Common Issues with Exterior Wall Cladding- Part 4: Plants, Gardens, or Vines

It looks stunning- but vines growing on a home can be very harmful. This is also true of plants and gardens too close to the exterior wall cladding.

Gardens should not be built against houses such that earth is held against the siding. A raised planter with three sides and the building acting as the fourth side is a poor arrangement. Siding materials are not designed to be in contact with earth. The situation is worsened when people water their gardens and the soil is perpetually damp. This will surely damage the siding and the wall structure behind and below. Raised planters close to buildings should have four sides and should be set out roughly two inches from the siding.

Several types of vines and ivies grow on buildings. Some do more damage than others. All tend to hold moisture against walls and trim. All provide pest entry opportunities. Many people are prepared to live with these disadvantages to enjoy the cosmetic effect.

Masonry walls are more tolerant of vines that is wood siding. Vines should be kept away from all wood trim, including doors, windows, soffits, fascia, and gutters. Vines should be kept off aluminum siding. A wall covered with vines cannot be fully inspected. This includes the trim, soffit, and fascia. Vines are usually grown intentionally by the homeowner; however, some vines are invasive and the homeowner may lose control of the overgrowth. We’ve see vines go behind siding towards the bottom of the home and reappear close to the roof.

As discussed, the implications may include insect and pest entry and moisture deterioration to the wall because of slow drying. In severe cases, depending on the type of vines, root systems, or attachment nodes can damage siding or enter the building, often through trim areas, often providing a direct path for water into the building. Some vines can even damage masonry.

Most home inspectors evaluate vines on a case by case basis and pull them back in several areas to look for damage, particularly at the trim. We typically recommend removal of the vines, but it is important to note that it may be difficult to remove all traces of vines, especially from rough-textured stone, brick, or stucco.

Common Issues with Exterior Wall Cladding- Part 3: Too Close to Roofs

Siding material should not be chronically wet. We’ve talked about this with respect to grade level. It is also true where the bottom of the siding intersects a roof. The best practice is to keep the siding material 2 inches above the roof Most people settle for a 1 inch clearance. There are step flashings under the siding and roof so it’s okay to keep the siding above the roof surface.

Wood and wood-based products are particularly vulnerable to moisture wicking up into and damaging the siding. End grains of wood and cut edges of hardboard, OSB, and plywood draw moisture into the wood enthusiastically. It’s common to see siding deterioration along a roof/ wall intersection. Again, water damage to the siding and possibly to the structure behind are the implications.

Most sidings discolor if they are chronically wet. Paint may peel. Stucco may soften and crumble. Brick may crack and spall, especially if the moisture in the brick freezes. Efflorescence may develop on the brick.

As home inspectors, we pay close attention to these areas to help protect you and keep you informed during your home purchase.

Common Issues with Exterior Wall Cladding- Part 2: Too Close to Grade

Wall cladding materials should be 6-9 inches above grade to protect the cladding system and the structure from water damage. This means that we can see some of the foundations above grade and below the siding. Foundations are designed to withstand the moisture in the soil. People may not like the appearance of exposed foundations, but from a functional standpoint, we want to see them.

Masonry should usually be at least 6 inches above grade. There are exceptions because some bricks, for example, are designed for use at and below grade. Most other sidings, including wood, and wood-based products, stucco, metal, and vinyl, should be at least 8 inches above grade.

Siding materials too close to grade are typically the result of either poor original construction and landscaping, or the grade level changes during landscaping or surface water control work.  It is possible that the siding is too close to grade because the building is settling, but there are bigger problems if this is the case.

Damage to wall cladding materials can include:

  • Spalling (crumbling or flaking) and cracked brick and missing mortar
  • obstructed weep holes in masonry veneer
  • rotted wood
  • Swollen, buckled, or cracking wood-based products
  • Peeling paint
  • Staining
  • Rusted fasteners
  • Rusted lath and drip screed on stucco

In some cases, veneer walls with weep holes and flashings along the bottom course suffer dramatically if the weep hoes are below grade. Water won’t be able to drain out, air won’t be able to get in, and moisture may seep from the soil into the building through weep holes. Severe spalling can occur.

The more serious and concealed implications are the damage to the wall and floor structures behind the siding. This includes rot and insect damage at sheathing, studs, sill plates, headers, and floor joists. Damage to interior finishes and components is also possible. Sometimes damage is not visible until it is serious. This may be the first indication that there is a problem.

