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Water – The Enemy of Your Home
Water is an important ingredient of life, isn’t it? Right! Without it, you will die in a few days. So why is it an enemy of your house? Water is one of nature’s strongest solvents. Given enough time, it will dissolve almost anything. It is also the vital ingredient for many species of flora and fauna that attack your home. Things like mold, fungus, termites, and other critters need it, or are activated by its presence, to destroy your home, quickly or slowly.
On your home, it erodes paint, stains siding, dissolves mortar holding brick and stone together, corrodes metal flashings meant to prevent water intrusion, softens the ground supporting your foundation, washes away the ground supporting the foundations and retaining walls and other structures, carries away or saturates the slopes causing landslides. The list is long and none of its effects are good.
In my home inspection business and my infrared thermography business, water intrusion is the enemy. That’s what I’m looking for.
The number one “problem” or defect I find during inspections is improper drainage or control of environmental water around the structure. These defects cause millions of dollars in damage each year. The sad thing is that it’s generally easy to handle. Why isn’t it? For most people its a lack of understanding of the whole problem.
Overview of drainage
The ideal condition for drainage is to have the structure on top of a hill. Although not always possible, the same condition can be artificially created. This is accomplished by a process known as “grading”. Leveling is simply moving the soil around the structure to create an area away from the structure. Current grading standards require a 2% (1/4 inch per foot) slope from the building for a distance of 10 feet. Depending on the ground conditions, this can be easy or more complicated. On some lots, this requires the aggressive use of subterranean drains (known as “French drains”) or the construction of a man-made “swale” or ditch, often lined with concrete, to direct water around and away from soles. While more aggressive measures such as French drains and swales can be costly, the payoff comes from your home not sinking into the soft ground that unmanaged drainage issues will produce.
Gutters and downspouts
No gutters on the house? So what’s the problem ? The big problem is that every 1000 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 sagging and the doors of your house no longer operate freely or you have water in your basement? The lack of proper aligners is probably the problem.
A mistake I often see is that there are actually gutters on the house, but the downspouts dump all the collected water directly into the very nice planter right next to the foundation and concentrate it there. Duhhh! Simple solution; install a “rain guide” or extension on the spout to direct water away from the planter to an area where it will drain away from the foundation. In many new homes I look at, they actually install an underground piping/drainage system to receive runoff from the downspouts and direct it to the sidewalk. This is called “daytime running up to the curb”. Very good idea but not always possible. In extreme conditions, such as land sloping backwards, away from the street, the drainage system can be directed to a “sump pump” collection system which will pump water to the street and discharge it into the rainwater drainage system.
How about just directing the drainage off the property somewhere? Maybe, but generally not a good solution. Most jurisdictions won’t allow you to make your problem someone else’s problem by simply allowing your drainage to flow onto their property. If the natural lay of the land causes water to flow from your property to another, this is generally permitted. It’s “Mother Nature” at work and she hasn’t read the rule book. Artificially creating this condition with a constructed drainage system is a No No!
What is “flashing”? (No, it’s not running on the football field without clothes!)
According to the illustrated construction dictionary RS Means©:
Turn signal ; A thin sheet of impermeable material placed in the construction to prevent water ingress or the direct flow of water. Flashing is used especially at roof ridges and valleys, roof penetrations, joints between a roof and a vertical wall, around windows and doors and in masonry walls to direct the flow of water and humidity.
As you can see, this is a very important part of any structure’s protection system. Improperly installed, rusted, or damaged flashings can lead to hidden damage inside walls that may not become visible until significant damage is done. Damaged or missing flashings create very favorable conditions for mold and termites.
While it’s obvious that it’s the first line of defense in keeping you and your home dry, roofs have the small end of the stick when it comes to proper maintenance.
Let me state here that ROOFS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE!
Surprised? That’s a fact. For you to enjoy the longest and easiest life of your roof, you need to do several things.
- Check your roof annually and make sure there are no areas of concern such as damaged or corroded flashings.
- Check for missing, displaced (slipped) shingles, wind damage, snow/ice damage, cracked clay or concrete tiles.
- Aging composition shingles showing loss of granule coating, deteriorated “ridge” caps. (those go first)
- Caps or conduit terminations missing. (the wind fairies steal them)
- Missing chimney cap or spark guard with proper rain cover.
- Debris accumulation – this accumulation traps moisture which will deteriorate the roof covering and flashings 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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