Protecting Your Home Against Water Damage
Q: “What’s the most important thing I need to consider to protect my investment?
A: Without a doubt, Keep Things Dry. Your home is constructed from wood that is not treated for resistance to dry rot – a fungus that grows on wood in the presence of moisture.
How Water Damage Happens
There are 4 major sources of Water Damage:
- Leaks in the outer “envelope” of the home. Roofs, windows and doors, siding of any kind, and especially on waterproof decks, a very common problem.
- Pipe leaks inside the home – at the bathroom, laundry, kitchen fixtures, and appliances.
- Improper drainage under or around the home causing settling, that unchecked, can erode your equity either in repairs or sale price deductions.
- Poor ventilation, causing moisture retention (and dry rot) in crawl spaces, enclosed eaves, wood-framed deck railings, anywhere where air cannot move freely causing condensation that cannot dry out.
Avoiding Water Intrusion
Water Intrusion is the biggest cause of damage to homes like yours. So what can you do?
Take a notepad, screwdriver (to probe for softness), flashlight and camera and take a walk (and a crawl) around your home, inspecting top to bottom:
- Attic or crawlspace for roof leaks
- Exterior walls for signs of water intrusion: splitting, warping or softening the wood, stucco cracks, unusual peeling, etc.
- Under the home: foundation perimeter and under kitchens and baths, looking for wet wood or stains at exterior walls, plumbing pipes, showers.
- Interior walls and ceilings at windows and doors: bubbling paint, cracking trim or drywall, soft moldings, floor stains or warping.
Take notes, take pictures, and contact a licensed contractor to discuss your options for stopping the intrusion and repairing the water damage. There are usually many options, and it’s important to understand their costs and risks.
There are three types of potential drainage issues for various “water loads” on a home.
- Roof Load. Water that lands on your roof requires management to properly prevent undermining your foundation, ending up underneath your house, or flowing and pooling in undesirable places.
- Surface Load. Water that flows on the ground during a rainstorm needs to be diverted away from the house or it can undermine foundation or contribute significantly to retaining wall leaks, which can cause mold or humidity problems inside the home.
- Hydrostatic Load. Water that comes up from underneath the ground, especially during the rainy season must be considered. Many homes are built into hillsides and use concrete retaining walls as part of their foundation. Without a proper drainage system behind these walls, water will seep through the concrete into the interior space. If that space is habitable, it can be a significant problem. Water can also come up through cracks in the concrete slab floor, ruining floor finishes and causing mold issues.
Each type of load problem can benefit from following best practices:
- Gutters and downspouts should empty into a drainage system, not just emptied onto the ground. This prevents “differential settling” in the foundation, where one corner of the home can sink into the mud that gets created during the rainy season by concentrating the entire roof load onto just a few spots, usually at corners. These drain pipes carry the roof water out to the street, keeping foundation soils stable.
- Surface (or “French”) Drains should direct naturally flowing surface rain water away from the house. This is especially important on a hillside lot, where the natural flows can often end up concentrating underneath homes or in other undesirable areas. These systems should be designed and installed by professionals.
- There are many types and configurations of retaining wall drainage systems, and it requires a qualified engineer to design the proper system for any given retaining wall. There are also very specific code and permit requirements that vary from city to city. These systems usually tie into the other systems mentioned, and there are several critical flow calculations that must meet standards for proper short and long-term performance. This is definitely not something you want to spend money on and then “just see how it goes” because a “professional” without an engineering license told you “it will be fine, I promise”. It’s best to protect your real estate asset and your investment dollars by getting it done right the first time, as it’s extraordinarily unlikely that they will come back and rip it all out to do it again correctly after it fails.
The good news is that relatively speaking, these systems are not all that expensive to install when compared to other infrastructural improvements to a property, and their ability to provide long-term protection and improvement value for your property is a clear no-brainer.
In addition, homeowners have the option of getting the system designed (and installation overseen) by a professional engineer, and the actual installation done by either the homeowner themselves or a lower-cost professional.