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Job Site Diaries

Job Site Diaries

Porch Rot: How $2.00 in Flashing Could Have Saved $150,000 in Repairs

comments (10) February 3rd, 2011 in Blogs
JeffWolf JeffWolf, Blogger

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Photo: Jeff Wolf

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Several months ago we were completing a custom home on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  A neighbor who was impressed with our clean and organized jobsite asked us to look at a leak in their exterior balcony.  The house was three years old.  It included two living floors over a garage level and had balconies on two sides of both the upper floors.

What was visible at the time was a small hole in the drywall ceiling above the ground floor where water would drip after a rain, and crack lines in the stucco on the columns and along the beams. (see photos).  These were different from normal shrinkage cracks.   The stucco surface showed signs of displacement due to swelling.  We have done repair work on a number of similar projects.  Our experience has been that the size and displacement of the cracks are signs that water has been trapped in the wall behind the stucco.  The wet sheathing swells and the wire lath rusts, causing the cracks to appear. 

In this case, the owner had already hired an inspector who took pictures showing clean, dry plywood in the deck.  We had hopes that the damage might have been caught early and that we would not have to do major structural repairs.  Even so, we knew from past experience that hidden damage can be extensive.  We proposed to do an investigation consisting of removal of drywall around the leak, loose tile above the leak, and stucco at the worst of the stucco cracks.  Based on our findings, we would recommend a repair plan.

When we removed the drywall ceiling, we saw that the plywood along the outside edge of the deck was completely stained with water and mold.  When we removed the tile above that area and probed the plywood decking, it was so badly rotted that I was able to stick my pocket knife completely through the deck with no more resistance than if it was Styrofoam (see photos).  Apparently, the tile on the balconies had come loose shortly after the owner moved in. The contractor sent someone to remove the tile and re-install it.  Whoever did the work used a grinder to cut through the tile joints.  They cut through the fiberglass waterproofing at almost every joint. 

We removed stucco from a column and a section of beam where the cracking was pronounced.  We found that the flashing on the edge of the decks stopped at each side of the column.  Water had entered the boxed out framing around the column and spread laterally into the beam.  Fortunately, the six by six columns were pressure treated and were still intact.  (See photos).

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posted in: Blogs, water and moisture control, porch
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Comments (10)

hlgilbert hlgilbert writes: Excellent craftmanship. Thank you for posting.
Posted: 2:00 pm on October 10th

JeffWolf JeffWolf writes: To all, my apolgy for not posting replies sooner. I did not realize I had additional comments posted.

wmheinz asked about venting the spaces. We detail our stucco finish with a drainage plane behind it and we leave weeps at the bottom of our stucco stops to allow any moisture that gets behind the stucco to dry out. The idea of venting the boxed in spaces is not something we have done. Our experience has been to find water damage between stucco and plywood or at leak points from the outside in. I have not seen much evidence of moisture damage from the inside of an enclosed space. Our deck details vary depending on the ceiling material below. We have not deliberatly allowed for drains or for air circulation. I will consider providing for air circulation in the future.

Bob1998 asked if venting would have helped in this case. I don't think drains or air circulation would have helped this deck. The majority of the damage occured between tile and plywood or between stucco and plywood. We are carefull to create a drainage plane in both of those situations.

Ladybuilder mentioned recourse to the builder. Unfortunately he is out of business. I don't know if the owner has enough information to track down his insurance carrier for a claim.

Pacific Blue asked about getting photos. I will be happy to email photos if you send me your contact information. Our company email is

Posted: 12:06 pm on July 20th

Ladybuilder Ladybuilder writes: I agree with WDMichael - great article with a very good message that some may miss. When it comes to water intrusion arising from construction defect, the Devil is always in the details. Very costly damages can almost always be avoided up front through the attention to detail and spending a few dollars up front - particularly on key elements of the building envelope such as flashings.

Having built in Florida for more than 20 years, I can attest to the challenges that balconies, balustrades, columns and railing supports can pose to properly preventing water intrusion in these areas. However, there is a great deal of information available to every builder, from material manufacturers installation instructions, building science resources and the like to assist with providing quality installations that will endure both the test of time and the elements.

I hope that this unfortunate Homeowner has pursued legal recourse against the original builder to recoup some, if not all, of the costs associated with this repair. The statute of repose for construction defect in Florida is 10 years, and the statute of limitations for negligence of actions founded on the design (i.e. poor flashing details around the corners) is 4 years, both of which are longer than the 3 year age of the original construction noted.

Thanks for posting the article and the photo's.

Posted: 12:46 am on February 10th

WDMichael WDMichael writes: Great article. Thanks for posting it. Don't pay too much attention to the criticism above. Some people forget that when someone gives them something they should be thankful and probably think twice before they ask for more.

I, for one, got the message. I'll be watching the flashings from now on.
Posted: 11:56 am on February 8th

PacificBlue PacificBlue writes: Nice article, thanks for taking the time to post. BTW, seems photo 9/12 hasn't been uploaded properly... nothing more than a small thumbnail shows for me. If possible, I'd like to receive the PDF set of your photos. How can we do that?
Posted: 11:33 pm on February 7th

Bob1998 Bob1998 writes: wmheinz has an interesting question, how much longer would this balcony lasted if it had vents on the underside between the beams?
Posted: 9:57 pm on February 7th

wmheinz wmheinz writes: I see do real discussion about ventilating all of these exterior, enclosed spaces. No matter how much attention is paid to waterproofing, moisture will develop in these enclosed areas and, I suspect in a hot climate like this, you're going to get rot/mold in a hurry. Take those fabricated short columns/posts on the roof...even a space like this..if it's hollow, it has to get ventilated to keep moisture from accumulating - it has no way to get out and even a minor leak will allow moisture to accumulate and not dissipate. Also, I wouldn't dream of specifying anything but all pressure treated material (joist, plywood, beams, columns, etc.) in these type spaces. All it takes is looking at the difference between the treated columns and the untreated plywood and joists in the pictures to see the value of building with treated material.
Posted: 7:42 pm on February 7th

JeffWolf JeffWolf writes: John: Thanks for the feedback and thanks for taking the time to go through the article. This was my first post and I realized after it loaded that it would be hard to read. I had originally set up the article for print and the text and photos were supposed to be dropped in together. When I found out I had a twelve photo limit I converted the pages to images to keep within the limit. Once they loaded I saw that they would be too small.

For anyone interested, I cam email a pdf file of the photos and comments.

I will also check with the web editors to see if I can take down the images and load new ones. I culled half the pictures to get 12 but I think they will tell most of the visual story.
Jeff Wolf
Posted: 6:24 pm on February 7th

SueLS SueLS writes: agree with John M, I just about closed this article because of the disjointed presentation, but decided to get on with it because I have some mold and rot on both my front door and french door to my deck, and thought maybe I could learn from the article.

Why not put the photos into the text, as many other articles have been designed.

Thanks for the info, even tho.

Posted: 3:50 pm on February 7th

John_M John_M writes: Great lesson, but is this really the only way you guys could present this set of photos and narrative?!? I got tired about four "slides" into this of "clicking to enlarge," clicking again because my browser (like most) automagically fits large images to the brower window, which still leaves the accompanying captions too small to read, then clicking the back button, only to have the main story page re-load, remember which set of photos was next, click to enlarge, go back, etc. Then I read the article text as a separate but repeating accompaniment? The pictures tell a thousand words; why have them do so in such a disjointed manner? Your books and other written materials are usually SO well written and presented. This is a clear case of "there's a better way!"
Posted: 11:48 am on February 7th

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