Today Mark Parlee, The Building Consultant, joins the show to talk about cladding- what works and what doesn’t.
Cladding is an exterior siding of a building. It can be stone, brick, steel, vinyl, or an Exterior Insulating Finishing System (EIFS). And it’s definitely pronounced “EEFS”, not “EEFUS”. According to Mark, the best cladding that will give the least potential for failure depends totally on how it’s installed; and there are specific instructions for each type of material. However, water problems are caused by simple details that are overlooked during installation.
Reuben asks for advice on how to deal with houses which lack a water resistive barrier behind the siding. Bill asks about the quality of cladding materials for a house during particular decades. Tessa asks about recommended materials for house cladding and the common mistakes by builders today. They also talk about weather-resistant barriers, sealant joints, and stains.
Mark discusses the responsibilities of building contractors. He also shares his experiences in consulting, attending to contractor building fails, and construction litigation.
Reach Mark Parlee through thebuildingconsultant.com.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Mark Parlee: So that experience, that life work has led to my current knowledge of the building envelope and how the forces of nature affect it and the interior it protects.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our head. Today we have a very special guest with us, Mark Parlee, the building consultant, who’s going to join in our conversation and talk about all things cladding and why cladding fails and why water is such a destructive force. But before we end up going down that path, Mark, can you go ahead and introduce yourself a little bit, tell us who you are and where you’re based, and all the particulars.
MP: I am based in Central Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa, I grew up here. I’m now in Johnston, which is just a bedroom community of… You’d never know, you’d never know when you went from one to the other than the police cars. It depends on which logo you have as you’re getting the ticket that’s how you know where you’re at. So I’ve been in construction for… Since I was 19, I’m 64 now, this is 45 years. It was last, November, December, that I shut down the construction portion of my business and just focusing on the consulting, which I have been doing for 15 years anyway, and my brother was the one who ran my crew and handled the day-to-day out on the job, and I was his go-to guy, he’d call me and I’d go, get what he needs to keep it going, plus trying to do the consulting. So that experience, that life work has led to my current knowledge of the building envelope and how the forces of nature affect it and the interior it protects. When I was framing, I tried to be exact and people would accuse me or they would say to me, “You’re not building a piano.” I would say “No, but I might be building a house or a home for a piano.” So that was just my little essay come back.
MP: And this experience has allowed me to see what works and what doesn’t work, and I’ll tell you where I really got my education was a couple of downturns in the economy, and we weren’t doing a lot of new stuff, so I was doing some remodeling and renovation. And I would go tear a house apart and see why things weren’t working, and you could see were flashing had failed, or the lack of flashing had failed, so we just put it back together in a way that would stand the test of time. And over time, I got a good reputation for being able to solve issues, I had the good fortune of being on the Journal of Light Construction forums for many years. And I would give advice based on my experience, and people started listening to it, and I made friends with a couple of people, one guy was a forensic engineer out in Oregon, and the other guy was a forensic engineer or architect out on the East Coast, and they both billed themselves as consultants, and I called them one day and I said, “Hey, this consulting thing, what’s it take?” And one guy said, “Mark, you are a consultant.”
MP: “People ask questions and you come up with an answer.” And I said, “Okay,” and he said, “Hang out your shingle and get ready to get busy,” and with some encouragement from them, and I had the good fortune to write a couple articles for JLC, which really elevated things a little and then one of the local lumber yards here, the owner would give my name out many times, and he’d say Mark… It was encouragement. And I took it and went with it. And every job I do, every consulting job I do, I study what’s wrong, I read about it, I figure it out, and that’s just where my knowledge base is built, and here I am today, I work for the largest developer in the State of Iowa, they’re one of my clients and I help them solve their issues. And it’s almost a full-time job. They’re building a lot.
BO: So we haven’t figured it out, is what you’re saying?
MP: Oh, no. And it’s getting worse. It’s getting worse.
Reuben Saltzman: Oh no.
BO: This ledge that I live on is not a comfortable fall, that’s what I’m saying. Okay, and I feel very high and I always feel like I’m teetering on the edge of catastrophe, especially when I talk to Tessa. Mark, I’m guessing you’re gonna scare me a little bit today.
MP: I wrote out just a little bit in preparation here, and if you would I’d like to set the stage here.
MP: And Reuben had asked me, he’d given me some talking points and really the only thing he said, “Tell us about the dumb things builders do.”
RS: So I figured that could take up a couple of episodes, so.
MP: It could, it could. So I wrote this little script just this morning, by the way, I’m a last minute kind of guy. So here’s what I put together. There are a combination of things, starting with builders and the owners having unrealistic expectations, the homeowner wants to get the most bang for the buck. Well they start by having all these ideas in their head, and some of them might hire someone to put them on paper, they might call that person an architect, but probably not because they’re more expensive, so they hire a designer and that guy can draw some nice lines. But there are no details with those nice lines, or they might try to even do it themselves, and they might even have some talent as to design and the pretty picture that they would like to have built. From here, they go over confidently forward and start pricing the project out, they put everything they want and more into the budget. When they total everything up and they find they are way “over budget” where did this budget come from? Anyway, let’s start cutting here and there to make this project become a reality, all the while they still think they can get what they want for the…
MP: “Budget number” that somehow formed in their mind that budget number. Where did it come from? Well, it’s just something that popped in their mind and they thought they could get it. Well, they pour through all their numbers with a fine tooth comb and cut out all the fat. Some of that comes in the form of finding someone at less cost to do the same job or scope of work. Sacrifices are made in materials and quality of such. Little details that they know nothing of get ignored. Additionally, this is often due to the talent level at which they hire, their qualifications for “awarding the job” get that, we’re gonna award you the job, it’s the carrot, is price and price alone, and they are all the time thinking they’re getting the same quality and scope of work in each of their three bids. We’re always told to get three bids, not realizing the cost is reflective of the work being performed or the quality of materials. When you work for the government, you take three bids and it’s the lowest qualifying bid that gets the job, and what is the qualification of that bid? Being the lowest. It’s nothing but the lowest.
