The exterior surfaces form the skin of the house, and are referred to as cladding. Cladding components include—



wall surfaces I soffits and fascia I windows and doors I trim, flashings, and caulking There are many different styles and materials in exterior cladding. You will learn how to recognize each of these materials, how they tend to fail, and what to advise your client. We will also discuss tips and techniques for inspecting cladding. Some issues related to siding are not covered in detail in this part because—

they are not usually accessible for inspection I there are different requirements among various siding products, jurisdictions, and manufacturers You may want to research your local requirements for each siding material.


C H A P T E R AN OVERVIEW OF WALL SURFACES LEARNING OBJECTIVES 1 By the end of this chapter you should know: I I I ten types of exterior siding material six components of a typical wall assembly four common problems that crop up on any exterior wall system 7 .

have great cosmetic appeal.1). . plywood. and concrete block poured concrete stucco (either over wood frame or masonry) synthetic stucco (EIFS. stone.8 Part I Exterior Cladding INTRODUCTION In this chapter we are going to look at exterior wall surfaces. They are inexpensive. and hardboard metal products. There are no perfect siding materials.2 WALL ASSEMBLIES Before we look at individual sidings. including shingles and shakes. Our discussions here are focused on weather-tightness. poured concrete. OSB. or Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems) wood products. for example interior finishes—plaster or drywall. They are also designed to carry the dead load of the siding and the live load of wind. plywood. including steel and aluminum vinyl asphalt shingles slate and clay tiles fiber-cement The best wall systems are highly resistant to water. Most sidings do only some of these things well. and vermin entry. etc. We think of the exterior as a weather-tight skin for the building. and low maintenance. including— I I I I I I I I I I Ideal Wall Claddings masonry products such as brick. wind. These include— I I I I I I Structural Members structural members—studs or masonry. fiberboard. plank siding. easy to install. let’s briefly review typical wall assemblies (Figure 1. building paper or housewrap siding Structural members include wood frame and masonry walls. including several types of cladding. OSB.1 summarizes the characteristics of some common wall coverings. 1. 1. We don’t get to see much of the wall structure during an inspection. cement board. gypsum board.1 MATERIALS AND CHARACTERISTICS There are many siding materials. mechanical damage. typically insulation and an air/vapor barrier (usually on the interior side of the insulation) sheathing—wood plank. and provide good security. These are designed to carry the live and dead loads from floors and roofs. Table 1. They also provide thermal insulation and have a long life expectancy.

Wind) • Varies • Brick is porous Good.) Vinyl Metal (Aluminum and Steel) Asphalt Shingles Slate. Snow. unless painted Low. splits • Cupping. but vulnerable at joints • Fair • Joints/edges vulnerable • May swell Good Good Fair No No No High Medium Low Poor Poor Poor Low Low High An Overview of Wall Surfaces Hardboard and OSB Fair No Low Poor Low to High • Needs regular painting or staining unless prefinished 9 . but vulnerable at joints Good Strength (Resistance to Mechanical Damage) Good Structural Properties (Capable of Carrying Loads) Yes Surface Type Brick Stone Concrete Stucco Cost High Insulating Value Poor Maintenance Requirements Low. bulging • Allowing water into walls • Coming off in sheets • Rot. unless unpainted or unstained Low Low Most Common Failure Modes • Spalling • Cracking • Missing mortar • Cracking. etc.1 Characteristics of Various Wall Surfaces Weather-Tight (Water. Clay Tiles Fiber Cement Plywood Fair No Medium Good Fair No Medium Poor Good Good Fair to poor Fair to poor No No Low Low Poor Poor (insulated metal slightly better) Poor Good Poor No Low Low Chapter 1 Good Good Good.TABLE 1. unless painted or stained High. unless painted Low. curling • Burn-through • Rot • Cracking • Mechanical damage • Loose and missing pieces • Denting • Loose and missing pieces • Tearing • Curling • Surface wearing off • Pieces breaking off or slipping out of place • Pieces breaking off or slipping out of place • Needs regular painting or staining • Rot • Swelling • Fungus • Cracking Fair No Medium Poor • EIFS is good Poor Wood Shingles and Shakes Wood Siding (Clapboard.

