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Repair options for brick veneer-walled homes damaged by flooding:
Using a field report from a Texas homeowner in 2017 we describe repair options for flood-damaged veneer walls built over hollow framed-wall cavities.
We also discuss options for repairing a veneer wall and modifying its weep openings or drainage when interior demolition involves only the lower portion of existing walls.
This article series discusses brick or stone veneer wall construction and flood damage repairs. Page top photo, provided by a reader, illustrates the condition in a home after initial demolition following damage by flood waters.
Question: how should I restore this flood-damaged brick-veneer-walled home
I'm single mom to a one year old and just recently had 18 inches of water in my house due to Harvey in Dickinson, Texas.
The restoration company, after remediating and dehumidifying for 2 weeks said the blackboard between the studs and the brick needed to come out.
We called the insurance adjuster and he agreed.
[Click to enlarge any image]
My question moving forward is how do we rebuild things. I'm getting different answers from contractors and given I'm a woman on my own, I don't want to be taken advantage of and want to ensure the safety of my daughter and I in the future.
I read some of your articles but still unsure the best way to rectify this situation to make this right. I appreciate your help. - Anonymous by private email 2017/09/17
Reply: Basic advice for repairing & re-building a flooded home with brick veneer walls
You'd choose among these, or at least the first two of them, depending probably on cost, what the insurance company will pay-for, and what resources are available, as well as depending on who is available to do the work.
I'll offer some comments, you can ask more specific questions and send me some photos.
Be warned that I have experience with these concerns, and opinions, but we do not want to lose the good will of the contractor and insurance company by pretending that an off-site consultant can be as smart or fully informed as on-site experts.
"Dehumidifying for two weeks" makes me nervous.
It is impossible to sufficiently dry out drywall and insulation by mere dehumidification to avoid mold problems. So our first concern is to be sure that the removal of previously wet, moldy, or damaged materials is complete.
On the other hand, and from the comment about removing the blackboard that was an insulating sheathing on the house exterior behind a brick veneer sounds to me as if the contractor and insurer agree to being thorough.
What I tell insurance companies is that taking a shortcut now risks tripling the ultimate cost when they have to do the job all over again.
It would help me to see sharp photos of the house exterior, interior, and of demolition that's been done to date, as well as of the wall cavities where the "blackboard" is visible, and closeups of any stamps or markings on that product.
There are a few technical questions that will come up:
1. What else needs to be done before restoration work begins?
Electrical safety: Was electrical wiring and were outlets (wall receptacles or "plugs") and switches submerged? Typically experts say that even if the wiring is ok to re-use the devices that were wet are unreliable and get replaced.
This has to be cleared up before any restoration work and probably should occur AFTER the insulating board removal (as that process might nick or damage wiring)
Extent of drywall or insulating board removal: Are we sure that the extent of drywall removal on walls and other surfaces is sufficient?
What inspection has been done of the cavity side of drywall where anything was left in place? Test cuts may be appropriate in some other suspect areas.
Other mechanicals: Is there ductwork or plumbing that needs to be addressed? Mechanical systems that were wet?
Do any of these replacements affect the plan for demolition and restoration of the exterior and interior walls?
Floodwater chemical & bacterial hazards: Has the interior been sanitized and cleaned, or are workers taking adequate safety precautions for themselves?
Flood waters in Houston contained sewage, heavy metals, other toxic or pathogenic materials so demolition dust might be particularly hazardous.
2. Impact of cutting out the insulating board: insulating board is not a structural sheathing; a conventional wood-stud-framed house without a plywood exterior or at least plywood at the corners, might have diagonal bracing of wood or metal that has to stay in place.
You'd see that from the inside of the wall cavity near corners.
Brick veneer remains sound: We want to know that the brick veneer remains straight, not bowed, cracked, broken, leaning away from the structure.
Brick veneer is normally fastened to the structure by corrugated metal strips nailed to the studs and laid into the mortar joints of horizontal courses of brick; there are also retrofit fasteners that can be added if needed.
