Tag Archives: CMU

Waterproofing for CMUs: What About Stucco?

In the July 2014 issue of The Construction Specifier, we published the article, “Durable Waterproofing for Concrete Masonry Walls: Redundancy Required,” by Robert M. Chamra, EIT and Beth Anne Feero. A month later, we received the following e-mail from G. Michael Starks, president of the Florida Lath & Plaster Bureau (FLAPB):

I thought this article offers sage advice should your plans call for struck and painted concrete masonry unit (CMU) walls. Unfortunately, the predominance of walls today are not struck and painted, but rather have some other exterior finish applied, such as stucco. In this case, recommending a waterproofing admixture or surface sealer without the caveat that doing so will greatly impair the bond of the stucco to the wall is a bit disingenuous. Applying sealers to the CMU prior to plastering requires further bond augmentation where stucco is specified.

The bond of the stucco to the CMU is achieved by the concrete masonry absorbing the water from the fresh stucco. This absorbed water carries the cement paste into the voids in the CMU (a process commonly known as ‘wetting out’), where it cures and locks the two together. Sealing the CMU before stucco application renders this process null, and results in the future debonding of the stucco from the CMU.

ASTM C926, Standard Specification for Application of Portland Cement-based Plaster, includes a Section 5.2, which discusses remedies when bond cannot be achieved over solid bases. Sealing the CMU voids all but one of the possible augmentation procedures and leaves only the last resort of applying a lath and accessories system to the CMU. As stated in C926:

5.2.3. Where bond cannot be obtained by one or more of the methods in 5.2.2, a furred or self-furring metal plaster base shall be installed in accordance with Specification C1063.

In effect, the other six recommendations required before lathing is approved are disregarded by the recommendations provided in the article. The seven means by which to achieve bond provided in ASTM C926 are listed in decreasing order of effectiveness. As such, there is intent for the application of lath to be last in that order. The addition of lath and accessories creates a huge differential in movement characteristics resulting in much higher cracking potential.

Additionally, the installation of lath over a solid substrate, such as CMU or concrete, introduces another challenge in the anchorage and fastening system required to attach the lath and accessories. Finally, from an economic standpoint, stucco applied over lath systems costs three to four times that of stucco direct-applied to the CMU.

Testing performed by the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) indicates the stucco renders the wall as waterproof as (if not more than) those where admixtures and sealers are applied.

Early in this article, there is a statement about shrinkage cracks that occur in unit masonry. These are a result of the same absorption process discussed earlier though with the mortar and CMU. Many of these can easily be prevented by specifying a leaner mortar, such as Type N. In the circumstance where a cement-rich Type M or Type S mortar is specified, proper masonry workmanship can also mitigate the shrinkage effects, such as requiring the masons to fog their walls after initial set and prior to leaving the site in the afternoon much as the plasterers are required to do (ASTM C926) for the stucco. This process averts rapid water loss (volume) during the hydration process, thus minimizing the propensity for shrinkage crack formation.

In conclusion, if you want to waterproof your CMU and you plan to stucco it—seal the stucco, not the CMU. This at least puts the waterproofing on the positive pressure side of the wall.

One of the article’s co-authors— Mr. Chamra—reached out to Mr. Starks, and allowed us to share his response here.

We appreciate the feedback; we concur with your recommendations with stucco applied over CMU. Our article focused on CMU walls because single-wythe without stucco is used in Texas, and there is a lack of knowledge on how to treat them. There is more knowledge on how to waterproof stucco, but this was outside the scope of this article. We also did not discuss other finishes over CMU for the same reason—that topic could be another article in and of itself. Your letter is a good clarifier if our intention was not clear within the article. Thank you for your time and feedback.

Durable Waterproofing for Concrete Masonry Walls: Field Testing Methods of Water Repellency

by Robert M. Chamra, EIT and Beth Anne Feero, EIT

There are two main field testing methods used for water repellency of concrete masonry units (CMUs), for quality assurance before being placed in a wall: droplet and RILEM tube testing. Completed assemblies can also be tested with RILEM tubes or other standard water spray tests such as ASTM E514, Standard Test Method for Water Penetration and Leakage Through Masonry.

Droplet testing
The droplet test is a quick and simple test to observe the water mitigation capabilities of a CMU. This test requires the unit to be placed horizontally on a level surface with the face shell oriented upward. Droplets are placed at different locations around the unit from a height of 50 mm (2 in.) or less.

The specimens are to be placed in ambient temperature (22.9 ± 5.6 C [75 ± 10

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F]) and moderate relative humidity (50 ± 15 percent) and are monitored for evaporation facilitated by sunlight or wind; they are recorded at one-, five-, and 10-minute intervals. At the conclusion of the test, the droplets are classified as standing, partially absorbed, totally absorbed, or dry. Additional testing methods should be implemented to further evaluate failed droplet tests.*

Commencement of a droplet test on a concrete masonry unit (CMU) containing integral water repellent.

