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Walls

Photographs of findings of walls, floors, and ceilings during home inspections.

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 wall framing
house wrap
brick exterior
I
just drove around, so I could have some photos of the steps to
creating the walls of a home. First you have the framing. Once it is
complete, electrical and plumbing contractors will come to run their
lines. A sheathing is placed over the framing on the interior side
and the exterior side. For the exterior, this could be some type of
plywood or OSB. Over this sheathing comes the material that you see
in the center photo. This is a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from
getting into the framing. Finally the exterior surface is put on. In
this case brick. It is kept an inch away from the sheathing to create
a path for any moisture to run down the wall to help get it out of
the building.

exterior wall sectionwall sectionIn these photos, we see a section of the exterior wall that had been removed by a builder to make repairs on the interior. The blue box is a junction box for a kitchen cooktop. The dark pipe foam insulation covers pipes going to the sink. We see OSB sheathing over the framing. On top of the OSB sheathing is a white paper material, which is the house wrap to protect the interior walls and structural framing from moisture. These can also be air barriers, depending upon the type of wrap used. We then see that there is a gap before we come to the bricks. Any moisture that gets past the bricks will run down this gap to the weepholes to rid the walls of moisture. When you hear builders and inspectors speak of interior and exterior walls, we are referring to the fact that there is a separation between the interior construction and the exterior construction of walls.

For the purposes to make this page more understandable, I am breaking down issues with the wall into three basic sections: moisture issues; wall joints and penetration issues; and damage issues. I do not do this on my reports, since some of these items will be overlapping.

Moisture Issues

covering a weephole
This
moisture can then exit through the weepholes at the base of the wall.
In this photo, a flagstone patio was placed on top of an existing
concrete patio. If you can see, in the center of the picture is the
weephole, which now sits partially below the new surface. This allows
water to flow back into the house.

stucco rustProperly installed stucco should have a method for the moisture behind the wall to drain. With cement stucco, a metal channel is placed at the bottom of the wall to create the gap. With the high grading of the soil, and the back splashing water from the roof, the meta is beginning to rust, which can cause further damage to the wall.

Window sill moistureThis could be from the window being left open, or it could be from a leak around the window. There is also the possibility that this was just a bad paint job. Interior window sills that have peeling paint should be examined for possible moisture issues.

wall plumbing leakIs this a plumbing leak or another problem? Along this section of wall I found these moisture signs near the expansion joint and weephole. They correlated with where I suspected some plumbing lines to be running through the interior wall. Considering the algae signs, water has been here for a while. Problem is that this might not be a plumbing leak. The lawn sprinkler splashes water on this wall, and the lip at the top of the foundation may be holding onto the water for a bit. Rain was also backsplashing onto this wall. This is why home inspectors sometimes report a finding without an explanation as to cause, because the cause may be unkown.

moisture in wallsThis is a picture of a utility room wall. The dark stains is where moisture has collected and mold formed. To me, this is a great example of how different systems are interconnected. The walls would not have this problem if this room had an operable window to the outside, or if a mechanical vent had been installed.

moisture in exterior claddingThe most common places for moisture issues on the exterior of the home are trim pieces (where moisture can stay on them), fascia due to the roof design, or the base part of exterior walls due to high water or backsplashing off of the roof. In this case, we see that the base cladding piece has moisture damage signs due to backsplashing. Simply because the exterior cladding has moisture damage signs does not mean that the interior or framing has moisture damage. More investigation is needed for that conclusion.

bathroom moistureOf course moisture damage can occur in any room with plumbing, but the most visible place to see damage to the walls would be the bathroom. As with the utility room in the above photograph, we could see the black spots on the wall if moisture in the air is not properly ventilated. Another place to see moisture signs is on the case of the walls. Next to the toilet, we see a gap in the wall caused by moisture damage. One place for the toilet to leak that can cause a great deal of moisture damage before people really notice is by the wax ring at the drain pipe of the toilet. This wall damage could be a sign that the toilet is starting to leak from that spot.

Wall Joints and Penetrations

expansion joint

Expansion joints are now being incorporated into exterior walls of homes to help minimize the effect of movement. It is hard to see in this photo, but the caulking is cracking. If the caulk is not in place, water can seep into the wall to damage the framing.

possible expansion jointIs this an expansion joint? There are two problems here. From the way the bricks were placed, and from the fact that no mortar is at the end of the bricks in this vertical line, I felt that the builder meant this as an expansion joint; however, the mortar running horizontally is continuous, defeating the idea of being a true expansion joint. The mortar will eventually crack. The other problem is that the gaps are not sealed, which will allow moisture behind the brick, so these openings should be sealed with caulk (if this is an expansion joint).

window trim gapGaps will open up between various parts of our home due to movement, or simply due to the caulk wearing out. Here we see one common place for that to occur: between the trim of the window and the wall. Besides being a possible moisture entry point, gaps like this can be an energy efficiency issue. This gap breaks the barrier between conditioned air in the house and the exterior.

