Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weeping Over Weep Holes

This is a rewrite of an article for my November 4, 2000 Newsletter

If you don't intend to read this in its entirety, then stop NOW because you will just be more confused than ever.

Weep Holes
Over the past few weeks I have been hearing about, conflict, lack of understanding, confusion, upset buyers, sellers and Realtors over the issue of a home inspectors report of the lack of weep holes in the brick veneer walls of a two year old home. Luckily for me, I was not involved in the inspection, but several Realtors I know well and two home inspectors whom I am in contact with often were involved.

Here are some of the issues I heard about being bounced around:
  • Are weep holes required by code, and if so since when?
  • If they are required, why did the builder of this two-year-old home not install them?
  • Why did the local building inspector approve the home without them?
  • What does a weep hole do?
  • Why is it a big deal if they are left out?
  • Who should be responsible for installing weep holes after the fact?

Are weep holes required by code, and if so since when?

First let me make it very clear that pre-sale home inspections are not code inspections. However, many of the issues we raise are also code issues and this is a good example. Here is what the current building code (2000) says about weep holes:

North Carolina State Building Code Volume VII – Residential:
703.7.4 Weep holes. Weep holes shall be provided in the outside wythe of masonry walls at a maximum spacing of 48 inches on center. Weep holes shall not be less than 3/16 inch in diameter. Weep holes shall be located immediately above the flashing.

Where is flashing required per the code?
703.7.3 Flashing. Flashing shall be located beneath the first course of masonry above finished ground level above the foundation wall or slab, and at other points of support, including structural floors, shelf angles and lintels …
703.8 Flashing. Approved corrosion-resistive flashing shall be provided at top and sides of all exterior window and door openings … at the intersection of chimneys or other masonry construction with frame or stucco walls … under and at the ends of masonry, wood, or metal copings, sills; continuously above all projecting wood trim; where exterior porches, decks or stairs attach to a wall or floor assembly of wood-frame construction; at wall and roof intersections.

In simple language, weep holes are required in masonry walls at the top of the foundation wall, below all window and door sills, at the top of all window, door and any other wall opening, at supporting points, at shelf angles, at copings, projecting trim, wall and roof intersections.

If you were aware of weep hole requirements, I bet you only knew about their requirement at the top of foundations. Sorry, that's not the only place.

How long have they been required?

I didn't take the time to check this out, but I can tell you this. I started in construction as a mason while a teenager and I am now sixty years old. There has never been a time when I did not install weep holes.

Why did the builder of this two-year-old home not install them?

That's a good question but easy to answer. Most builders don't build homes, subcontractors build homes. How many times have you seen a homebuilder or even one of his employees installing brick or for that matter even watching it being installed? If the sub doesn't do it correctly, unfortunately I am ashamed to say, many builders aren't managing their jobs closely enough or just plain don't know the difference.

Why did the local building inspector approve the home without them?

To be very blunt, he shouldn't have. Do the local code enforcement inspectors miss issues like this? Every day. Why are they missed? For many reasons, over worked, over scheduled and under paid is a good one and I am sure there are many others. Say what ever you like, but it boils down to this: Code enforcement inspectors are not responsible for code compliance, builders are. Builders must know the code and demand that their subcontractors meet code requirements.

What does a weep hole do?

Masonry walls leak. A tightly tooled mortar joint is a masonry walls first line of defense against water penetration. Slick concave joints are best, slick “V” joints are next. Flush joints are fair. Joints raked out after they have begun to dry, beloved by residential masons and used on most homes today are not good, and rake joints beloved by architects because they cast a shadow are guaranteed to trap water on their ledges and greatly increase water penetration. Brick work with irregular lines and ledges as has been popular in the past and coming back into popularity today make walls less water tight and create ledges for penetration. Water can pass through a crack that is only 1/100” wide. A square foot of brickwork with cracks that size around each brick will have voids equal to a hole that has a diameter of about 1”. These hairline cracks are almost invisible; yet allow much water to enter the wall. Adding to all of these issues is the fact that although brick manufactures have for years attempted to beat into masons brains that all brick joints must be full of mortar without voids, few if any homes are constructed today or have been constructed in the past which met this requirement.

