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Utah Residential Inspections & Efflorescence

Efflorescence for Inspectors

by Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Kenton Shepard
Efflorescence is an accumulation of minerals and salts on masonry surfaces,  such as brick, cement, and sometimes stone. Inspectors should know how to  prevent against and remove this unsightly residue. They must also be aware that,  while efflorescence itself is not dangerous, it indicates the presence of excess  water, which can lead to more serious structural and health issues.
How Efflorescence Forms
The earth contains natural salts that are present in the raw materials that  make up masonry products, such as concrete, asphalt and stucco. These salts  remain trapped within masonry in solid form until they are dissolved into water,  which usually makes its way into the material through small pores. Water can  originate from rain, sprinklers, household leaks, or any number of other places.  Cold, dry air will draw this liquid back out of the material where it  evaporates, depositing the salt as a white crystalline growth on the surface.  Efflorescence typically forms during cold, dry weather shortly after it has  rained and moisture has entered the masonry. It can occur year-round, but it is  most likely to form during the winter due to low temperatures.
Identifying Efflorescence
As with mold, the appearance of efflorescence varies greatly. It can  be powdery, it can have sharp edges and be easy to spot, or it can  have indistinct edges. It can cover a large area as a fine dust, or form  large individual crystals. Its appearance depends partly on the type of salt  from which it is composed, but humidity also plays a role in this determination.  In exceptionally dry climates, water can evaporate before it even reaches the  surface, in which case the salt will accumulate unseen beneath the surface. In  humid conditions, moisture may take a long time to evaporate, allowing the slow  growth of “whispers” projecting from the surface.White mold.
InterNACHI inspectors should already know how to distinguish mold (pictured  at right) from efflorescence, but it is possible for homeowners to confuse the  two. The expense of a mold test can be avoided if the substance in question can  be identified as efflorescence. Here are a few tips that inspectors can offer  their clients so that they understand the differences:
  • Pinched between the fingers, efflorescence will turn into a powder, while  mold will not.
  • Efflorescence forms on inorganic building materials, while mold forms on  organic substances. However, it is possible for mold to consume dirt on brick or  cement.
  • Efflorescence will dissolve in water, while mold will not.
  • Efflorescence is almost always white, yellow or brown, while mold can be any  color imaginable. If the substance in question is purple, pink or black, it is  not efflorescence.
Aside from mold, the following conditions can result from excess moisture  in a residence:
  • fungi that rot wood;
  • water damage to sheetrock;
  • reduced effectiveness of insulation.

Inspectors should note the  presence of efflorescence in their inspection reports because it generally  occurs where there is excess moisture, a condition that also encourages the  growth of mold. An exception can be made during the first few years of a  building’s construction when efflorescence will appear as a result of moisture  locked within the masonry in a process called “new building bloom.” This  moisture comes from water added during the manufacturing or mixing process that  will undoubtedly contribute to efflorescence. This type of efflorescence will  appear all over the masonry material and will continue to accumulate until the  initial water supply is exhausted, which can take up to a year. Efflorescence  that appears locally and after the “new building bloom” is over is a symptom of  excess moisture that can be problematic. The source of this moisture  should  be determined and corrected.

Prevention and Removal of Efflorescence
Prevention
  • An impregnating hydrophobic sealant can be applied to a surface to prevent  the intrusion of water. It will also prevent water from traveling to the surface  from within. In cold climates, this sealant can cause material to break during  freeze/thaw cycles.
  • During home construction, bricks left out overnight should be kept on  pallets and be covered. Moisture from damp soil and rain can be absorbed into  the brick.

Removal

  • Pressurized water can sometimes be used to remove or dissolve efflorescence.
  • An acid, such as diluted muriatic acid, can be used to dissolve  efflorescence. Water should be applied first so that the acid does not discolor  the brick itself. Following application, baking soda can be used to neutralize  the acid and prevent any additional damage to the masonry. Muriatic acid is  toxic, and contact with skin or eyes should be avoided.
  • A strong brush can be used.

Note:  The use of water to remove efflorescence may result in the  re-absorption of crystals into the host material, from which they may later  reappear as more efflorescence. It is advisable that if water is used in the  removal process that it is dried off very quickly.

In summary, efflorescence is a harmless yet unsightly accumulation of  salts on masonry surfaces. Its presence indicates excess water, a condition that  can damage interiors and encourage the growth of mold. Inspectors should know  how to remove efflorescence from surfaces, and educate their clients about its  identification and significance.

From  Efflorescence for Inspectors – InterNACHI http://www.nachi.org/efflorescence.htm#ixzz1tqGGD1as

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