Start Here to read the first post in this series. This will help you better understand the details for each section of the ACMV series.
If there is one constant when it comes to ACMV (Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer), it is that you must be sure the moisture can drain from behind the siding. This drainage is achieved by incorporating a drainage plane & weep screed (a place for the water to drain to, and path for it to escape). When you look at all of the detailed diagrams on the subject, you’ll notice that every one of them has a drainage point where the siding meets another horizontal surface. This means that every window, door, trim piece, and the ground must have a drainage point to release the water that will get behind the siding. If this detail is omitted, and it almost always is, moisture can build up and leak behind the moisture barriers that are in place. Let’s look at some pictures to see what happens when things go wrong.
Window and Door Heading Detail
Below is a detailed diagram of what you should see when looking at ACMV manufactured stone install. Notice the weep screed at the top of the window to give the moisture a place to drain, and an expansion gap (with backer rod and sealant to keep wind-driven rain out). When that flashing is missing (and it almost always is), the water that gets behind the stone will collect and build up on top of the window (the head). I’ve added some rain drops to the image to help you better understand what happens to the moisture, and what path the water takes as the wall takes on wind-driven rain.
Now let’s look at a picture from an inspection of a typical ACMV install I see in Louisville during inspections. You’ll notice that the mortar was installed around the stones and it was also laid directly next to the window frame. The is no form of expansion gap, and the weep screed is missing. Every important detail was skipped.
Window and Door Jam Details
The sides of windows call for the same backer-rod and sealant as the top, to allow for thermal movement. Remember from science class that almost everything expands and contracts when it heats up and cools down. We must allow for this movement, and flexible sealants are the best way to do so. We incorporate bond breakers like backer-rods to help cut down on the amount of sealant used, and to keep the bond in the joint even. I drew a couple of diagrams to help you visualize what the backer-rod/sealant joint would look like.
Let’s look at a detail where the backer-rod is missing from the equation. When you don’t utilize a backer-rod, the sealant will flow and move inside the joint and grab more of one side than the other. Think of this as a game of tug-of-war. One side has 10 people, one has 3 people. Who’s going to win? When one side is stronger than the other, the joint will fail and pull apart. This is what happens when you see a caulked joint that has cracked and opened up.
Here is what a typical install of ACMV around windows looks like in my area. I’ve never seen an installer use backer-rod and sealant. It’s always either mortared straight to the window jam, or “dry stacked.” Both are a recipe for failure. You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
One of the most important details with a waterproof installation of ACMV on your home should happen long before the stone veneer is ever installed. The opening for the windows must be wrapped in sill flashing. This is usually done with a peel and stick product such as Grace Vycor Flashing. If this step is omitted, compounded with the other skipped details, you will be left with water that will seep in around the corners of the window sills, and rot out the wall. How fast this happens all depends on how much water gets in.
Identifying A Problem
Even though I have never seen an installation of ACMV that I would consider correct, I have seen several houses that are not showing signs of problems (to the naked eye). Sometimes it take the Perfect Storm of circumstances before real problems pop up. Sometimes it takes the right amount of rain exposure. Sometimes enough time hasn’t elapsed for a water problem to manifest itself on the surface.
When I can’t simply look at the home and know there is an issue, I use technology to help out.
Moisture Meters- I carry several different kinds of moisture meters. Each tool does one particular job well, and the specific task dictates which one I reach for. When dealing with ACMV and windows, I use my GE Protimeter with deep wall probes. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a drop in the bucket to what the repair costs on your house will be.
Your wall cavity is about 4″ thick. Most of the time, the moisture will take years and years to show up on the inside of the home near the drywall. However, using the wall probes, I’m able to take moisture readings through the 4″ of wall cavity and reach the backside of the substrate (the OSB plywood on the outside). This surface is what the ACMV is actually mounted to. If water is leaking in, the meter should find it.
To use the probes, I first drill two small holes in the drywall. Sometimes we get lucky and find an electrical outlet near the bottom of the window. When that happens, we can remove the cover plate and slide the probes between the electrical box and the cutout of the drywall. This keeps me from having to drill holes in the wall.
As with other claddings used in construction, the details around doors and windows are what must be perfectly executed. Flat walls are relatively easy; it’s when a change shows up in the architecture that builders and contractors must follow details, or things go south in a hurry. If you’ve compared your home to what I have detailed here and you’re concerned, I encourage you to reach out to a moisture intrusion expert to have your home examined. If you are in my area, Louisville, KY, please feel free to contact me about getting your ACMV Inspection.
PART 3: ACMV- WALL DETAILS AND DRAINAGE
In part three I show you how the details around the walls should be handled, and how to make sure the water doesn’t build up behind the stone veneer.
The ACMV diagrams from this series were all taken from the MVMA guide. I will sometimes remove extra details or color certain sections to make them a bit easier to understand. If you want to look at the originals, download the full MVMA manual.
Let me start by saying there is no such thing as a waterproof basement. When you build part of your house underground, there is always a chance you could get some water leaking in. Ask anyone who has lived in a home with a basement for a long time. Most have dealt with water intrusion problems at one time or another. But just because we can’t guarantee a water-free basement does not mean you can’t finish out and enjoy your subterranean getaway. There are, however, a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favor of staying dry.
Gutters & Downspouts
Maintaining your gutters and downspouts is the single most important thing you can do to keep your basement dry. It’s also one of the most overlooked aspects I find during home inspections. Your house displaces a lot of water when it rains. If you do not have clean, free flowing gutters and downspouts, that water will end up against the outside basement walls, finding every nook and cranny to seep into.
Your downspouts should be extended away from the house as much as possible; a good rule of thumb being at least 6 feet away from the foundation. Extension is 99% of the battle. Most folks who have water problems in their basement have it because of improper roof water management.
Grading Around the House
Not all rain water finds its way to the gutters. A lot of that water lands on your yard, which means that it’s very important for that yard to be sloping away from your house. This is called the “grading” of the ground, and it can be either positive or negative. Positive slope means the ground is running downhill, away from the house; carrying the water with it. Negative slope means the ground is running toward the house, thus sending the water against the foundation wall (where you do not want it). This seems simple, but I inspect a huge number of houses that have improper grading. The fix is straightforward, but can be difficult in certain circumstances.
If you find that you need to re-grade your yard, do what it takes to get it done right. If the grading is too high to achieve the proper slope, you’ll need to remove the high spot. The last thing you want to do is bury your siding in the dirt. That is a great way to cause more problems. Keep the siding about 6″ from the ground.
Most homes with basements in this area have sump pumps installed. Unfortunately, just about everyone ignores their pump until it’s too late. When was the last time you actually checked yours? You should do it every month. I also recommend replacing the pump every 5 years or so. A good pump is only about $125, and is simple to swap out. The aftermath of a failed pump during a heavy thunderstorm will cost you much more in dollars and in heartache. Sump pumps fall into that whole “ounce of prevention, pound of cure” category. I won’t go into great detail about sump pumps here (that’s for another day). Just don’t forget to treat the sump pump discharge pipe like your downspouts; get it away from the house.
Keeping your basement dry is not rocket science. Just always remember that if there is a way in, water will find it. Water always wins in the end. After all, the Grand Canyon was just a ditch at one time…
Stay on top of those gutters and downspouts, get that grading right, and make sure your sump pump is in fine working condition and chances are, you won’t find a river rushing through the grand canyon of your basement.