Un-block weep openings if they are to remain in use: If the brick veneer wall is intact then that's great, we can leave it in place.
But BEFORE adding back wallboard or insulation from inside the structure we want to check that the veneer wall weep openings at the wall bottom are proper and not blocked by mud or crud since that will determine the future resistance of the wall to water from windblown rain.
Later (below) we suggest that for some flood-damage-resistance improvements you may in fact need to block off those weep openings and make new ones higher in the veneer wall.
Raise the home? I am postponing the larger question of how many homes in Texas and Florida will need be or should be raised since there can be little doubt that despite our current US government's dismissive view of global warming, global warming is real and one of its effects is that severe storms like hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017 are going to occur with increasing frequency.
Future flooding is likely.
Improve the home's flood resistance at each opportunity: Even if we're not raising the house, we want to do whatever we can to improve its water damage resistance against future events.
3. Removing the insulating board (IB): by leaving the brick in place this means from the interior, removing interior drywall and insulation- that ought to be done anyway - and cutting the insulating board along side of each wall stud and at the wall top and bottom plate, then pulling out the IB.
This is labor intensive but less costly than removing the veneer wall from outside.
What about the fiberboard or IB that is left in place between the brick veneer wall inner face and the outwards-facing surface of the wall studs?
This IB material needs to be left in place (and would be difficult to remove anyway) in order to avoid disturbing the structural connectors or ties between the veneer wall and the building's wall framing.
After the exposed wall cavity is cleaned and dried, the exposed edges of the insulating board that are visible between the veneer wall and the stud face will be sealed by closed-cell foam insulation.
4. OK so what gets put back?
First we check that there is no other structural repair needed and that the brick veneer drainage isn't blocked and that wall bottom flashing directing any water behind the veneer to run outside at the wall bottom weep openings are intact.
Traditional approach (labor intensive): cut and fit exterior plywood (thus water resistant) 1/2" or thicker to fit in each stud bay, secure it in place with sealant and construction adhesive, possibly spaced back from the veneer 1/2"
same process using cement board or water-resistant exterior rated gypsum board sheathing (not my recommended choice)
Alternatively use closed cell foam: (more expensive in concept but possibly less expensive overall due to time and thus labor cost savings) is to spray-foam the wall cavities against the veneer wall, stud sides and wall top and bottom plates using CLOSED CELL foam insulation.
This material, being closed cell, is water proof and if sprayed on to clean, dry surfaces (no debris left in the wall bottom, all vaccumed and wiped surfaces) it will bond to the brick as well as the studs. The result is
- structurally superior
- far more water resistant
- saves considerably in labor time: probably a one-day or less job once demolition is complete
The amount of spray foam needed is traditionally probably not the full wall thickness of the studs, and closed cell foam sprays are not normally brought all the way out to the stud surfaces anyway since doing so adds labor cost to trim it back flush before the drywall can be restored. However, filling the wall cavity is important if we are to construct a Sealed Flood-Resistant Veneer Wall.
Watch out: To be successful, an option #2 Sealed Flood-Resistant Veneer Wall repair must build a completely-filled, solid exterior wall that is comprised entirely of waterproof / water resistant materials: a fully-filled wall cavity using closed cell foam and water-resistant wall covering on the interior such as cement board or another more-waterproof material.
I would ask the people involved if they will consider this option. Following other hurricane and flood damage in the U.S. some homeowners who had good success with this approach.
Let us know you're being told, what questions you have. If you can provide photos of work in progress that may permit useful questions or suggestions.
Reader follow-up: what do I do about the weep holes if we spray foam the wall?
Thank you so much for replying. I figured it was a long shot so how relieving.
Do have an electrician lined up but haven't started work yet as I plan on some additional demo for create an open concept.
We've demoed 4' of drywall and insulation. 2' of blackboard. All cabinets and flooring are out. They've had fans, dehumidifiers as well as a special spray they use for mold. They've been testing humidity levels daily as well. Most of the house is at 9%.
