A Chicago Building Block: Split Face Block ? What You Need To Know

March 19, 2009

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A very, very common building block in modern Chicago homes: the split face block

A very, very common building block in modern Chicago homes: the split face block

Split face blocks are manufactured by combining two or more blocks together as one larger unit. After a curing period, the units are put through a machine that cuts the stone in half to expose it’s interior aggregates. The amount of  aggregate varies from block to block. There are many different sizes and colors available.

Advantages of Split Faced Block

Split face block is easily combined with many exterior finishes. The initial costs can be higher than other exterior finishes, however the longevity makes the block a good value. Insurance companies often offer policy discounts on properties due to the lower risk of fires and termite infestation.

Disadvantages of Split Faced Block

Split faced block is a very porous material, so if not properly installed and maintained, it tends to lead to costly repairs. The durability of split faced block often causes the homeowner to over look the preventative maintenance needed to help prevent the block from absorbing water which can lead to interior wall damage and mold. The installation of the block is also important. Due to the permeability of the block and poor installation methods such as lack of wicks and weep holes to allow the water to exit  from behind the block, damage to the interior can often occur.

Should I Purchase a Property with Split Faced Block?

Like all exterior finishes, proper installation and maintenance are needed. Split faced block is an attractive, long lasting finish that given preventative maintenance and proper installation can last for many years. I recommend that a proper water repellent is applied approximately every 3-7 years.

I would not hesitate to purchase a property with split faced block.

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About Brent Duchene

Brent Duchene has been in the building industry for over 20 years. His experience in new homes, town homes, apartments, and remodeling construction is extensive. Brent has been a licensed home inspector in Illinois for four years. He has inspected over 400 commercial and residential properties. Brent has worked with numerous real estate companies and agents. Brent has extensive knowledge of building materials and construction. Brent specializes in new and pre-listing inspections.

View all posts by Brent Duchene

7 Responses to “A Chicago Building Block: Split Face Block ? What You Need To Know”

  1. Will Decker Says:

    If split faced is installed as a veneer, in a double wythe wall, and properly sealed (penetrating silicone sealer, like Clear Coat, it can be OK.

    The problem that I am seeing (I am a state licensed home inspector, thermographer and environmental inspector) is the builders using it in a single wythe wall and not sealing it. Sometimes, they seal it, after the fact, with a plugger paint of even linseed oil. The problem? They are actually sealing the accumulated moisture in the wall, where it will migrate inwards and cause mold and rotting of the floor truss ends (which the grout, as opposed to shimming woth metal shims).

    Hope this helps;

    Reply

  2. Ron Isaacson Says:

    My experience (Like Will Decker, I am a state licensed home inspector and certified thermographer) dovetails with what Will has seen. A vast number of the Split Face CMU (concrete masonry unit) three flats built have moisture related issues. Too many builders not only sealed the exterior, but painted the exposed CMU in hallways and storage areas.
    Given the irregular surface of split face, it is practically impossible to keep water from entering the wall cavity.(Note* Brent Duchene, in his post refers to a water repellant not a retardant or seal) Water enters the split face via: wind driven rain; snow melt off window ledges, parapet walls and flat roofs.
    I find the most significant points of moisture entry relate to poorly designed/installed roofing material. Unfortunately many of these buildings went with rolling the roofing material part way up the parapet wall and having a metal termination bar installed ( and not cauling screw holes or junctions) rather than taking the material all the way up and under the coping tiles.
    There are numerous issues with these types of buildings, most can be corrected easily. When purchasing a split face, be pro-active, find out the realities of that specific property.

    Reply

  3. Will Decker Says:

    Thanks, Ron, for adding to my post information.

    The parapet wall coping (stone on top of the parapet wall) must be flashed and should be beveled or curved, so as to shed water. Flat coping stone is silly. I had an Architect / Builder tell me that they used flat stone “so that the people have somewhere to set their beer cans down”. Silly, in the extreme.

    BTW: Chicago has, as of about 8 months ago, banned split faced block from new residential construction.

    Hope this works;

    Reply

  4. Alan Lance Andersen Says:

    I called Lowe’s and asked for split face block and they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Where do I buy them ??? Thanks. ALA

    Reply

  5. Will Decker Says:

    Now the 2nd phase of this problem is surfacing, structural damage.

    Inspected a house, a couple of days ago, and found that the wooden ceiling / roof wooden truss ends were completely rotted (you could poke your finger right through them). The owner will have to get the entire top floor gutted, including replacing the roof and the truss beams.

    Look for instances of structural pancake collapses this winter under the snow loads.

    This is caused by the idiots grouting the wooden trusses into the block pockets.

    Reply

  6. Devon Says:

    I’m not sure if Lowes sells them although I know Home Depot does, in my area they are $2.19 a pop for the 8x8x16. They sell the smooth faced block (as apposed to the split face) of the same size for $1.29 a pop. While they come in a few different colors, my Home Depot (including the HD website only carry them in the standard gray color.

    I’m considering using them to build a retaining wall between my and my neighbor. I know these typically aren’t used for retaining walls, but with a good cement base and rebar & cement in the middle it should provide a sturdy retaining wall. More work than traditional back lip retaining walls, but with the advantage of loosing less of my property to a wall & fence being I’ll also be able to build the fence directly on top of the wall using cement-able post anchors as well.

    Reply

  7. Caroline Says:

    The building I live in has had extensive water damage due, in part to water seepage through the split face brick. A hefty insurance claim has taken care of repairs but we are now trying to determine the best product to treat the brick to prevent future damage. Any recomendations would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply

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