Image Credit: All photos: Doug Aitken, VersaDry The galvanized steel profile is installed horizontally — usually on a concrete floor. This photo shows lengths of VersaDry screwed to the bottom of steel studs. VersaDry profiles have a 5/8-inch-wide ledge. The ledge is designed to support 5/8-inch drywall — the usual thickness of drywall installed on commercial jobs. Many institutional and commercial buildings worry about baseboard irregularities caused by impact from floor buffing machines.
I first “learned” about VersaDry when a colleague of mine here at BuildingGreen — our materials and product expert, Brent Ehrlich — sent me the photo reproduced at right. I was in the same boat you are right now: “OK, thanks for the photo, Brent, but what the hell is this VersaDry bent-metal thingamajig?”
He replied, “Oh, yeah, here is another photo that will help.” This time he sent me the photo reproduced as Image #2, below.
Brent was clearly messing with me, along the lines of when my wife says, “OK, Mr. Building Scientist,” for yet another building science mistake I have made or failed to explain well enough (or so overexplained that she lost interest long before I was done yapping).
Brent then gave another hint: “Displaying the VersaDry on a concrete floor is no accident.” Ah, OK, it is some sort of bottom-of-wall track system — maybe a wiring raceway?
Brent started to lose patience just a bit: “Come on, Pete: it is solving a moisture problem.” And just as the “aha” came for me, he sent the two photos reproduced as Images #3 and #4, below.
It’s installed at the bottom of a wall
VersaDry is a 26-gauge G40 galvanized steel track system designed to lift gypsum wall board (GWB) 2 inches off of the floor, protecting the drywall during construction and then if — or more likely, when — a spill or leak wets the concrete floor. The top “shelf” is 5/8-inch wide to receive Type X fire-rated GWB on each side of the wall. VersaDry also comes double-walled to accomplish a 1-hour and 2-hour fire-rated wall assembly (see Image #2, below).
Douglas Aitken describes just how he came up with his VersaDry invention: “I grew up poor; it made me a really good project manager, because I kept track of even pennies on huge projects — like the $500 million, 1.8-million-square-foot Lincoln Financial Field project or the $850 million, 500,000-square-foot Perleman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
It was killing me that we were paying up to $1 million disposal cost just for cut-off and damaged GWB on these projects. And on the Perleman project, seven months into construction, we had a leak up high that led to one inch of water on two 300-foot corridors, leading to three-quarters of a million dollars in remediation of GWB sucking up that water.”
So Doug started to look at ways to get the GWB up and off the concrete floors. He chose 2 inches for the stand-off height because the insurer for the Perleman project told him that in multistory projects (for some reason) they usually end up with no more than 1-inch floods on affected floors.
Doug’s first approach was a single piece U-shaped bottom track, but it was a bear to stack and package efficiently. So one evening Doug was playing around with splitting the track in half — eliminating any bottom track — just to make it easier to stack and pack the track. As his wife was walking by she said, “Hey, Doug, splitting the tracks means you can use it on any width of wall, doesn’t it?”
It turns out that splitting VersaDry into two separate tracks also finally solved years of struggle to pass fire- and sound-rating tests. Doug holds the patent on this seemingly very simple, elegant solution that took years and years of refining.
An environmentally friendly solution to a common problem
And is it “green?” It couldn’t be more so, and here is why:
- Materials efficiency:
- It eliminates the bottom track in light-gauge steel-framed partition walls.
- For fire-rated assemblies, VersaDry eliminates the fire-rated caulk bead required for standard GWB/steel stud partitions.
- Waste reduction: It means no cut-off waste with 8-foot-high drop ceilings (gaining that 2 inches in height at the bottom means that you don’t need to use 9- or 10-foot long GWB sheets just to get the drop-down ceiling track riding on the GWB).
- Durability: Since the face of the VersaDry track fully supports the baseboard, it protects the baseboard from “caving” when impacted, as when buffing machines slam up against it (see Image #5, below, a photo that Doug took at a hospital that is only 6 months old).
- LEED points: For many LEED projects, VersaDry will qualify as local material (it is made in the U.S.), and it sure qualifies for the Innovation credit.
The higher cost can easily be justified
Beth Anastasia, senior project manager for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, is using VersaDry in a renovation project at the hospital’s post-partum unit. The VersaDry is going in sometime in October.
“We have had plenty of problems in the past with GWB getting wet by wicking, particularly in rooms seeing lots of mopping, like bathrooms, and buffer damage to baseboards. We have a lot of support for VersaDry, from our infection control professionals to facilities staff. We did have some initial skepticism from administration based on the apparent higher cost, but especially for rated assemblies, VersaDry really delivers higher performance and competitive cost.”
Doug closed our interview saying: “VersaDry works great in any project, even residential basements, but I really think it is a must-have no-brainer for any health facility.”
I could not agree more. I am going right now to add it to the specs on an assisted living facility I am working on.
In addition to acting as GBA’s technical director, Peter Yost is the Vice President for Technical Services at BuildingGreen in Brattleboro, Vermont. He has been building, researching, teaching, writing, and consulting on high-performance homes for more than twenty years. An experienced trainer and consultant, he’s been recognized as NAHB Educator of the Year. Do you have a building science puzzle? Contact Pete here. You can also sign up for BuildingGreen’s email newsletter to get a free report on avoiding toxic insulation, as well as regular posts from Peter.