Mold

Thermal imaging/Infrared helps to find Siding Leakage

Siding systems are continually evolving, changing and sometimes improving as new materials are developed and new understandings in building envelopes are improved.

We are always looking for the sidings that need less maintenance, are inexpensive and, are easy to install with very little instruction. Those three attributes fuel the evolution of sidings and over the years some have been great and some have not been so good. In the last 20 years there has been a siding that has worked well in other parts of the country but has failed so consistently in the northwest it has actually been banned in Oregon! This wonderful siding is very adept at allowing water into the wall cavity while appearing visually good.

Synthetic stucco, Exterior Insulating Finishing Systems (EIFS), or even by the brand name “Dry-vit.”

Like most siding systems the problems arise with poor installation. Lack of proper installation training appears to be at the heart of the problems with EIFS. If EIFS is installed precisely and maintained aggressively, it can shed water properly.

Perfect installation is very rare. So rare, that I have only seen one home that had a proper EIFS installation and the home had just undergone a $100,000+ insurance claim siding remodel that involved forensic siding specialists!

If you are going to buy a home that is covered in EIFS you should plan on having an inspection that will include invasive probing. The foam boards that make up the substrate can be a very clever thermal barrier…

EIFS is still allowed on commercial buildings and on a recent inspection in Salem, my clients did not negotiate for invasive probing and thankfully the pictures that the thermal camera captured made the total replacement of the siding a compelling option:

Infrared finds leakage in Stucco
Leakage in Siding noted with Infrared/ thermal imaging
Visual view of the EFIS stucco siding      The blue is the moisture that can be located with infrared/thermal imaging
Blue = leakage noted with Infrared/ thermal Imaging
More Infrared located leakage
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Basement and Crawlspace Leakage and Waterproofing (part 2)

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?

Evidence of moisture leakage in the basement floor
Lets address basements specifically:
We know that the basement is a hole dug into the ground.  A ground that we also know becomes saturated.
Lets say that proper steps have been taken to divert the downspouts at least 10 feet away from the home and the grading around the home slopes away for the first 10 feet but moisture is STILL coming in, now what?
There are many different options.  The proper solution depends on your budget, and how you want the basement to be used.
-Lets say that the basement is mostly unfinished, concrete floor, mechanical systems, and open framing in the ceiling.  This type of basement is the best for some seasonal moisture intrusion however any uncontroled moisture in a home is not ideal.  Standing water in basements, even unfinished ones, can contribute to high moisture levels throughout the home.  High moisture levels can lead to poor air quality and fungal deterioration all the way up to the attic.  Having a dry basement is important no matter to what degree it is “finished.”
The manner in which to remedy this situation depends on where the water is manifesting:
Foundation wall Exterior water proofing: The best corse of action is to collect the moisture that is bubbling up from the ground before it gets to your home.  Serious excavation of the exterior of the foundation is ideal. By digging down to the base of the foundation, drainage can be added and waterproofing can be applied to the outside of the wall.  This is kind of like water proofing the surface of a pool only backwards.  Taking these steps will ensure that the excess water around and under the home is properly collected and prevented from entering the home in the first place. This excavation is serious work and can be dangerous. A trench that is at least 8 feet deep has the real potential of caving in if not properly supported. These steps are usually not for the handy homeowner and should be contracted out to licensed, insured, professionals. (read-$$$)Waterproofing the outside of the foundation wall in Salem, Oregon

There are some fantastic pictures and descriptions of the installation of these various water collection techniques here: http://www.finehomebuilding.com/PDF/Free/021140064.pdf
If huge excavation projects are not your idea of a good time you are going to have to take steps to control the moisture just before or just after it penetrates the foundation wall/slab.The best way to collect and control this moisture in a basement would be with the installation of a complete interior perimeter drain.
-Like a exterior foundation drain the interior foundation drain is designed to collect water before it gets a chance to come in contact with your home.  As water rises it enters a trench of open pore gravel and a drainage pipe that has holes in the top and sides.  The water enters the pipe and flows down grade to a collection point, usually a sump pump.sump pump and trench water collection for leaking basements and crawlspaces
This system also requires a fair amount of labor for installaion because it involves jack hammering up the slab around the perimeter and digging a sloped trench.  All of the busted up concrete and soil that is removed usually has to be carried out one bucket at a time. (read- back breaking and $$) This installation is also best left up to the professionals that have had practice and know the tricks of the trade.
This system is also can have a flashing system added to the wall that allows moisture that comes in through the wall to run down in to the drainage system under the slab.  There is a picture of this system on page 6 of the previous link.