They also help to separate the indoor environment from the outdoor environment by restricting air movement through the wall. The air-transported moisture is the more important of these two mechanisms.g. we don’t get to see much of the insulation or air/ vapor barrier. Some sheathings are rigid insulation board. so they won’t trap moisture moving out through the wall.. Many sheathings are vapor permeable or have loose fit joints. although they are found in most areas. Moisture is carried through walls by the air that leaks through and by vapor diffusion (no air movement needed). Their primary function is to control heat loss. Many older homes have no insulation or air/vapor barrier in the walls. drywall) Building paper or housewrap Siding u Fo a nd tio n Flashing Sill gasket Interior Finishes Insulation and Air/Vapor Barriers Sheathing Insulating Sheathing Building Paper or Sheathing Paper Interior finishes are largely cosmetic and provide the base for the interior decoration. and the builder’s or homeowner’s commitment to energy conservation and low energy costs.. or it can be mounted on either side of the wall structure behind exterior or interior finishes. Many modern buildings do not rely on sheathing to prevent racking. Insulation and air/vapor barriers are more important in cold climates than in warm climates. It adds rigidity to the structure to help prevent racking. Sheathings provide a substrate for building paper and help to reduce air movement through the wall assemblies. which would reduce the effectiveness of the insulation .g. The insulation can be between the studs in a wood frame wall. Again. Sheathing has traditionally been provided on the exterior of wood frame walls.1 Wall Assemblies Structural members (studs in this case) Insulation Sheathing (e. The amounts of insulation installed vary depending on the climate. The functions of building paper (also called building felts or sheathing paper) include— I protecting the wall from water that gets past the siding I helping to prevent wind blowing into the wall system. plywood) Vapor barrier (interior side of insulation in cooler climates) Interior finish (e.10 Part I Exterior Cladding FIGURE 1. the local building requirements. since most interior finishes provide adequate rigidity.

concrete block. Some wall surface systems must rest on the building foundations and footings because of their weight (Figure 1. metal. vinyl. Those people maintain that sheathing paper should be provided in all cases: the sheathing paper provides a backup or second line of defense against moisture penetration. against wind and water penetration. we won’t be able to see whether building paper or housewrap was used behind the siding. Again. These are typically spun polyolefin fabrics that are designed to protect against water that gets through the siding and against wind blowing into the wall system. Many sidings. especially at joints. asphalt. These ties have several different shapes and sizes. concrete. stone.2).Chapter 1 An Overview of Wall Surfaces 11 I Not Always Required allowing vapor moving through the wall from indoors to escape to the exterior (building paper must breathe) Housewrap Siding Connectors Masonry Ties Stucco Support for Siding Sheathing paper may not be required under hardboard. and fibercement. including wood. in many areas. and brick. are usually held in place with nails. Some argue that there are very few systems that provide 100 percent protection. such as studs. fiber-cement. in most cases. Stucco is typically held in place with wire mesh that is nailed through building paper and sheathing. slate.2 Support for Siding Brick ties are for lateral support only Lighter sidings can be supported by the building frame Sheathing Building paper Sheathing Wire lath Stucco Masonry veneer Joist Joist Foundation Foundation Flashing Drip screed Heavy sidings (brick. Masonry veneer sidings are held against walls with metal ties. There are exceptions to this. being largely replaced by housewraps. clay. Siding is typically attached through the building paper and sheathing to structural members. Most sheathings are not strong enough to support the siding itself with conventional fasteners. Proponents of housewraps maintain that these are more effective than building paper. Lighter sidings are hung on the building frame. plywood. or metal siding where all joints are protected against wind and water penetration. Housewraps also need to be breathable so that vapor moving out through the wall system won’t be trapped and condense in the wall assembly. Building paper is. concrete) must be supported on foundations and footings . synthetic stucco. FIGURE 1. These heavier systems include stone.