Commencement of a droplet test on a concrete masonry unit (CMU) containing integral water repellent.

After fi ve minutes, the originally beaded droplet has been partially absorbed into the CMU containing integral water repellent.

After five minutes, the originally beaded droplet has been partially absorbed into the CMU containing integral water repellent.

RILEM tube testing
The standard RILEM tube can hold 5 ml (0.17 oz.) of water, which correlates with the static pressure of a 158-kph (98-mph) wind-driven rain. The short RILEM tube was developed for porous materials that are unable to pass a standard RILEM test. A short RILEM tube (approximately 2 ml [0.06 oz.] of water) correlates with a 97-kph (60-mph) wind-driven rain.

Both RILEM tubes are plastic cylinders that are securely placed against the unit for testing using an impermeable putty. Once the RILEM tube is attached to the CMU, water is placed into the tube up to the 0 ml (0 oz) mark (top of tube). The RILEM tube is monitored at five-, 10-, 20-, 30-, and 60-minute intervals for any noticeable changes in the water column. Previous testing has shown specimens that hold water for 20 minutes will also typically hold for 60; this allows for shorter experiments. If 20 percent of the water is lost within a 20-minute interval, the CMU is considered to have failed the test—if such losses are not observed, then the CMU has passed.**

A standard RILEM tube is shown at the left CMU cell, while a short RILEM tube is shown at the right CMU cell.

A standard RILEM tube is shown at the left CMU cell, while a short RILEM tube is shown at the right CMU cell.

A standard RILEM tube test has failed on this CMU with integral water repellent.

A standard RILEM tube test has failed on this CMU with integral water repellent.



* See NCMA’s, Standard Test Methods for Water Stream and Water Droplet Tests of Concrete Masonry Units from 2009.
** See the article, “Testing the Test: Water Absorption with RILEM Tubes,” by Adrian Gerard Saldanha and Doris E. Eichburg in the August 2013 issue of The Construction Specifier. Visit www.constructionspecifier.com and select “Archives.”

To read the full article, click here.

Durable Waterproofing for Concrete Masonry Walls: Redundancy Required

All images courtesy Building Diagnostics Inc.

All images courtesy Building Diagnostics Inc.

by Robert M. Chamra, EIT and Beth Anne Feero, EIT

Single-wythe concrete masonry walls are popular because they are inexpensive to construct, and combine structural support and cladding in one system. However, they can be associated with leakage when the waterproofing design is simplistic. A single-wythe wall can, and should, have multiple waterproofing components.1

Concrete masonry units (CMUs) are characteristically porous building materials. When manufactured in accordance with the industry standard, ASTM C90, Standard Specification for Load-bearing Concrete Masonry Units, commonly used lightweight CMUs absorb up to 17 percent of their weight in water.

CS_July_2014.inddThis porosity is due in part to their composition. The mix for the units contains the usual concrete components of water, cement, and aggregates, but that third component will be a smaller coarse aggregate (i.e. gravel) than cast-in-place concrete. The smaller aggregate decreases the workability of the mix if all other variables are held constant. In some cases, this decrease in workability is compensated by the addition of water to the mix. Similar to cast-in-place concrete, the higher the water-to-cement (w/c) ratio in the CMU mix, the higher the permeability of the units. However, even a good-quality mix will remain permeable (Figure 1).

Furthermore, the geographical location where the CMUs are manufactured affects permeability. The types of aggregate available in different regions varies, which results in mixes with identical proportions of components, but with much different absorption. For this reason, a prescriptive approach for waterproofing CMUs cannot be applied globally. The guidelines for methods of waterproofing remain the same, but the proportions of water repellents must be tailored for the available materials.

An additional factor affecting the porosity of CMUs is the unit-forming process. After the components have been combined, the mix is compacted and vibrated in molds. If properly compacted, a large volume of the interconnected pores within the unit is eliminated. If poorly compacted, the resulting interconnected pores can provide a path for water to migrate through the unit. Even if the overall unit is compacted, extremely porous localized pockets can remain, as demonstrated in the testing described in this article.

Similarly, a CMU containing cracks will be prone to moisture migration. The curing process CMUs undergo after forming will limit shrinkage cracking within the units, but it does not prevent all subsequent shrinkage—especially when CMUs are installed immediately after manufacturing (21 days of curing is recommended). In addition to drying shrinkage, creep (i.e. time-dependent deformation) can occur in concrete masonry walls after sustained loading.2 The resulting hairline cracks from these phenomena will provide routes for water through the unit.

