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Why Do split face block & Brick buildings have Water damage?.

WickRight Parapet Vent® is a Patented Product owned by WickRight, Inc.  WickRight Coping VRS™, WickRight Capstone VRS™, WickRight Roof VRS™, WickRight Hip VRS™, WickRight Valley VRS™ and WickRight Perimeter VRS™ are Patent Pending products owned by WickRight Inc.

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How Water Becomes Trapped In Walls With Metal Copings
This illustration shows a typical single-wythe, Split Face Block Wall – this type of construction is found all over the Chicago area.

The basic metal coping on top of the wall, if installed properly, can keep water out of the top of the wall.

However, wind-driven rain –enters under the coping and through unsealed masonry and becomes trapped in the wall. Water can also enter behind the roof termination bar soaking the roof decking and insulation. This moisture settles through the masonry and is absorbed into the wood joists or truss system.

In the summer, when temperatures rise, the trapped moisture vapor rises, but it can’t escape through the metal coping. Moisture then leaches to the exterior of the masonry bringing with it mineral deposits, which cause white stains, called Efflorescence. Moisture also travels in the opposite direction and is absorbed by the roof insulation, plywood decking and joists or truss system.

Summer heat also causes Vapor Drive or Solar Drive, which pushes the moisture toward the cool interior of your building. Water may soak drywall and leak through electrical outlets. Moisture trapped between the masonry wall and the drywall causes mold growth in the insulation.

During harsh winters, like we experienced in 2014, if the hollow core of the block is filled with water, that water may freeze.  The expansion of the water, as it becomes ice, may expand the block, causing fissures and possibly fracturing the block and damaging the structural integrity of the block wall, and therefore the structural integrity of the building.

At the very least, Winter’s Freeze/Thaw cycles will eventually deteriorate the block wall and may cause structural damage.

How Water Becomes Trapped In Walls With Capstones

This illustration shows typical brick face wythe and block interior wythe construction – this type of construction is also found all over the Chicago area.

Natural stone and manufactured capstones look great, but are extremely porous and a main entrance point for water. Our studies show that water poured on top of a manufactured capstone can penetrate and exit a 4" slab in 6 minutes.

Capstones do allow moisture in AND out. Unfortunately, the amount of moisture that flows IN is measurable in gallons, depending on the rate of precipitation. The evaporation rate, however, is not significant.

This diagram shows that rain comes in from the top and sides of the capstone, 
and wind-driven rain –pushes through the brick and block walls.

Water absorbed by the brick wall reaches the block wall via mortar bridges in the air cavity between the wythes. Mortar bridges, which are unfortunately quite common in modern construction, also obstruct rising moisture vapor.

The same Leaching, Vapor Drive, Mold Growth and Freeze/Thaw principles above apply to this type of wall.

Construction is a complex science. Starting from the foundation, success requires the right combination of materials and craftsmanship, plus a delicate balance of weather-proofing and ventilation. 

Traditional vs. Modern
Masonry Construction Materials

Traditional masonry construction materials, like brick and natural stone, are fairly porous, but traditional construction methods provide continuous wicking and drying to the outside. 

Many masonry buildings, old and new; brick, stone and concrete; have moisture issues. In the Chicago area, SERIOUS water and mold damage is most prevalent in buildings less than 20 years old and constructed with Split Face Block. 

Split Face Block looks like chipped stone, but it is manufactured concrete – a concrete block. It is 8 times* more porous than natural stone or brick and must be professionally sealed regularly just to REDUCE moisture absorption. 

Building with Split Face Block is like building with a sponge – It DOES NOT keep out the weather. 

Although building with Split Face Block can save money on labor, time and materials compared to building with brick or stone, it unfortunately can cost owners far more in maintenance and repair. 

*From WTTW report on issues with Split Face Block in Chicago 

Traditional vs. Modern 
Masonry Construction Methods

Masonry buildings constructed in a traditional manner are built with a series of 2 or 3 masonry walls, called “wythes”, secured with self-healing, lime putty mortar. Each wall adds strength and serves as a moisture barrier to the interior of the building. 

Lime putty mortar is autogenous; when it gets wet, it runs and re-seals cracks, holes and pits; acting as a natural waterproofing agent. It absorbs moisture from the brick and re-seals the building every time it rains.

At best, some modern buildings have two brick wythes; some have one exterior brick wythe and one interior block wythe; and many have only ONE Split Face Block wythe. Air cavities are left between wythes to provide ventilation, but modern mortar is NOT self-healing, it absorbs and transfers moisture from the exterior wythe to the interior wythe via mortar bridges, see illustration below. 

Moisture issues occur in all types of masonry buildings, the combination of Split Face Block and single-wythe construction is especially problematic. The block readily absorbs rain and humidity. Moisture naturally seeks paths of least resistance – your roof decking, joists, insulation, wall studs, furring strips, drywall and electrical outlets. 

Video above shows water pouring from a Split Face Block wall. After the water was drained, WickRight Coping and Roof VRS, WickRight Parapet Vent Copings and Interior Wall Assembly was installed.  Client reports no further leaks and the building is dry.