What remedies are available if this is the problem found during your home inspection?

An expensive and disruptive solution would be to raise the foundation. More practically, if the siding is too close to grade because the grade has been elevated to form a garden, for example, the solution may be to restore grade level to its original position. If the siding has simply been installed too low, the solution may be to remove the bottom few inches of siding. This is only practical if the foundation is tall enough.

Common Issues with Exterior Wall Cladding: Part 1- Water Penetration

This is the first in a 6-part series covering some of the issues that apply to all types of exterior wall surfaces. In this part, we will be discussing water penetration.

Most serious wall problems are related to water in one way or another. Rainwater may enter wall systems in several ways. It may be driven by wind or it may enter by gravity or by capillary action.

Water may also be a problem in wall systems if warm, 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. Smaller amounts of condensation may also form if moisture moves into the walls by vapor diffusion.

A major clue to detect water penetration hiding behind the walls is if the siding is deteriorating.  Unfortunately, in many cases (metal or vinyl siding or synthetic stucco) the siding looks fine while the sheathing and wall structure behind are deteriorating.

The ability of a wall system to dry often determines the amount of damage done to the cladding and the structure. Wall systems with siding with good drying potential, such as aluminum or vinyl, may be less likely to suffer damage than synthetic stucco, for example, which has poor drying potential.

At your home inspection, we examine the exterior wall surfaces and discern if they are in good repair. Then we try to determine how the water might get into the wall system and whether there are any areas where we should reasonably suspect concealed damage. We then move inside and focus on vulnerable areas that we noticed from the outside. In some cases, the water getting into the wall system will show up on interior finishes, allowing us to confirm our suspicions. However, damage to wall assemblies doesn’t always show up on the building interior, at least not in the early stages.


Interior Wall Finishes

Wall finishes are mostly decorative; however, most wall finishes do add rigidity to the structure. Drywall prevents wood frame walls from racking, for example. Finishes also conceal and support insulation and air/vapor barriers. Electrical and mechanical systems are also concealed behind wall finishes.  In this blog post we will discuss three of the most popular wall finishes.

Plaster and Drywall:

Plaster and drywall (modern prefabricated plaster) are very popular wall finishes- with good reason! Plaster and drywall are durable, chemically inert, inexpensive, easy to repair easy to paint/ wallpaper, fire resistant, rodent and insect resistant, and good at blocking sound. How could you not like a material with all these qualities?!? Prior to 1900, plaster was made with lime, which is calcium oxide, or from crushed limestone, which is calcium carbonate. This material was heated to very high temperatures to create quicklime. Water added to quicklime generates a chemical reaction that results in slaked (or hydrated lime), which is good for plaster. The plaster was mixed with water on-site to generate the finished product. In the past 100 years, gypsum has been used to make plaster. Gypsum is calcium sulfate. The gypsum is crushed and calcined. It becomes plaster of Paris at this point. Additives are put into the plaster of Paris to create plaster and water is added on-site to create the finished product.

Gypsum lath was an interim step between plaster and drywall. These prefabricated plaster boards were covered with paper on both sides. This lath replaced wood and wire lath. Two- or three coat plaster was then added to the gypsum lath. Although drywall was invented much earlier, it became popular in the 1950’s. It is also commonly called Sheetrock, which is actually just a brand name. Drywall is also called wallboard, plasterboard, gypboard, and gypsumboard. None of these are brand names. Drywall is plaster manufactured in a factory and covered on both sides with treated paper. Drywall is more stable than plaster and is smoother than most field-applied plaster systems. However, it is thinner and weaker than conventional plaster. The joints are taped, and in poor work, the joints are visible. Typically, the sides of the drywall sheets are tapered to allow the joint compound and reinforcing paper or mesh to fill the recess and provide a flush surface. The paper drywall tape used in finishing joints performs better than the mesh according to most. Drywall needs a more uniform, perfectly level substrate than plaster. Drywall is not as flexible as plaster. It’s harder to do curved walls successfully with drywall, and again, joints can be a problem.

Veneer Plaster:

There is another hybrid between plaster and drywall known as veneer plaster. This approach is not widely used. Some people refer to this as a skim coat plaster. It is typically a 1/8-inch plaster finish coat applied over a special wallboard.