Two pictures below, one is in the master bedroom the other is in the kitchen/entryway.
My only question about the spray foam which I love the idea and my contractor had suggested it, was the weep holes. Do you just not go all the way down to ensure they are open? Also, aren't there holes left up top on the exterior as well for air flow? How does spray insulation affect that as well?
Treatment of Brick Veneer Wall Weep Openings in a Partial-Removal of Sheathing / Insulating board
Reply: close low weep holes and install new weep holes higher in the wall, just above the bottom edge of the insulating board that was left in place in the upper wall
The use of closed cell foam to seal, waterproof, and insulate gutted wall cavities in a flood zone has good possibilities, but to be successful, we'll need to pay attention to some details that I will discuss.
The job is actually easier if the whole wall cavity is open and all of the insulating board sheathing on the exterior wall has been cut away, because in that case the entire height of the exterior wall is being sealed and waterproofed.
Even in that case, some attention to the wall bottom seal is important.
1. Sealing at the wall bottom when the entire height of the veneer wall is sealed from the interior using closed cell foam
Closed cell foam that has adhered to clean, dry, debris-free surfaces will form a good water-seal where it has been applied over the full height of a wall and where it fills the wall cavity.
Watch out: open celled foam will not accomplish this so would not be a good choice for flood zone repairs in portions of a home subject to flooding.
Even closed cell waterproof foam will not perform well if the wall cavity is not filled: water leaking into the wall cavity into such cavities will be difficult to remove after flooding unless wall interior surfaces are again removed.
Watch out: also, as we discuss at BRICK VENEER WALL REPAIRS in FLOOD PRONE AREAS dry floodproofing approaches to repairing brick veneer walled homes are safe only for homes like yours where you expect flood waters to be no higher than two feet.
Research cited in the references section of these articles points out that for homes where floodwaters are at three feet or higher, where a building's exterior walls are made "water tight" there is risk of sudden structural collapse that can injure or kill occupants.
See the illustration below shows traditional brick veneer wall construction.
You will want to seal those weep openings and to make new ones in the mortar joint just above the green line in our edited photograph above.
However, depending on exact construction details there is a worry that rising floodwaters may still penetrate the lower portion of a veneer wall though existing veneer wall drain openings or through other normal (or abnormal) cracks and voids in bricks and in mortar joints or through porous brick or stone veneer materials.
Water penetrating the bottom of the veneer in the area corresponding to the outer face of the sill plate as well as portions of the exterior wall below that point can pass under the sill plate and into the building interior.
That's because during original construction the sill plate will not have been sealed water-tight against the floor slab. Extra steps reduce water entry at the wall sill plate.
While foam can seal the interior face of the veneer along the vertical edges of wall studs as well as down to the upper surface of the wall bottom plate, and while some foam may even seep by pressure of its expansion during curing to push its way down the outer face of the bottom plate (sill plate - the 2x4 laid flat on the floor slab of a home built on slab), a water entry path remains at the wall bottom.
However in flood conditions water is going to enter the home interior through other openings: doors, windows, wall penetrations in any case.
The object of building a Sealed Flood-Resistant Veneer Wall is not to keep water out of the building but rather to build a wall that will require the least demolition and repair after future floods of buildings that were not raised or re-built using solid masonry first floor walls.
Options when all of the wall drywall and exterior wall insulating board are removed from the inside
Option 1.a. Clean and seal the bottom of the sill plate to the concrete slab using a high grade silicone or equivalent "caulk". I don't like this approach because I'm doubtful that a perfect seal will be obtained, especially in an older building subject to prior flooding, leaving those surfaces imperfectly cleaned.
Even then some water may pass up from under the sill plate through the sill plate wherever it was penetrated by fastening nails, bolts, or any openings made for wiring or plumbing.
Option 1.b. Inspect & seal the outside of the veneer wall, sealing weep openings, cracks, penetrations with high-portland cement or other appropriate sealants.
Most-resistant to water penetration would be a high portland concrete foundation that actually extends above anticipated flood water depth but that option is only cost-reasonable in new construction or total wall re-builds.
