Tag Archives: repair

Masonry Sealers and Historic Exteriors

masonry-test-pmapdxAre masonry sealers necessary on historic multi-wythe exterior walls? In general, likely not. Traditional exterior mass unit masonry walls, 3 to 4 wythes thick, leak. But rarely does the amount of water intrusion cause damage to the masonry, the masonry ties, or the interior finishes. Why wouldn’t a sealer be effective for these older walls?

Traditional means and methods of construction multi-wythe walls consist of course work bonded and tied together with header courses, row-lock courses, hidden headers, and set in full beds and back beds of mortar. There is no direct pathway for water intrusion following the mortar beds. And most sealers do not bridge bond line cracks between the masonry unit and mortar bed.

brick-test-pmapdxThe porosity and absorption rates of older masonry are often exaggerated because of the brick appearance. Many older masonry units show the results of imperfect firing techniques. It is not unusual to see older masonry with vertical and horizontal cracks due to low firing temperatures or impurities in the original clay mix. The surface cracks may lead to higher rates of absorption around the crack but rarely increase the overall absorption or alter the overall characteristics of the masonry. Masonry sealers will not bridge these firing cracks.masonry-water-test-pmapdx

If older walls exhibit a level of moisture intrusion, the drying dynamics have traditionally been from warm interior side and evaporation towards the exterior. Interior insulation techniques will result in a colder exterior wall that will stay wetter longer. Masonry sealers can impede the natural drying process and movement of water towards the exterior. Vapor permeable “breathable” sealers limit the outward movement of water by natural capillary action impeding the drying dynamics. The major concern with applying sealers to masonry is related to drying.

The Brick Industry Association, Technical Note No. 6A states: “Application of a water repellent coating is not necessary to achieve water resistance in brickwork subjected to normal exposures where proper material selection, detailing, construction and maintenance have been executed.” BIA goes further: “Application is not recommended on newly constructed brick veneer or cavity walls…” There is little to no research showing the effectiveness of sealers on reducing water intrusion in masonry walls. Sealers primarily reduce the initial rate of absorption at the brick surface. Sealers also cannot change water intrusion due to poor construction techniques. Wind driven rain is rarely impeded by sealer applications. “the use of water-repellent coatings to eliminate water penetration in a wall with existing defects can be futile.”

WSU-DD-hall-building-envelope-pmapdxTo control water intrusion and to increase performance of a masonry wall, it is much more effective to maintain mortar joints through re-pointing process, assure that mortar joints have no voids, replace brick with spalled faces, replace brick that are cracked the full depth, and repair bond line failures. The use of masonry sealers should be based on known research and field tested success and not chosen as a means to remedy poor construction methods.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB Principal

How to Determine the Cause of Masonry Failures

Visual observations are not sufficient to determine the cause of failures in masonry walls. However, visual observations, combined with technical knowledge, provide a good direction for further investigation. In the Pacific Northwest, with the predominance of rainy winter weather, the effect of moisture saturation on masonry walls is readily apparent. Moisture is the primary cause of masonry deterioration. Horizontal surfaces will accumulate organic growth, mortar and masonry surfaces show rain water runoff patterns, and any discontinuity in roof runoff systems quickly cause further deterioration to the masonry walls. Severe masonry deterioration does occur in the northwest but its occurrence is considerably less dramatic when compared to harsher winter climates in the Midwest and East. For instance, brick spalls due to freeze thaw effect are a rare occurrence in the northwest.

Masonry-Failures-pmapdx When severe deterioration of masonry walls is not a prevalent condition, what other non-visual processes are employed to determine the cause of deterioration? Two common techniques, well known to historic preservation professionals, are non-destructive testing (NDT) and material testing in the laboratory. NDE methods include RILEM tube water absorption tests, metal detector scanning, video scopes, infra-red photography, ultra sound testing, ground penetrating radar, and in some cases, x-ray diffraction. Common laboratory testing include petrographic examination, electron microscopy, and Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) methods.

