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  1. #1
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    Default Strange Holes in Mortar

    I'm looking for ideas as to what may have caused these strange holes in the mortar of this 45 yr. old brick over frame ranch home, and why they might be there. My one photo caught most of them as they were concentrated in just this one small area at one end of the house next to a side entry doorway. As you can see, they're all about 1/4 in. in diameter, and positioned in about the same place in the mortar joints.

    Also, as you can see in the other photo, most of them appeared to contain what looked like the remnants of an old nest from what I would guess to be a smaller species of solitary wasp. The mortar was in fairly good condition, so I'd find it unlikely that the insects made the holes. But if they did, I certainly don't think I'd want to mess with these wasps.

    (The 3rd photo is the same as the 1st one, but is oriented correctly. I couldn't figure out how to delete the 1st photo.) Thanks a lot!

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Chambers View Post
    I'm looking for ideas as to what may have caused these strange holes in the mortar of this 45 yr. old brick over frame ranch home, and why they might be there. My one photo caught most of them as they were concentrated in just this one small area at one end of the house next to a side entry doorway. As you can see, they're all about 1/4 in. in diameter, and positioned in about the same place in the mortar joints.

    Also, as you can see in the other photo, most of them appeared to contain what looked like the remnants of an old nest from what I would guess to be a smaller species of solitary wasp. The mortar was in fairly good condition, so I'd find it unlikely that the insects made the holes. But if they did, I certainly don't think I'd want to mess with these wasps.

    (The 3rd photo is the same as the 1st one, but is oriented correctly. I couldn't figure out how to delete the 1st photo.) Thanks a lot!
    Weep holes added to help mitigate a chronic moisture issue in this area. ( Roof drains on to this section of brick veneer?)

    It Might have Choked Artie But it ain't gone'a choke Stymie! Our Gang " The Pooch " (1932)
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Stephens View Post
    Weep holes added to help mitigate a chronic moisture issue in this area. ( Roof drains on to this section of brick veneer?)
    This is an older home with no weeps, but no, this is the end of a gable roofed house, so there's no water coming off the roof in this area. Also, this end faces SE, and like the rest of the country, most of our weather come at us from the west. We couldn't see any evidence of moisture issues on the interior, but of course, the basement has been completely finished in just the last few years, which could well have hidden any evidence that may have previously been visible.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    The holes were drilled by a human to attach some object to the wall. A trellis or lattice for a vine, or something like that. The wasps came later.

    That is the 'what', but 'why' is another question.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kogel View Post
    The holes were drilled by a human to attach some object to the wall. A trellis or lattice for a vine, or something like that. The wasps came later.

    That is the 'what', but 'why' is another question.
    They seem awfully small for that if you're going to use anchors, but it's as plausable an explanation as any I've thought of. Maybe they tried to get by without anchors, and that's why it's not there now.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    My guess is that if they are not for attaching something to the brick wall, then they are for attaching the brick wall to the structure behind for some reason, like someone forgot to install brick ties and they tried to anchor the brick in that section back through the front ...

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Attempt at termite treatment??


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Got a new hammer drill, wanted to try it out.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    I'll take termite treatment bore holes too.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    A homemade termite treatment does sound more plausible than an attachment of some sorts. Unfortunately however, due to the basement being finished at this end of the house, I wasn't able to see any damage that could confirm this. There was a porch slab right there, which is a popular place for termites to make an entrance. Also, there was evidence of termite activity in the sill-plate area under the front porch slab area.

    A funny thing about that. The current owner's previous home inspector (when he bought the house about 9 yrs. ago) told him that the 2 in. dia. patched holes, about 3 ft. apart, and about 1 1/2 ft. in from the front edge of the front porch slab were evidence that the home had been treated for termites. I guess the guy had never heard of mud-jacking.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Never heard of open holes being used to attach brick veneer to a house's framing, as suggested by Peck. Maybe he knows something we don't?


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    First post ever here but as I’m suffering from work-induced insomnia (well, not technically insomnia, but, you know), I came across this string early this morning. Though it is entirely possible that the holes were drilled for termite treatment, I’d be willing to bet big money that those holes were made by concrete/masonry nails or similar. The holes exhibit variation in size, which would indicate the nails or other attachments working loose over time from either the stress of the plant or kids pulling on it or what have you. I’ve seen this many times over the years. Now, the fact that the holes do vary in diameter does not preclude they were drilled, or predrilled, as I have seen animals, including insects, do some amazing things with concrete and steel over the years. That includes a 12” pet garter snake that I caught chewing the back of its heavy-gauge metal cage enlarging a small hole in order to escape (almost made it). Definitely not weep holes, and I doubt any brick veneer fastening, mechanical or otherwise, was used, though I would have to see photos covering a larger area to be sure. In my opinion, a termite treatment company would most likely not repair their mortar drilling but a masonry repair firm would, if in fact the brick veneer pulling away was the issue. As I said, I have seen it before, and it was invariably trellis working loose. The holes in a pattern indicate that it most likely wasn't a termite company, either (when have they ever done any thing neatly?). I concur with John Vogel as to a trellis or some other minor structure.

