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Split Faced Block Discontinued - Chicago

Mike Lamb

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It's still approved for residential construction, with no particular admonishment other than the existing code, which, paraphrased, is something along the lines of "all masonry buildings shall have flashing in all the places there should be flashing". Interestingly, the City Council acted to prohibit it's use in any gov't. building several years ago, and I've never heard that the law was retracted.

Me and Hier have had meetings with the folks at the BD showing and explaining how it's literally impossible to build them so they don't leak. Of course, the rejoinder is "but if you build it right, it's OK", where we then run through it all again showing that it's impossible, and they say "but if.....".......etc., etc.....

It's pretty rare nowadays though. I saw a couple new ones this summer, with the usual furring strips slammed to the inside face, spray cellulose, drywall.

There's only one company I know that's actually figuring out fixes. All the rest are spraying magic bean sauce, grinding joints, and generally kicking the can down the road a year or two.

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Yer welcome. I have been very careful in my process of determining just what's wrong with these things, and after much deliberation, I've come to believe they just don't work for the multi-floor, top chord bearing truss platforms we see them in.

I'm part of the company that does some of the fixing. We've yet to open one up that doesn't leak. Even when they look perfect, we open them up and find the truss bearing points sopping wet and rotten.

Some day, we're going to read about a floor platform failure. Right now, what's holding some of these things up is drywall pressed into structural duty.

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  • 2 weeks later...

That's it, except take out the flashing.

Some of the block is almost spongelike, some of it is mildly moisture repellant. The largest problems come from the hairline cracks that are everywhere; it creates excessive capillarity.

So, no flashing, extreme capillarity = water in wall.

Most of them are finished with furring slammed to the inside face, some spray cels for "insulation, then drywall. It's like one might build an outhouse for their deer shack.

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Does the split face take on more water than a standard CMU?

Yes it does and the problem is that anything in contact with the wall (furring, wood truss, steel) will absorb water as well. As a single wythe there is too much work/detailing for your ordinary laborer to keep a capillary break.

This building I looked at had de-humidifiers in three of the units. Good luck with that.

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If the porosity of the split-faced block is the biggest issue, could one not create an EIFS final coat like material using CWM (Xypex), wet down the face of one of these buildings and spray a light coating of that onto the face to 1. get 100% coverage and 2. form water-blocking crystals at the molecular level for several inches from the face?

An E.I.F.S. final coat is part polymer and waterproof and when bonded to concrete is just about impenetrable. E.I.F.S. achilles heel is when it's installed over a wood-frame exterior; when it's over concrete it performs real well. I should think that somehow combining xypex in an E.I.F.S. final coat might be the magic bullet those buildings need.



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Sure. The problem is cost. Most of these things are condos, marketed during the boom as starter homes to young urban professionals. Most are underwater, few want to invest in repairs, fewer still have the resources.

The most common iteration is a 3 flat arrangement, so it's a lot of wall area. We've done a couple and the costs get up into 6 figures to get it right; there's a lot of stucco detailing and dinking around. Divide by 3, and it means a bunch of kids have to ante up >30 grand each so their building doesn't turn into a mushroom.

In the grand tradition of real estate sales, the 'zoids deny all, the kids are playing dumb, and some poor suckers are still buying these things. It's a game of financial musical chairs. The music has stopped on some, and it's ugly.

By our figures, there's somewhere between 15,000 -20,000 of these things in the city.

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Marc; that means gutting the joint. Yes, it happens, but it's a freakshow mess of ill formed logistics and processes.

Tom; you're right. Except Walmart doesn't have multi-floor wood platform construction bearing on wet block with vapor barriers in all the wrong places, insulation, furring, drywall, furnaces with humidifiers, etc., etc. Walmart can breath to both sides; these joints can't.

If Walmart leaks, it's a tablespoon of water running to the floor, you call the vendor, they blow some more Modac on the exterior, problem solved for a season or two.

If these places leak, it's slow and steady accumulation of moisture in bearing points of truss, mold in insulation, etc. The pictures show the problems.

The stuff is fine for Walmart, single floor strip malls, commercial with steel bar joists, or similar construction. Mix in the wood floor platforms, and all the vagaries of sloppy masonry in residential construction, and you got a mess.

We've been through the Modac applications, multiple sealant attempts, flashing retrofits, and various other clusters of options; some of them even work. Some don't. We had one Modac job that just plain went to blazes anyway; it's a lawsuit clusterfook among a dozen parties.

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  • 1 year later...

Will, I'm curious about the Split Block Certified program you talk about on your site.

This program, called "Split Faced Certified", is a complete regimen designed specifically to solve this problem. A subject building is inspected by a specially certified inspector. If there are any outstanding issues, these are specified and can be repaired by certified contractors with special expertise dealing with split block water intrusion problems. We have even engaged with some insurance companies and banks who can provide funding for the repairs. When the work is completed, the building is re-inspected and a certification issued. This certification should go a long way towards alleviating any fears that unit owners or prospective buyers would have about the building.

This program is specific and is trademarked. Only certain inspectors, contractors and Architects have been trained and are qualified for this program. Look for the "Split Block Certified" seal to be sure that your building will have no problems.

I googled "Split Block Certified", but strangely, it brought up only three results, all originating with you. For some reason, you also refer to the program as Split Faced Certified, so I googled that. That returned only two results, both originating with you.

I'd love to know more about this program, but can't seem to find any info about it on the net. Who are some some of the inspectors, contractors and architects who are trained in it? Where did they get their training, and how does the certification process work?


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"Once the exterior walls and parapet have been properly flashed and sealed, no more water will enter the wall. "

This is the part from Will Decker's plan that will be impossible to achieve. The basic tenet of exterior wall construction is that water will ALWAYS get behind the first line of defense.

If split faced block is not installed perfectly to start with, the building owners are screwed. And from what I've seen that means just about every single building.

The only way to really fix this is to build another wall over the split faced block to create an air gap to drain moisture that this goofy single wythe construction can't do. It would be expensive but the problem would be fixed.

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Looking to satisfy my curiosity, I did some more googling. I came up dry, but did find a related message board post. I find it kind of odd that a 'certified expert' on this issue would post on a message board, his theory about a particular installation, and ask for feedback.

Will Decker, "what say you"?

Edit: The link doesn't work when I try to make it a hyperlink. Copy and paste it into a browser.


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