Option 1.c. Combine options 1.a and 1.b. - this is what I'd do.
Normally it is essential to maintain weep openings in brick veneer walls and brick cavity walls because the wall design anticipates that water will penetrate the outer brick veneer: we need to keep a drainage plane behind the outer veneer to allow water to pass down and then to exit the wall at the wall bottom weep openings.
But when we gut wall sheathing for the whole height of the wall and then add closed cell foam we are changing the concept and design of the wall and its veneer to a veneer against a waterproof barrier.
Water may still penetrate into a mortar joint but it should not continue to pass behind the veneer itself if the wall cavity has been filled completely with a waterproof material such as closed cell foam. (In a northern climate this would leave a risk of future frost damage).
On a retrofit even this design is imperfect in that over a long life water penetrating the veneer may be blocked where the foam was applied but water may still contact the remaining sheathing board and the outer face of wall studs - risking rot or insect attack.
In any event if the foam is well sealed against the sides of the studs and the surfaces of the top and bottom wall plates, the ability of that water to pass the stud edge and enter the wall cavity is minimized.
Options for Sealing the Veneer Wall when Only Lower Insulating Board is Removed
Option 2: Clean & seal the wall surface, & add intermediate weep openings - some insulating board remains so we need to provide veneer wall drainage just above the bottom edge of the remaining insulating board (This is Your Situation)
Because in your flood damage repair project you are removing only the lower four-feet of interior drywall and roughly the lower two feet of the exterior wall sheathing insulating board, we need to take some special precautions to reduce the chances of new flood damage.
In this situation, even if the lower portion of the wall where insulating board is removed and closed cell foam is to be applied as an insulating sealant, wind-driven rain can still penetrate the upper portion of the wall where insulating board remains.
Water penetrating the upper wall then will run down the drainage plane between the outer face of the insulating board and the inner face of the brick (or stone) veneer.
What happens when this water reaches the top of the closed cell foam area? That's a point of potential leakage into the wall cavity.
Our photo above shows the use of drain openings in a masonry wall in Oxford, in the U.K.
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Add retrofit veneer wall weep openings along the face of the wall in every stud bay, at a height corresponding to the point just above the upper edge of the foam sealant can permit that water to exit the wall face.
Several companies offer brick veneer wall weep opening screens that can be inserted at vertical mortar joints after the mortar is removed (for the height of one brick) - see BRICK WALL DRAIN, FLASHING, VENT SOURCES .
Adding flashing at the top of the remaining, exposed brick veneer?
I considered suggesting adding flashing at the top of the exposed veneer, slipped up between the remaining IB and the veneer, as an added seal to prevent water from penetrating the wall cavity at that point.
But if your foam insulation will be carried to the wall top that flashing probably won't buy much.
Discuss with the insulation contractor ease of access to the upper heights of the wall for foaming - usually they expect to spray open wall cavities but some foaming approaches can spray through holes cut near the wall top.
If your foam insulation plan does not include foaming the full height of the wall then your contractor may have an opinion about the benefit of trying to add flashing.
I'm doubtful that it will help much. But also be warned that a half-foamed wall is a hybrid whose properties may be confusing, and also the job may be less attractive to the insulation contractor.
It would be helpful if I could see some sharper photos of the wall interior, particularly conditions at the bottom of the wall at the wall sill plate, and also some photos of the building exterior, from a distance to get site perspective and closer to see the outside of the veneer wall.
Inside I want to see if there was ever flashing at the bottom of the veneer wall and I'd want to see details of the weep openings from outside and if visible, from inside.
It would be useful to understand how your particular veneer wall is constructed: on a concrete foundation wall lip or on a steel angle iron, either of which might place the bottom course of bricks below the interior sill plate or at the same level as the sill plate, or above it.
Watch out: the long term performance of spray foam insulation in buildings, particularly where the building may be subjected to flooding, is not established. Discuss the water resistance of the foam insulation product you plan to use with the foam manufacturer / supplier.