MP: Nobody takes time to look at the scope of work, scope of materials and seeing what’s actually going into the project. They go clear to the end, look at the price and say, “Yep, that’s the lowest, we’ll take it.” Or somebody might say, “Ah, the low one scares me and the high one scares me, let’s go with the middle one, that’s gotta be safe,” so they take that. And the low bid might have been the best bid ’cause that guy who doesn’t know how to do business might have been including the most. As a matter of fact, a lot of talented people get in the business and they go broke their first time through because they’re putting everything into it, and they’re doing a good job, but they don’t know how to bid or bill for what they’re doing. So that’s an education process. So somewhere along the way, with all of these things that I’ve just expressed is where the building industry is. That’s my opening spiel.
BO: I love that, how you set that up, because for everybody who’s listening, they know I’m in the middle of a building project, and that’s where I get scared ’cause I talk about my building and Tessa scares me, but…
MP: You need a consultant from out of town.
BO: I would love to bring you up, but… And we picked a contractor not based on anything other than reputation, so I didn’t ask for pricing, I just took what I got, but I digress. Let’s talk about this construction business. So Mark, at some point, you got very involved in the cladding, and first of all, I’d like you to explain what cladding is, but what I’m more curious about is, what was that line in the sand? What was that thing you noticed that drew your attention to this and ultimately drew you in to such a degree because you are the expert in this area.
MP: Well, I’ll tell you how it started. Some of the downturns got me into exterior renovation. My forte, I can do your whole house remodel, but I really enjoyed being on the outside and working on that and seeing the things that were wrong with the outside as I got more into that, just drove me deeper into why these things are happening. So cladding. Let’s define cladding. Cladding is that exterior… It can be siding, it can be brick, it can be stone, it can be EIFS. It’s pronounced EIFS, not EIFS, or it can be EIFS.
RS: Thank you.
MP: Yes, thank you. And I usually in my seminars make people say it two or three times out loud, and there’s always somebody in the back saying, “EIFS.” Yes.
BO: You don’t wanna get Reuben started on this because Realtor is a burr under his saddle?
MP: I would agree. Yeah, there’s things. I’m sure there’s some things I pronounce wrong as well, but if you educate me, I’m gonna try my best to do it right. Anyway, so that’s what drove me into it, and then people having water problems and I went after ’em to figure out how and why they had their water problems and was successful in correcting them. And usually it was some simple… It always is a simple detail that’s overlooked during the construction, because we build houses, there are techniques we use, and if you don’t miss a step or don’t short cut a step, we’re gonna be okay. You remember vinyl siding came to the market, vinyl and steel came to the market as a side over product, they would side over, they wouldn’t remove your siding, they’d side over it. Well, in the ’90s, somebody decided, “Let’s just put the vinyl on the outside of the house as the only siding.” That was at a time where the weather-resistant barrier, the Tyvek, Tyvek is a brand, but the weather-resistant barrier was just put on the heated section of the house. There were times where you weren’t doing the gable ends and you weren’t doing the garages, building code says you will do the entire envelope of the house, and a lot of people don’t realize that, and they think that’s a newer spec in the building code.
MP: One of my earlier cases, we have a town just north of me that was on the 1982 UBC code until 2004 when they adopted the 2003 IRC. So I had a case in 2003 that where townhomes were built with no weather-resistant barrier and they were vinyl-sided and that was a big leak, it didn’t leak as much as I figured it would, but there were places that it leaked, and that was around windows, they weren’t using kick-outs. If you can picture the roof flashing going up to the wall under the vinyl-siding and there’s no cover over it. I say that a flashing without a counter flashing is a funnel.
MP: So you have your roof flashing, your roof to wall flashing, the step flashings that go right up the side of that pitch of the roof. If there’s not a weather-resistant barrier that counter flashes those, they are actually pronate out a little bit and they’ll catch every bit of the water and direct it to where it was actually designed to direct it, to the inside. Some people don’t realize that it was designed that way, but when you leave off things, you are in fact designing it to fail. So we got into that cladding. It can be brick, stone, vinyl, stucco, and there are specific details of instruction for each of those claddings, but there was a time before, weather… Our self-flashing tapes, our sticky tapes, there was a time that we never used to tape in a window, and that was before vinyl siding too.
