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The Challenges of Working On A Mountain Site

Once a month, our team gathers to discuss current project challenges and opportunities. In our latest meeting, we touched upon the challenges of working on a mountain site, how the climate can affect decisions and design, and how geology can cause unexpected disruption.

 

Avalanche Risk + Mudflow Wall

With risk of avalanche coming down a mountain and entering a building (which would prevent one from safe means of egress) Geotechnical Engineers are crucial for determining the mudflow impact and how to mitigate the risk. Adding a mudflow wall at the correct height would stop debris from entering the building and allow for full height doors and windows to be placed on the building, in turn allowing for safe egress. Impact resistant glass and a lower level concrete base is an additional method to protect the building from potential risk. Check out this example of how a mudflow wall saved a home from an avalanche near Conundrum Trailhead in Aspen.

 

Temperature Variation + High Wind

There are many elements of the construction process that become complicated because of colder temperatures (think ski season in Aspen!). Fluid-applied products and Adhesives, for example, don’t perform best under certain conditions. With roof installation beginning at a residential project, a mechanically fastened system, such as bolted connections rather than welding or glue, was proposed in order to get around the adhesive issue. However, that system can also run into problems in the mountain climate. With risk of high winds, the roofing membrane can pillow where it is not attached fully and slap the roof. Not only would it be unpleasantly noisy for the people inside, but it can also cause dew point issues and leaking. Solutions include taking extra steps to keep the roof membrane flat and fully bonded, protecting it from wind and shovel damage during snow removal, or tenting the location and controlling the temperature in order to ensure the adhesives work.

 

Humidity

Colorado is a dry climate with very low humidity. This can affect different factors of a project, from protecting art to acclimating furniture. Because humidity (low or high) can affect artwork, rooms are often sectioned off with doors to control the conditions. When a space doubles as an office building or event hall, additional doors aren’t always the best solution to ensure the best circulation and flow of the space. It’s best to consult an archivist when designing a space with archival pieces or art museum to determine their art loan requirements. When working with contractors on interior spaces, it’s also crucial to acclimate flooring, millwork and furniture before installing. Wood absorbs and loses moisture depending on the changing conditions of the environment it’s in. If not properly acclimated, there can be warping and cracking that will have to eventually be replaced.

 

Geology

Colorado’s geology ranges from clay soil to underground rivers and bus-size boulders to large mountain peaks and low valleys. These geological challenges can influence price and time heavily, and even the design of a project. In a recent residential project in a glacial valley, the design of a driveway was rerouted to divert around underground boulders. In addition, underground water was discovered while digging for a foundation. One solution for this project was to add a subterranean waterproofing system below the concrete foundation to ensure no water entered the building at anytime within its lifespan.

 

With every project comes a new challenge, and we work to always find the best possible solution while ensuring the overall design is not affected negatively. Partnering with expert consultants is crucial to the success of a project, and the longevity of the building’s lifespan.


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