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Weeping Over Weep Holes

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Legal Notice

 

Subj: Weeping Over Weep Holes
Date: 11/04/2000 6:48:28 PM Eastern Standard Time

Weeping Over Weep Holes

 

If you don't intend to read this in its entirety, then stop NOW because you will just be more confused than ever.

Over the past few weeks I have been hearing about, conflict, lack of understanding, confusion, upset buyers, sellers and realtors over the issue of a home inspectors report of the lack of weep holes in the brick veneer walls of a two year old home. Luckily for me, I was not involved in the inspection, but several realtors I know well and two home inspectors whom I am in contact with often were involved.

Here are some of the issues I heard about being bounced around:
Are weep holes required by code, and if so since when?
If they are required, why did the builder of this two-year-old home not install them?
Why did the local building inspector approve the home without them?
What does a weep hole do?
Why is it a big deal if they are left out?
Who should be responsible for installing weep holes after the fact?

Are weep holes required by code, and if so since when?

First let me make it very clear that pre-sale home inspections are not code inspections. However, many of the issues we raise are also code issues and this is a good example. Here is what the current building code says about weep holes:

North Carolina State Building Code Volume VII Residential:
703.7.4 Weep holes. Weep holes shall be provided in the outside wythe of masonry walls at a maximum spacing of 48 inches on center. Weep holes shall not be less than 3/16 inch in diameter. Weep holes shall be located immediately above the flashing.

Where is flashing required per the code?
703.7.3 Flashing. Flashing shall be located beneath the first course of masonry above finished ground level above the foundation wall or slab, and at other points of support, including structural floors, shelf angles and lintels
703.8 Flashing. Approved corrosion-resistive flashing shall be provided at top and sides of all exterior window and door openings at the intersection of chimneys or other masonry construction with frame or stucco walls under and at the ends of masonry, wood, or metal copings, sills; continuously above all projecting wood trim; where exterior porches, decks or stairs attach to a wall or floor assembly of wood-frame construction; at wall and roof intersections.

In simple language, weep holes are required in masonry walls at the top of the foundation wall, below all window and door sills, at the top of all window, door and any other wall opening, at supporting points, at shelf angles, at copings, projecting trim, wall and roof intersections.

If you were aware of weep hole requirements, I bet you only knew about their requirement at the top of foundations. Sorry, that's not the only place.

How long have they been required? I didn't take the time to check this out, but I can tell you this. I started in construction as a mason while a teenager and I am now fifty years old. There has never been a time when I did not install weep holes.

Why did the builder of this two-year-old home not install them?

That's a good question but easy to answer. Most builders don't build homes, subcontractors build homes. How many times have you seen a homebuilder or even one of his employees installing brick or for that matter even watching it being installed? If the sub doesn't do it correctly, unfortunately I am ashamed to say, many builders aren't managing their jobs closely enough or just plain don't know the difference.

Why did the local building inspector approve the home without them?

To be very blunt, he shouldn't have. Do the local code enforcement inspectors miss issues like this? Every day. Why are they missed? For many reasons, over worked, over scheduled and under paid is a good one and I am sure there are many others. Say what ever you like, but it boils down to this: Code enforcement inspectors are not responsible for code compliance, builders are. Builders must know the code and demand that their subcontractors meet code requirements.

What does a weep hole do?

Masonry walls leak. A tightly tooled mortar joint is a masonry walls first line of defense against water penetration. Slick concave joints are best, slick V joints are next. Flush joints are fair. Joints raked out after they have begun to dry, beloved by residential masons and used on most homes today are not good, and rake joints beloved by architects because they cast a shadow are guaranteed to trap water on their ledges and greatly increase water penetration. Brick work with irregular lines and ledges as has been popular in the past and coming back into popularity today make walls less water tight and create ledges for penetration. Water can pass through a crack that is only 1/100 wide. A square foot of brickwork with cracks that size around each brick will have voids equal to a hole that has a diameter of about 1. These hairline cracks are almost invisible; yet allow much water to enter the wall. Adding to all of these issues is the fact that although brick manufactures have for years attempted to beat into masons brains that all brick joints must be full of mortar without voids, few if any homes are constructed today or have been constructed in the past which met this requirement.

