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Split Face Block Chicago - What to do?


Mike Lamb
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Thousands of homes and condos in the Chicago area were built with split face block single wythe exterior walls during the great housing boom. Most are experiencing water intrusion problems through the walls.

I wrote this article in response to those who believe that sealing the exterior of SFB is the proper remedy in stopping water intrusion. It's not, and the problem is not going to go away.

Rain Screen Over Split Face Block

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Mike,

I liked all of the article except when you note differential pressures. that section was interesting to me, but I felt the remainder of article was geared toward a larger (public) audience.

Nice work. Kurt will, no doubt, will chime in too!

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Thanks much. You did the hard work. The piece does a good job of describing the problem and a possible solution.

On almost all of these buildings, the inside face of the block is a huge problem. There needs to be a moisture control detail for the interior parapet and coping. Ideally, the coping would be vented.

Page layout lacks eye appeal; it could use professional graphic design.

We're still some number of years away from this sort of repair being widely adopted. Most of my customers (the entire real estate industry, actually) work through the 5 stages of grief to somewhere around #3-4, whereupon folks decide to sell (mostly). Someday, and I have no idea when that is, the music will stop.

It's an interesting local story, hugely consequential, wholly undecided.

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I agree the layout is a bit clumsy. I have not had anytime to make it better.

I wanted to get this out there because it is widely believed and promoted around here that sealing the exterior periodically makes everything OK. It doesn't IMO.

I would be interested in seeing some estimates on applying a good, detailed rain screen over some of these buildings.

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Great info. We have a fair amount of that stuff here in Minnesota, but I have yet to hear about / discover any failures. I'm guessing it's just a matter of time.

If I wanted to test for problems, what would be definitive way to find them?

I saw Kurt's video clip of the wall peeing, which was great.

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If I wanted to test for problems, what would be definitive way to find them?

I saw Kurt's video clip of the wall peeing, which was great.

The real problem is using the stuff for multiple wood floor platforms. I grudgingly concede it's ok for single story strip malls or walmart. No interior finish or structure to rot.

Mix in a bunch of tree farm top chord bearing truss extending into the block core, and that is a problem. Even if there's no serious moisture issues elsewhere, the truss ends rot out. No one used capillary breaks, back dams, or anything else to control water.

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Kurt, curious abt why this is happening in Chicago. Was there more of this type there? We have the same materials here , but not so many numbers. in fact, I can't recall any problems with any we have looked at.

Reuben mentioning Minn caught my attention.

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In the boom, there was a crush of developers throwing up "3 flat condos". Front wall is usually insipid faux historical detailed masonry, and the side and rear walls are split face. Potemkin village engineering, a perfect storm of lousy materials and incompetent building practice. UP'ers living outside of Seney wouldn't build a deer shack like this, but it was the magic that sold a lot of credit default swap packaged mortgages out of Chicago.

Interiors are usually furring slammed onto the block, spray cellulose between furring, drywall. Often visqueen VB's on block interior, creating you know what. Flashing details are nonexistent. No capillary break or boot on the truss end. Crappy installed flashing, no end or back dams and sometimes no flashing at all. No recognition that water migrates into the cores and then goes everywhere and anywhere.

Some of them are spooky bad, others merely horrible.

There's about 15,000-20,000 of these messes throughout Chicagoland, with a concentration in the hot youngster neighborhoods of the near N, W, and NW sides. Fair amount scattered through South Shore, Bridgeport, etc.

Lamb, where do you see them?

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There's about 15,000-20,000 of these messes throughout Chicagoland, with a concentration in the hot youngster neighborhoods of the near N, W, and NW sides. Fair amount scattered through South Shore, Bridgeport, etc.

Lamb, where do you see them?

What you say. Depressed areas adjacent to where the young dare to buy. Near universities. The area around Hyde Park is saturated with SFB.

It's not all condos. Some are really gorgeously finished $1M+ single family homes. Nothing inside is cheap. The best appliances, cabinetry, flooring, and the walls leak.

Even the ones that look ostensibly dry inside, I will always find the slightest water stains at the baseboard of the outside walls.

There is supposed to be a flashing at each floor level and maybe there is. I see the weep ropes outside and maybe some of the edges of flashing, but it does not extend out beyond the wall like it needs to. The flashing, if there is any, moves the water out but then right back in beneath it because there is no extension.

The south side of the building is usually the worst offender because of solar pressure pushing the water in.

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It's true. We've never opened one up where there wasn't some water stains someplace. They can look perfect and still be wet.

We saw one house where there was mold growing under every picture hung on the walls. The wall was breathing to the interior. Eventual excavation revealed a cavity running water like a swamp.

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I have read that the roof coping is the major player in wet walls but I find it is at the floor lines. Kurt is right that there is never a break between the wood and masonry. Often the wood truss is grouted in place.

Some images from my SFB archive:

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tn_2014328185016_Weep%20ropes%20no%20flashing.jpg

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tn_201432818519_Water%20at%20floor%20line.jpg

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tn_2014328185530_319%20joistmoisture%20meeter.jpg

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tn_2014328185549_316%20i-joiswaterA.jpg

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Great info. We have a fair amount of that stuff here in Minnesota, but I have yet to hear about / discover any failures. I'm guessing it's just a matter of time.

If I wanted to test for problems, what would be definitive way to find them?

I saw Kurt's video clip of the wall peeing, which was great.

Maybe MN has multi-wythe cavity walls?

I don't know what you mean by "test." I look for water with my eyes and a flashlight. Look carefully at the ceiling/wall corners and especially along the baseboard.

I follow with a moisture meter but it doesn't matter to me if it pegs wet. The sirens are already on. An IR camera would be helpful but I don't own one.

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  • 1 month later...

Great info. We have a fair amount of that stuff here in Minnesota, but I have yet to hear about / discover any failures. I'm guessing it's just a matter of time.

If I wanted to test for problems, what would be definitive way to find them?

I saw Kurt's video clip of the wall peeing, which was great.

I don't know what you mean by "test." I look for water with my eyes and a flashlight. Look carefully at the ceiling/wall corners and especially along the baseboard.

By "test" I meant doing something like Kurt did in the video he posted. Drill a hole in the wall and have water pour out, or something like that.

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  • 2 months later...

wow... so this is so upsetting. I'm a brand new, first time home buyer here and it looks like i've fallen into a potential mess. The building is fine to the naked eye, but after having read all of this i'm terribly concerned.

Can anyone recommend someone that is truly knowledgeable on the subject? Any ideas on the cost of a thorough analysis? My inspector said it was fine, it just needs to be treated. So much for that. And of course the real estate agents didn't say a word about it.

who can i trust?

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If you have moved in you can probably look for signs of moisture yourself. Look carefully with a flashlight inside your unit at all outside wall areas especially at the ceilings and at baseboards next to the floors. Above doors and windows is also a weak spot for this construction.

If a condo, ask neighbors or look at condo minutes for complaints of water intrusion.

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wow... so this is so upsetting. I'm a brand new, first time home buyer here and it looks like i've fallen into a potential mess. The building is fine to the naked eye, but after having read all of this i'm terribly concerned.

Can anyone recommend someone that is truly knowledgeable on the subject? Any ideas on the cost of a thorough analysis? My inspector said it was fine, it just needs to be treated. So much for that. And of course the real estate agents didn't say a word about it.

who can i trust?

You're fine. No worries. Wait a sec, you didn't buy this place yet, did you? Uh Oh. . .

Call Kurt Mitenbuler www.chicagohomeprimer.com 847-910-1298

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