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Tuesday, 19 December 2006

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...“That’s an awful lot of water coming in a very small area,” Balsinger said of the photographs. “To me, that builder ought to be out there finding out what’s going on under that brick. I’m surprised. Douglas is a good builder. He should take care of that.”

Was new house wrapped?

LIBERTY TWP. – As a Butler County Sheriff’s deputy, Brian Oswald spends plenty of time in courtrooms. As a private citizen, he’d rather not.

But that’s 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.

"It’s basically a money pit,” Brian Oswald said of his house.

Oswald was deeply worried about living in a house that isn’t 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. “I told him that’s just a Band-Aid,” Oswald said in an interview. “A sealant is only good for a couple of years. Then the responsibility falls on me to keep treating it.”

The Oswalds and Smith wound up filing suit against Meyer Builders. They alleged a number of problems, including the absence or defectiveness of “flashing” 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 he’d do the work – 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.


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 DuPont’s Tyvek, or even old-fashioned black felt paper. Butler County’s 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 “alleged leak” of March 2005 and “concluded house wrap was present.” 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, “the exterior of the house was not covered with a house wrap.”

Even the county inspector who visited the house while it was under construction on Feb. 24, 2004, noted that the builder needed to “provide house wrap behind brick.”

The county’s case file on the house does not say if Meyer followed through.

“He (the inspector on Feb. 24) told them to provide house wrap or felt paper behind the brick,” said William Balsinger, administrator of the county’s Building and Zoning Division. “For whatever reason, he was there between the foundation inspection and the framing inspection.”

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.

“We would not go back and check it,” Balsinger said. “When you take out a building permit, you agree to go by the building code – and that (house wrap) is in the building code. There’s no way we as a building department can go out and check everything that the code requires.

“I’d say 99 percent of the builders are doing a terrific job,” he added. “They want to do a good job. They don’t want to have to come back to take care of problems. Unfortunately they sometimes don’t do things in a timely manner and tick people off.”


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 “weep holes” – the deliberately unmortared spaces between bricks that allow intruding water to escape – around the base of the house, Eaton’s Alex Lockstead wrote last April that “evidence indicates missing/improperly installed brick flashing.”

Becker, LandAmerica’s director of engineering, went further.

“We tried to find any kind of house wrap, whether it be roofing felt or Tyvek or some other type of membrane, and we didn’t,” he said in an interview.

“In summary,” he wrote in a report, “based 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.”

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.

“Brick veneer is more of a siding than an actual support for the house like it was in the ‘50s,” he said. “Once water gets inside that siding, it needs to be directed outside. That’s done now with house wrap and base flashing.

“Most building departments are requiring that now and are watching it closely,” Becker said. “A few years ago, they were not. I’ve seen the problem go on for about 15 years now, and it’s been very slow for the building industry to pick up on the need to address it. They say to just seal the brick. It can’t hurt, but it’s not a solution.”


Douglas Meyer, owner of Meyer Builders, sticks by the recommendation that the Oswalds apply a sealant to their house.

“These people refuse to do what even the building inspector asked them to do,” 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 inspector’s 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, “No, I wouldn’t.”

“That’s an awful lot of water coming in a very small area,” Balsinger said of the photographs. “To me, that builder ought to be out there finding out what’s going on under that brick. I’m surprised. Douglas is a good builder. He should take care of that.”

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 don’t plan to unbox.

“It has been heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching and devastating,” Angela Oswald said at a dining table covered with legal papers. “We sold our house and my mother sold her house and we planned this together. We think we’ve got a good quality house that’s going to last a lifetime, and when we have inspectors tell us it’s a problem and we’d want to get rid of it, it doesn’t feel like a home anymore.”

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