The water is coming in and weep holes constitute the second line of defense against this water becoming a problem by controlling the water, which has penetrated the walls. They usually are open vertical mortar joints spaced regularly around the house near the top of the foundation. Ideally, although required but seldom seen, they also should be provided at the top and sills of windows and doors. These openings in the wall allow the water that accumulates on the flashing from the failure of the first line of defense to drain to daylight.

Weep holes have a secondary function. Weep holes help equalize air pressure on both sides of the wall, making it less likely that wind-driven rain will penetrate the wall. When water does penetrate the wall, weep holes expel it, and ventilation through the holes helps dry the wall cavity. Ventilating weep holes also allow any condensation that accumulates on the inner surface of the brick to dissipate.

Why is it a big deal if they are left out?

This is minor, it can be much worse that this!
The absence of weep holes occasionally may allow so much moisture to accumulate that metal fasteners turn to rust, wood-destroying insects are encouraged, or rot develops. It is unlikely that a nondestructive visual home inspection will reveal these problems unless they are so severe that cracks in the walls or other manifestations are accessible to visual examination. The most likely visual manifestation of a problem will be water stains, damp areas or rot at the foundation plate and or floor band and stains or damp areas at the top of the foundation wall. Another is leaks and stains around windows and doors, at roof to wall transitions or chimneys. I have personally witnessed severe damage which appeared to have been caused by the lack of weep holes and/or flashing. Unfortunately, not only do inspectors find weep holes missing, but often we find them filled up because someone though they were just holes needing to be repaired.        

Who should be responsible for installing weep holes after the fact?

I guess that will be left up to the judge and jury, but I will state my personal opinion. Failure to install recommended and/or required weep holes constitutes negligence and is the responsibility of the contractor of record. This is not a warranty issue for which the contractor's responsibility disappears after one year. As I often tell contractors: Fail to do it correctly, and you sleep with it at night and live with it forever. This is just one of the many reasons I am no longer a contractor and am now a pre-purchase home inspector.    

Reality

This week as I have driven from one inspection to another I have been looking for weep holes. Based on this week, as well as my past experience, in the newer developments they are for the most part clearly evident at the top of the foundation, hardly ever anywhere else. In older developments except for large track builders, they are often in fact almost always missing. If all of the pre-purchase home inspectors wrote up the lack of weep holes on every home we inspect you should buy stock in any company that manufactures drills and masonry drill bits and might ought to consider going into the weep hole installation business.

I will not pretend to speak for other home inspectors, but this is how I handle this issue. I am not a code enforcement inspector. In many instances I must make a judgment call on what I write up. On older homes I can't just consider code or best practices, I must consider what may have been a generally accepted practice at the time the home was constructed. Considering the amount of older homes I see without weep holes and based on my past experience, it is my opinion that the installation of weep holes at some point in the past, even if it was part of code, was not a generally accepted practice and appears to have been ignored by code enforcement officials. Therefore I must make a judgment call because I believe that is what my client is paying me to do. If I think the age of the home relates to the time when this was not a generally accepted practice and I see no visual evidence of this being a problem then I don't even address the issue in my inspection and or report. If on the other hand I see visual issues which could be attributable to the lack of weep holes it becomes an issue that I address on site with my client and include in my report.

I believe that weep holes at the top of the foundation, today and in recent years, is not only a code requirement but is a commonly accepted practice. Weep holes at other locations may be code, but has not become a commonly accepted practice even though it should be. To be honest, I see problems at these other locations from lack of or improperly installed flashing, but I can't say that I am aware of problems from the lack of weep holes. If the home is new construction or fairly recent construction the issue of weep holes at the top of the foundation will definitely be addressed both on site and in my report and someone had better get out the drill and their wallet or be willing to live with it.

