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?
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
Earlier I wrote two posts (Part 1 ad Part 2) on the terms: “pest and dry rot.” I detailed what the inspection was about and what the term “pest” might mean. Now I will try to describe the term “dry rot.”
In the real estate world any rot or deterioration refers to dry rot. The term is a bit confusing because all fungal deterioration requires moisture. The term dry rot actually refers a very specialized fungus that actually consumes wood that is dry or does not have a available water source. The fungus actually grows hyphie (root like structures) up to 8 feet long! These root structures reach out from the dry piece of wood into the ground and collect and shuttle water to the dry piece of wood.
This type of fungus is very unusual around Salem, Oregon and I have only seen it twice in 5 years of inspecting homes!
Most all of the deterioration that I see is caused by a white rot or a brown rot. Both are fungi and both require direct and chronic exposure to moisture to allow them to consume the cellulose or lignin in the wood.
I know, I know this is earth shattering news. But you can see why I prefer to call damaged wood: “deterioration” rather than “Dry Rot.”
What is “pest and dry rot?” Seriously I am a home inspector, shouldn’t I know to what these
terms are referring?
The words, “pest and dry rot,” are really confusing to this poor home inspector. What exactly is a pest? I know a family here in Salem, Oregon that has the south side of their home covered in box elder bug
s every year! They do not do any damage to the home (they eat tree sap) but they definitely qualify as pests.
To limit the confusion with these terms I try to not use them. I will always trade P&D with WDO
(wood destroying organism report).
Spiders, box elder
bugs, nosy neighbors can all be terrible pests however they will not destroy your home.
Carpenter ants, wood boring beetles, termites, fungal deterioration will be part of my report and they are what home owners need to pay close attention too and control aggressively.
Pest and Dry Rot. Seems like some pretty straight forward items eh? Actually this can be a little more confusing than you might think.
Pest and Dry Rot is an unbelievably ambiguous term that gets thrown around a lot during the course of a real estate transaction. To limit the amount of confusion lets dissect the parts and expectations of a Pest and Dry Rot inspection:
Most of the time, around Salem, Oregon the “P and D,” is what loan companies want to see (if anything) as far as the inspections. So right from the start, things can get weird. Unlike an appraiser I, the home inspector, do not work for the loan company. My contract is with my clients (usually the buyers) and I do an inspection for my client’s benefit. I do not care about what a loan company finds important, they did not hire me.
What is a pest? I have had neighbors that definitely qualify as pests. I have even known some real estate agents and mortgage officers that might fall under that guise. So how am I, your well meaning home inspector, supposed to comment on Pests? Stay tuned and I will further delve into what this term actually means……:
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
These carpenters just don’t care what you want and they are just going to make themselves at home. They are just one of the three big players in the wood destroying insect world around Salem, Oregon. Or the pest part of a “Pest and Dry rot” Inspection. Overall carpenter ants are relatively easy to control but this control does require some environmental adjustment and future vigilance.
One of the most common conditions that cause ant activity is Bark dust/mulch. Bark dust is used in this area as a mulch to beautify flower beds, limit rain splash and stifle weed growth. Another thing that a thick layer of this stuff does is it provides a very favorable home to carpenter ants. The large bulk piles the suppliers have are usually filed with ant nests and when your neighbor gets a large pile delivered you had better watch out!
The nest that was harmless in the bulk pile is relocated and now these ants start looking for a better home.
Depending on your home’s condition it might provide the perfect areas for the ants to move-in. Another often overlooked area for carpenter ant activity and nest making is wood retaining walls. Yes even the treated wood can be a great place for these critters to call home. The reason poisonous treated wood is a good home for carpenter ants is because they do not actually eat the wood. Unlike termites and anobiid beetles carpenter ants just hollow out the wood to make nests. The ants eat insects and other little woodland creatures but not wood, so the poison does not effect their ability to make a nest.
Plants up against the home are probably the next big issue that contribute to ant activity. The plants seem to keep the home more humid and may damage the siding allowing easier access. Also if you are applying a perimeter treatment the ants can gain elevation on the plants and enter your home without touching the poison.
Any way you look at it plants in contact with your home, wood retaining walls and thick bark dust are all bad news and any of the many types of carpenter ants we have around the Salem, Oregon area would love to make themselves at home in yours.
Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
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.
- Cooling system (if installed) is working overtime in this month. Make sure the outdoor unit has at least 2 feet on three sides of free air. Keep the fins on the compressor clean as well. Depending on the model of compressor this may be a professional HVAC tech’s job. Keeping your compressor clean will be well worth it in terms of efficiency and life expectancy.
- Caulking and Paint: This is a wonderful month for these absolutely necessary items on every homeowner’s addenda here in Salem Oregon. A good rule of thumb is, “if the crack is too big to be filled with paint, caulk it.” Sealing the openings in the siding and trim around windows will not only make your home look better it will also prevent moisture from entering the wall system and you will also slow down energy loss from air infiltration. On real wood (trim and maybe siding) in the Willamette Valley think about painting every 4 to 6 years. If you wait longer than 4 to 6 years you risk damage and the preparation for the new paint will take much longer than it would have.
Clean gutters: Depending on the age and size of the trees around your home this may be a monthly to quarterly adventure. Even if they just have a little crud in the bottom, get it out. That crud can build up fast at the first nice storm and plug all of the tight bends downstream and underground.
- Trim bushes: Maintain a space of about 18 inches around your home. Trim the bushes that have grown to have contact with your home. Plant contact with your home can create a very conducive environment for rot and carpenter ants love to travel from a plant in to a home. This should be the last time this year you trim on woody perennials. The trimming will stimulate growth and if you trim too late in the season the new growth will not have time to harden off and it will die.
- Lawn care: Continue to mow weekly. At the end of this month switch from your summer (primarily Nitrogen) fertilizer to a winterizer (higher in Potassium) to help our cool season grasses establish a deep root system.
When questions on your home arise feel free to call or email me, your friendly home inspector, for trouble shooting and further helpful advice.