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Exterior Walls – Wall Water Damage and Moisture Issues

The goal of a building’s envelope or enclosure is to keep the weather out and energy inside. Water damage or moisture issues can occur in existing exterior walls for many reasons. An exterior wall consultant (a.ka. building envelope consultant or specialist) can:

  • diagnose wall water damage problems,
  • determine how to fix the exterior walls, and
  • provide services to prevent future outside wall water damage or moisture issues during construction and remodeling.

Evolution of Exterior Wall Materials and Complexity

Historically, exterior walls on commercial structures consisted of multiple courses of masonry (mass walls) finished on the interior with plaster or other finishes. As construction evolved and the need for more energy-efficient buildings grew, exterior wall technology and practice changed dramatically. Today, most exterior walls are very thin compared to the mass walls of the 19th century. They have more insulation, air barriers, drainage components, and multiple, complex cladding systems integrated with curtain walls and other features.

Cladding

When discussing exterior walls today, we are primarily talking about cladding technology and components.

An example of cladding picture from Wikipedia
An example of cladding (source: Wikipedia)

Cladding is the application of one material over another to provide a skin or layer. In construction, cladding is used to provide a degree of thermal insulation and weather resistance and improve buildings’ appearance.

Wikipedia

Cladding technology and components have proliferated considerably over the last ten years. While all this can be mind-numbing, there are two primary cladding types to consider:

  1. Surface-sealed
  2. Moisture-managed

Surface-sealed Cladding

Surface sealed cladding means precisely that: moisture is not intended to penetrate beyond the exterior surface of the cladding.

Moisture-managed Cladding

A moisture-managed cladding will manage and control moisture that penetrates beyond the exterior surface to a drainage plane safely back out to the exterior of the building.

How we can help solve or prevent water or moisture wall damage

An exterior wall consultant can assist with assessing various cladding systems and combining them into one functional façade.

Combining facades can be very complex if surface-sealed technologies and moisture-managed systems are on the same elevation. Add code-required air and vapor barriers, continuous insulation requirements, fire resistance requirements, and integration with roofing, windows, and below-grade or at-grade finishes. It is easy to see the complexity of modern wall systems.