Yes, I did say that I think this issue is the responsibility of the builder even after the one-year warranty period. If the home is new, or recent construction I definitely recommend going after the builder and demanding correction of his negligent workmanship. Reality is that many builders after one year will not respond largely because they know the owners are more than likely going to be forced to deal with the issue on their own and are not willing to deal with the time, lose the sale or bear the legal expense required to force the builder into compliance. Reality is whether the seller and buyer likes it or not they are going to be forced into negotiations relative to how this will effect closing their deal. The choice to live with it or bear the expense of repair is more than likely going to be theirs to decide and your commission will hang on the results.

These little holes didn't appear so important before today, did they?

36 comments:

  1. Awesome... I really love the way you write your article here... And also it shows facts which I like. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. I am researching non-existing weep holes in a new (one year old home) in NC for my son and daughter-in-law (stationed in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan respectively) may be purchasing if all inspection items are corrected. This article in very informative and seems to answer all questions that they may have. Thanks very much.

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  3. Hi Chris,
    Interesting article on brick weeps. You seem to indicate that weep holes could be retrofit (picture and reference to the drill). This ignores the rest of the brick drainage plane system. Are you in fact suggesting that they can be retrofit?

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    1. Dear "Anonymous January 22, 2014" - Actually I am not overly excited about "retrofit" of weep holes for the very issue you raise "ignores the rest of the brick drainage plane system". Unfortunately in a wall leaking to the interior without properly installed weep holes and drainage plane system weep holes are easy and inexpensive to install. Correcting the drainage plane system is a whole other issue. You are basically talking removal and replacement of much if not all of the brick veneer. In most cases it appears that adding weep holes after the fact often helps allowing the water an avenue to the exterior. However this isn't always the case. Most engineers I have discussed this with prefer adding the weep holes irrelevant of the drainage plane. That said as a home inspector I may address the missing weep holes but I do not encourage adding them unless issues are evident of water infiltration associated with the missing weep holes.

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  4. My house was finished in August 2013, but we have since discovered the weep holes have no flashing. Will all of the brick need to be removed to correct this?

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    1. Dear Anonymous February 5, 2014: The only method I am aware of to retrofit missing wall flashing on brick veneer walls is to remove the brick. However they do not have to "all" be removed. The brick can be removed in sections and flashing installed. It is a very long, drawn-out, tedious and expensive process. Typically unless there are serous leakage issues this is not done. An alternate, although not ideal option, is to waterproof the brick. There are options for this the least expensive of which is silicon which must be done again over time as it deteriorates. Other more expensive options can last much longer. I would check with a brick supply company about this in your area.

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    2. If the brick is removed in sections, will it make the initial brick job unstable? We are finding out this brick layer has stated that he leaves the flashing out, because no one cares - namely the construction supervisor for low income housing.....

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    3. Brick veneer walls are self supporting over a small distance. It needs to be done by someone who understands and knows what there are doing. Yea, he is right about "no one cares". Trust me, the homeowner will care when water infiltrates the wall causing damage to finishes and structure. The contractor and the "brick layer" will care when a court rules against them and demands that they pay all of the cost of the damage and the proper repair. Remind the "brick layer" that he is just as responsible for meeting the requirements of the building code as the "construction supervisor" and the contractor. I actually am a former "brick layer" myself and I have been know to order the flashing myself and have it charge to the builder and have walked off of jobs where the "construction supervisor" refused to follow the building code. It's all about integrity. Unfortunately there are too many in our construction industry who don't have ANY! I suggest that you contact your local building code officials about this issue as well as your states code authority and report this blatant, knowledgeable, purposeful failure to follow the building code.

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    4. Thanks for a supportive answer.

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  5. Could you answer a question for me? My 4 year old home has weep holes, however, they are at ground level. Therefore, my husband tells me I cannot "build up" or "berm" the ground up against the house for landscaping purposes because I will cover up the weep holes.

