engineers, contractors, and more. The conference allows Ivy Group the opportunity to stay up to date with trends and best practices, and to share our expertise with members of the construction law community.

Phone wallet giveaway

David Griffiths, Ivy Group’s Roofing, Waterproofing, and Coatings Specialist, and Jack West, our Building Claims Investigator, attended the conference, along with Bob Bitterli, Ivy Group’s CEO and Principal Consultant. The team enjoyed the conference immensely, and Jack was the golf tournament’s victor for the fourth consecutive year!

Jack with his trophies

At the conference, Ivy Group hosted a drawing where conference attendees won eight bottles of wine, gift cards to Ruth’s Chris, Target, and AMEX, and a computer travel bag. The giveaway was a great success, with 40 attorneys participating.

NIBS Conference Highlights Keys to Improved Construction

Date: 19 Jun 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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This year, Ivy Group’s Roofing, Waterproofing, and Coatings Specialist, Dave Griffiths, attended the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Building Innovation Conference in Washington, DC.

The conference offered 18 seminars, with topics ranging from Building Information Management (BIM), to hospital design, building codes, and more.

“The conference was extremely beneficial,” Dave said. “I was exposed to new ideas and methods.”

A seminar on hospital design discussed the importance of designing buildings with the ability to withstand catastrophic events. The importance of such planning was emphasized with the very real-world example of 2008’s Hurricane Ike hitting the University of Texas Medical Center in Galveston. Much of the hospital facility was destroyed, or rendered unusable.

The hospital has since been rebuilt with modified plans, enabling the hospital to remain fully functional during hurricanes.

This example highlights the importance of working with a building envelope consultant from the get-go when constructing in hurricane-prone, and similarly problematic, areas. Input from technical experts on drawings and plans can prevent costly building damage and risk to human lives during severe weather events.

Another seminar focused on BIM, presenting methods and systems to catalogue equipment, finishes, and complete construction designs, all in one location for permanent future reference. The applications of such systems are numberless, with one valuable possibility being to aid in future building maintenance, or in circumstances when equipment needs to be replaced.

Building upon Ivy Group’s code expertise, Dave also attended a seminar on building codes, which focused primarily on moving towards performance based building requirements, rather than prescriptive requirements. In alignment with Ivy Groups own approach, the seminar proposed the idea that the future of building should be about achieving structural resilience through codes based on scientific data instead of subjective, historic data.

For a more complete overview of the conference’s seminars, NIBS offers detailed recaps on its website.

Between seminars, Dave attended networking lunches where he was able to meet and exchange ideas with other architectural and building experts. After the conference, Dave and his wife toured the National Mall, where they enjoyed many of our nation’s monuments.

Ivy Group Active in Forensic Expert Witness Association

Date: 13 Jun 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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In May, Bob Bitterli, Ivy Group’s president and CEO, was accepted into the membership of the Forensic Expert Witness Association (FEWA), with affirmations of excellence from five attorneys who specialize in construction defect cases and claims.

“I have worked with Mr. Bitterli for over 10 years on numerous complex construction defect cases. He is without question the best expert witness I have ever used. Ethical, competent and an extremely good communicator. I highly recommend him.” -George H. Knott, Attorney-At-Law

Alongside Mr. Bitterli, Ivy Group Senior Consultants Steve Lange and Jack Townley are also numbered among the FEWA membership. A long time FEWA member, Mr. Townley has served on FEWA’s National Board and as Florida Chapter President for the past three years.

Mr. Townley is one of only 17 professionals nationwide to hold the designation of Certified Forensic Litigation Consultant (CFLC). This designation certifies that a member both has sufficient experience as an expert witness and has completed FEWA’s detailed core program of study.

(Edit 9/21/17: Mr. Lange is currently participating in the rigorous CFLC training, with certification expected in 2018.)

In order to join the FEWA membership, an expert witness must receive a minimum of three recommendations from attorneys in their field. “FEWA is the only expert witness organization that requires anyone applying as a professional member to be vetted to demonstrate work on assignments that required sworn deposition or testimony at trial,” explains Mr. Townley.