MP: That would work, it was a wood and brick mold window, people weren’t even using tar paper or anything, they just built the frame, stuck the windows in, there might be a flashing over the head, the siding was put on and then sealant joints all the way around, and that’s what was keeping water out. And if somebody maintained their house on the exterior with one of these harder sidings, which would be LP, cement board or the old… We call it masonite, but that’s a hardboard siding. If you kept your sealants good and kept your paint good, it lasted pretty well, but then we get faster and we get less talent and boy, the people sure make it a pretty home. It looks good. I’ll digress here. I usually tell them they have a chocolate-covered turd, half the chocolate is licked off, and when you bite into that center, it’s not a Tootsie pop.
MP: Now you guys…
RS: Very, very graphic Mark. Very graphic.
MP: But you can cut and edit that out if you want or you can leave it in…
BO: No, no. That’s staying for sure.
BO: Hey Mark, something popped in my head when you were talking, and is there a particular decade that you find to be particularly offensive in terms of failure, or does bad come in all variations?
MP: I’ll tell you what I started in 1976, and the guy I started with, we weren’t using a weather-resistant barrier at all then, but the guys that sided the house, I started as a framer and then the siding crew would come along and on Saturdays when my foreman was gone, I’d go help the siders. They would at least put a tar paper spline around all the windows, and they would tar paper the corners in. And in my renovation career, I went back to some of those houses in the mid-2000s that I had built in ’76, ’77, ’78, and they were Masonite-sided, hardboard-sided, by the way, and you could tell if somebody had painted them well, because the nails weren’t all puckered. This was 12-inch siding, so it was face nailed, the neighbor’s house would have already been resided or it needed sided for the last 10 years, and maybe one of these houses that somebody had done really good upkeep on, had lasted. Those weren’t too bad. When we got into the ’80s and all the way through the ’90s, and the first part of the 2000s is where it really started falling apart, and I would say that even now, I still see a lot of problems. In my consulting practice, I see a lot of problems. Not a lot has changed.
BO: If you had to weigh it out, in terms of bad quality, bad materials, a combination of both, where do you place most of the problem?
MP: When OSB came on the market, I call it “vertical mulch,” you have to protect it against water, and so it’s critical that you get your weather-resistant barrier on right, because that is your protection. Your siding is your first level of deflection, but with vinyl and steel, water gets behind it, and if you don’t have that, weather-resistant barrier sealed properly, it’s gonna get… If it gets behind that, you’re history on your OSB, because it turns back into what it was, was wood.
BO: One thing I noticed in my brief inspection career was there was a certain age of house around the Twin Cities that did not have building paper on it, and it did have vinyl siding, and I always made a thing about it because to me, that was careless and it was something that a new property owner should know about because they do have a potential for an issue down the line. How big of a deal would you make that or would you just move on?
MP: I’d make it a very big deal. The building code, when it first came out, I believe it’s 2000, it was 2000 when the IRC came into effect. That’s the earliest code, and I would have to look at it, but there is an exclusion for vinyl and steel that you don’t need a weather barrier under vinyl or steel, and it’s either in the 2000 or 2003, for sure in 2006, they corrected that and said you do need a weather-resistant barrier under it. But there was a time when people weren’t putting them on and they didn’t even have the tapes for the windows early. And it’s amazing, when I do some inspections, I do still find a house that’s with vinyl and doesn’t have any weather-resistant barrier, and I’m amazed at times to see there doesn’t appear to be any damage under it, but that’s not something that you can camp on. There should be damage under it.
MP: I no longer go… When I’m at a house and I’m looking at problems, I no longer say, “I wonder why this happened.” I look down the street, up and down, I say, “I wonder why this isn’t happening there and there and there.” There’s just so many things that people need to be cognizant of to do a good process. Once it gets covered up, nobody sees it, and it can just exist in there, water infiltrate in, sometimes it takes longer for it to get in, but if it’s getting in, it’s doing damage.
RS: So what would you say to somebody who’s buying a house with vinyl siding and there is nothing behind the vinyl? What would you tell them? What would your advice be?
MP: Buy it for less or walk away.
Tessa Murry: That’s a walk away statement.
MP: It just about is, unless you can get quite a bit off the price. Yeah.
TM: I was gonna say, Mark, is there a certain type of siding that you would just recommend that nobody use on their house?
MP: No, there’s not. There’s issues with all sidings.
MP: But I can’t say there’s a certain type of siding that I would recommend that you absolutely do not use. What I would say, that no matter what siding is on there, make sure that you’re following at least the manufacturer’s installation instructions to put it on, and probably go above and beyond that a little bit.
TM: And really it’s a matter of making sure that materials installed properly, from manufacturer specs, the materials themselves are good, and that the design is well thought out as well. You can have a house with great materials and proper installation of things, but if the design isn’t thought out, you can still have failures.
MP: The more complex the design, the more thought process that has to go into it to make things work. One of the things that Reuben and I have talked about is roof lines, and these complex roof lines. I did a lot of correction to roof lines that weren’t working. I’ll give you an example, a cricket behind the fireplace chase. We were always taught to point frame them to the framing. Well, then you put a brick cladding on it, and now that cricket’s not big enough. Make the cricket 6 inches to 8 inches bigger on either side of the chase, and then that moves that valley out to where the water is truly diverted around that structure as opposed to running into the edge of it. Because when you have that little point there, it’s a lot harder to flash properly and make it work. That’s one example. There’s other things. You have these crickets within a roofline as well, and they point-frame them. Bring them out. You’re gonna see that little triangle there, when you look at them, but it always moves the water away. We did a lot of corrections to a lot of these houses that had these problems, and I would always modify a roof to bring it out past the corner, and they didn’t have problems anymore.
