Don't Get Soaked! Waterproofing Your Masonry Facade

They say that April showers bring May flowers. For the New York area's aging brick buildings, spring sprinkles and summer storms can bring much worse. From interior leaks to the liability nightmare of a crumbling and falling facade, the effects of water infiltration can devastate a building's structural integrity. Fortunately, with a knowledgeable team of professionals assembled, the process of waterproofing, otherwise known as exterior restoration, doesn't have to devastate the budget.

Exterior restoration, which can involve months of work and a hefty price tag, is usually not something a building embarks on until it is absolutely necessary, either because residents are finding water seepage or leaks inside their apartments or because the city mandates certain exterior maintenance work be done on a regular basis. Local Law 11/98 (the brand-new update of Local Law 10/80) mandates that any building over six stories be inspected every five years by the Buildings Department and a licensed architect or engineer, and any unsafe conditions be repaired.

An Educated Consumer

One Upper West Side co-op that is currently in the throes of solving a water infiltration problem in their pre-war brick building has found the process daunting. "You have to educate yourself to be able to make intelligent decisions," says the board treasurer. "Learn the technical issues and, just like when treating a medical condition, always get a second opinion."

In the case of this 40-unit building, the symptom that something was amiss was damp plaster around the windows in certain apartments. Apparently water was getting stuck at the lintels and seeping inside instead of draining out through weep holes. After working with one engineer, which they subsequently fired, the board chose another engineer and also hired masonry consultant Michael Gurevich, president of New York City Brickwork Design Center, to help them analyze the problem.

"Don't accept at face value that repointing cures water infiltration," says this board member. "Push your professionals for explanations and try to understand the scope of the job before you sign a contract." He and his fellow board members have decided that their first engineer misdiagnosed the problem, and thus prescribed the wrong treatment. "What we really need is a more comprehensive drainage system, including flashing and weep holes, to make sure that water drains out of the building's exterior instead of seeping inside," says the board director. In most cases, the source of water problems is the roof and the parapet walls, where water tends to pool. Repointing the brick on the facade is a good way to rack up bills, but is not necessarily the solution to the problem.

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