Was new house wrapped?
The Oswalds spent $365,000 for the house in 2004. On a rainy night in March 2005, water streamed from their brick walls into their unfinished basement. To fix it, the expert they hired said they should replace their brick, all two stories of it...âThatâs an awful lot of water coming in a very small area,â Balsinger said of the photographs. âTo me, that builder ought to be out there finding out whatâs going on under that brick. Iâm surprised. Douglas is a good builder. He should take care of that.â
LIBERTY TWP. â As a Butler County Sheriffâs deputy, Brian Oswald spends plenty of time in courtrooms. As a private citizen, heâd rather not.
But thatâs where he and his wife Angela find themselves in a 13-month civil dispute with the company that built their home in 2004, Meyer Builders of Harrison. The Oswalds spent $365,000 for the house in 2004. On a rainy night in March 2005, water streamed from their brick walls into their unfinished basement. To fix it, the expert they hired said they should replace their brick, all two stories of it.
"Itâs basically a money pit,â Brian Oswald said of his house.
Oswald was deeply worried about living in a house that isnât rain-proof. His worries grew when a representative of the builder, Meyer Builders of Harrison, and an inspector from the Butler County Building & Zoning Division recommended that the brick exterior be waterproofed with a sealant. âI told him thatâs just a Band-Aid,â Oswald said in an interview. âA sealant is only good for a couple of years. Then the responsibility falls on me to keep treating it.â
The Oswalds and Smith wound up filing suit against Meyer Builders. They alleged a number of problems, including the absence or defectiveness of âflashingâ necessary to steer out the water that seeps through porous brick and runs down to the foundation level. An independent engineer recommended rebricking the house.
A contractor said heâd do the work â for $124,000.
The family, represented by Courtney Caparella of Lyons & Lyons in West Chester, is asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Dennis Helmick to rescind the contract and order a refund. They also want him to triple the damages as provided by the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act. Meyer, represented by Edward Akin of Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt of Cincinnati, denies that the house is defective at all. The case is pending.
DISPUTE OVER HOUSE WRAP
Drive by any new construction today, and chances are good that you will see the wood framework ensheathed with a plastic moisture barrier known as house wrap, such as DuPontâs Tyvek, or even old-fashioned black felt paper. Butler Countyâs building code requires one or the other. Whether the Oswald house was wrapped is disputed.
According to its answer to the lawsuit, Meyer said it investigated the âalleged leakâ of March 2005 and âconcluded house wrap was present.â An engineer hired by the Oswalds, Robert Becker of LandAmerica Property Inspection Services, wrote in a report that, based on photos provided him by the Oswalds, âthe exterior of the house was not covered with a house wrap.â
Even the county inspector who visited the house while it was under construction on Feb. 24, 2004, noted that the builder needed to âprovide house wrap behind brick.â
The countyâs case file on the house does not say if Meyer followed through.
âHe (the inspector on Feb. 24) told them to provide house wrap or felt paper behind the brick,â said William Balsinger, administrator of the countyâs Building and Zoning Division. âFor whatever reason, he was there between the foundation inspection and the framing inspection.â
Although county inspectors paid later visits to the house during construction, their reports do not indicate if the house was ever wrapped. Balsinger said they are not expected to perform such follow-ups.
âWe would not go back and check it,â Balsinger said. âWhen you take out a building permit, you agree to go by the building code â and that (house wrap) is in the building code. Thereâs no way we as a building department can go out and check everything that the code requires.
âIâd say 99 percent of the builders are doing a terrific job,â he added. âThey want to do a good job. They donât want to have to come back to take care of problems. Unfortunately they sometimes donât do things in a timely manner and tick people off.â
HOME INSPECTION MADE
Spending $733, the couple hired LandAmerica of Reading and Eaton Inspection of Burlington to perform whole-house inspections of their home.
Neither company removed any brick to see what was behind it. After peeking through the periodic âweep holesâ â the deliberately unmortared spaces between bricks that allow intruding water to escape â around the base of the house, Eatonâs Alex Lockstead wrote last April that âevidence indicates missing/improperly installed brick flashing.â
Becker, LandAmericaâs director of engineering, went further.
âWe tried to find any kind of house wrap, whether it be roofing felt or Tyvek or some other type of membrane, and we didnât,â he said in an interview.
âIn summary,â he wrote in a report, âbased on my observations during the inspection and my 38 years of engineering experience, I feel certain that the storm water infiltration through the brick veneer wall cannot be controlled short of removing and replacing all of the brick to provide house wrap, standard flashing and solid mortar joints, plus cleaning of the exterior face.â
The Oswalds obtained an estimate from a contractor to do just that. His quote? $124,459.
In an interview, Becker explained how builders deal with the problem of rain penetrating brick.
âBrick veneer is more of a siding than an actual support for the house like it was in the â50s,â he said. âOnce water gets inside that siding, it needs to be directed outside. Thatâs done now with house wrap and base flashing.
âMost building departments are requiring that now and are watching it closely,â Becker said. âA few years ago, they were not. Iâve seen the problem go on for about 15 years now, and itâs been very slow for the building industry to pick up on the need to address it. They say to just seal the brick. It canât hurt, but itâs not a solution.â
BUILDER STANDS PAT
Douglas Meyer, owner of Meyer Builders, sticks by the recommendation that the Oswalds apply a sealant to their house.
âThese people refuse to do what even the building inspector asked them to do,â Meyer said.
In his office in downtown Hamilton, Balsinger looked at photographs of the water streaming into the Oswald basement in March 2005. He did not voice any dispute with his inspectorâs advice to Oswald to seal the house. But asked if he himself would follow that advice if it were his own new, $350,000 house that was leaking, Balsinger paused. Then he replied, âNo, I wouldnât.â
âThatâs an awful lot of water coming in a very small area,â Balsinger said of the photographs. âTo me, that builder ought to be out there finding out whatâs going on under that brick. Iâm surprised. Douglas is a good builder. He should take care of that.â
The Oswalds expect a drawn-out legal battle with Meyer Builders in court. Because they want Meyer to take back the house, they have stopped making their planned improvements. Their windows have no drapes, their back yard has no playground. Their basement remains unfinished, filled with boxes they donât plan to unbox.
âIt has been heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching and devastating,â Angela Oswald said at a dining table covered with legal papers. âWe sold our house and my mother sold her house and we planned this together. We think weâve got a good quality house thatâs going to last a lifetime, and when we have inspectors tell us itâs a problem and weâd want to get rid of it, it doesnât feel like a home anymore.â