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Water – The Enemy of Your Home
Water is an important component of life, right? Right! You will die within days without it. So why is he the enemy of your house? Water is one of the strongest solvents in nature. Given enough time, it will dissolve almost anything. It is also a life-sustaining ingredient for many of the flora and fauna that invade your house. Things like mold, fungus, termites and other creatures need or allow their presence to quickly or slowly destroy your house.
It corrodes the paint on your home, stains the siding, dissolves the mortar that holds the brick and stone together, corrodes the metal cladding designed to keep water out, softens the soil that supports your foundation, washes away the soil that supports the foundation and retaining walls and other structures, washes away or saturates slopes, causing landslides. The list is extensive and none of its effects are good.
In my home inspection and infrared thermography business, water intrusion is the enemy. This is what I’m looking for.
The number one “problem” or mistake I find during inspections is inadequate drainage or environmental water control around the building. These mistakes cause millions of dollars in damage every year. Sadly, this is usually handled easily. Why isn’t it? For most people, it is a lack of understanding of the whole problem.
The ideal condition for drainage is a structure on top of a hill. Although this is not always possible, the same condition can be created artificially. This is achieved through a process known as “sorting”. Grading is simply moving soil around a structure to create an area that slopes away from the structure. Current grading standards require a 2 percent (1/4 inch per foot) slope away from the building at a distance of 10 feet. Depending on the conditions of the plot, this can be simple or more complicated. Some lots require aggressive use of subsurface drains (called “French drains”) or the construction of a “swale” or man-made ditch, often lined with concrete, to direct water around and away from the foundation. While more aggressive measures like French drains and drains can be expensive, the payoff is in keeping your house from sinking into softened soil caused by unaddressed drainage issues.
Gutters and drain pipes
No gutters on the house? So what’s so important? The big deal is that every 1,000 square feet of roof area captures 625 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on it. Where do you think this rainwater goes? Right from the roof to the ground about 12 inches from your foundation! Are you wondering why your foundation is settling and the doors in your house no longer open freely or you have water in your basement? Most likely, the problem is a lack of suitable gutters.
One mistake I often see is that there are actually gutters on the house, but the downspouts dump all the collected water straight into a very nice planter right next to the foundation and concentrate it there. duhhh! A simple fix; install a “rain pipe” or extension on the bottom spout to direct water away from the planter to an area where it will drain away from the foundation. Many new constructions I look at actually install an underground pipe/drainage system that takes the runoff from the downspouts and directs it to the curb. This is called “daylighting to the curb”. A very good idea, but not always possible. In extreme situations, such as a lot that slopes back away from the street, the drainage system can be directed to a “sump pump” collection system that will pump the water back to the street for disposal into the storm drainage system.
How about simply directing the drainage somewhere away from the property? Maybe, but usually not a good solution. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to turn your problem into someone else’s by simply allowing your drainage to flow onto their property. If the natural layout of the land causes some water to flow from your property to another, this is usually permitted. “Mother Nature” is at work and she hasn’t read the rules. Artificially creating this condition with a constructed drainage system is a No No!
What the heck is “flashing”? (No, it’s not running across the football field with no clothes on!)
According to RS Means© Illustrated Construction Dictionary:
flickering; A thin, impermeable sheet of material placed in a structure to prevent water penetration or direct water flow. Cladding is mainly used in hip and recesses, roof penetrations, joints between roof and vertical wall, around windows and doors and in masonry walls to direct the flow of water and moisture.
As you can see, this is a very important part of the protection system of any structure. Improperly installed, rusted or damaged elements can lead to hidden damage within the walls that may not be visible until extensive damage has been caused. Damaged or missing siding creates conditions that are very favorable for mold and termites.
Although roofs are the first line of defense in keeping you and your house dry, roofs have the shortest stick when it comes to proper maintenance.
Let me state here that ROOFS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE!
Surprised? That’s a fact. If you want to get the longest trouble-free life under your roof, there are several things you need to do.
- Inspect your roof annually to make sure there are no problem areas such as damaged or corroded elements.
- Check for missing, misaligned (slipped) shingles, wind, snow/ice damage, cracked clay or concrete tiles.
- Aging shingle composition shows loss of grain coating, damaged “ridge” cap. (these go first)
- Chimney caps or finials are missing. (the wind fairies steal them)
- Missing chimney cap or spark arrestor with appropriate rain cover.
- Debris build-up – This build-up traps moisture, which will cause roofing and siding to deteriorate much faster.
In short, water can be your friend or your enemy. As with most things, it can cause problems if you don’t control it.
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