The other day I was talking with several non-inspector friends of mine, and one of them asked me what was the most common defect I see in homes regardless of cost or style of home.
It was a surprisingly easy question to answer, and it got me thinking about the overall quality of homes. It got me thinking about why this missing detail is so prevalent and why it did not use to be so prevalent.
First I want to talk about why they did not use to be missing. It is not exactly true to claim that flashings were not missing as frequently in the past. I suspect that in many cases they were very missing—those homes are just no longer around.
Generally speaking, homes that are still standing from the early 1900’s have good flashing details or are otherwise constructed to shed water. Details such as sloped trim above windows and doors, or large roof overhangs made the exteriors of these older homes more successful. There were also “material” differences. Old-growth lumber had more natural resistance to weathering and decay than new lumber cut from less mature trees.
Also “flashings” are not necessarily pieces of metal or plastic or rubber. Flashings are a “system” of installation that allows adjoining materials to properly overlap each other. Sometimes this is achieved by the materials themselves literally being installed on top of the lower materials, while other times it will require metal pieces at the transition to effectively shed water.
Can you imagine if a bird’s feathers did not “flash” each other properly? As it attempted to fly the poor bird would look more like gutted feather pillow than a sleek flying machine.
The basic principles are unbelievably simple, and if every builder/installer truly understood and utilized these basic principles, all homes would last longer and require less maintenance—regardless of the style of the home—at least from attack from the elements from the exterior.
These principles require that all materials have a means of lapping over the materials below them and have the potential to dry without holding water.
Like I said—pretty simple.
Whether the house is a brand new $450,000 tract home or a new 2 million dollar home on acreage, I see these same missing flashing details ALL THE TIME! Occasionally I see the details done properly in either price range, so it is not about the flashing details not being able to be done properly.
It is an economic leveler. No matter what your economic standing, you pretty much will have the same crappy details on your new home.
To install proper flashing details, on almost any home, costs in the hundreds of dollars, not the thousands of dollars. There certainly isn’t any economic excuse for them not being done properly and the building codes actually require them. The cost of having to redo these components prematurely surely offsets any cost savings at the time of installation. It becomes a matter of social conscience. The builder of course is not worried about these details, or social conscience. They will be sitting on a beach in Bali sipping Margaritas because of all the money they saved–by the time the wood destroying organisms move in. And of course the bugs and rot are eternally grateful for our arrogance and ignorance.
I suspect that we could see these missing details go away almost over-night in new construction, if builders were simply required to meet existing code requirements as well as manufacturer’s installation requirements. Of course they are “required” to do these details properly now—the requirements are simply poorly enforced or not enforced at all.
Can you imagine the brouhaha that would occur the first time a jurisdictional inspector told a builder they would not get a Certificate of Occupancy until the concrete stoop was removed from over the siding; or the siding was removed from behind the deck ledger and properly flashed; or the missing flashings over doors, windows and belly band were properly installed?
Hey, an inspector can dream can’t he?
An inspector can tilt at windmills can’t he?
Instead we see caulk where flashings should be present, caulk where gaps should be present, and gaps where flashings should be present.
We continually see horizontal materials that are installed flush with each other, instead of lapping over each other or properly counter-flashed.
We continually see materials that have other materials installed on top of them without any counter-flashings to keep water from getting behind them. It is only by magic that damage does not occur over time.
The flashing details on your home should not require magic.
They will however magically protect your home when they are present and done properly.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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