Wood Paneling:

Wood paneling has largely been replaced with plywood and hardboard paneling, which are considerably less expensive and easier to apply. Plywood and hardboard paneling can be very thin. This paneling should be at least ¼-inch thick to be applied directly to wall studs on 16-inch centers. Where the paneling is thinner, 3/8-inch drywall, for example, is typically used behind the paneling. Drywall would similarly be used behind even 1/4-inch paneling where studs are spaced more than 16 inches apart.

There are other common finishes, such as tile, brick, stucco and concrete. Typically these finishes are used for accenting rather than the entire wall, but there are always exceptions.

Introducing Howard

Howard holds a BS in Materials Science and Engineering from NC State University. He joined Parkwood in April of 2017 and will be an integral part of our expansion into the Raleigh real estate market. Prior to joining Parkwood, Howard worked for HOPE Home Inspections in the Apex area. Howard is a thorough and knowledgeable inspector. He is a fantastic addition to the team.

Common Issues with Wood Flooring

Wood is a popular choice for floor covering. Here are some of the issues we find most frequently during a home inspection.

Rotted, Warped, Buckled, or Stained:

Rotted, warped, buckled, or stained floors are the result of water damage. Water damage can come from a variety of sources, such as plumbing leaks, HVAC leaks, window leaks, or careless floor washing.  The most common places to find damaged wood flooring is in kitchens and bathrooms, especially around commodes.  Another common place we find water damage in wood flooring is by the door where people likely remove and leave wet shoes, or in front of bedroom closets where people probably stand after showering (without drying their feet) to pick out clothes. Wood is vulnerable to attack when the moisture content is above 20 percent.  Air must also be present (wood totally submerged in water will rot very slowly, or not at all).  The implications of rotted, warped, buckled, or stained flooring include cosmetic problems, trip hazards, or deterioration of the structure below. Depending on the extent of the damage, and whether the problem is active, we may recommend control measures, flooring replacement, or structural repairs.

Squeaking Floors:

Speaks are typically caused by finished flooring not being held tightly against the subflooring, or subflooring not sitting tightly against joists. Although annoying, squeaks are common and not a performance or structural issue.  Solutions for correcting squeaks include pulling the finished flooring down against the subflooring, and/or pulling the subflooring down against the joists. This can be done from above or below. In many cases, a cost/benefit analysis convinces people to live with the squeaks.

Exposed Tongues:

Exposed tongues on tongue-and-groove flooring are usually the result of sanding the floor to create a new wood finish. Exposed tongues may result in slivers or splinters for people walking in bare or stocking feet. They may also result in exposed nail heads and possible injury. There are obviously cosmetic implications, and pieces of flooring may become loose and/or lift as a result.

Wood flooring is a popular choice for homes and can last for many years with proper care. We look forward to seeing you at your home inspection!

We’re Hiring! Apply Now!

Licensed NC Home Inspector
Full-time job
Triad Area, NC.
Job Requirements:
Must have an active NC Home Inspector License, or close to completion in a pre-licensing program.
Ideal candidate would possess the following skills:
Strong attention to detail.
Understand the importance of quality and consistent customer service.
Basic knowledge of residential home systems and components.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Great listening skills.
Proficient computer skills.
Have the aptitude and mental ability to problem solve and conduct professional conversations with real estate agents and customers.
A great attitude, good presence, and energy.
Integrity and strong work ethic.
Punctual and ability to work unsupervised.
A valid driver’s license and insurance.
Must be able to work in various weather conditions, climb ladders, walk on roofs, access crawl space, enter attics as well as stand for long periods of time.
Available to work some evenings and weekends.
Contact us to apply!

NCLHIA Conference

In North Carolina, the home inspector licensure board requires that all home inspectors complete continuing education each year to ensure inspectors are kept up to date on important topics in our state.

Our industry is very vibrant and there are many organizations inspectors can associate with in order to obtain continuing education credits. This past week, we attended the North Carolina Licensed Home Inspector Associations conference held at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord. We believe in NCLHIA’s vision and standards for North Carolina home inspectors. The conference was held from Wednesday through Saturday. We received valuable training in HVAC systems, adhered masonry and stucco, and an update on NC requirements for energy loss from homes. We were able to learn from several speakers in addition to the required education component and network with vendors who offer services that can help our clients. NCLHIA is a large organization, so we were also able to meet with other inspectors from across the state and discuss what common themes inspectors are seeing out in the field.  When several inspectors are talking about the same issues popping up, awareness of these problems helps us all become better inspectors.

Home Inspection is an ever-changing profession, and there is always more to learn. This was a very valuable trip and are excited to implement what we learned so that we can better serve you, our clients.