If you have read my earlier post on crawlspace and basment leakage and waterproofing, and you have taken steps to remove the downspouts discharge from near the home but you still are having moisture manifest in unwanted areas under or in your home what are the some of the next steps that you should consider?
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.
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.
What now? Now that we know where that water is comming from we can look for solutions.
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.
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.
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?
Your gutters need attention. The shorter days have told the trees to drop their leaves. Not only that, the rains are about to begin again. Your gutters will be working overtime for the next few months in this area. It is important to keep your gutters clean. This will require cleaning your gutters out several times over the next few months as the different trees around your home drop their leaves at different times.
We all know that the parts that are exposed to the elements (and leaves) are important to keep clean but lets not forget about the underground pipes as well. These pipes are low and out of sight and are easy to forget about. Those underground pipes are probably the most important part of the system as they will collect, concentrate, and (hopefully) remove the concentrated storm water from around your house.
In Marion and the surrounding counties, the underground pipes are usually where things are going wrong and unless inspections or unusually close attention is paid, things can go wrong for months or even years. It really is all about the way we receive rain.
The rains in the Willamette valley, in Salem and surrounding parts of Oregon show up in mid October and things stay moist until the middle of May. We don’t necessarily receive a lot of rain, it is just steady and the clouds do not usually part long enough to dry anything out.
A great test for the underground system is to shove a garden hose in it and see where the water comes out. If water bubbles to the surface in the area you are testing…….you have some work to do.
Believe it or not this post is not about incontinent home inspectors. That will have to be another post. This post is about fuzzy critters and how they get under your home.
These tight, nasty, potentially wet areas are easy to neglect. Low, out of sight and most likely disgusting it is usually best to not even think about these places.
Most crawlspaces have these neat little vents for air flow. Compared to the concrete foundation the metal screens on these vents are much easier to bash and slash to allow access for pipes and wires. Most contractors care more about their next few hours than about the damage that occurs to the home due to pest infiltration over the years from a hasty hole cut into the crawlspace screen.
As an active, preventatively thinking home owner one of the best things to do (short of actually go into your crawlspace because really who wants to do that?) is to open the lid to your crawlspace and smell. Yeah, seriously take a wiff. If you are slapped in the face with years of rodent urine……you may have some more investigation to do.
Today as I was doing a home inspection and crawling around looking for damage to my client’s potential home, I put my arm down and something, ……rather large…..*gulp*….pushed back. I figured it was a healthy rat under the plastic vapor barrier. This close encounter along with the smell of a public urinal led me to look for the rodent’s access opening.
The point of my wonderful, rambling tale is that you can and should check your vents. These are on the perimeter of the home, which means you do not need to enter my place of business (your crawlspace) to see these open critter funnels. Just take a stroll around the outside of your home and look and bend down to get a good look at those vents. Especially the vents near the AC unit, cable, and or satellite connections.
Although millipedes do not chew on your home they do eat organic material. If the organic material (wood) is not actively holding up your home it should be removed.
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
Being a home inspector lets me witness a condition that pops up fairly often in Salem, Oregon, area: Water in crawl spaces. Home inspections do not allow me participate in diagnostics very often but sometimes I do get called out to diagnose where water is coming with my high-tech infrared camera.
Crawl space construction in this area is very popular for a few reasons. The two main reasons are; one: it takes less concrete, read- Cheaper. and Two: it puts the wood members of the house up off the ground when our high water table potentially allows water to bubble up from the ground. Ideally crawl spaces should not be wet however it is not a terribly uncommon issue in this area and the main culprit is the gutters and downspouts and what they are up to when they go underground.
Right after the foundation is poured, the underground piping is installed. This means that every other trade that is working on their part of the home has to step over the newly installed plastic pipes. Once the pipes are covered up, near the end completion of the home it is sometimes out of sight and out of mind.
The most compelling evidence I had for this condition was on a listed home that had an offer and a home inspection. The sellers called me out to try and locate the source of the water. After some trial and error per my suggestions the handy home owner disconnected the downspouts and shoved the garden hose down the pipe and filled the pipe with water. He went into the crawlspace and noted the water bubbling up under the foundation near his front door.