-If jack hammers and mud and buckets do not sound fun you are now looking at the least invasive and most inexpensive alternative: the surface gutter system.  This system is very similar to roof gutters where water is collected at the edge and diverted to a collection system. Depending on the amount of water and where it is coming from this may be a great, relatively low cost solution.
a less expensive basement water collection system for your Salem, Oregon home
This is a great site with some step-by-step procedures for how to install this basement “guttering system”: http://www.waterproof.com/DIY-installation/squidgee-installation-all.html
I worked on a basement waterproofing crew when I first moved to the Salem, Oregon area.  We installed quite a few of these systems.  They are relatively inexpensive and do not involve a whole lot of back breaking labor.
The gutter system has downsides in that the water is in the home.  The standing water can still lead to high humidity and mold issues on the back side of the wall.
If you still have questions about which system would be best you can always give me a call.  Your friendly local Salem, Oregon Home Inspector who also has expirence installing all of these systems.


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.

Mold, Lead, Arsenic, Radon, Wet Crawlspaces and other things that

Toxic Talk was the title of the Salem Association of Realtor’s Educational Event yesterday.


I wanted to give everyone a quick review of the information that I learned:


Radon: It will kill you.  Any home might have an issue.  It comes out of the ground and even with a well ventilated crawlspace your home can concentrate this poisonous, radioactive gas.
Moral: Get your home tested


Arsenic in Water: It will kill you. Wells will be required to be tested for it during a real estate transaction.  If you have it and install a filter CHANGE YOUR FILTER carefully and regularly.
Moral: Get your water tested


Disaster Clean-up:  It will kill you. (see a pattern developing?)  Rodent urine and feces is a toxic bio hazard
Moral:  Hopefully you won’t have to call these guys EVER!



Lead: It will kill you. (yup, believe it or not)  Soon Oregon is going to have some changes that require certifications of ANYONE dealing with repairs of older homes and mandatory lead testing of all of these homes!
Moral:  Whether you like it or not your home will be tested…..


Mold: (everyone now!) It will kill you.   Mold is EVERYWHERE and it is not necessarily the issue but an indicator of moisture conditions that are a problem
Moral: Get your home tested.


Crawlspace/basement leakage: This will probably kill you too but I think the moisture just causes stuff that will kill you….    Crawlspaces and basements are swimming pools and although there are ways to minimize the water intrusion, they are not required by code.
Moral:  Pay a good Home Inspector to check out your crawlspace BEFORE you sell!





Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
http://SalemOregonHomeInspections.com
503.508.4321         jallhiser@perfectioninspectioninc.com

“Always on the cutting edge”

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Bank Owned Problems

With more and more banks acting as the primary owner of homes I am starting to see more and more ridiculous decisions.  Issues that would never come up for a home owner are now manifesting due to the utter lack of common sense displayed by most banks when home ownership is their new responsibility.


Recently I got the chance to inspect a bank owned property here in Salem, Oregon.  It was cool the morning of the inspection but not unusual (the high 20’s).  The bank in their infinite wisdom turned the water to the home on, for the inspection.  But……some one forgot about the heating system…… The agent, client and I walked into the home and discovered a large pool of water on the floor of the kitchen and dining room and rain falling from the kitchen ceiling!

Although the leakage was awful, it was still manageable.  The water had not been there for very long and the wood flooring was not even warped, yet…..  I turned off the water and grabbed some towels to try to sop up the majority of the water.  We rescheduled the inspection and hoped that the bank’s reps would properly dry the home before serious damage occurred.

Three weeks later….the bank just got the heat on!!!!  During the subsequent home inspection I find typical water damage issues and ceilings, walls and flooring that is still wet!  A good general rule of thumb is: if water is uncontrolled in a home for as little as 24 hours, mold can start to rock and roll.  I did not do any mold testing in this home but I just can’t help but wonder what the second floor joist bays look like.  Hmmm…wet wood and paper for 3 weeks, I think it is probably very fuzzy with fungal growth.
As many of you may know, when dealing
with short sales and banks you have to leave
common sense at the door.  Even with this premise it is still disappointing that over
and over again it seems that banks
are so ill suited to be primary owners of homes that they spend dollars to save pennies.











Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
http://SalemOregonHomeInspections.com
503.508.4321         jallhiser@perfectioninspectioninc.com

“Always on the cutting edge”

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Those darn drafty attics.

On a home inspection the other day I popped my head into the attic space of a vintage 1950 home. At first glance the attic felt unusually warm and moist. From the outside the gable vents appeared to be large enough and should have kept this attic effectively ventilated however the current renter had some other ideas. He told me that he had been in construction for years and was currently unemployed.

This vintage home had a minimum amount of insulation and the gable vents were covered with plastic!! All of the warm moist air coming up out of the home was being trapped in this unheated, unvented, ideal mold growing limbo. The roof sheathing was covered with a soft and fuzzy patina, very artistic but not very pleasing for home maintenance and air quality.

The moral of the story is those openings in your attic and there for a reason and very important. They are not there to make you suffer when it is time to pay the heating bill. Insulation should be used on HEATED surfaces. Your attic is not a heated space. The floor of the attic is next to a heated space and this is the only surface that should be insulated. The rest of the attic should have enough vents to keep the attic as close to the exterior temperature as possible. This will vent excess moisture, cool the roof system and provide a good environment for maintenance of the structure of the roof.

Home inspections in Salem, Oregon. Mold, Inspector, Keizer

Mold our Constant Microscopic Companion

This is mold that you can see

This is mold that you can see

Mold is one of the scariest problems in today’s issues with Indoor Air Quality. The problem is you can’t see it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, if it looks and smells like a duck it usually is, however I have been surprised on inspections here in Salem, Oregon, by laboratory results often enough to know that speculation of microscopic content is not a good idea.

There are definitely conditions that you can detect with unaided human senses that will lead to mold growth. Earlier posts of mine labeled mold as a symptom of the problem. The problem (water) can be detected….usually.

If you have water, organic material and ventilation issues you have perfect conditions for mold growth. Do not let moisture loose on your home. But even with uncontrolled moisture I have seen very low spore counts in the air.

The moral of the story is: if you think you have mold growing, get it tested, and do it right by hiring a trained, professional mold sampling technician.

Problems Under the Surface

 

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.

 

Grow mold in your attic (vent to the soffit)

Ah mold. It is such a hot button. I know just by putting the word MOLD into my title this post will get attention.

People are interested, but I am still surprised at the lack of knowledge or the inaccuracy of knowledge (even you agents who need to know the basics).

This is not intended to be a general knowledge post. (go here for that) This is a heads up for everyone on the issues concerning acurrently accepted means of exhausting bathroom vents. It is acceptable, by International building codes to duct bathroom vents to an attic vent (any vent). This is usually a good thing and definitely better than venting directly into the attic. Recently I came across a very new home (only four years old) that had some mold growth in the attic. Not really a huge amount, however mold spores are microscopic and you cannot determine if it is affecting Indoor Air Quality without getting a lab involved. With closer investigation it could be noted the exhaust fan for the shower and toilet area was ducted to the nearby soffit vent. This is currently acceptable by building standanrds however in this case it was the root of the issue.

The way an attic vent system works is like a chimney, as the roof heats cool air is pulled into the soffit vents and hot air is exhausted out the ridge vents. So as the diligent home owners ran their exhaust fans during the steamy shower all of the warm steam was pointed at an intake vent!! All the moisture exhausted toward the vent and promptly turned around and was able to condense on the cool attic surfaces as the soffit vent did its job.

Mold is Everywhere

Mold is everywhere.

Mold/ has microscopic spores that are airborne and are able to easily blow around the world. Due to the spore’s ability to be in the air there is no place on earth that does not have fungal spores present. (except maybe special industrial clean rooms and operating rooms) With this knowledge of mold/fungus we can draw the conclusion that there is no such thing as a, “mold free,” house. All homes have spores present the spores are waiting for a conducive environment to grow. “Conducive environment,” means: temperature, food and water at the right levels.

Molds/fungi grow best between 50 and 80 degrees F.(the temperatures most of us find comfortable)

They can eat any organic material. (read: your home’s framing, sheathing, flooring, carpeting, paper faces on insulation and drywall, and most everything else in our homes)

Water is really the one thing we can and should control to stifle mold/fungus growth.

Leaks, plumbing or rain water, and poor ventilation are the two main offenders who often work together to help mold grow and reproduce.

Even though mold is everywhere we can control its growth. By vigilantly maintaining our homes, ensuring proper ventilation and repairing leaks promptly we can ensure that our homes do not become mold food.