Masonry-Failures-pmapdxFTIR, when combined with the diagnostic RILEM tube field test, in particular is an effective evaluation to determine if masonry sealers have been applied to a wall surface impeding the capillary evaporation of trapped water. RILEM tests also provide an observation of a masonry wall’s initial rate of absorption under wind driven rain circumstances. Petrographic analysis of both masonry and mortars determines the material composition and will identify harmful natural elements and harmful additive elements like salts.

Masonry-Failures-pmapdxA common misconception in the northwest is that surface spalls are a result of freeze thaw cycles. Freeze thaw susceptibility can only be determined through laboratory testing. Visual observations are insufficient to conclude masonry spalls resulted from freeze thaw forces. Since freeze thaw tests are graded either pass or fail, further tests methods are typically required for additional diagnostic evaluation. More likely sources of surface spalls are hard Portland cement mortars which exceed the strength of the masonry, salts introduced into the masonry through incorrect material selection, or surface sealers impeding the evaporation of water and thus creating a saturated sub surface layer which will freeze. (It is important to distinguish that the masonry unit may not be susceptible to freeze thaw but rather the sealer creates a dam like effect inducing a layer of water subject to freezing)

Masonry-Failures-pmapdxBy combining visual observations with NDE and lab testing, most surface masonry deterioration can be determined and thereby implement proper repair, maintenance, and protection methods.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal

Steps to Replacing Historic Wood Windows

QAHSC-landmarks-review-pmapdxOur first choice, and ethical preference, is to retain historic wood windows. Repaired and maintained wood windows constructed of old growth lumber will outlast any modern alternative. We advocate strongly for a process and philosophy that seriously evaluates retaining original material. The best approach compares long-term costs, embodied energy, and cultural importance relative to the same criteria for new replacement material.

But what do you do when the comparative process favors new material and replacement becomes the option of choice? And how do you gain jurisdictional and historic approval for removing character defining features from a historic property? Correct research, documentation, presentation, and material selection are the key factors to successfully replace historic wood windows.

Lack of maintenance is rarely accepted as a justifiable rationale for window replacement. Arguments for window replacement based on peeling paint, surface tracking of the wood, and/or glazing putty failure are typically countered with comments that benign neglect is a conscious act and straight forward maintenance will reverse the deterioration and deficiencies noted. A better strategy is to base replacement rational on existing significant deficiencies that require financial investment and resource allocation to repair the deficiencies.

QAHSC-landmarks-review-windows-pmapdxMost existing, older properties have had more than one owner. Research into original design documents, major rehabilitation projects, building permit requests, and other documents provide insight into processes that might have replaced original material. The removal and replacement of non-original material is justifiable and acceptable rationale.

Documentation by means of an on-site, window by window survey is the only method that will yield quantifiable data regarding the physical condition of existing wood windows. The resulting comparative data is critical for structuring an argument in favor of replacement. The field observations also provide invaluable information pertaining to the means and methods of construction and conversely deconstructing, or removing, the windows. Understanding wood window construction is important to understanding how wood window fail. Source documents like the Association of Preservation Technology’s Window Rehabilitation Guide for Historic Buildings (1997) and the National Park Service Preservation Briefs: 9, The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows provide exploded diagrams of both wood window construction and typical failure locations. These locations generally include the sash mortise and tenon joints, the exterior stops, and horizontal rails. The field assessment will need to document the quantity, location, and extent of any failed components.

QAHSC-landmarks-review-pmapdxAfter a thorough evaluation and understanding of the existing wood windows, the next decision is to choose a replacement product. In-kind replacement,(i.e. wood window for wood window; true divided lites for true divided lites, matching pane divisions, etc.) is preferred. When the replacement window is virtually identical to the historic window, it is hard to say no. Absent exact replacement, the visual qualities exhibited by the cross section profiles, the sash height and width, and the proportion of wood to glazing, are the most important attributes to match. Appearance from the exterior will trump appearance from the interior during a historic review approval process.

