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Water: Friend or Foe

By Mike Auger

In my career as a home inspector in Rhode Island, I write home inspection reports detailing all my findings on material defects of a home. Every defect isn't a huge deal, but they are all noteworthy. In this article, I'll discuss "public enemy number one".

I know we use water to drink and clean etc... We also use water to clean the house and water the lawn, and power washing helps keep mold and mildew at bay outside the home. Cleaning the inside can help things last longer and be safer too. But water can also be an enemy as well...

The number one item that will invariably cause lots of damage to your home in a hurry is... WATER INTRUSION. It's important to remember that water will travel from wet to dry. So a leak in one area will not just ruin that area: the water will literally soak into adjacent areas, spreading damage and mold. This can come from a few key areas:

The Roof

The roof is the main system of the home to keep water out. May times I'll look at the roof from outside and it may appear to be in satisfactory condition, then a look in the attic can reveal the truth. Just yesterday I looked at a home in Providence: the roof was very steep and I couldn't walk up there. The architectural shingles looked to be not worn, and for the most part the flashings seemed OK. When I looked at the roof from inside the attic, there was moisture all around the chimney and on the underside of the wood planking of the attic. There were also many planks broken or missing (glad I didn't walk up there first). The interior of the home was freshly painted so it would have hidden any water stained ceilings. I must be vigilant in looking at every detail, and taking moisture readings to determine if a stain is old or still moist and leaking. The main cause of roof damage is the elements. The rain eventually wears out the surface. Another culprit is tree branches in contact with the roof; these should always be removed as soon as they are noticed. A leaky roof is likely one of the most expensive items to remedy costing several thousand dollars.

Gutter System

Sound like a job we all hate to do, but keeping our gutters clean can save thousands of dollars. I often find soffit and fascia boards rotted from water that simply overflows the gutter and keeps the soffits wet. That wetness causes rot and the gutters will eventually pull the fascia right off the house. The soft wood is also inviting to critters to make a home in there. The water intrusion can still ruin walls and siding just like a roof leak can. Gutters that aren't clogged can still present a problem; the downspouts should be arranged in such a way to direct water away from the home and onto grades away from the home. Which leads to my next area, the foundation.

Foundation

Water can get into your home through the foundation too. Many times it gets help from improper ground grading, or badly directed downspouts from gutters. The basement can get cracks, and have water seep in. water intruding into the basement can ruin the foundation, or at the very least ruin finished basement areas and produce hazardous mold. Let me say this as clearly as I can, folks ask all the time too. The only way to fix a leak in a basement or foundation wall is from the outside! Everyone thinks you can paint the walls with "waterproof paint" and it will seal the walls. The product you are thinking of is not made to fix a leak or water seepage. It will not work. If you patch the wall there is still 12 inches or so that water gets into from outside, it will temporarily be stopped by your product, sealer, caulk, paint whatever... It will sit there in the crack, then freeze which will break your patch on the inside allowing the water to flow again.

The Siding

The siding on your home also protects your home from water as well. In Rhode Island I see lots of older homes with wood siding, shakes, shingles or clap board. These are all fine, as long as they are maintained, and rot should be replaced right away. All these surfaces require maintenance and if it is done it will last a long time. Neglected wood products do deteriorate and fast. There are also systems made of synthetic materials like vinyl, aluminum, and other materials come out all the time. These are designed to be stronger and have a longer lifespan than wood products. In any case any hole in the siding will allow moisture in and damage will result. Most damage to siding comes from three areas, wind, vegetation touching the home, and damage from critters (woodpeckers will really go to town on cedar shingles).

Your Plumbing

Not intrusion per se, but a problem in the plumbing can cause similar effects to your home. In most cases, a leak is not detected right away, and the areas leaked into or onto are not designed to shed water. Any time there is water where it is not intended to be it can quickly ruin other systems in your home. It can also cause mold to grow, causing potential health risks.

Hopefully you have learned a little something about a home's number one enemy, water. This villain moves fast so it's important to keep a look out for water stains, soft wood or sheetrock, etc... It is equally important to address any water issue immediately. Keep the water where it is supposed to be and nowhere else and your home will love you for it.

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About The Author

My pre-RI home inspection career prepared me well for my current profession. I grew...

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