    Hope I made sense as it’s 2:50 am California time.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    I would cast my vote for a mason line. They used a 16p common or duplex for a line. Each is at the start of a new course starting at the corner. Each new course was tapped/set to the string line.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    String line for brick laying
    HRC Brick using a line - YouTube


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kogel View Post
    The holes were drilled by a human to attach some object to the wall. A trellis or lattice for a vine, or something like that. The wasps came later.

    That is the 'what', but 'why' is another question.
    I agree that they are man made because of the equi-distance/pattern. Is this the only area they exist? Perhaps if you mapped them out you may have a better guess as to the purpose. Christmas lights?

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    String line for brick laying
    HRC Brick using a line - YouTube

    If they were laying the corner as the went then the mason string block would have pulled the brick, so they used nails instead. I would lay odds that the holes are only on one wall.


  17. #17

    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Hi John!
    In some areas, around the beginning of the 1970's, Polyurethane foam insulation was used to insulate behind masonry as an insulation retrofit. What part of the country is this picture taken? Unfortunately, the two components of the foam, Urethane and Formaldehyde, did not chemically bond if installed in a damp environment. Sometimes the masonry was new and not cured yet and still contained moisture. Sometimes, it was rain from the previous day and sometimes it was just high humidity. The result was formaldehyde out gassing into the home. Holes were drilled in the exterior of the masonry and after about two years, the foam would "melt" away.... with the problem of the sick occupants gone and also the foam gone! Then the contractor would come back and patch the holes... obviously not done in this case. Generally this was done in entire sub-divisions. Contractors liked to think the insulation inside block masonry (CMU and Slump block) would help the "R" valve... they failed to realize the heat travels through the solid parts of the block, not the hollow parts. Their attempts to retrofit insulation were not only dangerous to the health of the occupants, but they also did not work well. I also like the mason string line theory, but I have never seen a mason go to so much trouble to hang a string line. They usually use wooden string-line blocks hung on the corner of the masonry. The holes are the right size for foam retro-installation and at either end of the wall would provide out-gassing of the foam if not stabilized. I wish you well!


  18. #18
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    How do the nails stay in the soft mortar, seems to me the nail would pull out or loosen?


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    blobk9.gifblobk13.gif

    Before they had line pins available, masons use concrete nails to hold their line up at the corners at every course and used twigs to adjust the line.




    - - - Updated - - -








  20. #20
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    I'll go with John. If you look closely at picture 2 it looks like an anchor of some sort at edges of hole. I always find things like this at inspections where unless you can talk to who actually made the holes you will never know, but it is fun guessing.

    Tom Rees / A Closer Look Home Inspection / Salt Lake City, Utah

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Garry Sorrells View Post
    I would cast my vote for a mason line. They used a 16p common or duplex for a line. Each is at the start of a new course starting at the corner. Each new course was tapped/set to the string line.
    I was going to guess at a mason line too, and they forgot to fill the holes. Does it look like there was new brick installed anywhere, do the holes go all the way up? I've seen mason's nail into the mortar joint to pull their string lines when filing in an open area. But, since it's so close to the corner not sure why they wouldn't use the block of wood method, nor would the nail go all the way through, unless it was set in fresh mortar???


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Masons lay the corners up first, after the mortar has set up the masons use wood blocks hooked around the corner blocks/bricks.

