Wood Rot Discovered Behind Vinyl Clad Townhomes in NC

by Sandy Best

Hawk & Trowel
July 1999


Wilmington, NC -- "There's a lot of rot in this town."

So said general contractor, Jon Connette, of water intrusion problems with vinyl siding, T-111, EIFS, and most claddings.

Connette says that his company has been performing repairs on several wooden framed complexes in New Hanover County which have suffered extensive damage due to water intrusion getting behind the cladding and not escaping. Because of improper flashing details, and a lack of house wrap, Connette said many residential structures are suffering, too.

Even though Connette has water intrusion repairs ongoing in both EIFS and T-111 siding, he spoke mostly about his experience with vinyl-clad homes and townhomes in New Hanover County.

"This town is wrapped in vinyl and nobody's watching it. You can't even buy stucco products unless you're a certified applicatoróthey'll sell vinyl products to anybody," Connette remarked.

He is currently repairing a four year-old, 100-unit townhome complex in Wilmington which is vinyl-clad and has sustained an estimated $500,000 in damage. He stresses that he does not believe wood rot problems are caused by or exacerbated by the type of cladding that is on the structure.

"It's the application of the vinyl itself," he said, adding, "When they install the Amicorboard (foam insulation board), they don't tape the joints properly. It acts as a channel for water to run into the sheathing."

In addition, he said no one is flashing properly. He provided photographs to illustrate the improper flashing techniques used by builders and vinyl installers. Basically, they flash on top of the Tyvek or Amicorboard, which allows water to flow behind the flashing and into gaps in the paper or insulation board to the sheathing. Once it gets to the sheathing, the wood rotting begins.

In the townhome complex (which Connette did not want named because of legal issues), Connette said he had to get an emergency building permit from the county because a wall was on the verge of collapsing.

"The wall was getting ready to collapse. It was worse than any stucco (situation) I've ever seen. I reached my hand up to feel the sheathing (and) the OSB was like mushy cardboard," said Connette.

Connette said he spoke with New Hanover County's chief building inspector, Grady Hobbs, about the situation.

"I told Grady this would be the next epidemic in this town," said Connette. He added that the epidemic would be at least as bad as the EIFS controversy.

Connette also said that Hobbs informed him that house wrap was not required behind vinyl siding.

In an interview with Hobbs, he said that house wrap not being required behind non-EIFS buildings was a weakness in the North Carolina Building Code.

Saying that no builder had complained to him about water intrusion problems in buildings clad with products other than EIFS, Hobbs added, "If there are problems, they are due to the building code. The building code could do a better job with flashing requirements."

When asked to give examples of where he'd like to see requirements improved, Hobbs answered, "Wrapping the openings around windows and doors and requiring house wrap on all sidings."

Hobbs admitted that the county had seen wood rot in claddings other than EIFS but, "Certainly not to the extent of EIFS." (In earlier interviews, the NHC Inspections Department has admitted that it has not inspected buildings for water intrusion that were not clad with EIFS).

Saying that he had not heard of any recent problems in other claddings, Hobbs said that most problems in other sidings are due to "poor flashing, no flashing, or excessive rain water that has not been accounted for."

When asked if any problems with vinyl-clad buildings 5 years-old or younger had been observed or reported to the Inspections Department, Hobbs said, "Yes."

When asked if there had been many cases, Hobbs replied, "I wouldn't want to say."

When asked if there were records this reporter could go through to obtain that information, Hobbs said, "Don't have records of it, no."

Upon further inquiry, Hobbs said that records were not kept according to particular claddings; they were kept according to the permit name.

He did say that the problems seen mostly in vinyl siding were where "the siding is abutted to dissimilar products."

"You can't caulk vinyl and expect it to hold for very long," said Hobbs.

At the end of the interview, Hobbs admitted that he had spoken with "several" builders about "vinyl siding" problems.

Connette said he knows what the problem with vinyl siding is. "The components of vinyl siding were not constructed to be waterproof. If you don't waterproof systems behind it, you've got a problem."

In a T-111 repair he is currently doing, Connette said he has seen the same problems. It is a 12 year-old condominium complex with 87 units on the ocean at Carolina Beach. The repair is estimated to be $300,000 and it has the same problems Connette has seen in EIFS and vinyl siding.

"There are improper watershed techniques used in the system. They used silicone caulk on wood," said Connette.

To add emphasis on his contention that water intrusion problems are not discriminating, Connette added that he was currently repairing an EIFS structure on Figure 8 Island in New Hanover County.

"There were no returns on flashings," he said.

Another area general contractor told the Hawk & Trowel that he has also witnessed wood rot behind vinyl siding. Saying that he wished to not have his name published, the contractor said he found fungus growing behind the vinyl siding in a 2 year-old house. The contractor was pointing out water intrusion problems in vinyl-clad homes to Mike Bain, the Vice President of Field Services for Zurich US (formerly known as Maryland Casualty, the insurance company which represents most builders in litigation concerning EIFS). He said, "I reached up under the vinyl and pulled out two handfuls of mushrooms."

"There was no kickout flashing," the contractor said.

The general contractor explained that since flashing adds expense to the home building process, most general contractors don't use it. He admitted that it is ultimately the responsibility of the general contractor to ensure that flashing details are done and that they are installed correctly.

"It's price that sells houses...flashing adds $1,000 to the price of the house. Contractors just won't do it. Anybody who has been in this business long enough has discovered it's price that sells. If not, you won't he in this business long," said the contractor.

Additionally, in his opinion, the OSB is causing a wood rotting problem.

The contractor remarked, "Vinyl siding is as air-free a product as you can get and it's still having wood rot problems behind itóit's the OSB that's failing."

The contractor (who had claims involving wood rot behind vinyl siding) said that he drove Bain around and showed him several vinyl-clad houses which were experiencing water intrusion problems due to improper kickout flashings.

After the contractor repeatedly remarked that this reporter was wasting her time following up on leads of water intrusion into buildings clad with sidings other than EIFS, this reporter questioned why.

The contractor said, "You'll never win. And if you keep on pushing the insurance company like you're doing, they'll pull out of here and won't insure any contractors and then we'll all be left high and dry."

When contacted on voice mail, Bain did not return this reporter's call. Instead, the Associate General Counsel for Zurich US, Al McComas, called.

At first, McComas denied that Bain had been to the Wilmington area. Only after this reporter called the general contractor's insurance agent, Dan Reynard of AA Wiley & Associates in Wilmington, to confirm that Bain had visited Wilmington to inspect water intrusion problems in vinyl-clad homes on May 6, 1999, did McComas admit that Bain had come to Wilmington.

"Mike didn't tell me anything about that when he called this morning," said McComas.

McComas added, "Somebody took him on a tour of several houses in Wilmington."

McComas acknowledged the houses which were "toured" were clad with vinyl siding.

"He (Mike Bain) reported it back to the people here in claims," said McComas.

McComas explained that Bain was not an engineer or an expert in tracking water intrusion problems.

"He would not be knowledgeable about that sort of thing. He's an underwriter," McComas said.

As far as McComas was concerned, though, the problems were few and separate from any water intrusion problems associated with EIFS. According to him, these were just routine claims placed by a general contractor.

It was so routine that Bain (a corporate VP) treated Reynard and the general contractor to lunch at the Bridgetender Restaurant, an upscale restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway near Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover County, on May 6.