Every time I inspect a new brick-veneer house, I just have to wonder: How can so many building contractors go for so many years knowing so dang little about bricklaying?
Take weep holes, for instance. Weep holes are nothing more than little holes in the brick veneer put there to let water out of the wall cavity. Letting water out is good, because that keeps wood from rotting. Weep holes have been required by the Council of American Building Officials (CABO) building code since at least 1992, and they’re recommended by the Brick Industry Association (BIA). That means every new house in our part of the world ought to have weep holes. But from what I’ve seen, very few brick-veneer homes have weep holes, and fewer yet have weep holes that are done right.
It’s not as if all the weep hole info was confiscated long ago, and locked up in a vault with JFK’s brain. If you work on houses for a living, the weep hole details are right under your nose. The 1992 CABO book devotes a whole page to Figure R-503.4, which shows the required details for a brick-veneer wall, including weep holes. BIA’s web site is at http://www.brickinfo.org.
The Web site has Technical Note 28, which shows, in close-up detail, how to put weep holes and flashing in a brick-veneer wall.
We’ve found that with new construction, quite a few builders take this position: “Anything that the local codes inspectors don’t make me rip out and rebuild complies with the building code.” That’s a convenient interpretation for builders, but it’s just plain wrong. Not getting caught when you screw up is not the same thing as doing the job right.
When a builder gets a building permit, whether for new construction or renovation work, he agrees to do that work in compliance with the building code, says Sonny West, zoning administrator for the Metro Codes Administration. Metro conducts seminars for codes enforcement officials and builders, West says, but that doesn’t mean it’s Metro’s job to teach codes to every builder. Builders are responsible for learning the code, and for complying with it, every time, on every job.
Even so, when I point out the lack of weep holes and flashing in spanking-new brick veneer, the builder usually cocks his head like Nipper the RCA dog, and looks at me all cross-eyed.
I have actually had builders tell me that weep holes are bad. Time and time again, I’ve listened patiently while a builder explained to me that weep holes let in water and bugs.
Sorry, bubba, but if you flash the dang things right, you could squirt water into the weep holes with a hose, and it would just come right back out. That’s the whole idea. There’s no real bug threat, either. But even if there were, the holes could be stuffed with steel wool. Not even roaches will gnaw through steel wool.
I’m amazed that I have to explain all this. Here it is almost four years since the National Association of Home Builders issued their report on water damage in synthetic stucco houses. The damage was caused by water that was trapped in the walls, and couldn’t weep out. Lawsuits bloomed all over the place, and synthetic stucco manufacturers modified their products and installation methods to prevent water entrapment. Still, some builders haven’t gotten the message that wall drainage systems are good, and water trapped in walls is bad.
Anybody can walk up to a house and check for weep holes and flashing. The weep holes should be visible near the bottom floor level, and just above doors and windows. They should be spaced no more than two feet apart. (CABO says four-foot spacing is okay. BIA says two feet. I say go with the BIA recommendation.) You should see metal flashing protruding through the brick veneer, just below the weep holes. If you don’t see all this stuff, something’s wrong.
If builders don’t put in the weep holes and flashing while the house is being built, it’s almost impossible to put them in later. Workers would have to laboriously remove sections of the brick veneer, install the flashing, then put the brick veneer back together again, this time with holes. I wouldn’t be confident of a good outcome, considering that we’re talking about the same guys who screwed up the job to begin with, when they could have done it the easy way.
Now, I don’t want to be too tough on the hard-working builder brethren. If there’s a builder within 30 miles of Nashville who’s putting in weep holes and flashing according to the BIA specs, I want to meet him. Call me, show me the holes, I’ll buy lunch.
In the meantime, you people buying new brick-veneer houses, listen to me: Tell the builders you want the weep holes and flashings, and you want them done right. Tell them you don’t want to find rot in your walls and floors the day after your one-year warranty runs out. If they look at you cross-eyed, well, you might want to keep talking to builders until you find one who knows how to do these very simple and necessarythings.
Visit Walter’s Web site at http://www.nashscene.com/~housesense, or you can e-mail him at email@example.com.