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The Educated Buyer: Exterior Walls

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The age, condition, and material of a home’s exterior walls are all important considerations when purchasing a home. Repairs or replacement costs for exterior walls are very costly. It’s important to know the life span of the material used, what condition they’re in, and how much future repairs and or replacement costs will be. The following list outlines the different materials you may come across in the home buying process, their average life spans, and some common problems to be aware of.

    1. Brick Veneer. Brick veneer walls have been the most common exterior home material in Ontario since the 1970s. They are comprised of one layer of brick, attached to the inner frame, which is most often made of wood. The wood frame is the load-bearing component, not the brick. There is a gap between the brick and wood to allow for air circulation. The air circulation prevents moisture from accumulating between the wood and brick layers. The average life expectancy of brick veneer is greater than 100 years.
    2. Brick Masonry. Brick masonry walls are made up of two layers of brick and are load-bearing. Bricks are laid lengthwise with intermittent bricks being laid with the short end facing outward. These sideways-facing bricks help join the two layers of bricks together and distinguish brick masonry from brick veneer. The average life span of brick masonry is greater than 100 years.
    3. Vinyl. Vinyl siding is one of the most affordable materials for exterior walls. It is, however, more prone to damage, less environmentally friendly, and is not as good at conserving energy as other materials. The average life span of vinyl siding is 20-40 years.
    4. Metal. Metal siding is most commonly made of aluminum but can also be made of steel. It can be installed vertically or horizontally and attached to the frame. Metal siding can be more affordable than other materials, durable, and low-maintenance. The average life span of metal siding is 40 plus years.
    5. Wood. Wood siding gives more range in style, texture, and design than other exterior materials. It is most often installed horizontally and is more expensive than vinyl or metal siding. The average life span of wood siding is 20-40 years.
    6. Stone. Stone is popular because of its strength, durability, and weather resistance. Stone offers versatility in terms of design because of the different shapes and sizes that can be formed from it. Synthetic stones are also commonly used and are affixed to the frame using glue, with the frame being the load-bearing component. Stone can be porous and may require resealing and grouting. The average life span of stone is greater than 100 years.
    7. Stucco. Stucco is made of cement, lime, aggregate, and water. It is applied wet to exterior walls and then hardens naturally. Stucco is cost-effective, good for insulation, and energy-efficient. The average life span of stucco siding is greater than 50 years.

Issues that may indicate a problem with exterior walls that should be investigated further:

      1. Any damage to exterior walls could indicate moisture problems or in the case of brick masonry walls, structural damage.
      2. Filled or otherwise blocked weep holes on brick veneer walls can cause moisture problems.
      3. A gap of at least 4-6 inches is needed above ground level for most exterior wall finishes. Without the proper gap, moisture from the soil can transfer to the frame and/or the foundation.
      4. Exposed edges and corners can lead to water penetration through to the frame and foundation.
      5. When you look at an exterior wall from the side, and the wall is bowed or has a lean, that should be investigated.
      6. Hairline cracks or vertical cracks aren’t generally a cause for concern but thick or horizontal cracks need to be investigated by a professional.
      7. Discoloured vinyl may not come clean and could be permanent.

This information is not a substitute for a professional home inspection, which is always recommended before purchasing a home. It should, however, help you narrow your options and decrease the chance of discovering these defects during a home inspection. I hope this information has been helpful to better prepare you for the purchasing process. If you have any questions or if you are looking for a real estate agent, please get in touch. I would love to work with you!

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