Month: January 2011

Basement and Crawlspace Leakage and Waterproofing – Part 1

It is pretty rare to find a home around the Salem Oregon area that is built with the basement in the last 20 years. The reason for this is basements are low, cut into the ground, and in this part of the country the water tables rise in the wintertime and it takes extra work to keep these basements dry. There are a few newer homes being built with basements and the techniques and materials they use for waterproofing these basements have come a long ways. For the most part, the added expense of waterproofing has been traded for more straightforward and larger margins for error with the crawlspace design.  If water enters a crawlspace it is not imidiately damaging however it is not good to have a seasonal lake in your crawlspace either!

So let’s assume you own a home or are interested in buying a home that has a basement or crawlspace. Let’s look at some areas to keep your eye on and ideas for fixing the issue of water in basements and crawlspaces.

Basement leakage

The picture above shows typical areas that home inspectors look for when inspecting basements.  Water stains cannot tell you how often the leakage occurs but it does indicate an issue and something that may need further investigation and repair.

In Salem, Oreogn, most of the water penetration issues in basements or crawlspaces will be related to ground water.  The term “ground water,” refers to the water table.  The water table is the point in the ground where saturation reaches full capacity.   Picture the water table like a sponge that is stood up on end, and water is added.  The water will flow through the sponge and pool up at the bottom until gravity overcomes surface tension.  The line of saturation at the bottom is kind of like the water table.  As we recieve rain the ground soaks it up.  The amount of rain we get determines how high the table will rise.  The water table is continually rising and falling based on the percipitation.

Now dig a hole in that sponge and place footings and foundation walls for a basement or crawlspace.  Quickly you realize that basements and crawlspaces are the first places to get wet.

Water in a Salem Oregon basement

What now?   Now that we know where that water is comming from we can look for solutions.

Sump Pumps-

By the time the buyer’s home inspection is conducted time tables are short and repairs are needed quickly.  This can be troubling because to properly fix a basement/crawlspace water issue you should take some time to properly diagnose the issue.  Sump pumps have become the do-it-all band-aid and often the water issue should have been corrected in a another area.  Sump pumps should be a last resort, and unfortunantly in the real estate world they are usually the first idea, due to the time constraints.

Proper sump pump installation

In general the water in the crawlspace or basement needs to be rerouted at the source.  Determining where the water is coming from takes time.  I met a wonderful Salem agent years ago when she was envolved with a buyer and a wet crawlspace.  I was hired by the seller to help determine why there was water in the crawlspace.  The buyer’s inspector stated that there was water in the crawlspace and repairs were needed.  The sellers hired a waterproofing contractor and the contractor told them  they needed a sump pump and trenching (surprise, surprise!  contractor’s feed their familys by installing sump pumps and trenching!). I came in and started looking at where and why the water was entering the crawlspace and, over the course of two weeks of rainy weather and diagnostics, the seller ended up disconnecting the downspout near the front entry slab, routing it away from the home and *poof* the crawlspace dried up!  Without digging up the entire perimeter of the home it was speculated that the underground downspout piping was crushed/disconnected/plugged near the front entry slab and dumping all of the water collected by the roof and gutters right against the foundation and crawlspace!

Would a sump pump have dried up the crawlspace too?  Yes, however sump pumps are perennial maintenance items and must be checked on to verify that they are working properly.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer to not enter my crawlspace if I don’t have to.  Why use a pump that needs constant attention in a place that I don’t want to go?

That situation was unusual because we actually had time to find and properly diagnos the problem.  Unless you get a “pre-sale” or “seller’s” inspection, you usually do not have that kind of time to ferret out the real cause of the water.

That situation was not unusual in the fact of water in basements and crawlspaces ususally manifests from gutters and downspouts.  These are the first places to investigate and repair if water issues are noted.  If your home was built in the last 20 years your downspouts will pour into underground piping.  It is critically important that these pipes are functional and if these pipes are plugged or crushed it is time to do some shovel work.  If you do have to re-route your downspouts a good rule of thumb is that the downspouts need to dump at least 10 feet away from your home! Those silly little splash blocks, although they may make an FHA appraiser happy, are not a good solution for keeping your basement or crawlspace dry.

silly downspout splash block


What if you have a basement, you have made sure all of the storm water dumps 10 feet away and downhill of your home and you STILL have moisture issues periodically in your home, whats next?


Evidence of moisture leakage in the basement floorThe next post I will delve into some other options for “de-watering” or drying out your home.

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Seller’s inspections are good for everyone!

Buyer: “I do not want that home.”

Listing agent: “….but the defect in the roof is relatively minor, and can be fixed for a few hundred dollars.”

