What is and what causes a fingerspace leak?

In a house, you will typically have either a concrete block foundation wall or a poured concrete foundation wall. Often an exterior, decorative brick veneer wall is built to hide the foundation wall.

As the brick mason is constructing the exterior decorative brick veneer wall, he will place bricks atop each other, holding the brick with gloved hands. This means his fingers need space to neatly stack the bricks, which creates a small gap between the foundation wall and the decorative veneer.

This gap - approximately an inch or so deep - is called a ‘fingerspace’. Fingerspace generally runs around the periphery of your home, or a portion of your home, and almost always contains lots of dirt and debris carried by groundwater.

The decorative wall is not watertight, it is impossible to waterproof a decorative brick veneer wall, and thus groundwater will seep through the brick veneer into the fingerspace.

Hence, when it rains, gravity takes its toll and will cause water to run downhill, making its way to the lowest point of the home - your basement or crawl space. As the lay of land changes, the basement’s concrete foundation wall will stop and become a wood frame wall, simply because the grade outside is where your daylight wall forms.

What exactly is a Basement Daylight Wall?

A daylight wall is when a basement wall is no longer underground, which means it does not have to be built out of concrete block or be a poured foundation wall, so it can be constructed from wooden framing.

The geography in Atlanta consists of undulating ridges and valleys that vary in height, and as a result, we are constantly having to add fill-soil to build sites, making sure the fill-soil is well compacted. And due to the ground often being lower than the basement floor, it is very typical in Atlanta to have homes with daylight basement walls that include windows and doors.

In Georgia, contractors do not find often find themselves digging a hole for a basement, but rather, our residential construction is about digging into the side of hills to fit a basement.

It’s important to note that the decorative brick wall is continuous. But, when the concrete block foundation wall or the poured concrete foundation wall transitions into wooden framing for the daylight wall, there’s an opportunity for water to penetrate or get trapped between the foundation wall and the decorative brick veneer wall (fingerspace), having nowhere to escape except your basement or crawl space.

Symptoms for Homeowners Identifying a Fingerspace Leak:

In an unfinished basement, you will usually see leakage at the junction between the wood framing and the end of the foundation wall. It is also possible to see leaking at a door frame, which is a weak point and thus an easy access point for water.

In finished basements, most basement finishers will build a framed wall over which they put sheetrock that is adjacent to the foundation wall. But they also put the sheetrock on the framing of the original daylight wall, which creates a noticeable ‘bump out’ or L-Shape at the point where the two depths intersect.

As a result, many times when fingerspace leaks occur, we will see either the carpet is really wet at the bump-out in a finished basement, or the concrete floor will have a mud stain extend from the bump-out if in an unfinished basement.

If the homeowner’s waterproofing issue is a leak occurring where the footing meets the foundation walls, then that leaking water would be clear and clean, because it has literally passed through filters – namely, moving through 8-inches of foundation wall concrete block, or 10-inches of poured concrete foundation wall. Fingerspace leaks typically carry a tinge of orange from the red clay being washed inside from directly outside the veneer wall.

How does a Homeowner know their House is Built with a Fingerspace?

If you have a brick veneer house, there is definitely a fingerspace between the decorative brick wall and the foundation wall – this is the only way to build it. The masons need that space for their fingers to lay brick atop brick as the decorative wall is built.

That said, the only place we ever find a fingerspace is where there is a BRICK veneer because stone veneers are mortared right up against the foundation wall. Stucco would also not have a fingerspace, again purely because the stucco is applied directly to the foundation wall.

A Summary for Identifying a Fingerspace Leak in your Home

  1. The first point is that the house must have a brick veneer around it. The decorative brick veneer wall must be covering up the transition between the end of the foundation wall and the start of the wood-framing wall.
    If you can visually see that transition point on the outside because there is NOT a brick decorative veneer wall and only a painted concrete wall, then that is NOT a fingerspace waterproofing problem. The brick decorative veneer wall would then continue past the transition point.
  2. An unfinished basement - you can easily see where the leaking dirt and mud is coming in.
  3. A Finished basement - look for the interior ‘bump-out’ or L-Shape and wet or damp carpet to be present at this intersection.

Diagnosing fingerspace waterproofing jobs can be extremely difficult if you are not an experienced waterproofing contractor. Fixing a fingerspace is true craftsmanship because each situation is different! There are a couple of options available, and which product or system is ultimately installed will need to be customized to resolve your home’s special needs.

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