You should watch for water damage to wall systems. 4. there is a good chance FIGURE 1. Water may also be a problem in wall systems if warm. although in many cases you won’t be able to see it. If the siding is deteriorating.1 Water Penetration CAUSES Condensation IMPLICATIONS Concealed Damage Most serious wall problems are related to water in one way or another. 5. moist air moving through the wall (from indoors in cold weather and from outdoors in warm weather) is cooled and deposits condensation inside the wall system (Figure 1. Smaller amounts of condensation may also form if moisture moves into the walls by vapor diffusion. Water penetration Too close to grade Too close to roofs Planters and gardens against the wall Vines Insulation problems 1.3. and sheathing paper not shown Winter . It may be driven by wind or it may enter by gravity or by capillary action. let’s look at some of the issues that apply to all types of wall surfaces. moist air Cool air Cool air Warm.3 GENERAL STRATEGY Now. 3.12 Part I Exterior Cladding 1. Rainwater may enter wall systems in several ways.3 Condensation in Walls Outside Inside Outside Inside Insulation Drywall Warm. moist air Exterior sheathing Condensation Condensation Floor framing Floor framing Summer Cross section Siding.3). 6. vapor barrier. They include— 1. 2.

However. The ability of a wall system to dry often determines the amount of damage done to the cladding and the structure. but from a functional standpoint. In some cases. Second. metal or vinyl siding and synthetic stucco) the siding looks fine while the sheathing and wall structure behind are deteriorating. the water getting into the wall system will show up on interior finishes. Your inspection of the inside of the building should focus on the vulnerable areas that you noticed outside. may be less likely to suffer damage than synthetic stucco. People may not like the appearance of exposed foundations. Pay attention to the drying potential of the wall system.g.2 Too Close to Grade Wall cladding materials should be 6 to 8 inches above grade to protect the cladding system and the structure from water damage (Figure 1. such as aluminum or vinyl. Brick veneer systems with vented rain screens have good drying potential. Foundations are designed to withstand the moisture in the soil. This means that we can see some of the foundations above grade and below the siding. whereas most stucco systems do not.4 Too Close to Grade Wall framing 8" minimum clearance for siding and stucco Floor framing 6" minimum clearance for masonry Foundation wall Slop e for drai nag e Finish grade Building paper not shown . in many cases (e. However. FIGURE 1.Chapter 1 An Overview of Wall Surfaces 13 Drying Potential STRATEGY that there is some damage behind it.4). As you look at exterior wall surfaces. look first at the cladding materials and see if they’re in good repair.. at least not in the early stages. 1. try to determine how water might get into the wall system and whether there are any areas where you might reasonably suspect concealed damage. allowing you to confirm your suspicions. for example.3. which has poor drying potential. Wall systems with sidings with good drying potential. we want to see them. damage to wall assemblies doesn’t always show up on the building interior.

studs. There are exceptions because some bricks. the solution may be to restore grade level to its original position. Check around the building perimeter for adequate clearance between siding and grade. but there are bigger problems if this is the case. You should describe any new brick within 6 inches of grade as suspect. Water won’t be able to drain out. fibercement. air won’t be able to get in. Siding materials too close to grade are typically the result of— I poor original construction and landscaping I grade levels altered during landscaping or surface water control work It’s possible that the siding is too close to grade because the building is settling. veneer walls with weep holes and flashings along the bottom course suffer dramatically if the weep holes are below grade (Figure 1. If the siding is too close to grade because the grade has been elevated to form a garden. This includes rot and insect damage at sheathing. should be at least 8 inches above grade. We can’t remove soil and create a trench around the house because we’ll have a chronic flooding problem as surface water is funneled against the house. it’s hard to know. If possible. but allow for the possibility that it may be the correct type. . sill plates. On new homes. The foundation is ideally raised to solve the problem. Try to find the top of the foundation wall. for example. or cracking wood-based products peeling paint staining rusted fasteners rusted lath and drip screed on stucco STRATEGY The Worst Case A Better Case In some cases. How far above grade is the top of the wall? The foundation wall may be too short to allow the siding to end 6 to 8 inches above grade. including wood and wood-based products. Most other sidings. buckled. metal. It’s easy to recognize the damage to the wall cladding materials. Damage to interior finishes and components is also possible. probe to look for damage to the structural members behind. and moisture may seep from the soil into the building through weep holes. Can you see part of the foundation? Where the siding is below or too close to grade.5). headers. This is the more serious situation. You’ll be able to tell on older buildings whether the brick was designed for use below grade by looking for damage. The more serious and concealed implications are the damage to the wall and floor structures behind the siding. This may include— I I I I I I I I Weep Holes Covered IMPLICATIONS spalling (crumbling or flaking) and cracked brick and missing mortar obstructed weep holes in masonry veneer rotted wood swollen. and floor joists. Note the areas where siding is too close to grade and check inside the building for evidence of water leakage and damage. Sometimes damage is not visible until it is serious. and vinyl. stucco. are designed for use at and below grade.14 Masonry Part I Exterior Cladding Other Sidings CAUSES Masonry should usually be at least 6 inches above grade. Severe spalling can occur. This may be the first indication that there is a problem. but this can be very disruptive and expensive. look first for damaged siding. This is less disruptive and expensive. for example.