CS_July_2014.inddIn addition to the units themselves, the mortar joints can provide water sources into a concrete masonry wall assembly. If the mortar loses the water it needs to complete curing—due to wind, sun, or suction from the CMUs—shrinkage cracks and separations between units and mortar will develop. Similar to the CMUs, the mortar will also undergo creep after sustained loading—up to five times as much as the CMUs—since the mortar is less stiff than the concrete.3

For waterproofing, cracks within the mortar are worse than cracks within the units, since it is common to have mortar only at the inside and outside faces of the masonry (i.e. face shell bedding). Then, water only has to travel the thickness of the unit wall, approximately 32 mm (1 1/4 in.) to penetrate the assembly (Figure 2).

National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) publishes technical articles to provide recommendations for the design and construction of concrete masonry. TEK 19-2B, Design for Dry Single-wythe Concrete Masonry Walls, outlines waterproofing strategies for single-wythe concrete masonry walls at the surface, within the CMU, and at the drainage path. NCMA recommends redundancy to protect concrete masonry from water penetration, including surface repellents or coatings, integral repellents (admixtures), and adequate drainage systems.4

Surface repellents for concrete masonry—typically silicones, silanes, and siloxanes—provide waterproofing at the exterior of the wall assembly. They are applied by a roller or spray equipment after the mortar has had an opportunity to cure. The product is absorbed into the units and mortar and coats the pores. While some products can penetrate deeper, most surface repellents remain within 12.7 mm (1/2 in.) of the CMU surface. In addition to their ability to repel water, surface repellents provide other benefits, such as reducing dirt and staining on the wall’s surface.

Split-face units, shown here being tested with a RILEM tube, are even more challenging to waterproof than smooth CMUs because of the fractured surface.

Split-face units, shown here being tested with a RILEM tube, are even more challenging to waterproof than smooth CMUs because of the fractured surface.

Surface repellents typically allow water vapor to be transferred in and out of the wall, and drying when water does penetrate the assembly through cracks or other penetrations.5 These products have varying ultraviolet (UV) resistance, but most need to be reapplied at intervals recommended by their manufacturers.6

Integral water repellents are available to be incorporated into CMUs as admixtures during manufacturing and into mortar during site mixing to limit water migration through the wall assembly. Since the mortar is mixed onsite and not in the unit plant, it is crucial masons also provide proper admixture quantity and mixing practices for the mortar to avoid a waterproofing weakness within the wall assembly. Integral water repellents also improve efflorescence control. Despite concerns with changes to the concrete’s properties, research has shown integral water repellents do not interfere with the assembly’s bond strength.7

Although it may seem counterintuitive, it is better to use mortar of lower strength to limit cracking.8 High-strength mortars are stiffer; they crack at a lower strain compared to low-strength mortars. Movement related to thermal and moisture changes, as well as foundation shifting, can cause cracking in strong and stiff wall assemblies. These cracks may not impair the wall’s structural performance, but all cracks add opportunities for water’s entry into the assembly.

The mortar’s installation can be as important to the mortar joints’ performance as the materials used. Proper tooling practices help protect concrete masonry walls from unwanted moisture penetration. Choosing a concave or V-joint mortar joint profile will push the mortar against the CMUs to improve bond and provide drainage when the assembly is wet. Raked joints decrease the bond between the CMU and mortar, and provide an area to trap water.9

CS_July_2014.inddIn addition to surface repellents or coatings and integral repellents, NCMA’s other primary recommendation is to provide adequate drainage systems for moisture penetrating the wall assembly. For ungrouted assemblies, through-wall flashing can be installed at bond-beams and floor slabs. Flashing is often eliminated in fully grouted walls to avoid severing the grout which makes it important to consider supplemental waterproofing measures.

These suggestions, along with other considerations found in TEK 19-2B, are given to help ensure moisture will not penetrate the masonry. Although CMUs are characteristically permeable, they can be used successfully in single-wythe walls by following NCMA’s recommendations. Since water penetration can come from various sources, the need for a careful and comprehensive waterproofing approach is essential to providing dry and durable concrete masonry construction.

Laboratory testing
Absorption testing of 24 lightweight CMUs was performed by the authors. Half the units contained an integral water repellent. An informal droplet test was performed initially on selected CMUs from each group; then, all the CMUs underwent a RILEM tube test.10 For additional information about these test methods, see “Field Testing Methods of Water Repellency.”

CS_July_2014.inddThe units tested were smooth-faced CMUs. Split-face blocks, with their more aesthetically appealing surfaces, would likely be even more porous because of the fracturing that creates the appearance (Figure 3).

Absorption testing
To comply with ASTM C90, CMUs must meet maximum absorption requirements dependent on the units—the denser the unit, the less absorption the standard allows. ASTM C140, Standard Test Methods for Sampling and Testing Concrete Masonry Units and Related Units, outlines the absorption testing procedures to comply with ASTM C90. Each CMU in this study underwent ASTM C140 absorption testing (Figure 4).

