Exterior cladding veneers can be made of just about any material, but typically, they are masonry, including brick or stone. Some veneers are adhered, others are anchored. In this article, we address only anchored veneer, the most popular being brick masonry attached to wood framing.
Anchored veneers are heavy materials such as full-thickness brick and they require an individual foundation. Most often, this foundation is a concrete ledge, formed with a piece of removable foam, which is placed inside the form at the time the foundation concrete is placed. This configuration creates a ledge on which the veneer rests. Sometimes, this ledge has through-wall flashing installed under the veneer and sometimes we’ve seen the concrete foundation alone relied on as the path for moisture to the weep holes. The Brick Industry Association (BIA) and the International Residential Code (IRC) require through-wall flashing at the weep holes and above other supports such as lintels. Other veneer foundations could be concrete masonry units. As home inspectors, most of the time we can’t see the veneer foundation, so we’ll not spend much time on that topic.
The veneer is anchored to the wood-frame walls with metal straps placed at approximately 18 to 24 inches on center each way. The metal straps are embedded into the veneer mortar joints and provide anchorage as a redundant system to help hold the veneer in place. Typically, these metal anchors are installed over a house wrap, or type-D or better building paper.
In general, anchored veneer materials are installed with an approximately 1- to 2-inch air space between the materials and the wood-frame walls. This allows moisture to weep toward the bottom where it may exit the wall through weep holes. Weeps typically are placed a maximum of 33 inches on center per the IRC; however, the BIA recommends 24 inches for weeps (open head joints), and 16 inches for wicks or tubes (some tubes have porous wicking material inside, designed to help prevent pests from entering and to improve moisture movement out of the wall).
These weep openings should be above-grade. Sometimes, the weeps are installed a few courses up from the bottom of the wall because the first course or so of the air space fills up with the mortar droppings during installation. We have seen installations where there is a flashing exiting the veneer below the weep openings. This would be the most correct installation per IRC and BIA documentation.
Veneers can be installed in multiple stories; usually, approximately 30 vertical feet is the limit, depending on the seismic zone, wind zone or both. In seismic zones, the veneer material should have separation from the building at the top and sides to prevent damage during building movement.
To learn more about anchored veneer installation, refer to the BIA’s Technical Note #28 (http://www.gobrick.com/docs/default-source/read-research-documents/technicalnotes/28-brick-veneer-wood-stud-walls.pdf?sfvrsn=0).
Typical conditions requiring evaluation and repair found in anchored veneers include the following:
- lack of weep (or not visible) holes
- blocked weep holes
- moisture intrusion into the house due to this lack of moisture exit
Occasionally, inspectors will encounter anchored veneer walls with displaced or bulging sections when moisture behind the wall was unable to exit and freezing caused movement—obviously, this is a reportable condition. We have even seen cases where a homeowner, thinking that the weep tubes were allowing ants into the home, filled the weep tubes with caulk. Although the homeowner’s thinking might have been correct, it’s more important to let the moisture out.
Metal “lintels” typically are installed to support the masonry veneer above the penetrations. These lintels typically may develop surface rusting, which is a normal occurrence. Excessive rusting or movement of the veneer should be noted for further evaluation. There is almost always cracking of the mortar at the metal lintel—this is normal and should not be filled with caulking because it is the exit for moisture. In contrast, step cracking caused by heavy rusting at the lintel is certainly an item to report.
Although it is not required by the ASHI Standard of Practice (SoP), part of a veneer inspection could include pushing gently on the veneer walls to determine rigidity. If the veneer moves, this would not be a normal condition. Further evaluation by a mason would be prudent if movement occurs. This situation could be indicative of corroded or missing veneer ties. Looking along the wall from a distance also can reveal bulges that may indicate failed veneer ties.
One of the most common questions about masonry veneer relates to the “limit” for cracking. There really is no single, all-applicable number or answer, as the inspector should consider the whole-house picture when making judgment. Examples of questions to ask are as follows:
- Is there evidence of distress inside the house or anywhere else?
- How big is the crack (or cracks)?
- Is there lateral movement?
- Has the crack been repaired and re-opened?
Keep in mind that veneers are non-structural (except for holding up themselves) and generally will always have some cracks, just like stucco or other rigid cladding materials. Often, cracks in veneer look worse than they are because someone attempted to repair or “point” the crack, making it more visible than if it had just been left alone. In modern construction, wide walls (usually at least 40 feet wide) would have vertical expansion joints installed to allow for movement.
When describing cracks in veneers, it is always best practice to inform the client that you can’t predict the potential, if any, for future movement. Here’s an informative article to consider when describing cracks: https://jadeengineering.biz/the-real-truth-about-brick-veneer-cracks/.
Often, home inspectors see efflorescence, which is caused by the minerals left behind from moisture evaporating through the masonry. (Don’t confuse this with effervescence—those are the bubbles in your drink.) Some efflorescence would be considered normal, with new veneer and/or near weeps, in particular. Heavy efflorescence—meaning you can grab some in your hand—might mean that too much water is staying behind the wall and can’t get out.
We have seen veneers completely botched by repointing gone wrong. The best mortar joint would be concave and just set back from the surface. When amateurs fill the mortar joint to or beyond the surface of the veneer, they can cause water retention and other issues, as can the use of the wrong mortar. Older mortar did not contain cement and is very soft. When repointed with modern hard mortars, damage is inevitable.
As always, the best strategy when you are unsure about conditions you find is to recommend that an expert evaluate the situation and determine if repair is necessary.
The ASHI Technical Committee includes Charles Buell, Mike Casey, Mark Cramer, Pete Engle, Victor Faggella, Bryck Giubor (Board Liaison), Steve Nations, Randy Surette, Mike Twitty and Kevin Westendorff (Chair). The Technical Committee reviews articles as requested by ASHI, brainstorms topics, and creates and reviews their own articles for submittal to the Reporter.