How the research findings, existing conditions, and replacement products are presented is fundamental to a successful request to replace historic wood windows. Agencies and commissions with jurisdictional review and approval authority require clear, methodical, and linear processes to understand the research, findings, and selection process. Collating the field data using charts and graphs, including graphic representation of previously altered windows, and defining the quantity of failed components will assist a decision in favor or replacement.

QAHSC-window-flashing-pmapdxWhen an opportunity to retain original fabric/windows is available, the opportunity should be incorporated into the work. Even retaining as little as 20% of historic fabric will increase the likelihood of approval for replacement of the remaining components. The retention of historic fabric also allows successive generations to better understand the history and changes of an existing property.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal.

When A Master Work Fails: Three Case Studies

Some of the greatest restoration challenges arise when historically significant works weather, degrade, are neglected, or simply have suffered through inappropriate renovations. Restoration strategies are compounded when original historic materials, either natural materials like wood or stone, or production processes are no longer available. And when the failure is due to improper design or inadequate construction methods, corrective restoration methods may alter or compromise the original design intent. The following three case studies illustrate restoration philosophies based on balancing preservation, resolving the underlying building deficiencies, and introducing “thoughtful change” in protecting significant local structures for future generations.
John Yeon 2012 004
Case Study 1
John Yeon’s 1948 Portland Visitors Centerwas designed as an exhibition showroom with large open spaces, a pinwheel plan, on a highway dividing median, accessible by car, and constructed of standardized wood framing components including recently developed experimental plywood. When the highway was replaced with a riverfront park and the Visitor Center programming was relocated, the singular purpose building became obsolete resulting in a number of incompatible conversions including substantial alteration of the main gallery space to an industrial kitchen. Contributing to the slow demise was the degradation of the exterior wood components and failure of the plywood as a result of the northwest climate and inadequate weather protection. By the time the Friends of John Yeon and the City of Portland Water Bureau invested resources into the restoration, the Visitor Center had lost or compromised 80% of its historic interior finishes and the exterior façade had been heavily altered. However, the original floor plan, massing, scale, exterior spaces, and essence of Yeon’s modular design and sense of place remained.
WS Scheme 3 Entrance 101209Space programming respected the historic floor plan and scale of the original structure and recreated Yeon’s original design intent of integrating indoor space with outdoor space. Extraneous equipment and unsympathetic additions were removed from both the interior and exterior. Interior design elements, furniture, and fixtures maintain the open gallery spacial quality while integrating new furniture and fixtures meeting the needs of the tenant. Major preservation focused on the exterior restoring original paint colors through serration studies, restoring building signage in original type style and design, preserving original wood windows, when present, and restoring the intimate courtyard with a restored operating water feature.

Case Study 2
120907 Lovejoy Pavillion 002Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull & Whitaker’s 1965 Pavilion at Lawrence Halprin’s Lovejoy Fountain is a whimsical all wood structure with a copper shingle roof. Although a small structure, the pavilion represents a major mid-transitional work for Charles Moore as his design style moved from mid-century modern to Post-modern design. In keeping with the naturalistic design aesthetic established by Halprin, northwest wood species comprise the major structural system including the roof trusses, vertical post supports, and vertical cribs built from 2 x 4 members laid on their side and stacked.

Vertical loads are transferred from the trusses to the wood posts and spread to the wood cribs. Under the point loading, the cribs have compressed resulting in a sag or lean in the roof structure. Since the 2 x 4 wood members have crushed, they cannot be restored or salvaged as part of the restoration effort so new members were designed to replace the historic material.

120907 Lovejoy Pavillion 009The restoration approach is intended to correct the structural deficiencies and replace the failed members with no changes to the historic appearance of the structure. The crib design allows for insertion of new steel elements, invisible from the exterior, capable of providing additional support for vertical loads. The difficulty arises because standard wood products available today have different visible and strength attributes from standard components available in 1965. Sourcing appropriate lumber is dependent upon clear and quantifiable specification, high quality inspection, and visual qualities. There are no structural standards for reclaimed or recycled lumber compounding the incorporation of “old growth” lumber as part of a new structural system. When original source material is no longer available, best practices for narrowing the selection of new materials will of necessity be combined with subjective visual qualities and a best-guess scenario as to how the new material will age in place similarly to the historic material. There are no single solutions so experience is key.