windw unit gapMy first thought when seeing air conditioning window units in a house already served by a central AC system is the system has a problem. My next thought goes to installation. Many homeowners unwilling to lose a window create openings in the wall for these units. In this photo we see two issues. The first is the gap around the unit, which has the same concerns as the window trim above. The second may not be as obvious, but the recessed installation is a problem. The base of this opening can hold water longer, since it is not angled. This has led to the moisture damage at the base of the trim around the window unit.

interior window frame gapAs with the exterior, gaps can show up on the interior window frame trim and wall. These gaps can appear around all wall openings, like the window unit above or doors. These gaps are sealed with silicone by builders during the initial build of the home, which can break down like the exterior caulk, so these should be checked every so often. One place to look, even in a new home, s at the top of the window frame where it meets the wall covering. Installers will remember to caulk the sides and the base, but they forget to seal overhead.

wall penetrationWall openings pose one problem, but wall penetrations can be just as bad. Here we see a hose bib coming out of the wall. The builder had used a piece of pipe foam insulation to seal the gap between the pipe and the wall. This has come out, so now moisture problems can happen, as well as energy efficiency issues. The pipe foam insulation is alright, but I find that it is always coming out. I prefer to seal this gap with caulk or even cement.

wall opening behind electrical boxWhen you see exterior electrical boxes, you might not be thinking wall penetration location. The wiring has to go into the home, and this usually occurs behind the box. If the box is flush against the wall, we may not need any sealing, but here we see that gap for the conduit, so we should seal this location.

vent penetrationObviously this vent has a missing louvre. I would deal with this issue in the section for what this vent serves (such as a dryer vent or mechanical exhaust vent as examples). The reason for the photo here is that this is also a wall penetration that should be sealed. A caulk bead should be run around the edges of this vent to seal the gap in the wall.

flashing gapMainly flashing issues are dealt with in the roof covering section of the report. This piece of flashing goes over the exterior surface of a masonry wall. With the caulk breaking away from the flashing, we have a leak point that can damage the wall and roof sheathing.

flashing coming upThere are times where flashing has nothing to do with the roof. The second story of this home has wood cladding, while the first story has brick cladding. A decorative feature is this brick ledge, since the brick wall sticks out a bit from the wood cladding. The flashing is coming up. This helps hold water that is coming down the wall from rain, but rain that is blown can come under the flashing. In either case, we have moisture issues.

cladding butt jointsWhere two pieces of cladding meet on their ends is called a butt joint. These joints should be tight together, but they can separate due to movement. If there is a gap, these should be sealed.

brick trim gapSometimes when wall and trim pieces are so tightly fitted during construction, you will see no caulk added to seal the joint. Movement in the structure may create a need for that gap to be sealed. Sometimes builders may just forget to seal this gap. This is for a door opening, so we have the same issues as with the window.

Damage to Walls

Damage may not be the appropriate term, but the items here are either pictures of wall damage or issues which can cause wall damage.

crack in joint

Cracks following the mortar joints in brick walls usually indicate movement. It is a good idea to seal them or redo the mortar to prevent water from penetrating into the wall.

crackthroughbrickIn this case, you see that the crack went through the mortar first, but then went through the brick. We could be looking at a foundation problem- other indicators need to be weighed in with this crack to make that kind of determination.

foam insulationThis is what can happen to foam insulation when exposed to the sun. This material was a light yellow. When it deteriorates, it foam insulation becomes dark brown. At this stage, the insulation begins to break off.

brick window sillThis is a brick window sill that is not properly angled to shed water.

missing wall sheathingThis happens on remodel projects more than on new construction: missing sheathing. This also seems to happen more on a wall that is above a roof surface. In fact, you will see more problems where a wall meets a roof than in other exterior wall locations. A good reason to go up on the roof to check. The exterior wall sheathing is not carrying the weight of the structure, but it does help protect interior sections, so you need a complete sheathing.

electrical equipment holesAnother issue that happens during repairs is not repairing the old spot. In this case, an electrical shut off has been removed with a new one installed about a foot away. The holes for the fasteners and wiring were left in the boards. These could be sealed or the clapboard could be replaced.

unpainted soffitHere again a repair was made, yet the job was not completed. Primer and paint protects the material. If left unpainted, the wood will decay faster.

garage trim removedTrim has been removed due to the moisture damage, yet the missing trim has not been replaced. This brings up a question about the picture above: why was the soffit repaired? This means we need to see if there are any other clues as to why. In the photo with the  missing trim we could have another problem: moisture. The damaged section has been removed, but now the structure has been exposed, so moisture could damage the structural part of the wall. Structural part? On top of the cement, you see a piece of lumber. This is the sill plate on which the wall for this garage is built. What I have not mentioned yet is pest entry. I have spoken about moisture or energy efficiency, but not about pests (ants, termites, mice, and other rodents). Many issues connected with protecting your home form moisture or creating better energy efficiency also helps prevent pests from entering the home.

