HOME MAINTENANCE: No need to inspect 'weep holes'

Home inspector Dwight Barnett answers readers' questions:

Q: We are in the process of selling our home that we had custom built in 2002. The buyer's real estate agent hired a home inspector who pointed out that there are no weep holes in the brick, which he said were required when the house was built. Now the buyers want to have weep holes installed at our cost.

What are weep holes, why didn't the builder install them, and why did the county inspector pass the house without the weep holes? O.B.

A: Recently I have heard more and more questions concerning weep holes, or the lack thereof, being tossed around among real estate agents, builders and home inspectors than ever before.

My thought is that one or more home inspectors have attended an educational seminar that covered the subject of weep holes, making the inspectors more aware of the codes, and now they are including this information in their reports without thinking it through.

A weep hole is a small opening in the brick or stone mortar joint that is designed to allow water to "weep" from behind the wall's veneer. That's right, the brick on your home is a veneer, a simple covering that hides the rough framing of the exterior walls of the home.

Brick, stone, vinyl and other siding materials are a veneer with a gap between the exterior walls and the back side of the veneer to allow storm water to drain down the home's wall where it is collected and drained to the outside of the veneer.

The home inspector and builder are not responsible for code enforcement, and the lack of weep holes is not, by itself, a major defect. It is the responsibility of the subcontractors, such as the plumber, electrician and brick mason, to perform their work according to the codes in effect. In some states, county or city the codes are not enforced, not enacted or the officials are so overburdened that they can't find every defect on a new home.

If you were to read the code for weep holes (2000 International Residential Code, section 703.7.5 & .6), you would soon discover that there is more to the weep hole than a simple opening in the mortar joint. The framed wall of the home must have weep holes above the flashings, and flashing materials are required behind the veneer "beneath the first course of masonry above finished ground level above the foundation wall or slab." Weep hole flashing is a piece of metal that can be fastened to a wall, then folded at an angle to cover a row of bricks to prevent water entry to the house's wood structure.

I have been building and inspecting homes for more than 45 years, and I have rarely seen a residential home with all the weep holes required by the code.

In some areas the brick mason will drain the wall cavity to the foundation's concrete blocks, which then drains to the foundation's interior drainage system. The home inspector would not be able to visually inspect this type of veneer drain without removing the brick or veneer covering.

Should you install weep holes? The answer is no.

At this point you might do more harm than good. If there were no flashing at the point where you would drill a hole, you would simply be opening the veneer cavity to pest infestation and you might damage the mortar joint.

Also, the next time the home is sold, the fake weep holes would present a false impression to the buyer.

If the home is not experiencing high moisture levels at the outside walls and there are no signs of water entry to the underside, top and ends of the floor system, there is no need to fix a problem that does not exist.

Could the walls leak in the future? Yes, but adding weep holes would not help without wall flashings. Should there be a leak, the brick or stone could be sealed with a clear coating that would prevent water entry through the veneer.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 286, Evansville, Ind. 47702.