1. the solution may be to remove the bottom few inches of siding. Buried weep holes can lead to considerable damage to the brick veneer and the structure. Wood and wood-based products are particularly vulnerable to moisture wicking up into and damaging the siding. and plywood draw moisture into the wood enthusiastically. Stucco may soften and crumble. CAUSES IMPLICATIONS . There should be a weep hole (missing vertical mortar joint) about every fourth brick along or near the bottom of the wall.6).5 Weep Holes below Grade Masonry veneer Stud wall Wate r Grade le vel Wood gets wet and rots Joist Water gets in and air can’t get out Weep hole Foundation Cross section Another Better Case Masonry Veneer Walls If the siding has simply been installed too low. Look to see if these have been buried.3.Chapter 1 FIGURE An Overview of Wall Surfaces 15 1. It’s common to see siding deterioration along a roof/wall intersection. Masonry veneer walls typically have weep holes and flashings near the bottom of the wall. End grains of wood and cut edges of hardboard. Efflorescence may develop on the brick. Again. The best practice is to keep the siding material 2 inches above the roof. This is only practical if the foundation is tall enough. water damage to the siding and possibly to the structure behind are the implications. Brick may crack and spall.3 Too Close to Roofs Siding materials should not be chronically wet. OSB. so it’s okay to keep the siding above the roof surface. Paint may peel. Most sidings discolor if they are chronically wet. especially if the moisture in the brick freezes. There are step flashings under the siding and roof. Most people settle for a 1-inch clearance. We’ve talked about this with respect to grade level. It’s also true where the bottom of the siding intersects a roof (Figure 1.

to 2-inch separation of siding and roofing materials.7).4 Planters or Gardens Gardens should not be built against houses such that earth is held against the siding (Figure 1.7 Watch for Planters or Gardens Against Walls Planter raises soil level next to house Watering and rain Brick veneer Wall framing Rot Floor framing Water infiltration Topsoil Spalling Foundation wall Backfill Basement Cross section STRATEGY Look for a 1. look and probe for deteriorated siding materials.16 Part I Exterior Cladding FIGURE 1. Where there is little or no clearance. 1.6 Siding Too Close to Roof Siding should have 1" (preferably 2") clearance from roof shingles to prevent water damage Metal step flashings FIGURE 1. A raised planter with three sides and the building acting as the fourth .3.