BO: Yeah, and just for clarity, when you say point-frame it, you’re saying the framing would end at the intersection of the vertical member; that, and behind it. A cricket, for anybody who doesn’t know, is just a little roof that’s built behind something that would obstruct the normal roofline.
MP: That’s correct. Yeah, behind the fireplace chase. For example, you have the frame of the fireplace chase, so you build the little diverter roof behind it, and many times you just bring that point of that roof to the point of the framing, so it’s directly behind it and you can’t see it. If they would enlarge that to pass it, either way, that gives you a much better performance.
BO: Yeah, a little buffer is never a bad thing. Mark, when you are out and you’re first driving up to a building, you’re called out to do a consulting job, and let’s say it’s with this builder. And the reason I’m asking this, is I just noted something in my neighborhood. There’s a four-story multi-family building that was just put up three years ago. It had some sort of engineered material on it, but way up high, they just tore all the siding off of this building less than three years old, south-facing flat wall. I couldn’t figure out why they had such issues on this building, I wanna go ask them. Anyway, you drive up, at what point does your mind begin cranking? Where are you starting to connect dots in that process?
MP: I look for staining, odd stains that are coming down the roof. After you’ve done this for awhile, you automatically look at where the kick-outs are or aren’t. And if you see a stain there, even if you don’t see a stain there, you wonder why you don’t see a stain there.
MP: When the kick-out isn’t there, and you wonder, “Is it all going back in?” That’s where I’ve torn enough of them apart that you didn’t see that much, but I look for the stains, for the details. And I tell everybody: Be a student of your house. Walk around at least two times a year, at least, and look for those stains. Get familiar with them, and maybe you do have just a stain that’s showing up that isn’t an issue. But at least get familiar with it, and you’ll start to recognize if that changes at all. You better get looking into it, and a lot of homeowners could actually minimize some of the damage of their house if they would just get out and looked at it. And keep your weeds, and they think they’re plants and nice things. They’re weeds. If they’re growing within one foot of a house, it’s a weed. Kill it.
BO: My wife’s not gonna appreciate her very small lilac bushes that she planted, literally against the house and like…
MP: Oh, yes. My wife has a story about the lilac bush that she loved, and it wasn’t even close to my house, and I was out there, I was with Roundup or was it with a chainsaw. Either way, it met it’s demise. And she does not let me forget it. She planted another one, she’s tempting me.
TM: You know what, Mark, you should have your wife listen to the podcast we did with BOGO Pest Control. He has some good data on why you shouldn’t have bushes or plants growing right up against your house.
RS: Yeah, and it has nothing to do with water damage. It’s all about insects and rodents and everything else, and he used the same number, 12 inches. I don’t know how many reasons we need to beat this into people’s heads, but nothing within a foot of the house, baby.
MP: That’s right. And here’s another deal with plants that are too close to the house, the dew forms on the plants, the condensive moisture, and when the sun comes out in the morning, it forms as that stuff is evaporating and drying off, it actually has a solar vapor drive that pushes against the siding on the house. And so you’re giving your home more exposure to moisture than you realize. And if you have a little chink in your paint somewhere, if you had hardboard siding, for example, that’s gonna drive that vapor right there at that, and over time, you’re gonna see some swelling. There’s a lot of things that moisture does that we don’t think about. You can’t live without it or you’ll die. If you have too much of it, you’ll drown.
RS: This is why during home inspections, we’re so attuned to seeing that vegetation against the house, and it’s like a home inspector could say, “Well, I didn’t see the rock behind, there was all covered with vegetation,” sure, you can do that. But it’s like you should know enough by now that’s where you need to focus your efforts go ahead get over there. Pull the vegetation back, look at what’s going on behind there, and that’s always gonna be some of the worst stuff you ever find. So take the time to dig.
MP: When I was renovating homes, I always told the people, “This is no longer your house, this is mine, and I let you live in it, but I will be driving through it once in a while, just to inspect to see how you’re taking care of it.”
MP: And I’ve had a good relationship with my people, and there’s times that I’d drive through because I was always interested on how my product was performing. And the thing I always hear, “Oh, I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, and I’ve never had a problem.” Well, dude, you’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, and you never went back to look at all the mess you made, and so I do, from time to time, I’d go by and look at a house and if I saw something, I’d go stop and talk to ’em, and they always appreciated that. But I had a good relationship with not all, but most of my clients, there’s some people you won’t have a good relationship with, no matter how well you did.
BO: Yeah, that seems like one of those relationships that breaks down pretty quickly, contractor-owner relationship for whatever reason, it just… I don’t know if the expectations of owners are out of whack and contractors are just busy, and then they get pinged to death with these pebbles with all of these different requests and eventually they stop talking. I don’t know, I don’t have an answer, but I feel like you guys are sometimes in an impossible position as a contractor.
