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Water – The Enemy of Your Home
Water is an important ingredient in life, right? Law! Without it you will die in a few days. So why is it the enemy of your house? Water is one of the most powerful solvents in nature. Given enough time, it will melt almost anything. It is also a life-sustaining ingredient for many of the flora and fauna that invade your house. Things like mold, mildew, termites and other critters need or are enabled by their presence to destroy your house, either quickly or slowly.
On your home, it corrodes paint, stains siding, dissolves the mortar that holds brick and stone together, corrodes metal flashings designed to keep water out, softens the soil that supports your foundation, washes away soil that supports foundations and retaining walls and other structures, washes away or saturates hillsides causing the ground to slide. The list is extensive and none of its effects are good.
In my home inspection and infrared thermography business, water intrusion is the enemy. That’s what I’m looking for.
The number one “problem” or deficiency I find during inspections is improper drainage or environmental water control around the structure. These defects cause millions of dollars in damage each year. It’s sad that it’s usually easy to handle. Why not? 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 not always possible, the same condition can be artificially created. This is achieved through a process known as “grading”. Grading is simply moving the soil around a structure to create an area that slopes away from the structure. Current grading standards require a 2% (1/4 inch per foot) slope from the building at a distance of 10 feet. Depending on the conditions of the plot, this can be simple or more demanding. On some lots, this requires aggressive use of underground drains (called “French drains”) or the construction of a “swale” or artificial 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 comes in the fact that your house isn’t sinking into the softened soil that unresolved drainage issues will produce.
Gutters and gutters
No gutters on the house? So what’s the problem? The big deal is that every 1,000 square feet of roof surface 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 door on your house no longer works freely or you have water in the basement? The problem is most likely the lack of proper gutters.
One mistake I often see is that there are actually gutters on the house, but the drains dump all the collected water straight into a very nice planter right next to the foundation and concentrate it there. Duhhh! Simple repair; install a “rainwater” or extension on the bottom spout to direct the water from the planter to the area where it will run off the foundation. In many new constructions I look at, they actually install an underground piping/drainage system to receive the runoff from the downspouts and direct it to the curb. This is called “daylighting to the edge”. A very good idea, but not always possible. In extreme conditions such as a lot that is sloped to the rear, away from the street, the drainage system can be directed to a collector “pump” system that will pump water back to the street for disposal in the storm drainage system.
How about simply directing the drainage from the property somewhere? Maybe, but usually not a good solution. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to turn your problem into someone else’s problem simply by allowing your sewage to flow onto their property. If the natural position of the land causes some water to run off your property onto someone else’s property, this is usually permitted. “Mother Nature” is at work, and she hasn’t read the rule book. Artificially creating this condition with a constructed drainage system is a No No!
What the hell is “flashing”? (No, it’s not running across the football field without any clothes on!)
According to RS Means© Illustrated Construction Dictionary:
Flashing; A thin, impermeable layer of material placed in a structure to prevent water penetration or direct water flow. Flashing is especially used in roof recesses and bays, roof penetrations, joints between the roof and the 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 building. Improperly installed, rusted or damaged flashings can lead to hidden damage within the walls and such damage may not become apparent until extensive damage is done. Damaged or missing siding creates conditions that are very conducive to mold and termites.
Obviously the first line of defense in keeping you and your home dry, roofs get the short end of the stick when it comes to proper maintenance.
Here I will say ROOFS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE!
Surprised? That’s a fact. In order to get the longest trouble-free life out of your roof, there are a few things you need to do.
- Inspect your roof annually and make sure there are no problem areas such as damaged or corroded flashing.
- Check for missing shingles, out of place (slipped), wind damage, snow/ice damage, cracked clay or concrete slabs.
- The composition of aging shingles shows the loss of the granule layer, the damaged tips of the “ridges”. (these go first)
- Flue caps or finials are missing. (the wind fairies steal them)
- Missing chimney cap or spark arrestor with matching rain cover.
- Accumulation of debris – this accumulation traps moisture that will deteriorate the roof covering and flashing much faster.
In conclusion, water can be your friend or your enemy. As with most things, if you don’t control it, it can cause problems.
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