Buyer: “If the contractors did this wrong who knows where else they cut corners!”
fungus growing on roof sheathing on this new home Missing building paper on this home's roof in Dallas Oregon.  Noted on a home inspection.
This situation happens more often than you would think. A good home inspector is paid to enter a home and tell the client about how the home works and how the house compares to a perfect house. Home inspectors that have been in the business for some time rely heavily on professionals in the real estate field who refer us. Finding relatively small material defects that cause our clients to want to scrap the deal happens more often than most of us would prefer. Our client’s risk tolerance is not up for us to decide and a relatively minor defect in one person’s eyes can be looming shadow over the entire rest of the house in another’s.

To combat the dreaded “surprise defects,” seller’s inspections have become more and more popular. In my opinion these inspections are one of the best things that can be done by a seller to prepare their home to sell.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” home. This is one the first things that I tell a client, whether they’re buying or selling a home. The purpose of a good home inspection is to be a consultation. As a comparison I use a “perfect home,” as a fictitious example of the ways and a home could be better.

Every home has issues and as a part of preparing your home to sell, it should be in the best possible condition. Repair issues that can be easily taken care of, by a seller, can and do scare away buyers. This can only be prevented by discovering defects early. This early discovery allows you to take care of the issue on your terms.

Having your home inspected first can also attract buyers. If a buyer knows that there are no big issues with a home they will be more comfortable. Another benifit to consider……
Buyer’s agents may be more likely to show your home if they know that it will not be a waste of time.

Seller inspections are good for everyone involved in the transaction

I have Moss all over my Roof! Now what?

Moss is very common in this area. Moss and algea grow mostly in areas of low light and high moisture. Low light and high moisture pretty well describes most of the western Pacific Northwest and the wintertime.  Some of the most common ways to treat and maintain your roof are listed below.

One of the areas that moss is a concern on homes in this area our roofs. Depending on the roofs exposure moss can grow most of the year.  If sections of your home’s roof are shaded throughout the day and stay moist these are likely areas to grow moss.

Over time moss can damage your shingles if left un-checked. As the moss develops into a larger and larger colony more and more moisture is held against your roof. The colonies will also develop root systems that will dig in to the surface fibers on your shingles. As the colonies grow larger, they can actually lift the edges of the shingles. This can leave the shingles vulnerable to wind damage.

There are lots of ways to kill moss. Most of the good techniques involve some sort of the heavy metal application usually copper or zinc. Some really bad ideas involve laundry detergent and or power washers…..

In general the more trees you have around your house in the steeper your roof the more applications of moss killer you’ll need.

1.  The best way to control moss is with an annual or biannual application of a powdered or liquid name brand moss killer designed for roofs. For steep roofs I have found a hose end attached shrub and tree sprayer to be a handy tool.

moss out for roofs Shrub and tree sprayer for application of roof moss killer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Another option for continuous moss control are some new

shingles that are actually impregnated with copper

granules. I have only seen the shingles used on two

different roofs and the major issue with these is the fact that

the ridge shingles were not impregnated in a still need to be

treated for moss/algae growth.

Moss growth on Keizer Oregon ridge shingles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Mechanically removing the moss is also an option.

This option is really only for the very worst conditions.

It envolves a paint scraper, screwdriver, putty knife or

something similar and trecking across your roof slope and very

carefully removing the moss growth.

This technique is very prone to damage of the asphalt

composition shingles and should be used as a last resort.

Moss on a Salem, Oregon home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Zinc or Copper strips- These may be ok for preventing

algea growth but moss looks at the little strips and laughs.

You may have noticed some homes around town that have

clear sections of shingles under metal roof vents.

roof moss killed by zinc in Silverton, OregonWhat is going

on here is the

zinc in the

galvanized steel

is leaching on to

the roof every

time it rains.

This has lead to

people thinking that they could install little strips or even

sections of wire to kill moss and algea, but this is not

usually an effective technique.The difference is all

about-surface area.The roof vents have a rather large

amount of exposed surface and therefore a good amount

of rain hits the vents. Compare this situation to a 2 inch

wide strip of zinc and you

can see that there will be far less leaching occurring off

of the little strips.The strips usually are effective for 2 to 3 feet,

and I have seen the strips added every 2 or 3 feet down

an entire roof slope. This installation appeared to be

effective but I have only seen this once.

zinc moss strips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Power washing, scraping with brooms, or laundry detergent. Unfortunantly I see the aftermath of these steps to control roof moss on far too many Salem area home inspections. If you are reading this post you probably have educated yourself enough to know that blasting or scraping the surface off of your aspahlt composite roof is a bad idea.  The folks that commit these heinous crimes are usually the people that already know-it-all and they maintain their homes the way they see fit.

-There may be some contractors who use power washers to clean roofs, but these individuals are licensed and bonded and have the experience to know which nozzle to use and how far to hold it away from the roof surface. Power washing should be strictly limited to the driveway and walkways surfaces around your home.

-Brooms and other mechanical abrasion are also techniques that should either be left on the ground or for qualified professional contractors. The removal of the surface granules on the asphalt shingle also removes the ultraviolet resistance and of the shingles.