MP: I deal with that a lot. There’s one case that I had that I was expert for the homeowner, and then I had against the builder, I had already been a consultant for the builder, so they knew me, and this case had a problem between the owner and the builder. So I ended up being the mediator as well as the expert for the homeowner, and they both chose me, and that worked out well, but that’s a fine line to walk. And you actually do have to take off one hat and put on another one, and you gotta shed everything you have on the other one, when you’re doing this.
BO: In your experience, what cladding do you think gives you the most bang for your buck and the least potential for catastrophic failure?
MP: It’s all about the install, it’s all about the install, you can get good mileage out of vinyl siding provided the weather-resistant barrier is on well. If you have a… You put your weather-resistant barrier on it, if you do it to this technique that you think that that is the only protection and it remains dry in a two-week wind-blown rain storm, now you’re ready to put the siding on and then put the siding on in such a way that if it’s vinyl, you don’t drive those nails all the way tight, follow manufacturer specifications and better if you know how to do it better and that’ll work. Steel, same thing. Now we can talk about the defects, the problem with steel and vinyl, well how about a hailstorm? And I’ve been to hail storms where the vinyl was just completely perforated generally, that’s because it was old vinyl, and it ended up now it’s been crisped by the UV rays of the sun for 20 years. It was baked well, and it’s crispy and ready to break. Steel it gets dented. Your fiber cement sidings, I started putting Hardie on in ’94. It came out to our location in ’93, I helped formulate a lot of the details that you…
MP: I was a voice into their best practices, I didn’t do everything, there were many voices in there, and that material then was not as great. The new Zone Five product is a good material if you put it on right, if you nail it on right, don’t nail too high and follow… They put this idiot line in there where to place the nail and people still miss it. And then use a bigger headed nail, not these little tiny ones, and don’t over-drive the product and you’re gonna have good success with it. LP it’s a little easier to install because even if you did overdrive it slightly, it’s still is pretty tight, and I know about these things ’cause when I was siding, well, maybe we got a board on wrong, so we had to tear it off. The fiber cement you just pull it off, the LP you’re wrestling with it to get it off. So now with the LP, you better keep that bottom lip painted, the bottom edge, because it’s going to absorb moisture up there and we’re gonna have problems. Even with their new smart side product, I have three houses that I’m kind of watching, and now I can get my probe up underneath in between those little fissures at the bottom, one and quarter inches. I’m watching it.
RS: Now what about James Hardie? Same thing though, you gotta keep those bottom edges painted.
MP: With the Zone Five, you should, yeah, absolutely. But the Zone Five product is less moisture absorptive than the old stuff, and here’s how you check that, go ahead and take a piece of Hardie… If you could get a hold of the old stuff, which I don’t think you can. They have Zone 10 now that’s… But it’s been improved from what we had here in the ’90s, and so… But just simply take it and put it in a bucket of water, weigh it before you put it in, put it in a bucket of water, leave it there for a week, pull it out and weigh it, and you can calculate how much water it’s absorbed. LP… Take all kinds of materials. If you wanna play with that, if you really wanna do it put a surfactant in it, it makes the molecule breakdown it’ll go in better. Jet Dry is a surfactant, so you can treat your water and you can get you some soup for playing with that’ll go into anything.
BO: Like Oak Ridge labs again, and Reuben, does this testing all the time.
MP: I know it’s fun too.
TM: Well, I’m just curious, you’re working with a builder now in Iowa or you have been for a while as a consultant, you’ve seen changes over the years too with construction, and what common practices. But what would you say the most common mistake is by builders out there today? Is it improper installation? Is it like design? Is it… They just don’t add kick-out flashing. What would you say is the most common problem out there today?
MP: Well, it’s a combination of all of them. The builders I work with, after I work with them for a while, they do put on kick-out flashing, well, not all kick-out flashing that are produced meet the requirement. You have this little metal kick-out flashing that is about 3 inches tall. It’s supposed to be a minimum of 4 inches up and 4 inches out. Well, where does have 4 inches come from? Let’s just from the frame. Well, if you put 2 inches of material on, wait a minute, you only have 2 inches left, my favorite kick out as a DryFlekt, D-R-Y-F-L-E-K-T, it’s big. You can go to dryflekt.com and you can research that information, but it’s 6 inches out, it’s 6 inches tall, and it’s got about a 110 degree bend in it, it’s not a 90-degree bend down there where it doesn’t flow well, it 110. It’s not 135, which actually pulls it closer to the side that you’re putting on and it doesn’t work, and everybody wants you to have your gutter 1 inch shy of your cladding. Now does it need to be?
MP: Yeah, that makes it serviceable and you can look at it, but some of these kick-out flashing don’t come down far enough and the water dribbles over the edge, that’s a problem. And there’s a way to put a kick-out flashing before you ever put that in, you actually wanna piece of peel and stick all the way around the area where that fascia is gonna butt into just as a double backup protection, everybody cuts out redundancy because it costs more money. Well, sometimes we’re riding on our redundancy for the protection, ’cause something else fails, so kick-out flashings are one. Sealant joints. My goodness, if you do a study on sealant joints, they’re very complex and detailed, the design and such, but everybody just picks up a gun of sealant, a tube of sealant cuts the tip off and starts gunning it on. Then they take their finger and run it down and tool out that joint, which they removed half of the sealant when they were tooling it, not leaving enough of the material behind to properly perform.
