When researching my next inspection I always check the build date. If it’s between 1978 to 1995 I’ll be on the lookout for questionable workmanship and defective products. 1995 represents a turning point, a time when established presumptions about how to build houses proved inadequate for new products and updated efficiency requirements. The change was not as immediate or catastrophic as 9/11. Yet 1995 represents as well as any other year a benchmark; a time when old ways failed to serve new needs.
A series of events; a wide-open profit-driven market, new code requirements for tight, insulated homes, defective products and un-informed construction methods culminated in a series of legal judgements. The ensuing storm of financial loss continues to this day. Notable failures in Metro Atlanta were Polybutylene water pipe (PB), hardboard lap siding, particularly Louisiana Pacific Innerseal brand, and EIFS (Exterior Insulated Finish Systems), commonly referred to as Synthetic Stucco. These products dominated their markets in the go-go years of Atlanta’s suburban expansion.
By the early 90’s inspectors knew something wasn’t right. We were searching for the answers to why“They don’t build them like they used to” yet our suspicions had to wait for an accumulation of evidence, research and, ultimately legal action, for confirmation. During the great Atlanta suburban expansion builders and manufacturers ruled the market. When inspectors raised doubts they were viewed as a nuisance (see link below). Manufacturers claimed, correctly in some cases, defects were the result of improper installation. Moreover, material failures were exacerbated by a lack of understanding about Building Science-the interplay of environment, materials and use in buildings.
The frequency and magnitude of failures occurring within such a short time period indicated a larger problem. Homeowners wanting third-party review of new construction were the catalyst for the formation of GAHI, the Georgia Association of Home Inspectors. GAHI membership requires code certification.
My research led to an understanding of How Homes Work. Some will remember the class I taught of the same name. I learned that heat and moisture control-especially in the humid Southeast-is critical. And that composite building materials used in the 80s and 90s fail more readily when exposed to heat and moisture in newer, more tightly built and insulated homes.
Here’s a brief outline of PB pipe, Hardboard Siding and EIFS. For a more detailed discussion of these topics review the links below.
Polybutylene Water Piping
PB pipe was tested using fresh water. Most utilities add chlorine to disinfect water. Over time chlorine causes the pipe to become brittle. Pipe failures occur where the pipe is stressed: at improperly crimped joints, where it enters the home, is not adequately supported or subject to vibration. Qest, Vanguard and Shell are common brand names.
Hardboard siding is a thin stiff sheet made of compressed sawdust, wood pulp or wood chips bound together with a plastic adhesive or resin under heat and pressure. Cut into boards it was used as exterior siding. When exposed to repeated wet-dry cycles it begins to swell, especially at the bottom edge and nail penetrations. Painting slows, but does not stop, failure.
Synthetic stucco is a type of building exterior wall cladding system that provides exterior walls with an insulated finished surface and waterproofing in an integrated composite material system. Failure occurs when water is trapped behind the cladding. Face-sealed systems depend on keeping water out by carefully caulking and sealing entry points at the roof and walls. Poorly sealed EIFS led to significant wall framing damage. Installation and maintenance are critical-failed or misapplied caulking being the most common source of damage. Building codes were changed to require a pathway for water to drain from behind the siding without damaging walls. EIFS retrofits improve flashing and caulking.
Despite builder resistance the private inspectors’ role in construction is now the norm. We’re both striving to satisfy a more demanding public.
An End of an Era and Beginning of a New Millennium
Product and workmanship failures reached their apex in 1995. The construction industry responded with reformulated products, informed construction practice, revised codes, and a deeper understanding of the complexities of building science. Though these changes are not equal in immediate effect to those made after 9/11 they are moving residential construction toward a healthier, more sustainable future. Atlanta’s own http://www.earthcraft.org/ is one of several programs leading the way forward.
Check out my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ecoinspector
Lend a hand to Dan Curl/Comprehensive Home Inspections at Google Review