    Is there a product or technique that I can use to enclose the area where the weep holes are, so it leaves an air space on the outside of the hole, but then I can put my dirt or mulch higher against the house like I want?

    I am envisioning a fabricated, rectangular metal box to go over the weep holes. My husband can be very handy and I feel he could make these for me!

    What do YOU think?

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    1. Sometimes you need to pay attention to your husband! Soil outside the home can't be higher than the weep holes. In fact the soil (on a brick veneer home over a masonry or concrete foundation) must always be a minimum of 4" below the bottom of the interior wood floor sill supporting the floor joist. Typically this is 4" below the bottom of the weep holes. Of course you can do whatever you like as long as you understand that it will lead to trapped moisture migrating into the wall, rotten floor framing and termites. What you are considering is a water trap collecting water along the wall. Sometimes things just simply can't be as you might desire or invasion. Sorry I could not help with your idea but hopefully I have prevented you from making a MAJOR mistake.

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  6. That's too funny because my husband always tells me "You should really listen to me, I'm a lot smarter than I look!"

    I went looking for an answer and instead of just telling me "NO", you've given me the explanation as to WHY I shouldn't go forward with this idea.

    For that reason, I appreciate your help and honesty.

    Now to re-figure that landscaping plan...

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  7. What is your suggestion for correcting weep holes without flashing and that are below grade on a new house which was built August 2013.

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    1. On a home this age this is a builder issue and should be addressed and repaired by the builder! This is considered gross negligence and extends beyond the typical one year warranty period. You should demand that corrective action be taken and the home be brought up to code compliance. How the builder accomplishes this is his problem.

      Assuming that you can't get the builder to correct this issue I suggest that you contact the code enforcement department of your local government and address this issue with them.

      If you can't get action from the above recommendations it is difficult to make recommendations for something I haven't seen. I am assuming from your comment that weep holes are present. However, there are two key statements in your request "without flashing" and "below grade". All weep holes MUST be above grade. Typically weep holes are located at the top of the foundation wall. On a brick veneer the grade should be at least 4" below the top of the foundation wall. The first action needs to be to lower the grade and slope the grade away from the home 6" in the first 10 feet. If the weep holes are clogged with soil you need to clean them out.

      That is the simple part, now to the much more difficult issue of being "without flashing". If you are unable to force the builder to correct this lack of code compliance I recommend that, after you correct the grade issue, you monitor the situation to determine is there is leakage from the lack of flashing. If there is not leakage I don't recommend that you take additional action because it is complex and expensive. If there is leakage you will need to have the flashing properly installed by an experienced competent mason. This is complex, difficult and expensive.

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    2. This contractor admits to always installing the "fake" weep holes. He is a contractor building in a subdivision, and the house next door also has the "fake" weep holes below grade. I would say at least 75% of the "fake" weep holes are below grade, plus we have a drainage issue in the front yard. One observer stated the weep hole being below grade in the front yard was at least keeping water from running into the weep.

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    3. You need to report this contractor to the local code compliance office as well as your states contractors licensing authority. I suggest that you contact an attorney as well as recommend that your neighbors do the same. This appears to be blatant gross negligence on the part of the contractor and he can be in a boat load of trouble. Think of this a being raped. The offender will only be stopped when the offended step up and call his hand!

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    4. Thanks for your input. Sadly to say, this is a low-income subdivision, and no one will have the money for a lawyer.

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    5. You may not need to pay for an attorney. What you need to do is get together as a group and meet with an attorney. There are many ways to handle a case like this without taking funds from your pocket. Also be aware that if properly reported the state may take this contractors license and prosecute this contractor. Also check on state "lemon laws" some states have funds that pay for repair of improper work performed by bad contractors. Don't give up - FIGHT! You need to start by contacting the code enforcement office in your area and the state contractors licensure board. They may be able to give you guidance.

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  8. Thanks. There are many more things going on with the construction of our house that we are investigating at this time.