MP: If you study sealants you realize it’s fortunate that sealants don’t perform only to the specification that they were designed to perform, it’s fortunate that they exceed their performance of the specification, ’cause if they didn’t, they’d all be failing. People don’t even take a rag and wipe off the joint before they caulk it, they just caulk right over the dust and dirt and then they expect it to last. You see ’em failing all the time in adhesion. There’s two styles of failure in a sealant joint, and that’s adhesion where it’s what it’s stuck to and cohesion is in the middle when it splits in the middle. And that typically is an improperly designed and applied joint, there’s a lot of technicalities. Doesn’t take you along, but if you get familiar with it, it’ll become second nature and you’ll just start doing your jobs right.
BO: The little details really, really matter.
MP: They really do.
BO: And I think that’s the thing that maybe it’s hard for a general contractor to keep a watchful eye on, you have sub-contractors and then you have subs of subs. And how do you make sure that each of those companies that are coming through are actually doing what we expect them to do from a general contractor level?
MP: It’s a big weight on the general contractor, a lot of people think that there’s a one-year warranty, that one year thing is a call back warranty. ‘Cause when you build a house, there’s a lot of moisture in it. It’s gonna shrink and it’s gonna dry, and there’s gonna need to be call back, that’s what that is, it’s just an aesthetic call-back thing. I got a crack in my dry wall, I got a door that doesn’t fit. Well, the builder, if he’s a good builder and realizes that and he’ll come back and fix that. His subs, he’s got it build in, his subs will come back. And it should be a one-time deal, there shouldn’t be two months out the homeowner, the picky homeowner says “Hey, I got a crack in my dry wall.” If I’m the builder, I say, “Hey, you’re gonna have that crack or you’re gonna have more cracks. We’ll come out one time and fix it, do you want us to come out now, or do you want us to come back in a year when all the cracks happened? ‘Cause if we come out now and you get more… “
MP: “My guys already did what they were obligated to do it, so be patient as your house dry, shrinks and settles. It shouldn’t be too much, but there is a little bit of movement and some of the stuff that we use can’t take those movements. And they are gonna fracture and show a little distress, that’s why we have the one-year deal.” Well, there’s a thing in the state of Iowa called the… All states have it. A lot of people aren’t aware of it. The Statute of Repose in Iowa, it was 15 years. In June of ’17, it dropped to 10 years. The Statute of Repose is an extended time where if I, the builder did something and I did it wrong and it’s causing damage to the house, for instance, the fastest way to get sued or have a liability is when there’s water intrusion. And if we find out that the water intrusion is due to something that the builder did wrong, then the builder is liable. In the State of Iowa, it was 15 years, now it’s 10. There’s also a five-year window on it, if you the owner, look at that problem for five years and don’t do anything about it, five years and a day, sunsets and you don’t get to have recourse against the builder anymore, and…
MP: That’s kind of nice because if you have a homeowner that doesn’t care about their house that much, then it’s on them. But this is where I exist in this 10 year statute, and I’m in 37 cases right now as expert witness. And our goal in this is to get resolution. There’re righteous cases, somebody’s having a problem and somebody else who’s responsible for that problem doesn’t wanna take care of it. Ultimately, it’s the builder’s issue, when a builder hires a sub in the eyes of the law, as if the builder was self-performing that work. Now there’s some legal ways of getting past that, but primarily it’s the builder’s issue, so…
MP: Me as the homeowner, I do not have any contract with the sub-contractor, my contract is with the builder and the builder hired this sub. There’s not a triangle here, it’s me to the builder and the builder to a sub-contractor. So the builder had better have some decent knowledge of what his sub-contractor is doing and how they perform their work, and if they don’t, it really is smart for them to hire a third party inspector to do this. I do a lot of that. You guys at Structure Tech, you have the knowledge to be able to do that, not all home inspectors do. But I’ve followed you guys for quite a while, and Reuben, you and I and Tessa, we’ve talked, you guys can go do it. And that’s great for up there, because if you guys weren’t up there, maybe I’d be driving out.
RS: How far of an area do you cover Mark?
MP: My farthest that I went was to Pinehurst, North Carolina. The lady found me online, and she’d read my kick-out flashing article, and she calls me and says “Mark, I read your article. I got that problem. Can you come out?” I said, Oh, and I said, “That’s a long way.” I said, “Take some pictures and send them to me and I’ll look at it.” She did, I circled them and said, “Take close-ups.” She did. She found what I told her, she said, “Now, I want you to come.” So I climbed in my truck one Saturday morning and left, and my rates were cheaper at that time, but she paid all my hotel and paid my hourly rate. And I went out there, took my wife with me, we did a vacation, we went to the Biltmore on our way, or on our way back, and to Noah’s Ark, and if you’ve never been the Noah’s Ark, that’s incredible. It’s worth the trip. That boat won’t float by the way. They got problems and I told ’em. You can’t shut it off. Anyway.