The addition of integral water repellent to the CMUs resulted in a 34 percent reduction in absorption (and nearly 50 percent less than allowed by ASTM C90). However, these low absorption values do not correlate with water penetration through the units; the low-absorption CMUs still allowed water to penetrate during water-spray testing. The authors believe this disconnect is a leading reason for leakage in single-wythe concrete masonry walls—the industry standards for the components address absorption, rather than water penetration.

Droplet testing
The CMUs without integral water repellent had droplet test results classified as ‘totally absorbed’—immediately after placing the droplet on the unit, the water was absorbed, but the surface remained slightly damp. For the units with the integral water repellent, the classification was ‘partially absorbed.’ Once the water was placed on the unit, some of the water was absorbed, but there was still partial beading and standing water remaining on the unit. After a five-minute period, most of the beaded water had absorbed into the units with integral water repellent and appeared the same as units without integral water repellent.

CS_July_2014.inddThese observations show an integral water repellent can aid in preventing water from penetrating into the unit. However, the integral water repellent was not impenetrable—some water made its way into the units during the droplet tests. More importantly, there was an extreme range of absorptions on the surface of individual CMUs, which indicates porous pockets of less consolidated concrete were present as described earlier (Figure 5).

RILEM tube testing
The second procedure conducted on the concrete masonry units was RILEM tube testing. When tested using a standard 5-ml (0.16-oz) tube, all 24 specimens failed. However, units containing an integral water repellent were able to hold the water column of a short RILEM tube test for more than 20 minutes with little to no reduction in the water level, thus passing the less-severe testing method.

The units without integral water repellent quickly failed even when tested with a short RILEM tube. In a matter of one to two seconds, the entire water column had been depleted, and significant water penetration could be seen in the unit surrounding the RILEM tube and putty. These results clearly indicate the necessity for CMUs to have deliberate waterproofing components to avoid catastrophic leakage.

Medium- or normal-weight CMUs would be expected to perform better than their lightweight counterparts because research indicates water repellents’ effectiveness correlates with concrete density. This is another reason for water ingress in single-wythe concrete masonry walls—the repellents most commonly employed are least effective on lightweight CMUs. In some regions, lightweight units dominate the market despite their poor water penetration performance. This point alone indicates the benefit of using redundant waterproofing components.

Concrete masonry units are porous structural elements that need to be properly installed with appropriate components to prevent water infiltration in single-wythe exterior walls. High-quality CMUs and mortar (complying with ASTM standards), integral water repellents, and good design and construction practices (following NCMA recommendations) are important steps. However, these measures may not suffice.

Redundant waterproofing components are required because of the likelihood of cracks, mortar joint separations, and variable absorption characteristics in a single-wythe concrete masonry wall (Figure 6). The variability of available materials in a given region supports the need for tailoring the design to achieve the desired performance. Field testing during the construction phase is recommended to confirm performance. Even adding a surface-applied repellent will not stop water from migrating through cracks. An elastomeric wall coating should be considered for crack-bridging ability.11

1 The authors gratefully acknowledge the continuing support and leadership of David W. Fowler, PhD, PE—the faculty advisor for the research being performed at The Durability Lab, a testing center at The University of Texas at Austin. Also, the authors thank Featherlite Building Products for donating concrete masonry units for lab testing. (back to top)
2 For more, see Failure Mechanisms in Building Construction, edited by David H. Nicastro, PE (ASCE Press, 1994). (back to top)
3 See Note 2. (back to top)
4 See NCMA’s TEK 19-2B, Design for Dry Single-wythe Concrete Masonry Walls. (back to top)
5 See NCMA’s TEK 19-1, Water Repellents for Concrete Masonry Walls. (back to top)
6 See the article, “Testing the Test: Water Absorption with RILEM Tubes,” by Adrian Gerard Saldanha and Doris E. Eichburg in the August 2013 issue of The Construction Specifier. (back to top)
7 See NCMA TEK 19-7, Characteristics of Concrete Masonry Units with Integral Water Repellent. (back to top)
8 See Note 4. (back to top)
9 See Note 4. (back to top)

Robert M. Chamra, EIT, is a project engineer with Building Diagnostics Inc., specializing in the investigation of problems with existing buildings, designing remedies for those problems, and monitoring the construction of the remedies. He participates in the research being performed at The Durability Lab—a testing center established by Building Diagnostics at The University of Texas at Austin (UT). He can be reached by e-mail at rchamra@buildingdx.com.

Beth Anne Feero, EIT, is completing her master’s degree in architectural engineering at UT. She serves as the graduate research assistant for The Durability Lab, which researches and tests the durability of building components, identifying factors causing premature failure. She can be reached via e-mail at bfeero@buildingdx.com.