We note that where exposed to the air closed cell foam forms a shiny skin that is quite water repellant. But we do not know the water-repelling quality of the side of the sprayed foam that is in contact with fiberboard sheathing, plywood sheathing, or a brick veneer wall. These are questions to review with the foam manufacturer.
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 Williams, M.F., Williams B.L., "Water Intrusion in Barrier and Cavity / Rain Screen Walls", Water in Exterior Building Walls: Problems and Solutions, ASTM STP 1107, Thomas A. Schwartz, Eds., American Society for Testing and Materials, ASHRAE, Philadelphia, 1991, retrieved 8/10/12, Abstract:
Exterior walls are designed and constructed using barrier or cavity / rain screen wall principles. Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) are typically constructed as barrier walls; masonry is often constructed as a cavity wall. These wall systems are discussed along with common deficiencies that allow water intrusion to occur.
[Mark F. Williams and Barbara Lamp Williams are president and vice president respectively of Kenny/Williams/Williams, Inc., a building diagnostics firm at 945 Tennis Ave., Maple Glen PA 19002.]
Airolite BVC Brick Vents (extruded aluminum), The Airolite Company, LLC, PO Box 410, Schofield WI 54476, TelP 715-841-8757.
Brick Development Association, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BT, England, U.K., Tel: 020 7323 7030, Email: email@example.com
Arlene Puentes, ASHI, October Home Inspections - (845) 216-7833 - Kingston NY
Greg Robi, Magnum Piering - 800-822-7437 - National*
Dave Rathbun, P.E. - Geotech Engineering - 904-622-2424 FL*
Ed Seaquist, P.E., SIE Assoc. - 301-269-1450 - National
Dave Wickersheimer, P.E. R.A. - IL, professor, school of structures division, UIUC - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture. Professor Wickersheimer specializes in structural failure investigation and repair for wood and masonry construction. * Mr. Wickersheimer's engineering consulting service can be contacted at HDC Wickersheimer Engineering Services. (3/2010)
Masonry structures: The Masonry House, Home Inspection of a Masonry Building & Systems, Stephen Showalter (director, actor), DVD, Quoting: Movie Guide Experienced home inspectors and new home inspectors alike are sure to learn invaluable tips in this release designed to take viewers step-by-step through the home inspection process. In addition to being the former president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), a longstanding member of the NAHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and the Environmental Standard Organization (IESO), host Stephen Showalter has performed over 8000 building inspections - including environmental assessments. Now, the founder of a national home inspection school and inspection training curriculum shares his extensive experience in the inspection industry with everyday viewers looking to learn more about the process of evaluating homes. Topics covered in this release include: evaluation of masonry walls; detection of spalling from rebar failure; inspection of air conditioning systems; grounds and landscaping; electric systems and panel; plumbing supply and distribution; plumbing fixtures; electric furnaces; appliances; evaluation of electric water heaters; and safety techniques. Jason Buchanan --Jason Buchanan, All Movie Review
Diagnosing & Repairing House Structure Problems, Edgar O. Seaquist, McGraw Hill, 1980 ISBN 0-07-056013-7 (obsolete, incomplete, missing most diagnosis steps, but very good reading; out of print but used copies are available at Amazon.com, and reprints are available from some inspection tool suppliers). Ed Seaquist was among the first speakers invited to a series of educational conferences organized by D Friedman for ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, where the topic of inspecting the in-service condition of building structures was first addressed.
Defects and Deterioration in Buildings: A Practical Guide to the Science and Technology of Material Failure, Barry Richardson, Spon Press; 2d Ed (2001), ISBN-10: 041925210X, ISBN-13: 978-0419252108. Quoting: A professional reference designed to assist surveyors, engineers, architects and contractors in diagnosing existing problems and avoiding them in new buildings. Fully revised and updated, this edition, in new clearer format, covers developments in building defects, and problems such as sick building syndrome. Well liked for its mixture of theory and practice the new edition will complement Hinks and Cook's student textbook on defects at the practitioner level.
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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