The door had a nice slab of concrete leading to the entrance so the home owner rerouted that troublesome pipe into a drywell near the perimeter of his lot and promptly dried up his wet crawlspace.
Diagnostics don’t always work like that but for years I have seen water in crawl spaces and a majority of the time I can find the gutter and downspout that is the contributor.
You can find more information on crawlspaces here:
Part of my job is crawling around under
people’s homes. This is by far the
nastiest part of being a home inspector here in Salem, Oregon.
Most of the time crawl spaces are really not all that bad. Spiders, yes but in the Salem, Oregon area we
have very few seriously poisonous ones.
Spiders don’t chew on your home and I am quite a bit bigger than most of
them so, they don’t bother me that much.
cats can get access, things get really nasty.
uses crawlspaces for a litter box, urinal, and
graveyard. Yep, it can get nasty when
old Garfield can get under your home.
only does Mr Snookums defecate in the areas I need to crawl, he also shreds and
disconnects ducts, and crawls between the heated floor and the insulation and
ruins the fiberglass insulation.
there are signs or other critters: rats, mice, raccoons, opossums. They all like crawlspaces but it seems that,
per capita, the cats have market share on shear crawlspace destruct
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
The wonderful world of residential construction can be very complex. A new home is a series of systems and components that rely on one another to perform properly. If the previous component is installed improperly all of the other systems that are built upon that component will not live up to their potential. I recently had the opportunity to inspect a beautiful new home here in West Salem, Oregon that was like a display home for just why you need a home inspection on a new home.
Cosmetically this home was very attractive. Vaulted ceilings, custom built-ins, crown molding and of course the ever present Brazilian cherry floors and granite counters. Under the fancy façade were a few very important details that the builder screwed up. One of those little things was a vapor retarder, big name for a very simple and relatively inexpensive component. It is basically a sheet of plastic stretched over the bare earth of the crawl space that prevents excess water vapor from leaving the soil (a normal and natural process) and being absorbed by the home’s wood structure (also a natural process but very harmful to the structure of the home).
With the vapor retarder missing, the moist soil provides all the moisture and humidity necessary for an extremely conducive environment for wood destroying organisms. Wood destroying organisms like molds, termites, and powder post beetles and other critters that can call your home food.
When I popped the lid to that crawlspace a wave of mustiness (mold spores) slapped me in the face. Upon closer inspection of the very wet, very muddy crawlspace it could be noted that although the air was full of spores from actively producing molds, no visible growing mold could be noted on the structure. However the scraps of wood, construction debris, that had been left scattered about were covered with very healthy fungal colonies.
All of that excess wood was another little screw-up. All of these little mistakes, although ultimately the builder’s responsibility, were also made by the contractors that were in charge of the vapor retarder, the contractors that left cellulose debris (plumbers, framers, and electricians), and the government official (building inspector) that is paid to ensure that these things don’t happen.
This poor home had other serious issues. Homes like these sometimes makes me wonder about some people’s integrity, however I guess it will always be job security for honest, independent building consultants.
Crawl space maintenance is like going to the dentist. With a few simple and relatively easy maintenance steps you can keep the underside of your home from needing a root canal.
One very poplar issue I find is wood debris. When a home is built some of the wood framing or sheathing members will need some adjustment. Holes are bored, notches are cut and ends are scrapped to allow wires, pipes and pieces to fit. All of this adjustment adds up to a lot of wood scraps. If a contractor, make that human, can pass the clean-up buck they will. Eventually the wood that should-have-been cleaned up will get covered up, never to be seen again…..
Enter wood destroying organisms. (Termites, beetles, carpenter ants and fungal rot) These critters are opportunists. Most of the time wood destroying organisms will need relatively moist wood. If they can’t find an easy meal they go elsewhere.
All of those wood scraps that are in contact or close to the moist ground are a perfect snack. Once all of that wood is consumed the hungry critters will start to look for their next meal. Mm mm wood.
I know the termites will be disappointed that I suggested the removal of their boxed lunch. The contractor was very kind to think of the wood eating critter’s busy schedule. The box of cellulose is the perfect thing for the modern WDO’s hectic lifestyle.