Leader of the Pack

RDH Building Engineering

RDH began as a Canadian company with its head office situated in Vancouver. From its launch with five staff in 1997, it has successfully grown to over 130 staff and now has additional offices in Washington, Oregon and other parts of British Columbia. The company was started to meet the need for a building science consulting services firm with a Vancouver base and specific knowledge relating to building enclosure. “We saw other companies coming in from out of town and the construction requirements and some of the conditions we were seeing on buildings were specific to the West Coast – mainly Seattle, Portland, Victoria, Courtney and Vancouver,” explains Marcus. Indeed, the coastal area of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon is one of the wettest climates in North America, presenting unique challenges to the building industry.

Water ingress is the leaking or entering of water into a confined space or enclosure and is a major issue on the West Coast due to the region’s heavy rains; and of course, serious water ingress can lead to deterioration and structural problems. RDH has been an industry leader in producing research on controlling this problem. It produced the guidebook, “Best Practice Guide: Wood Frame Envelopes” for the CMHC which became a leading construction document throughout B.C. for building in wet climates. The company then went on to develop methods of retrofitting high-rise buildings facing the same challenges. This led RDH to a Construction Management approach developed specifically for water damaged buildings.

The factors that cause or contribute to water ingress are largely the same everywhere and the knowledge gained by RDH in Vancouver has carried it forward into other parts of the world. “So we have now taken that technology and worked in places like New Zealand, Florida, Arizona and Shanghai. Our current focus is on growth for the firm. We are looking at the U.S. as a growth market, but would not be averse to growth in other areas.”

RDH has been an employee-owned company from the beginning and the approach has worked exceptionally well. “We think that being an employee owned company makes us more accountable for our day to day actions and has the buy-in of all the staff toward making it successful. We are always looking at trying to find better ways of doing things to help our clients because what is in their best interests is in our best interests.” This management approach has been cost effective for clients; buildings are fixed on a timely basis and within a tight budget. Because the employees are part owners they are invested in ensuring that things work out well for everybody involved.

The company took an active role in developing software that helps people manage finances and ongoing maintenance for building well before provincial legislation was enacted which mandated required depreciation reports for all strata title buildings. When the legislation went through and other engineering firms scrambled to meet the new requirements, RDH already had a team within the company that dealt with it. “In Ontario, they have had the need for capital cost reserve funds,” Marcus explains. “We didn’t have an equivalent requirement in B.C. but the government finally mandated it. As a result of our ongoing building asset management work, we were able to prepare ourselves to be first in line when that requirement came out and have been very successful at doing them. It’s been a key aspect of our business.”

The depreciation reports encourage RDH clients to do some long-term planning. The reports take the operating cost of the buildings and outline what infrastructure needs to be replaced within certain timeframes, maintenance schedules for those items, and predicted costs. “It is better if the building is properly maintained; this results in lower costs to the owners and distributes it across everybody who lives in the building. We also look at all the financial models that go with it, how to fund it and what it’s going to cost.” Previously, there was a tendency for owners to put off doing maintenance repairs and instead saddle future owners with those costs.

RDH is leading the charge on managing energy use and conservation in buildings. “Many of us went into this field of making buildings better.” As Warren points out, “That’s where a lot of our interest is, particularly with respect to energy efficiency, and durability.”

Sometimes the work involves a total makeover of a building from the ground up. The focus is typically on repairing water damage but with RDH’s long-term view, the company will explore ways of improving the buildings beyond simply preventing water entry. This is where its eye toward energy efficiency comes into play. Heat, for example, can be lost through window assemblies or exterior wall assemblies, and RDH wanted to come up with ways to minimize the amount of heat loss or heat transfer through buildings. The company experimented with a number of different ideas while trying to find solutions, and ultimately hit upon the ‘Thermal Spacer.’

“We tried it in our own buildings and it worked out extremely well in making the construction work – and the work for the trade contractors – go much smoother. At the same time, it greatly improved energy efficiency at essentially no cost or, in some cases, at a cost savings.” The fibreglass clip adds a thermal break to the exterior wall, avoiding thermal bridging between the interior and exterior of the building. A lack of thermal bridging prevents energy from passing through and makes a building more energy efficient. Windows have been doing this for many years through the use of thermally broken frames, and now this new technology, which was developed by RDH staff, is improving the energy performance of walls.

The company’s innovations are being thoroughly tested in an ongoing research study. RDH is changing all of the wall and window assemblies on a building and is exhaustively testing before and after to monitor and track energy use with the assistance of study partners, including the building owners, BC Hydro, Homeowner Protection Office (BC Housing), FortisBC, CanmetENERGY, and a consortium of municipalities. “We will be able to demonstrate the performance improvement pre- and post building renewal. We are putting in much higher performance windows from an energy perspective and we are using new wall assemblies that incorporate the thermal clip. The air tightness of the building is also being significantly improved so that there is less uncontrolled air flow in and out of the building.”

Regardless of the technologies behind it, any organization is only as strong as the people who make it work. RDH has an experienced staff of engineers, architects and technologists. It is very supportive of the BCIT building science program and strives to employ people with strong academic backgrounds while also employing in-house training. “We have staff here that focus on research work,” and these people help teach others within the company. A couple of times per month we have an internal seminar about subjects we have learned about on a building or on some of the results from research work, and we bring it to all of our staff.” These sessions may also be led by people from outside the company who bring in new ideas and create opportunities for our clients, colleagues and peers to bounce ideas around.

Some of these brainstorming sessions have proven quite useful for addressing complex and delicate situations such as the complicated rehabilitation projects that take place in the lower mainland. It is challenging to remove and replace all of the walls and windows from an existing building while people are still living in it. Clients, however, have been very happy with the results from both a practical and aesthetic perspective. One of these projects was valued at $28 million and yet was completed in a relatively short period of time.

In order to attain and retain a competent staff, employees need to know that they are valued and appreciated so it’s not all seminars and training. “We are very proud of our staff and want them to be appreciated,” says Warren. RDH demonstrates this appreciation through its annual Christmas party. ”We take all of the staff, spouses and children up to Whistler for a two day weekend and look after them very well. We have a very high turnout – approximately 90 percent – and we bring them in from Portland, Seattle and Victoria. This way everybody can get together and see who we are – see the organization they belong to. This way folks in smaller offices don’t feel left out and it develops a team mentality.”

RDH is a company that is constantly on the move. It has grown from a small engineering firm into a professional group providing a wide range of services while its continued employee ownership means that the entire team is invested in the company’s success. RDH has uniquely positioned itself to be an industry leader though its development and research of new techniques and technologies that go on to become industry standard. RDH is different – and different is good.

October 17, 2017, 4:29 PM EDT

Wind on the Rise

In the world of renewable energy, wind power is growing fast. It is projected that 10 percent of the energy generated in the United States will come from wind farms by 2020. Offshore wind farms are a relatively new addition to the American energy market, but the technology has been well established in Europe and is now taking off state-side as well.