With a home base located just outside San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country, the team at Western Waterproofing Co. of America — also known as Western Specialty Contractors — is well aware of the hazards of the volatile Texas climate.
In a region prone to extreme heat and flooding rains, proper insulation from the elements is essential. So when a nearby college called Western Specialty Contractors with reports of leaks in its main building, they understood the potential consequences. The masonry was in good condition, but leaks still occurred.
“We knew we had to stop their leaks,” recalled Mackey Welch, department manager of the Austin territory for Western Specialty Contractors. “They needed to re-caulk the vertical expansion joints on the masonry and on the window perimeters.”
Fortunately for the college, which wishes to remain unnamed, Western Specialty Contractor’s team had significant experience in just this type of sealant work. “We’re 100-plus years old,” Welch said of his company. “We’re doing work at the UT [University of Texas] football stadium right now. We’ve worked on the Texas State Capitol. We do a lot of good projects, so that gives clients confidence that we can get the job done.”
Doing Homework Pays Off
On this particular job, the biggest challenge for Western Specialty Contractor’s four-man crew, headed by Welch, was to figure out how to complete it without disrupting the traffic flow of students utilizing the building for the fall semester.
While closing the building would have been ideal, it was not an option on this job, considering its importance to the college’s daily operations.
“The first thing we did was meet with personnel at the college to find out where we could start, how we could move either counter-clockwise or clockwise around the building, and map out a plan for how this could work.”
In addition, Welch knew that access would be another issue. “You’ve got hundreds of kids going in and out of that main entrance every day,” Welch said. “We had to work off man lifts to access this work, and you couldn’t put a man lift in that main walk area without shutting it down.”
With that in mind, Welch and college officials devised an innovative plan to complete the ~3,800-linear-foot (1.2 km) project, which would last about two months in total. Starting in late October, they worked clockwise around the building for weeks before finishing with the main entrance area over the Christmas holidays — one of the rare times the college is closed.
Working Around Students
The Western Specialty Contractors crew selected the Green-Lock Sealant XL from Garland Co. for the job. The hybrid works as a single-component, 100-percent solids, polyether joint sealant designed for applications throughout the building envelope.
The crew took safety precautions each day before beginning their work. Wearing hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, and respirators from 3M, crew members were tied off with safety harnesses from FallTech while in man lifts rented from United Rentals. Barricades were used around the lifts to keep away students, faculty, and other passersby.
“We were able to barricade around and still give them access,” Welch said. “As long we could maintain a safe work area, the only thing that we had to consider was noise.”
The noise factor was particularly relevant when the crew reached the library portion of the building. “The library created a bit of an issue,” Welch explained. “We had to do our noisier work before or after the peak times of classes. We’d get there early in the morning to do our grinding or cutting, and then do quieter work during the day when kids are in there.”
Installing the sealant system consisted of a four-step process, with each caulker capable of performing all of the steps on any given segment. The objective was to finish all four steps on each phase of the building before moving on, since jumping back and forth would have caused major inefficiencies. “You don’t want to have to move your equipment much,” Welch said. “The labor would kill you.”
The first two steps consisted of cutting out the existing old sealant and cleaning the bond line by grinding. Once cleaned, crew members would then install a new closed-cell backer rod, cut to fit at an average size of 0.75 inch (1.9 cm), before applying the new sealant out of its cartridge, as per the manufacturer’s specifications. Garland recommends not exceeding a 2-inch-wide (5.1 cm) bead for applications and not exceeding 1 inch (2.5 cm) in depth. Garland also noted that the sealant should not be applied in temperatures below 40 °F (4.4 °C) — but with this job taking place in South Texas, that was rarely an issue for the crew.
Each treated segment cures within hours, though Welch said the effective curing time came even sooner than that. “Once you strike the bond line off, you’re sealed,” Welch said. “It still has to cure out and become a more firm rubber. But if it were to rain that night, you wouldn’t get any [leaks].”
For several weeks, the crew methodically completed all steps on each building segment. On one side, the crew unexpectedly found a deck challenging to access since their lifts were too large to fit in the adjacent area. But working in tandem with United Rentals, they brought in a smaller lift suitable for access.
Then, by the time the holidays rolled around, Welch and his team were able to complete the job by sealing up the main entryway. It meant less time for the crew members to be with their families, but Welch said that comes with the territory. “They don’t shut down very often,” Welch said of the college. “So we have to do a lot of work when everybody else is off. That’s just the way it is.”
With the main entry sealed, the two-month job was finally complete! Early indications are that Welch’s crew received high marks from the college for their performance.
“They loved it,” Welch said of the college’s feedback. “It stopped all their problems. If we don’t do our job right — if it rains and there are leaks — trust me, my phone is ringing. It doesn’t matter what time of day.”
It wasn’t the easiest test for Welch and his crew, particularly given the challenges of working around students and working over the holidays. But judging from the client’s feedback and Western Specialty Contractor’s long list of high-profile jobs, it appears they passed with flying colors.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I guess I still like it for some reason,” Welch said with a knowing laugh.
For more information on the science behind this sealant, check out this article.