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    1. Is it possible to send you a word document of our weeps that we have complained about being below grade along with their try at correcting the issue for your opinion? They have admitted there is NO FLASHING.

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    2. Send it to chris@chrisdhilton.com

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  9. Hello - I am looking to purchase a home that was built in 1978 in Ohio. The home does not have weep holes. Is there a way to probe the home for mold/rot? possibly, remove a few bricks to test? If so, who would be the best type of person to call? This really has me in a pickle because I love the house/location, but am concerned that I may have a bigger problem on my hands that could really hurt resale in in 7-10 years. Any advice would be much appreciated?

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  10. Look inside at the top of the foundation at the finishes or floor framing. If there are no stains or water damage you most likely do not have an issue and there may be nothing to become alarmed about. In 1978 code enforcement officials were lax on this issue.

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  11. We had travertine tile installed on our existing patio to match the tile going on our new pool's decking. It turns out that travertine is much thicker than I realized and it covered most of the weep holes on the covered patio. There are still weep holes above the doors and 7 windows on the patio. But there is still about a 15 to 20 foot area now with weep holes covered on the covered patio. Should we make new weep holes just above the travertine or will this make more problems. If we do this I worry about water getting in when I am spraying off the patio or during a heavy windy rain and sitting below these weep holes. Appreciated your insight.,

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    1. At this stage of the game I don't recommend that you do anything until you have evidence this is causing an issue. Adding weep holes higher could actually cause a worse issue. The saving grace may be that this is a "covered patio". Whatever you do, DO NOT sprayer water on or against this wall when "spraying off the patio".

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  12. Unfortunately my patio buildier did not inform me about covering over weep holes. Now I have mold on the rim joists in the basement. Will putting pea gravel under the stone to ensure water will drain out be OK? Do I need to add weep holes higher to create air flow?

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    1. You need to correct the grade and uncover the weep holes or you can pay to replace your rotted out or termite damaged floor later.

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  13. I have a ratified contract on a home built in 2007. The inspector noticed that all the weep holes have been filled in with a cement mixture. Can these holes be drilled out, or is the damage done? This is a slab foundation in Alabama, so I think the previous

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    1. Jason - You can carefully clean the weep holes out attempting not to damage the flashing which should be on the back side of the brick. Damage the flashing and you have defeated the purpose of the weep holes. If you drill, set the drill bit to drill less than the thickness of the brick.

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  14. I have a cinder block basement with blocks resting on a concrete footing in my fifty year old house...Weep holes were drilled very recently...I am worried the holes were drilled too close to the bottom of the cinder blocks (one inch from the footing) and may lead to cracking of the block near the footing...Is this a likely scenario?

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  15. Weep holes were very recently drilled very close to the bottom of the lowest cinder blocks in my fifty year old basement...Can the holes be too close to the bottom of the block and lead to worse damage than without the holes?

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    1. I am assuming that you are talking about holes drilled on the inside of your basement wall to relive water pressure building up on the exterior of the wall. If this is correct there should not be any concern that these holes will adversely affect the structural integrity of the wall. Trust me the hydrostatic pressure building up if not relived will structurally damage the wall.

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  16. Chris, i have weep holes in my basement cinder block walls which allow water to flow through. they are about a foot above the floor. Should i cover those? When there is heavy rain, there is excessive water flowing through.

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    1. No do not cover them. That is the very reason they are present to prevent hydrostatic pressure from building up and moving (cracking, bulging or pushing over) that wall. You need to control where the water goes and move it outside with a gravity drain or a pump. Imagine there is a swimming pool attempting to knock down that wall and allowing water to come through is what is preventing that from happening.

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    2. Thank you very much!

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  17. I have a sunroom that is leaking inside where the wall meets the floor. When I lift the aluminum channelling where the wall meets the floor I see rott on the sill plate. There is also aluminum channeling at floor level on the exterior as well. Holes have been drilled into the channelling. Should there be flashing installed over the channelling?

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