FEWA is a hub of information for the forensic expert witness community, offering ongoing professional development opportunities, and events and publications that keep the Ivy Group team up to date with best practices.

In May Mr. Townley attended the FEWA National Conference in San Francisco. He shared this slideshow from the conference.

“Poison Ivy” Takes on Spartan Race

Date: 10 Jun 2017 /
Posted by: Leila Bitterli /
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Ivy Group continued its tradition of commitment to fitness and athletic achievement by sponsoring a Spartan Sprint team in Arrington, VA on June 3. Business Manager Leila Bitterli headed it up the team, and was joined by other Roanoke community athletes: Tiffani Reynolds of Ivy Group and Roanoke Valley Time Bank, fellow Grandin CoLab member Michele Minter, Kelsey Harrington, Director of Community Relations of SARA Roanoke, and Outdoor Recreation Specialist Kat Andrew of Play Roanoke.


Ready to race! (Ivy Group Roanoke staff Leila Bitterli far left and Tiffani Reynolds center.)


The Spartan Race is a wildly popular obstacle course race series with events held around the country all year long. The Spartan Sprint includes 3-5 miles of running over hills, through woods, fields, and lots of mud, taking on at least 22 challenging obstacles in the process. Each course is different. (The longer Spartan Super and Beast include 25+ obstacles over courses ranging from 8 to 14 miles!) President and CEO Bob Bitterli spectated and served as team videographer at the Arrington, VA event at Infinity Downs Farm this past Sunday, June 4th, 2017.

Michele tackles the rings.


Our team conquered some brutal workouts and training leading up to the race under the guidance of “Biggest Team” Award winners Ferguson Fitness of Roanoke. Ivy Group is honored and thrilled to sponsor and be a part of the success the ladies of our team have achieved and hope to see them run many more Spartan races in the future. In the meantime, please enjoy some of the fun photos we were able to capture along the way. 


Muddy Poison Ivy: Finished!

Thanks to Matt Brown of Vector Vortex printing for the awesome shirts and graphic design.

Important Insights from the ABAA 2017 Conference

Date: 06 Jun 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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On April 18th, our President/CEO Bob Bitterli and Business Manager Leila Bitterli traveled to Reston, VA to meet Monica Rokicki of Better Building Works at the Air Barrier Association of America (ABAA) 2017 Conference.

Monica Rokicki learns about digital building monitoring systems by SMT

ABAA 2017 speakers included:

  • Vince Cammallari on Roof-Wall Interfaces and Detailing
  • Martina Driscoll & Andrea DelGiudice on Building Enclosure Commissioning
  • Ryan & Laverne Dalgleish on ABAA services & future
  • And keynote speaker Dr. Joseph Lstiburek on Building Science & Airflow

Here are a few of the most exciting things we learned from our trip to the conference.

Insight On Roof-to-Wall Interfaces

Vincent Cammallari explained in simple English and with thorough graphics how roof-to-wall interfaces should be considered in building design. Poor roof-to-wall interfacing can cause a multitude of problems relating to moisture and air circulation, efflorescence, ice accumulation, and more.

But all those problems can be remedied with a little forethought, while still preserving the architectural aesthetics of the design. Solutions vary on a case-by-case basis, and are dependent on the type of interface and its details.

For example, soffits sometimes need to be cut off from heating to create a cold cavity that dries itself with natural airflow/ventilation. Ventilated attics are another option. And curtain walls may be used to separate glass parapets.

Ultimately, we left with a wealth of information regarding roof-to-wall interfaces that we can immediately put to use.

New Look at the BECx Lifecycle

Martina Driscoll, PE and Andrea DelGiudice, PE from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates spoke on the BECx process. “Building Enclosure Commissioning is a holistic process that endeavors to verify that the exterior enclosure meets owner expectations,” they said. BECx standards are applied at each stage – Predesign, Design, Construction, and Post-Occupancy – and are all about combining superior design with construction best practices.

From a high level view, the ideal BECx process establishes appropriate and quantifiable metrics for performance, testing, and verification that demand accountability at every phase. Additionally, Owner Performance Requirements (OPR) should be established with regard to:

  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Safety, Security
  • Durability
  • Maintenance

“If a quantifiable measure is provided in the contract, then testing must occur to verify the metric,” they explained.  