PMAPDX-survey-city-of-portlandCase Study 3
Whether or not Michael Graves’ Portland Building is considered a master work is greatly debated. Never the less, the building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places after only 30 years and is recognizable around the world as THE building representing the start of Post Modernism. There is no debate to the fact that the building leaks. However, the method of building envelope repair could dramatically or minimally impact the exterior character defining features.

The façade of the Portland Building incorporates standardized aluminum single unit windows, aluminum windows ganged together to form a curtain wall, ceramic tile, and stucco veneer as the prominent construction materials. All of these systems or individual components are neither produced nor assembled currently in similar manners due to improvements in technology and building envelope science.

Proposals to improve envelop performance of both the individual window units and window systems are challenged in finding products that will both improve performance and retain the aesthetics of a Post Modern building. (i.e. retain the essence of criticism towards Post Modernism by preserving the appearance of insubstantial material installed as a thin veneer). Windows have always been a source of controversy in preservation and now the definition of windows has expanded to include curtain wall systems as the importance of preserving Recent Past and Modernism has entered into the mainstream.

When a structure, like the Portland Building, relies heavily on the expression of its skin as the character defining feature, off the shelf solutions for fixing envelop deficiencies must be expanded to include customization, façade impact studies, robust strategies for solving the issue, and out-of-the-box thinking by conservators, architects, historic consultants, and building envelope experts. A collaborative approach based on the original architect’s design intent must drive the decision making. It is an unusual approach, but original design intent will be a key factor when resolving façade problems on Modern and Post Modern structures.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal

Burnt Clay Facades

Terra cotta, or “burnt clay,” is a hard baked, high grade of weathered or aged clay. It is similar to brick but the clay is of higher quality and fired at higher temperatures. This article focuses on exterior architectural terra cotta as distinguished from statuary, pottery , and terra cotta blocks used as inner wythes of wall or fill material.
The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago demonstrated the versatility and ornamental qualities of terra cotta. It highlighted the great variance in color and shapes possible with terra cotta and began the demand in the United States for terra cotta that lasted through the late 1930s. Terra cotta is prized for its light weight, longevity, aesthetic qualities, and unit construction. At the peak of production, almost every urban area in America was producing architectural terra cotta in some variation. Today, most replacement units are produced by either Gladding McBean or Boston Valley Terra Cotta.

Specific forming techniques including hand press, machine press, slip casting, and extrusion are used depending on the shape and style of unit required. In the analysis of terra cotta failure the forming techniques are less critical than the strength characteristics of the fired clay, the integrity of the exterior surfaces, and structural support systems.
Boston Valley new TC
Exterior ornamental terra cotta was marketed as a light weight water proof cladding. And if proper construction techniques were employed, and the system was maintained, and the local climates were mild, terra cotta performed as sold. However, terra cotta adorns buildings in severe weather climates, and is installed with structural materials affected by environmental conditions, and located on façade elements inaccessible for routine maintenance.

The mortar joints are the material most susceptible to failure. Joints often exist on all three axis with some units of terra cotta designed for flat horizontal surfaces. Over time and exposure, the mortar fails providing a means for water intrusion. Sever cycling of weather in simultaneous freeze/thaw conditions can cause the terra cotta clay to expand and contract, accelerating the crazing or cracking of the protective glaze. Extensive crazing can lead to glaze spalling and allow for further water intrusion.

Once water enters the system there is no weep path allowing for water egress. Construction means and methods, as well as the cellular unit design, trap water and contribute to the potential corrosion of steel lintels, wire ties, steel structural support members, and other miscellaneous metals. Rapid freezing and thawing cycles, in addition to steel corrosion, can crack terra cotta units. If the units remain unrepaired, further water intrusion and/or absorption will occur.
121022 QAHS S Elev 094
The repair of terra cotta will depend both on the cause and manifestation of the defect. Typical defects include crazing of the glazed finish, shallow surface spalls, deep spalls affecting the bisque, cracked units, inadequate support and / or anchorage, corrosion induced stress fractures, impact damage, mortar degradation, lack of maintenance, and inadequate repairs.

