Eric K. Olson[1] and Werner H. Gumpertz[2]

  1. Staff Engineer, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. Consulting Engineers, 297 Broadway, Arlington, MA, USA,
  2. Senior Principal, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. Consulting Engineers, 297 Broadway, Arlington, MA, USA,


In the story of the three little pigs, the big bad wolf blew down the houses built of straw and wood. The third house, built of brick, survived. All three houses were constructed of

“sustainable” materials, but only the brick house had qualities enabling it to serve its intended purpose (i.e., keeping the wolf out). Based on this scientific folk wisdom, this paper attempts to increase awareness of the need for durable design and construction to protect natural resources AFTER installation.

Sustainability embraces conservation of energy and the use of renewable, recycled, non-toxic, and abundant materials. However, many discussions of sustainability do not sufficiently emphasize the importance of durable construction in conserving resources. We advocate protecting resources for the future. Sustainability must balance the needs listed above, with sustainable useful life as a major goal of building design. Building a “sustainable” structure is pointless if the structure will not endure.

Effective remediation of a failed masonry wall system often involves partial or entire demolition of the wall system to install new components and replace damaged components. Repairs disrupt occupants and waste natural resources. The associated monetary cost of repairs can be many times greater than providing durable components and quality workmanship initially. Sustainable masonry walls must be designed so that the anticipated lifespan of components, including the flashing and weatherproofing that protect the entire system from moisture and subsequent damage, meets or exceeds the expected service life of the building. Sustainable design must incorporate flashings and waterproofing elements of high quality, since these components are hidden and inaccessible for repairs. Furthermore, the flashing and waterproofing system quality, function and durability must not be sacrificed for aesthetics or initial cost. Reducing the need to rebuild the wall system through appropriate design and workmanship is the cornerstone for sustainability and resource conservation.

Keywords: sustainability, masonry wall durability, water leakage, weather resistance, cavity drainage wall