    I've never seen any mason use nails or pegs in the wet mortar for their string lines.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    I've been a commercial contractor for 25+ years. I started out in our family business on the mason line. I would be willing to bet the farm those holes are from the 16d nails used for the mason line. Seen it 1000's times. They lay the corner and when the mortar has set up and the corner has a few bricks between the course they want to lay to and the place to put a nail the attaché the line. I have also seen nails that they stuck in the brick and would set their level on it as they went up to plumb the corner from the as they built their corner up. I have got back years later and seen the nails that one particular mason was bad about leaving in. Building corners first is the old way of laying brick. Now they just use a story pole but back in the day when their were real craftsman, the oldest guy would stand in the corner and that's all he did all day is stand in the corner and build the corner. Now of course they throw them in the wall with their hands and feet. Got a mason buddy who tells the story of his uncle that one time the nail came out of the wall because someone caught the string line with a forklift as they drove under it and the nail came out like on a rubber band and hit the guy right in the chest. The nail went so deep that all you could see was the string. They took him to the DR and the x ray showed the nail in his heart. If they would have puled it out he would have bled to death. So yes a lot of tension on the strong line.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Upon relooking pic 3, I concur, every hole is aimed at the top corner of each course. The Mason did it.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by ren ramsey View Post
    I've been a commercial contractor for 25+ years. I started out in our family business on the mason line. I would be willing to bet the farm those holes are from the 16d nails used for the mason line. Seen it 1000's times. They lay the corner and when the mortar has set up and the corner has a few bricks between the course they want to lay to and the place to put a nail the attaché the line. I have also seen nails that they stuck in the brick and would set their level on it as they went up to plumb the corner from the as they built their corner up. I have got back years later and seen the nails that one particular mason was bad about leaving in. Building corners first is the old way of laying brick. Now they just use a story pole but back in the day when their were real craftsman, the oldest guy would stand in the corner and that's all he did all day is stand in the corner and build the corner. Now of course they throw them in the wall with their hands and feet. Got a mason buddy who tells the story of his uncle that one time the nail came out of the wall because someone caught the string line with a forklift as they drove under it and the nail came out like on a rubber band and hit the guy right in the chest. The nail went so deep that all you could see was the string. They took him to the DR and the x ray showed the nail in his heart. If they would have puled it out he would have bled to death. So yes a lot of tension on the strong line.
    I've never seen nails used like that or for that ... always still learning every day ... and I've only been around construction, oh, about ... 55 years - and I still have not seen it all (and probably never will).

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Masons lay the corners up first, after the mortar has set up the masons use wood blocks hooked around the corner blocks/bricks.

    I've never seen any mason use nails or pegs in the wet mortar for their string lines.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    I've never seen nails used like that or for that ... always still learning every day ... and I've only been around construction, oh, about ... 55 years - and I still have not seen it all (and probably never will).

    The scenario is this;
    Despite normally setting the corner they didn't want to wait to set corner and come back the next day ( for some other reason the corner was not laid up and allowed to set hard) . So, with nothing to hook block on that was stable they drove in nails into the sheathing and ran their string off of that. It is not a common practice and evidence is normally struck over and evidence disappears. Why they didn't pull the nail and strike over the joint while still wet who knows maybe went on strike or had to go to a ball game. Why they didn't fill in when they removed the nail, who knows, alot of possibilities on why. In my 40+ years in the trades I have seen it done in practice and all but 2 or 3 times nails holes were struck over. Normally, filling in the holes was caught by lead mason or someone and corrected right away.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Garry Sorrells View Post
    The scenario is this;
    Despite normally setting the corner they didn't want to wait to set corner and come back the next day ( for some other reason the corner was not laid up and allowed to set hard) . So, with nothing to hook block on that was stable they drove in nails into the sheathing ...
    Ahh ... now I see ... says the blind man. I kept wondering how the soft mortar was going to hold the nails if it wouldn't hold the brick/block with a string line hooked on the corner brick/block, and the answer is that the soft mortar does not hold the nails - the sheathing does.

    So, the issue is that there are now nail holes through the water-resistive barrier - as well as holes through the mortar to allow extra water in.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Ahh ... now I see ... says the blind man. I kept wondering how the soft mortar was going to hold the nails if it wouldn't hold the brick/block with a string line hooked on the corner brick/block, and the answer is that the soft mortar does not hold the nails - the sheathing does.

    So, the issue is that there are now nail holes through the water-resistive barrier - as well as holes through the mortar to allow extra water in.
    The location of the holes would suggest that the nails were anchors for the string line on the other (perpendicular) wall. Being wrapped around the corner they did not have to be driven into the sheathing, but might have been.

    The beatings will continue until morale has improved. mgt.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Vern Heiler View Post
    The location of the holes would suggest that the nails were anchors for the string line on the other (perpendicular) wall.
    Where the mortar was also still soft.

    If the mortar was soft enough to drive a nail into, the string would have pulled through the mortar and sliced the mortar from the brick.

    Being wrapped around the corner they did not have to be driven into the sheathing, but might have been.
    And, without knowledge that the nails were not driven into the sheathing, which presumption would 'you' make?

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Where the mortar was also still soft.

    If the mortar was soft enough to drive a nail into, the string would have pulled through the mortar and sliced the mortar from the brick.



    And, without knowledge that the nails were not driven into the sheathing, which presumption would 'you' make?
    Nails were wedged between the brick, not dependent on the mortar only to stay in place. Note how the holes are to the right of the mortar joint and below the top of the brick.

    The beatings will continue until morale has improved. mgt.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Vern Heiler View Post
    Nails were wedged between the brick, not dependent on the mortar only to stay in place. Note how the holes are to the right of the mortar joint and below the top of the brick.
    Two items are required for something to be wedged between.