trim damageBefore that trim was removed, we might have seen the trim like this. Here the exterior covering has fallen off due to moisture damage. Why does this happen? Garage floors direct water in their interior out to the drive. If the drive was not sloped well, or the drive has moved with the soil to force water back to the garage, we can see water collecting near the trim. I also see gutter downspouts directing their water in these areas.

soffit not completeSometimes a repair might not be the culprit for not having a full exterior covering. In this photo, we see a gap left by the builder. The soffit from a higher roof is not complete where it meets the lower roof. This is a great entry point for squirrels. This can also be a moisture entry point. Think about how rain moves during a windstorm, you will realize that water can enter here. Is this an energy efficiency issue? No. If the attic was a sealed conditioned attic, then it would be. Most attics in Houston are not conditioned spaces (although this would be better for energy efficiency if they were), so having the attic air contact exterior air is not an energy efficiency issue.

wall cladding separatingThis is an older home. At one point siding was added to give the home a new look. Often at the corners of wall coverings, we see trim pieces to help cover gaps. In this case, the trim was not added, and the siding has separated. The original siding is present ( a small piece of wood is seen on the right side of the gap which is part of the original siding), but moisture damage is still a possibility, particularly if you look closer to see that the original cladding was also separating.

metal lintels rustingRust is starting to occur on the metal lintels. Lintels help support the exterior wall covering (lintels are also present in the structural framing). The lintel is not in danger yet, but the beginning signs of rust should be taken seriously. If the rust damages the lintel, the bricks above can start to fall out, which can lead to more damage. Better to deal with the rust at this stage.

holes in interior wallsThis home was a foreclosure, and there were many holes. The odd thing was that some repairs had been made. Alright, this is an extreme case, but any hole should be repaired. Pest entry points is one issue, but energy efficiency is the issue that may be more of a concern to the home inspector. Insulation in walls began in the 1930s and 1940s; insulation in this home was light (built in the 1970s). This means that we have a break in the thermal barrier.

curtain rod holesWe saw the holes in the exterior walls due to equipment being removed. This is the same case on the interior. These are holes were made by curtain rod braces. Again, we have damage to the wall surface, so that alone is enough to report on it. Again, this can be an energy efficiency issue, as well as a pest entry.

cracked wall siding

This is a siding material meant to look like masonry from a home built in the early 1950s. When holes or cracks exist in the siding, rain can enter behind the paneling. This leads to moisture damage, which can eventually cause problems with the structure.

gap in mortarIn brick walls, the mortar needs to be checked. Mortar should be between 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick. Gaps in the mortar can lead to brick deterioration. The face surfaces of the brick are quite hard, but the interior is not. Gaps create a weak point in the surface, where they can come off (brick deterioration). Gaps, like this one, give a space for water intrusion (moisture damage).

Some Ideas about Walls and Wall Types

stucco and painted brick
Here
is a painted brick wall and a stucco wall to the right. I like the
contrasting surfaces, as well as the color scheme.

stucco with EIFS trim
Cement
stucco are hard to tell apart visually. They do sound different when
you tap on them. This is what is happening on most homes. The wall is
mainly cement stucco, but the trim pieces are EIFS. EIFS is easier to
shape, so design elements can be created quickly and cheaply with it.
This allows trim work that cannot be done on a traditional stucco home.

decorative building entrance
decorative roof line
These
are some pics of the older building for the Houston Public Library
downtown. I feel that seeing these design elements can inspire one to
find ways in making you own home stand out. I would not go so far as
this on my home, but it gives one ideas.


 

concrete block used as wall
Concrete Block is used as a support material and as the exterior wall. This is one type of wall which comes under the heading of masonry walls.

masonry work
Here we have a decorative masonry finish below, with a wood panel above for an exterior wall. In this case, stones were used from the surrounding area, but the effect can be achieved with a manufactured product too.


Midcentury bathroomThis color scheme I did not mind, but some color combinations from the 50′s and 60′s do not appeal to current trends. The problem you will find in many older homes in the bathroom areas is tile buckling, gaps where mortar should be, and missing tiles.  Showers like this one would have a curtain rod across the opening for the shower curtain. Doors are common today, but in such a small space, the curtain makes more sense.

telephone recessI always thought that built in recesses are great features in a home, but this one is small. This was meant as a place for your telephone and the telephone directory. Maybe not needed in our current world, but these spaces make for a nice little storage area for keys, purses, and so on.

 

new facade

If you want to change the look of your home, you could add a new facade. I should have taken a picture of the entire home to go with this photo, so you would see how this does not fit. The homeowner wanted a grand entrance on a typical home built in the late 1960′s. This does show you can change your look.



© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States
713.781.6090
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