BECx provides third-party review of OPR development, as well as mockup and performance testing. Cost of BECx overview tends to run between .1% (when there are higher-value contents relative to enclosure costs) and 1% (when contents are lower relative value).

All in all, we were grateful to hear Martina and Andrea’s experience, and we’re excited to implement what we learned moving forward.

The Perfect Wall Configuration?

Keynote speaker Dr. Joseph Lstiburek (pronounced “STREE-beck”) started his career as a mechanical engineer, but eventually took the leap to become an Indoor Air Quality expert. With the help of some senior mentors, he went on to advise the US government on contaminants caused by improper airflow patterns, and eventually the security issues accompanying them. Today, he’s a leading building scientist.

The first half of Dr. Lstiburek’s talk dealt with how simple the “perfect wall configuration” can really be.

Despite all that can and will go wrong with building envelope configurations, Dr. Lstiburek explained that the principles at play are actually quite simple. And by mastering these principles, he explained, the “perfect wall configuration” may not be as difficult to attain as some may believe, even throughout a diverse range of building types and climate zones.  

Figure 1: Complete building enclosure configuration. Is it really that simple?


Figure 2: Dew Point will occur midway between inside and outside of insulation, and condensation will form on the inside surface of the exterior sheathing.

Dr. Lstiburek emphasized that when designing wall configurations, there’s no substitute for experience. Trusted advisors with deep experiential knowledge are always key — for supervision of projects, frequent walk-arounds, and simply to ensure there’s always an “adult” in charge!

We’re thrilled to have had the chance to hear from Dr. Lstiburek first-hand, and his talk left us with a wealth of actionable info. You can see Dr. Lsiburek’s full slide deck from the talk here.

Figure 3: Draw pictures on your building wrap to make sure everyone’s on the same page!

Updates On ABAA Activity

The ABAA provides multiple services for free on its website as well as through paid memberships. They produce research to help their members and publish valuable information through Specifically, Ryan Dalgleish addressed the Energy Savings Calculator now available thanks to ABAA, Oak Ridge, and NIST.

Thanks to the ABAA for their ongoing work! It was a pleasure attending this year’s conference!

Roanoke Office Presence in Grandin CoLab

Date: 14 Apr 2017 /
Posted by: Leila Bitterli /
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Thanks to the Grandin CoLab for naming me Member of the Week. It’s such a pleasure to base our Roanoke office from the CoLab building in Grandin Village. The friendly and professional environment fosters cooperation and community presence, which is right up our alley!


It is our pleasure to bring you the member of the week: Leila Bitterli!She has been a staple for a while now and we…

Posted by CoLab on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Joint Workshop for Experts and Attorneys Hosted by Ivy Group’s Jack Townley

Date: 16 Mar 2017 /
Posted by: Clarissa Clarke /
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Last month in Fort Lauderdale, Ivy Group Senior Consultant and President of the Florida chapter of the Forensic Expert Witness Association (FEWA), Jack Townley, hosted the Joint Workshop for Experts and Attorneys.

The workshop sessions covered a variety of topics to enhance the joint work of attorneys and experts:

Cyber Security
Santiago Ayala, Aldo Leiva, Esq., and Aaron Weiss provided knowledge and applications for how experts can improve in the realm of cyber security and client document safety.

Experts from the Attorney Perspective
Roy Taub, Esq. explained what attorneys look for in an expert witnesses, and presented an in depth checklist outlining attorney expectations.

Depo and Cross Do’s and Don’ts
Barry Snyder, Esq. speaking as a trial consultant, used a host of real-life stories to enumerate what an expert should and shouldn’t during depositions and cross examinations.

Leverage of Digital Marketing
Robert Rand presented remarks on what works and what doesn’t work in marketing expert services via social media networks.

Bob Bitterli, Ivy Group president/CEO, was in the audience with Bill Weber, founding partner of Weber and Tinnen Structural Engineers and longtime Ivy Group associate. Bob said the workshop was excellent, and the tips and techniques derived from the sessions “will enhance the forensic expert’s performance and the value delivered by the expert witness to attorneys and their claims.”