MP: I said, “I’m glad Noah built that ark and not you. Because if we were relying on you, we wouldn’t be here right now.” Anyway, I went out and I performed an inspection and three $15 missing kick-outs, and by the time I was done, I’d looked at the crawl space and everything else, and it was a $35,000 problem. So I came back home, wrote my report sent it, the builder tried to fix it, didn’t do a good job. So she calls me, and sends me the pictures, and she said, “I want you to come fix it,” this is 1100 miles one away. I said, “I can’t, I don’t have a crew.” But I did call the builder and he agreed for me to come out and manage his sub-contractor. So I went out and I spent a week out there, and all the stone on the front of the house had to come off in her front living room, which… Or formal dining, I’m sorry. And this was a $2 million two-year-old house, and at one time I could step through the studs out onto the front lawn.
MP: And it did end up costing about $36,000 for everything.
BO: That sounds like a affordable repair for what you’re describing.
RS: Yeah. That doesn’t sound that bad.
MP: Well, it was a small section. It was about a 12 foot… 10 foot by 12 foot wall.
MP: But the crawl space had to be re-done, I mean, stuff… There were some incidentals, but it wasn’t bad. There’s some that go… You guys know where Okoboji is?
BO: Yeah sure.
MP: I had two cases up there, condominiums, I got a third one now, one was a $2.8 million case, and the other one was a $1.4 million case, and the attorneys that hired me on the 1.4 were against me in the 2.8. And I told them my goal is that you win one, you lose one, and I win two. And so it was.
MP: And out of that, I have another one in Okoboji and it’s all stone related. These guys, stone veneer, it’s nothing but a stucco. Adhered stone is a stucco. So don’t tell me your mason knows how to do it. Your mason may be the most talented person in the world of putting those bricks in and sitting those in place, but a lot of masons don’t know how to do stucco. And most of the people that are doing this stucco stone, adhered stone are having problems.
BO: I believe it, I feel like up north here in Minnesota, there’s so many large houses on beautiful lakes that are just slowly deteriorating because somebody’s uncle came out and put this fake stone on. But I try not to look at those things when I drive through.
MP: Well, I made the statement a lot and Reuben’s heard it before and I think Tessa’s heard it. If you think the EIFS problem was bad, you look at the the mid-90s and the 2000s and all the EIFS lawsuits that went on, if you take a look at that, that is the stone veneer failures are gonna make that period in our history look like a tiny drop in the bucket. And it holds more water behind it, it doesn’t show up as fast, and the whole wall is rotten, I’ve got thousands of pictures of rotted walls. So do you Reuben you’ve been…
RS: I got half of them from you.
BO: So it makes sense when I was talking to an attorney one day who does construction litigation, he said that everything turns into a structural issue. They always try to pin it back to the structural issues, so that 10 years or 15 years that a contractor’s on the hook for you don’t get to slide on that very often.
MP: Anything water related that’s leaking into your building generally turns into a structural issue if you don’t catch it soon enough. That’s why I call that stuff, vertical mulch, that’s what we see it turn into. And people don’t even see it until you pull the stone or the cladding off, and then you can just peel OSB away with your hands. Typically, it looks like there was a fire there.
BO: I don’t know how general contractors have the stomach to be in the business, I mean, the liability that you carry is enormous.
MP: Especially with the extended Statute of Repose, and every state has one, it’s just not everybody’s knowledgeable of it. I just happened to be involved with two of the attorneys that had the initial case here in Iowa and the judge, I knew the judge that found against the initial statute. And this attorney had the wherewithal to take it all the way to the Supreme Court and get it overturned into the 15 year statute.
BO: Mark, I could talk about this stuff forever, ’cause there’s so many questions and there’s so much for homeowners that they’re absorbing, and I feel like we’re blind on a lot of this.
MP: Absolutely, yeah.
BO: And you’re just hoping for the best and maybe that house sells well, it’s not… Before it falls apart under your watch or whatever it might be.
MP: Except, if you knew about it and you sell it, you’re in trouble.
MP: One thing about my report, when I come out and write a report, now the homeowner no longer can say they didn’t know, and so we’ve had some that tried to sell and not disclose, and then my report surfaces and they get to pay.
RS: Which is unfortunate.
MP: You’re right.
RS: How it should be.
BO: What if you were the unlucky person who bought that house a year ago, and you had no responsibility in this, and it just happened to be in your custody when something went bad? That’s where I feel bad for people.
MP: The Statute of Repose, let’s say I’m the third owner or ninth owner in the ninth year, and nobody knew about it and it shows up under my watch, I can still go after the builder. It doesn’t matter that the successive owners do not get out of it, but here’s the problem with successive ownership. Let’s say it showed up in year four, year five, I’ll bet it showed up in year three and year four, and I’ll bet the prior owner did have knowledge. And I get called in to investigate that and they do… Last three cases, the prior owner got sued and they paid. Jury trials aren’t always great, the last four jury trials that I’ve been in have went against my clients, not because of my report or findings, but because of the way the defense handled the jury, three of those judges that heard my testimony are my new clients.
BO: Okay. So that’s a whole different conversation because law is fascinating, and it’s not always about the facts, it’s sometimes always about the procedure. And this is when people start talking like, “Oh, we’ll just do this. Or they deserve… ” You don’t know, the court of law is a whole different ball game.