-Laundry detergent, although will kill moss on your roof, is full of degreasers. An asphalt based composite shingle is a petroleum based grease compound. Do not put degreasers on your greasy roof.  (Thanks Joe Ocilia for educating me on this fact!)

Those are my 2¢ on how to control moss. Being a Salem, Oregon home inspector, I get the chance to see various maintenance techniques. By far the best one to use is the first one, which is a chemical, powdered or liquid, commercially available moss killer applied at annually or biannually.

You may have a ventilation issue on your New home.

People are not perfect.  Despite the name of my business my inspections are not perfect, but I strive everyday to make them as close as I can.  People build homes and no matter what there is always something that could be adjusted, maintained or updated to help the home be more “perfect.”

These improvements can sometimes be debatable but some things, like the proper ducting and expulsion of bathroom exhaust, are not negotiable.

The little exhaust fans in the ceilings of our bath and laundry areas and often forgotten about.  These little fans can collect and concentrate significant amounts of moisture.  If the vapor that they collect is not expelled out of the home it can cause moisture related issues like deterioration, fungus, termites, beetles, ect…

Traditionally the fans are ducted with a flexible metal duct up to a roof vent.  Where the air that is leaving the attic carries the moist bathroom air up and out of the attic.  It is currently acceptable to vent the ducts to the soffit but I am definitely not a fan of this idea because the soffit vents are intakes andall of the warm moisture laden bathroom air that is blown out of these vents is usually separate back into the cool attic. (Find more of my disdain towards bathroom vents exhausting at the soffit vents.)

missing hole for Salem Oregon attic vent

I popped my head up into a new home’s attic the other day during a home inspection and noticed something was missing. The bathroom bans all worked fine, the ducting was routed properly up to the upper roof vents, there was just one key component that was not installed properly….

The hole for the roof vent, although cut through the OSB sheathing, had not been cut through the roofing shingles and building paper.

The home was so new there had not been any substantial moisture added to the attic and repairs simply involved cutting a hole.

improperly installed attic vent in this Salem, Oregon home.

Leaks in the Roof tracked back to Problems with Original Installation and some Ideas for a quick and dirty Tar Seal

The other day I helped a client with an unfortunate situation: her home’s roof was leaking.


The worst part of this issue was the fact that she had paid roofers to find and repair this leak multiple times.

This last summer she even had the drywall repaired under the leak
figuring that the roofers had actually done what they had been paid to
do.

By the time she got a hold of me she had reached the end of her
rope and was on the edge of tears. I told her that I would be happy to
come do an inspection to locate the leak and hopefully give her some unbiased answers.


When I got to her home she showed me the areas of concern. I crawled up
in her attic and there was little doubt as to the source of the leakage.
The valleys were soaking wet.


Roofing like other construction trades is relatively basic but just
because it’s basic does not mean that it should be slapped together any
old way. The installation guidelines must be strictly followed.
Something as simple as an additional bevel cut into the end of a shingle
can be the difference between proper installation an leakage.

There are many different ways to do a proper valley installation. Each style has their own particular guidelines.

This particular home had a “Closed cut valley.”

 

-1. The first part of this installation is the lining of the valley
with an additional layer of building paper or metal liner.
This layer
serves to be a ‘last line of defense’ if all of the other layers of
protection fail.

-This step was likely neglected on this particular
roof.


 

-2. The next step is that one entire roof slope (the smaller section of roof or lower slope) of shingles should be
installed completely and extended past the center line at least 12
inches.

-It is difficult to determine if this guideline was followed.


-3. The next step is to roof the other adjoining roof slope.  Along with this step the top edge of the shingles must be cut-back and beveled to prevent water infiltration. The acute angle that is at the tips of these extended shingles may
act as a scoop and funnel if they are not provided with an additional
cut to bevel this edge.

-This step was neglected on this roof.

-4. When all of the shingles that are close to the valley are fastened to the roof it is important to hold the
fasteners away from the center line of the valley at least six inches.

-This step was also not adhered to precisely.

The bad news is that my client has some work ahead of her.  She is not quite ready to sell and the rest of her roof has at least 5 more good years of service.  It is not a great financial decision to properly repair the valleys since the rest of her roof will need replacement in the near future. So what kind of patching options are there?

Since the valleys are the issue it is possible to seal the leaks with a generous coat of tar.  However most tar (flexible asphalt based sealers) are recommended to be installed when the surface is dry.  With a little research I found this stuff:

http://www.dewittproducts.com/catalog.asp?prodid=627618&showprevnext=1

This product claims that it is specially formulated to be installed upon wet surfaces! Sounds pretty good to me!

I also discovered a great little post from someone in a similar situation about how to apply the goop: http://www.hammerzone.com/archives/roof/patch1/tar/temporary.htm

The person in the above post makes it pretty clear that the tar is a TEMPORARY SEAL!!! This is an important point and as long as a good layer is reapplied in the summer my client should be leak free until she is ready to replace the entire roof.

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