Proper terra cotta repair methods are linked to the cause of defect. Repair techniques are often performed on-site by skilled tradesmen. When damage to the terra cotta unit is severe, full replacement may be required. Defects due to inadequate support or a result of corrosion to supporting steel members is likely to require more invasive repair strategies including removal and replacement of several courses of interlocked terra cotta units.

QAHSCWhen replacement units are not required and the scope is limited to on-site repair, labor costs exceed material costs. Since many historic terra cotta units were specialty designed and installed for the structure, a premium price is paid for replacement. New exterior decorative terra cotta is available only from the sources referenced and with small quantity orders, the first unit is approximately $5,000 with much of the costs attributed to making the form and determining the finish color and texture. Subsequent costs per unit will decrease with the range of decrease dependent upon quantities required.

The most important component of terra cotta repair is an understanding the cause of deterioration and the proper repair specifications. Both are derived after a full condition assessment and evaluation of the existing conditions.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal

• Last of the Handmade Buildings, Virginia Guest Ferriday, Mark Publishing Co., Portland, OR 1984
• National Park Service, Preservation Brief No7, Preservation of Glazed Terra Cotta
• APT Pacific NW Chapter 2005 workshop
• Terra Cotta, Standard Construction, Revised Ed., National Terra Cotta Society, 1927

Water Intrusion: The Technique of a Leak

With patience, persistence, and a methodical process, water intrusion defects can be
located and repaired.

Finding the source of water intrusion within an older existing building can be exceedingly frustrating. Following a methodical and systematic investigation procedure will manage and organize the process. If the leak is occurring within occupied space, it is critical to interview and obtain information from those individuals directly affected by the circumstance. Is the leak associated with weather, water use, or other activities? If weather related, when did the leak occur relative to the start of the bad weather? Does the leak occur under windy conditions only? Wind driven rain can push water 2 inches up a vertical surface. Does the leak occur consistently in the same spot? Having an understanding of the building’s age, material science, archaic construction techniques, and professional experience brings focus to the investigation.
MW Loft water intrusion PMAPDX
Visual observation is the single most important diagnostic tool. Are there obvious sources of water intrusion like open windows, broken downspouts, exterior holes in the building shell, or leaking bathroom fixtures? Storm days are often good opportunities to observe the flow of water over a building surface leading to potential sources. After a rain storm, are some exterior surfaces slower to dry? Has the water pooled along horizontal surfaces or against exterior walls? These observations can be made directly by the investigation team or related by maintenance personnel or property owners. Photographs taken before, during, and after a leak provide valuable perspective on the dynamic nature of the leak.

Infaread testingInfrared camera analysis adds another diagnostic layer of evaluation data. Temperature differentials between wet and dry surfaces can collaborate other visual observations. However, a number of varying conditions, not just water, can cause temperature differences between materials or even temperature differences within the same material. For instance, an exterior stucco wall installed over steel studs may have extreme temperature changes as a result of heat conductance through the steel studs with no related water intrusion.

Often it becomes necessary to augment general observations of interior and exterior surfaces with destructive investigation, a method by which the surface materials are sequentially removed to investigate archaic construction methods. As materials are removed, construction techniques can be evaluated for water tight joints. Moisture meters and other hand-held evaluation tools verify the presence of defective conditions. Openings, or wall-lets, are located at corners, abutting materials, complex intersections of structural elements and architectural materials, and/or other commonly known sources of water intrusion.
MW Loft Stucco repair PMAPDX
Reverse investigation in which the leak point is enlarged and video scopes or wires or other tracing devices are inserted in the opening are used to back trace the leak from the point of observation to the source. This method is often a last resort because it involves cutting several observation points in all directions to follow the path of water.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal