Chicago’s Moldy Secret? Split Face Block

by: Greg Nagel
Ask Nagel Realty

What's Chicago's Moldy Secret? Split Face Block

During the 90’s and 2000’s Chicago was experiencing an unprecedented condo boom. During this time a new building material was introduced to Chicago called Split Face Concrete Block. In fact, the vast majority of new construction was built with this material on the sides and rear faces of the structures. This material was significantly less expensive than Face Brick or even Chicago Common Brick and is not aesthetically bad looking. One Chicago Alderman had the courage to state her concern about this product as being unsuitable for Chicago, but she was dismissed.

By about 2014, this use of Split Face Block finally reduced and it’s very seldom that you see it anymore in new construction.  However, there are literally hundreds of these Split Face Block buildings in West Town, Bucktown, Wicker Park, East Village, Ukrainian Village, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and many other neighborhoods still standing.

split face block wall showing moisture and mold
split face block wall showing moisture and mold.

The issue is that many of the buildings built of this material are experiencing serious water and mold issues as the material has proved to be too porous. I’m not sure what the stats are but, I can say anecdotally, I get a lot of calls about this from hysterical owners and my friends that are working as genera l contractors are getting calls weekly as well. Google this and you’ll find tons of additional info and horror stories.

The initial reaction to this was that there was an installation issue with the block by the builders. Then we heard that the real issue was that the block was never sealed. The next thought was that it was just a maintenance issue that condo owners simply did not know of the requirements to seal the buildings, not unlike an owner who did not paint for 20 years having their frame house rot.

Initially, we heard that you have to reseal once every 5-7 years depending on the light and weather exposure of the building face.  Now I’ve heard experts saying that you have to seal every 3 years.  I have also heard there is a new product out there that supposedly seals the building so well, that the problem is eliminated. And last, I’ve heard that the bottom line is that this material is simply not suited for Chicago.

There is a lot of info on this by many so called experts, but who really knows?

Here is what I know factually: 

  • As these buildings age – the issues will grow and become more frequent
  • The stigma on these properties is growing
  • I have clients that will not buy a building made out of split face block

Buyers have long criteria lists these days and are very specific about what they want. By warning my clients about this issue, I’m eliminating as much as 50% of the inventory and making my job exponentially harder. However, I’ve become one of Chicago’s top producing agents by building long-term relationships, and I’d rather work harder and do right by my clients.

LEARN MORE:  What You Can Do About The Split Face Block Issue On Your Home

Greg Nagel

Greg Nagel is the Managing Broker/Owner of Ask Nagel Realty and a Top 1% producer of all Chicago brokers. He has been featured on two episodes of HGTV’s number one show, House Hunters. Check out the 200+ five-star reviews of Greg’s work from his clients on Zillow.