A Focus on Evaluating Building Wall Systems for Water Intrusion and Common Causes of Failure

Posted on 7/15/2013 10:19:23 AM By Bob Braun

water intrusion, water damage, home water damage

In my last blog, I focused on a review of details for the ASTM E2128 guide as commonly used to evaluate in-place constructed walls for water intrusion.

In this blog I am digging deeper into this subject.  I look at several classic water intrusion failures and consider how the public and building industry responded.

I am sure that many readers remember that in the late 1990’s the innovation called EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems) experienced multiple highly publicized failures receiving extensive press coverage.  Forensic investigations were done and many papers were written and delivered on the where, what, how, and why this occurred in certain specific locations.  The initial press coverage, as usual, over simplified the problem and condemned all EIFS.  Later it was realized that the problems were complex.  However one very important concept evolved from this…if water can eventually enter into a structure then the design must also provide some way for it to get out as well. 

In nearly all locations the problems resulted from the improper use of flashing, sealants and adhesives at joints between adjacent materials or from the improper installation and detailing of the façade.  Later changes were made to many façade materials and designs to allow for the drainage of incidental water intrusion.  As I have discussed in earlier blogs the “barrier wall system”, which depends on a perfect water intrusion defense, will require greater attention and periodic inspections.

And You Thought EIFS Had Problems?” by Thomas Dolan is a common sense article that features the interface issues between materials that can lead to failure with any façade.  Here is a video of very recent building wall problems experienced in residential homes in multiple Florida communities due often to inappropriate installation details.  

In the early 2000’s I also authored a paper at an ASTM E06 Symposium titled “Tying the Building Together…” and more recently the Walls and Ceilings Journal republished the same paper in their June 2009 online journal.  The paper is available here.

My paper features the importance of effectively connecting the building material interfaces for which adhesives and sealants play such a vital role.

Also featured in this paper are a summary of the results for a newly developed CCMC Durability Evaluation for a full sized wall assembly also containing several different window installation types and techniques.  I have copied an excerpt from the conclusion of this paper below…

“Clearly, polyurethane foam sealants can be of great advantage in today’s modern building projects. In addition to preventing air and water intrusion through the building envelope, they also offer the potential for energy savings, increased occupant comfort, weather resistance, sound mitigation, and improved indoor air quality.”

Clearly these ideas are now fully part of the sustainability discussion

making a good building is more that producing good components like windows, doors, and, insulation.  Building design, connecting the numerous interfaces, and installation are just as important and some may argue even more so.

To close this blog, here is a short video example of failed building walls.

In my next blog, I will continue the review of details of water intrusion into walls, what has changed over the last 20 years, and begin to look at the details for the remediation of failed wall systems. 

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