The water is coming in and weep holes constitute the second line of defense against this water becoming a problem by controlling the water, which has penetrated the walls. They usually are open vertical mortar joints spaced regularly around the house near the top of the foundation. Ideally, although required but seldom seen, they also should be provided at the top and sills of windows and doors. These openings in the wall allow the water that accumulates on the flashing from the failure of the first line of defense to drain to daylight.

Weep holes have a secondary function. Weep holes help equalize air pressure on both sides of the wall, making it less likely that wind-driven rain will penetrate the wall. When water does penetrate the wall, weep holes expel it, and ventilation through the holes helps dry the wall cavity. Ventilating weep holes also allow any condensation that accumulates on the inner surface of the brick to dissipate.

Why is it a big deal if they are left out?

The absence of weep holes occasionally may allow so much moisture to accumulate that metal fasteners turn to rust, wood-destroying insects are encouraged, or rot develops. It is unlikely that a nondestructive visual home inspection will reveal these problems unless they are so severe that cracks in the walls or other manifestations are accessible to visual examination. The most likely visual manifestation of a problem will be water stains, damp areas or rot at the foundation plate and or floor band and stains or damp areas at the top of the foundation wall. Another is leaks and stains around windows and doors, at roof to wall transitions or chimneys. I have personally witnessed sever damage which appeared to have been caused by the lack of weep holes and/or flashing. Unfortunately, not only do inspectors find weep holes missing, but often we find them filled up because someone though they were just holes needing to be repaired.

Who should be responsible for installing weep holes after the fact?

I guess that will be left up to the judge and jury, but I will state my personal opinion. Failure to install recommended and/or required weep holes constitutes negligence and is the responsibility of the contractor of record. This is not a warranty issue for which the contractor's responsibility disappears after one year. As I often tell contractors: Fail to do it correctly, and you sleep with it at night and live with it forever. This is just one of the many reasons I am no longer a contractor and am now a pre-purchase home inspector.

Reality

This week as I have driven from one inspection to another I have been looking for weep holes. Based on this week, as well as my past experience, in the newer developments they are for the most part clearly evident at the top of the foundation, hardly ever anywhere else. In older developments except for large track builders, they are often in fact almost always missing. If all of the pre-purchase home inspectors wrote up the lack of weep holes on every home we inspect you should buy stock in any company that manufactures drills and masonry drill bits and might ought to consider going into the weep hole installation business.

I will not pretend to speak for other home inspectors, but this is how I handle this issue. I am not a code enforcement inspector. In many instances I must make a judgment call on what I write up. On older homes I can't just consider code or best practices, I must consider what may have been a generally accepted practice at the time the home was constructed. Considering the amount of older homes I see without weep holes and based on my past experience, it is my opinion that the installation of weep holes at some point in the past, even if it was part of code, was not a generally accepted practice and appears to have been ignored by code enforcement officials. Therefore I must make a judgment call because I believe that is what my client is paying me to do. If I think the age of the home relates to the time when this was not a generally accepted practice and I see no visual evidence of this being a problem then I don't even address the issue in my inspection and or report. If on the other hand I see visual issues which could be attributable to the lack of weep holes it becomes an issue that I address on site with my client and include in my report.

I believe that weep holes at the top of the foundation, today and in recent years, is not only a code requirement but is a commonly accepted practice. Weep holes at other locations may be code, but has not become a commonly accepted practice even though it should be. To be honest, I see problems at these other locations from lack of or improperly installed flashing, but I can't say that I am aware of problems from the lack of weep holes. If the home is new construction or fairly recent construction the issue of weep holes at the top of the foundation will definitely be addressed both onsite and in my report and someone had better get out the drill and their wallet or be willing to live with it.

Yes, I did say that I think this issue is the responsibility of the builder even after the one-year warranty period. If the home is new, or recent construction I definitely recommend going after the builder and demanding correction of his negligent workmanship. Reality is that many builders after one year will not respond largely because they know the owners are more than likely going to be forced to deal with the issue on their own and are not willing to deal with the time, lose the sale or bear the legal expense required to force the builder into compliance. Reality is whether the seller and buyer likes it or not they are going to be forced into negotiations relative to how this will effect closing their deal. The choice to live with it or bear the expense of repair is more than likely going to be theirs to decide and your commission will hang on the results.

These little holes didn't appear so important before today, did they?

Do you think you need to recommend pre-purchase home inspections on new construction?

Thought for the week

"A government which promises everything must pay its bills with everybody's money."--Strom Thurmond

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