12 Sep 2017

Ugly is in the Details

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Enemies are the factions that want the opposite of your best intentions. Your right is their wrong. Their action is your reaction. This polarity is especially true regarding your friends-in-human-survival, air and water who ironically can be a building’s worst enemies. I call this gang The infiltrators, most notably the air assassins & wiley water who lurk in the environment ready to attack your building nooks and crannies. When infiltrators attack they leave mayhem and destruction in their wake. Air and water damage is ugly. What can you do to prevent damage? Ugly is in the details!


Who are the nemeses and how do they infiltrate a building? Your building’s worst enemies are the Air assassins and Wiley Water.

Air assassins are nefarious currents that seep through cracks or crevices to steal resources, destroy air quality and compromise building performance. Air moves from the area of high to low temperature and exploits poorly detailed or sealed construction assemblies.

Wiley water is sneaky moisture that seeps through finishes or joints to attack assemblies and ruin materials. Water follows the path of lest resistance but can also condense in small crevices during air transfer. Even worse, these invisible and destructive creatures exploit poorly designed or constructed details to compromise your building. What happens if the infiltrators penetrate your building envelope?

  • –good bye energy-efficiency
  • –good bye LEED rating
  • –good bye money

The wind & water culprits attack any building element where there’s a hole, change in geometry or change in direction. Is hiring the right architect and contractor enough to combat The Infiltrators? No, because other saboteurs aid The Infiltrators to attack building elements, such as wall cavities and windows. Who are these other forces? Beware The Distractors!


The Infiltrators are destructive demons but they have accomplices called The Distractors! The Distractors are ignorance, rushed schedule or misinformation meant to mislead good construction intentions. Ignorance or schedule challenges try to convince you an offset stone lug is enough separation to direct water away from the sill plate. But the offset alone is insufficient because the 1″ air space between the wall substrate and cladding is often cluttered with mortar, debris, insects and even snack wrappers that trap moisture and direct it into your unsuspecting building.

Misinformation tries to persuade you to believe a window affixed to substrate and covered with a finish is an impenetrable barrier from the elements, but small substrate anomalies or inconsistently installed fasteners leave imperceptible voids that infiltrators exploit.

The distractors renounce construction knowledge and mock quality workmanship. What happens if you accept shortcuts in place of proven construction details?

  • –good bye energy-efficiency
  • –good bye code-compliance
  • –good bye money

The Distractors attack any owner, architect or contractors who choose deals over documents, schedule over sanity, or convenience over competence. There must be a solution to combat the Infiltrators and Distractors!


Infiltrators and Detractors abound but so do solution heroes such as The Flashers! If there’s ever an appropriate time to be a flasher, masonry and window details are the time. Flashers include flashing, wraps and tape designed to neutralize The Infiltrators. The two most often neglected details I observe during construction observation visits involve masonry sill flashing and window flashing. Here’s an example from plan marketplace detailing the correct masonry sill flashing.

sill flashing

Sill flashing captures infiltrating moisture and redirects the moisture to the exterior through weep holes located at the bottom of the masonry cavity. The brick ledge shown is 1-1/2″ lower than the finish floor but that planar distinction isn’t enough to prevent moisture intrusion. A true detail-hero creates redundancy in construction details with a water plane (flashing) a separation (ledge or lug) and an exit (weep hole) to thwart the Wiley Water.

Windows are another often neglected detail. Manufacturer’s design redundancy in window details to provide multiple air and moisture planes to prevent intrusion. Here’s an example from McCambell Associates detailing the steps and components to properly flash window openings.

window flashing

The overlapping layers (flashing, felt, tape, caulk) channel moisture and air to the exterior. If the caulk doesn’t deflect the air and moisture, the tape will. If the tape doesn’t deflect the air and moisture the flashing will. Those layers create the redundancy to control air and moisture. No building crusader wants Air Assassins or Wiley Water in the building. These sill and window flashing details combat the Air Assassins and Wiley Water. What happens when you develop appropriate construction details with the required flashing?

  • –hello energy-efficiency
  • –hello code compliance
  • –hello saved money
  • –good bye UGLY!
Architalks Credits

This is another entry in Bob Borson’s blogging brain-child titled, “ArchiTalks”.

The #ArchiTalks goal is to inspire blogging architects with similar educational and professional requirements to opine on the same topic and simulpost their response so other architects and a broader audience can enjoy the rampant thought-diversity within the architecture profession

Select the links in “Architalks Entries” below to read how architects responded to the “Ugly” topic.

image/video credits:

Architalks Entries

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
ugly is ugly

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Ugly Architecture Details

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
unsuccessful, not ugly: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Ugly is in The Details

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Ugly, sloppy, and wrong – oh my!

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[ugly] buildings [ugly] people

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Is My House Ugly? If You Love It, Maybe Not!

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
the ugly truth

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
A Little Ugly Never Hurt Anyone

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Ugly or not ugly Belgian houses?

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
ArchiTalks #30: Ugly

Larry Lucas – Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community


About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 29 years experience in design, construction observation and life.