    Because the bricks are not close enough for the nails to be wedged between ... the mortar serves as the second item the nails were wedged between - oh, wait, the mortar*is still soft.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Without having been there when the holes were made, and without seeing where ALL the holes are; guessing is fun, and that is all it is.

    I don't agree with the brick line theory; why wouldn't the mason seal the holes as he progressed?

    Steven Turetsky, UID #16000002314
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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Turetsky View Post
    Without having been there when the holes were made, and without seeing where ALL the holes are; guessing is fun, and that is all it is.

    I don't agree with the brick line theory; why wouldn't the mason seal the holes as he progressed?
    I agree Steven, But since we are all guessing here is my guess. Notice in picture two it appears that there was at least one small attempt to make a hole to the left of the real hole. Maybe cause by a alignment punch then realizing it was off he realign the punch before drilling. This make me believe something was being attached. In picture three notice all the holes is just left of what appears a door and a step. Also notice on the ground it appear to be flashing that started at the step and continues to the opposite edge of the holes. So my guess has to be some form of a small wall or fence was attached at one point. Something cheap like maybe a dog fence or maybe a hand rail notice the holes have a total height around 3 feet just about the right height for a rail.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Turetsky View Post
    Without having been there when the holes were made, and without seeing where ALL the holes are; guessing is fun, and that is all it is.

    I don't agree with the brick line theory; why wouldn't the mason seal the holes as he progressed?
    I agree Steven, But since we are all guessing here is my guess. Notice in picture two it appears that there was at least one small attempt to make a hole to the left of the real hole. Maybe cause by a alignment punch then realizing it was off he realign the punch before drilling. This make me believe something was being attached. In picture three notice all the holes is just left of what appears a door and a step. Also notice on the ground it appear to be flashing that started at the step and continues to the opposite edge of the holes. So my guess has to be some form of a small wall or fence was attached at one point. Something cheap like maybe a dog fence or maybe a hand rail notice the holes have a total height around 3 feet just about the right height for a rail.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    I disagree with the string (line) theory and go more for the quantum mechanics theory that, because they were at one side of that one door, that if they were anything to do with brick alignment then that brick alignment was simply to go from one side of the door to the other side of the door, in which case the mason may have stuck something (use your 16d nail if it makes you feel good ) and instead of string used the old standby mechanics choice of their mason's level - they placed their level on whatever they used for an alignment rest peg (your 16d nail would work for this), held the level level across the door to the brick on the other side of the door so they could align the brick courses across the doorway area.

    That's my story and it is subject to change when further evidence is submitted.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Chambers View Post
    ... they were concentrated in just this one small area at one end of the house next to a side entry doorway.


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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Last edited by Raymond Wand; 01-21-2014 at 07:42 PM.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Chambers View Post
    I'm looking for ideas as to what may have caused these strange holes in the mortar of this 45 yr. old brick over frame ranch home, and why they might be there. My one photo caught most of them as they were concentrated in just this one small area at one end of the house next to a side entry doorway. As you can see, they're all about 1/4 in. in diameter, and positioned in about the same place in the mortar joints.

    Also, as you can see in the other photo, most of them appeared to contain what looked like the remnants of an old nest from what I would guess to be a smaller species of solitary wasp. The mortar was in fairly good condition, so I'd find it unlikely that the insects made the holes. But if they did, I certainly don't think I'd want to mess with these wasps.

    (The 3rd photo is the same as the 1st one, but is oriented correctly. I couldn't figure out how to delete the 1st photo.) Thanks a lot!
    I have never seen this type of weeping system.
    Normally introduced into circular weep hole are a nylon aeration plug or a fabric that collect moisture in the wall assembly to disperse it into the exterior atmosphere.
    I have laid brick on many styles of homes and worked masonry but only in a residential setting. I laid out weep holes but only on the starter ledge.
    Sorry I can not be of more help.

    NOT In retrospect, any pathway should not have a downward slope. I recommend a mason or masonry company be brought into the site for evaluation.
    If worse came to worse, the cost should be relatively small to fill the voids. A mansons bag, a fitting for the size and shape of the hole a grout mix shaded to the masonry would quickly fill those holes.

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    Default Re: Strange Holes in Mortar

    Nice illustration Ray. happy new year to you.
    Looks like Ontario are doing a great job in defining the industry.



    Look the image on the right,

    Those look like circular opening for the hole fabric only no fabric.
    The home owner may have asked the builder to install them and asked to leave them open while the home was being erected.
    I worked masonry for years. I never have seen fabric circular weeps but them again, I have lots to learn and see something new almost every home inspection.
    Only the best regards as always friend.


    weep hole inserts.JPGweep hole inserts cercular .JPG

    Robert Young's Montreal Home Inspection Services Inc.
    Call (514) 489-1887 or (514) 441-3732
    Our Motto; Putting information where you need it most, "In your hands.”

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