Siding materials are not designed to be in contact with earth. brick. The situation is worsened when people water their gardens and the soil is perpetually damp.5 Vines Several types of vines and ivies grow on buildings. providing a direct path for water into the building. depending on the type of vines. look for evidence of damage to the siding on the outside and look for evidence of water penetration and damage on the interior. This insulation can include cellulose and controversial materials such as urea formaldehyde foam insulation. including doors. particularly at the trim. 1.3. they often indicate insulation blown into the wall. Evidence of moisture damage to the building skin or mechanical damage caused by the vines themselves should be reported. In severe cases. Most home inspectors evaluate vines on a case-by-case basis and pull them back in several areas to look for damage. especially from rough-textured stone. root systems or attachment nodes can damage siding or enter the building. All provide pest entry opportunities. Adding insulation through building exteriors is a retrofit to reduce energy costs and improve house comfort.6 Insulation Problems Sometimes you will see a large number of patched holes on exterior wall surfaces. As discussed. but it’s a lot easier on the building. Vines are generally grown intentionally by the homeowner. Look for siding to be 6 to 8 inches above exterior grade. but you should point out to clients that it may be difficult to remove all traces of the vines. You may recommend removal of the vines. Some vines can even damage masonry. Masonry walls are more tolerant of vines than is wood siding. Many people are prepared to live with these disadvantages to enjoy the cosmetic effect. The implications are damage to the siding and wall structure behind and below. This includes the trim. Some do more damage than others. A wall covered with vines cannot be fully inspected. Vines should be kept away from all wood trim. If these are in a uniform pattern (Figure 1.8). and gutters. Better on Masonry Inspection Limitation CAUSE IMPLICATIONS STRATEGY 1.Chapter 1 An Overview of Wall Surfaces 17 CAUSE IMPLICATIONS STRATEGY side is a poor arrangement. or stucco. fascia. and fascia. it should be 8 inches above grade. Planters and gardens against siding are a landscaping problem. windows. This limitation should be noted in the report. soffits. If the siding itself is susceptible to water damage. Where you see raised gardens or planters. CAUSE . Vines should be kept off aluminum siding. soffit. All tend to hold moisture against walls and trim. This is not a common detail. This approach is usually taken when no interior renovations are planned but insulation improvements are considered a priority. the implications may include insect and pest entry and moisture deterioration to the wall because of slow drying. often through trim areas. Raised planters close to buildings should have four sides and should be set out roughly 2 inches from the siding.3.

18 Part I Exterior Cladding FIGURE 1. especially in cold climates. there’s a higher risk of the warm. mineral wool. the patches are very visible. Watch also for small areas that project out from the house. because it’s expensive. Again. . Watch for areas on the north or west sides of buildings. or urea formaldehyde) has been added The plugged holes may only be found in some walls or portions of walls IMPLICATIONS Leak Spots Insulation May Cause Damage STRATEGY Adding insulation from the outside creates a number of holes in the exterior siding that may not be well patched. In other cases. which are typically colder. Since insulation is often added without providing an air/vapor barrier. Insulation in old walls can reduce temperatures in wall assemblies and result in condensation problems where none had existed before. It’s often not done to the whole building. Suspect concealed water damage to the walls caused by condensation. you’ll have to check on the inside as well as the outside of the building. bay and oriel windows.. cellulose. Poor patches may be water entry points. The insulation makes the wall cavity colder. etc. moist air that leaks through the walls condensing within the wall system. because they tend to be cool and uncomfortable. This includes second floors overhanging first floors. especially near the bottoms of wall assemblies. Check that the application holes have been patched and are weather-tight. In some cases.8 Insulation Holes A uniform pattern of patched holes on exterior surfaces usually mean that some kind of insulation (e. Watch for evidence of water damage. they are patched so well that they are completely invisible. Watch for patched holes that suggest insulation has been blown in.g.

What are the implications of a foundation wall that is below the exterior grade level? 8. at foundations. 5. 3. Housewrap is used instead of ________. List three functions of building or sheathing paper.Chapter 1 An Overview of Wall Surfaces 19 1. List six common components of an exterior wall assembly. and on the exterior cladding. If you have trouble with a question. 2. 1. If you think about nothing else as you inspect the outside of homes.7 Summary Water kills houses. It’s a problem at roofs. 7. CHAPTER REVIEW QUESTIONS Instructions: Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. think about water getting into the building. What are the implications of burying weep holes on brick veneer walls? KEY TERMS cladding wall assemblies structural members interior finishes insulation air/vapor barriers sheathing building paper housewrap siding spalling weep holes veneer walls planters vines . refer back to the chapter to review the relevant material.3. 4. then check your results against the answers provided in Appendix E. What is used to secure brick veneer walls to wood frame houses? 6. List six common problems that are found on all wall systems. List ten exterior wall surface materials that you’ll commonly find.

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