MP: It is, and I’ve experienced that on quite a few occasions, I’ve testified in several trials, but if you have just a bench trial, at least you’re going before one guy who can think, the judge. Well you hope he can think. But we’ve been more successful with the bench trials than on jury trials. We had one case where my client, an attorney bought a home show house, the case was so righteous, but she had to focus on little things that didn’t matter inside while ignoring the big things, I shutter, on the outside and the other side set a blue-collar jury that did not have a house over $100,000, hers was 700. They made her come off as a whiny client and see you didn’t even have to bleep that. And they made the trial go nine days, and I believe the people get $30 a day for being in trial for the first three days, and then it goes maybe to $50 a day for thereafter. So these blue collar juries had to take vacation to pay the bills while she’s shown as a whiner, but her case was righteous, but she let go of it, in a wrong way, she lost and paid $100,000 in other attorney fees.
MP: Yep on the other side. It’s a terrible deal.
TM: Yeah, it’s not always justice, is it?
MP: No, no.
BO: And I think, Mark, unfortunately, you’ve seen more than what one person might wanna bear in a career in courtrooms.
MP: I was made for this.
BO: Wow. Wow. It just feels uncomfortable.
MP: Well it is, I’m consulting right now on an $8 million house, 7000 square feet. By the way, that’s $1124 a square foot. It’s a pretty neat house, it’s all steel framed, granite outdoors, granite indoors, walnut ceilings, walnut soffit, almost no dry wall shown. It’s steel framed. It’s pretty cool.
BO: I’d love to check that out one time.
MP: I might have some pictures as it gets done.
TM: It seems like you are the best type of insurance policy a builder could have someone like you on their team to help them avoid these catastrophic lawsuits and failures.
MP: It is good, you need a good consultant, and some people don’t value it. But on this $8 million house, my fees will probably be 10,000, maybe $15,000, which is not nothing, and I’ve already saved quite a bit of issues on it, and let’s say that on a half a million dollar house. You spend 3000 to $5000 for an expert to come in and just look at it. Number one, your people that are building your house, I generally have a good relationship with them because I point out things. I don’t go in there and try to be haughty over the subs that are doing it. And I just say, “Hey you might wanna take a look at this,” and if they’re handling it right, they’re glad I found it ’cause it’s limiting and minimizing their liability. And a lot of these guys, I know, we’ve had this relationship, and it’s now coming around my time where people that I’ve been against are actually… I’ve got three clients right now that I’ve been against, and they saw the value in hiring, and it’s not me against them, I’m helping them and if I can win them over, you convert an enemy to an ally, they will be more loyal than your best friend. Because they had to come over a mountain to get to you, your best friend probably didn’t have to do anything, you just liked each other.
BO: Wow, this is good conversation and Mark, you have a very interesting job, you’re a detective, you’re a forensic guy, a home owner’s dream relationship…
MP: Or nightmare.
MP: Technically, a nightmare is a dream.
MP: So when you say you’re building your dream home, I look at them and say, “You know a nightmare is also a dream.”
BO: Well, we should probably put a wrap on this episode. We could talk for probably 24 hours straight and never even really get to a deep level of understanding on this. You do your classes, and what’s a short class for you? Four hours?
MP: I try to do a two, but it’s really hard. Yeah, I do some stuff for builders here that are two, but it encroaches into two and a half hours. And four is a good time, and then we can have time for discussion. By the way, let me make a pitch for my H2UhOh video on my website, thebuildingconsultant.com. Again, H2UhOh.
TM: I like that, clever.
BO: I love it. I love it. Okay, Mark, so they can find you there, but it’s also… Why don’t you pitch your website while we’ve got you here and give everybody, if you want, your telephone number so they know how to get ahold of you if they’ve got concerns.
MP: Sure. It’s thebuildingconsultant.com. That’s T-H-Ebuildingconsultant.com. My contact information is on my website, and I have a Google Voice number of 515-966-LEAK. [laughter] That’s 5325.
BO: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you very much for spending the hour with us. I wanna keep going, but we have to be respectful of Larry’s time, Larry, our producer, because he’s cutting through all this. So, thank you, Mark, we so appreciate it. You’re such a knowledgeable person and fun to talk to, so thanks for having us. And we are super excited to be wrapping this episode up. We’ll do hopefully a session two, maybe a session three. We could start a whole new podcast, all with just Mark Parlee, if we wanted to.
MP: Oh, boy, that would be somebody’s dream, wouldn’t it? Or nightmare.
BO: I have one last question for you. Do you have any apprentices in the pipeline, or are you gonna keep doing this for as long as you can do it?
MP: I am. Just Reuben and Tessa, that’s the only ones I have.
BO: No pressure, you two.
RS: We’re in trouble. We’re in big trouble.
MP: No. Everybody asked me, “Why don’t you train somebody?” I said, “I can’t.” And you guys, you’re already doing it. I’ve talked to Reuben and Tessa, and you guys are handled up there in Minnesota pretty well.
BO: Yeah. We’re in good shape.
MP: And I’m not too far away if they get something that they wanna share with me. It’s more a share now rather than needing.
MP: These people, they come along and you learn, and you gotta have a stomach for it and you gotta have a desire to do it. This is what I was created to do. I enjoy doing it, I get up in the morning, and I get paid for this. It’s my hobby.
RS: Yeah. That’s a good job to have.
MP: Yeah. It’s not really a job when you enjoy it.
RS: That’s right.
BO: Well, we’re gonna end on that. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. Thank you so much for listening. We will catch you next time.