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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is going
on here is the
zinc in the
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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
-This step was likely neglected on this particular
-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
-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:
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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Written By: Jim Allhiser
Copy written by Perfection Inspection Inc.
Who doesn’t remember the scene where Indiana Jones dives under the stone wall that is closing barely squeezing to safety!? Cinematic excitement at it’s finest and something that most children would love to recreate. Garage doors that are closing appear very similar to that scene and unfortunately not every child has cleared the door before it closed shut.
Garage doors are the largest and heaviest moving parts on our homes and can be very dangerous if ALL of the modern safety features are not installed properly. Several years ago the auto-reverse feature became standard. This feature reverses the closing door when the door meets a certain level of resistance. This safety feature is good however the pressure is still enough to hurt or even kill kids or pets.
The most recent advancement is the infrared beam safety feature. Straight out of a high security spy movies the little sensors reverse the door when the beam that shoots across the bottom of the door opening is broken. These infrared beams are great but even intelligent high tech safety features are of little use if they are not installed where they are intended.
Most manufactures state that the beam should be no higher than 6″ off the ground. The homes around Salem, Oregon that I inspect usually have foundation walls that extend up to around 9″ above the floor of the garage. Consequently I usually see the little beams installed around 10″ above the floor, after all it is much easier to attach to wood sill plate than have to drill and anchor into concrete!
Of course if that is still too much trouble there is always an option to just slap them together and secure them above the opener.
But that installation is really for those who are too smart to let kids or pets get in the way of the closing door…..
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Funny thing about labels, they can tell you some useful things but there is a trick…..you need to actually read them.
There are labels for almost anything, to tell you when you should purchase something, or throw it away or even how it should be installed…..
I was in a Salem, Oregon attic the other day and I noticed some labels. These labels were on building components and the labels had instructions or indications for how the product should be installed. The first label I noticed was on the fiberglass batt insulation:
Clearly, right on the surface of the paper face were some instructions, “Apply this side toward living space.” I was in the attic space and it was definitely not set up for “living.” The reason for this label has to do with the movement of moisture vapor as it leaves the living space and enters an unheated space. With the vapor barrier/paper face installed improperly, water vapor that is traveling up through the ceiling and through the insulation hits the big temperature difference at the paper face and condenses into liquid. Here the liquid water is trapped and will cause bad things to happen to the home (mold, rot, deterioration, ect). When the paper face is installed properly the vapor will not hit the dew point till it is past the vapor barrier/paper face and if the vapor condenses into liquid in the fiberglass batting, it can breath and escape and most importantly, is not trapped!
A few feet away I saw another label. The manufactures for the gas flue for the water heater wanted to help the installers and make sure to remind them of proper installation:
Looks like this was another instance of lack of proper literacy. The purpose for the 1″ gap requirement is fire safety. The type B vent is designed to stay cooler than a straight walled pipe however it does heat up. Over the years the combustible materials that are too close to the pipe will heat up over and over again. Each time this heating occurs there are slight changes in the molecular structure and the material’s flash point, temperature that it catches fire, drops. Eventually this may become a fire hazard.
Labels are important. Read, read, read and if you don’t know why you should do something, call someone, like a wonderful home inspector, who does!
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A few years ago a little company was producing a neat little electric wall heater that was easily installed, relatively inexpensive and allowed wonderful zonal heating (read-“energy efficient”)!
Things were wonderful for sometime but like most things there were a few issues with the first models. The little electric heaters were made by the Cadet corporation and after the release to the general public it was discovered that if housekeeping was not top notch these little heaters had the tendency to overheat (read-“catch on fire” and there could be “flames, sparks or molten particles spewing through the front grill cover of the heaters into the living areas”)!
The problem arose at the heat exchanging point. This is the point in every heating device where the heat that is produced in the heating device is transfered or “exchanged” to the medium that will carry heat to the home. The little wall heaters used fans to transfer heat directly to the home’s air through convection.
The more surface area that the heating device can have exposed to the house air the better the transfer of heat. The more volume of air flows through the device the better transfer as well. There is a point between these two conditions where a balance between the two is chosen.
The little wall heaters that were brand new, met both of those expectations very well. Lots of heating elements (red hot wires) exposed to the air and the little fans did a very functional job of moving a large volume of air over the heated electric coils.
To prevent the red hot wires from getting dirty, which would insulate the heater elements from the air, hampering the exchange of heat, a small screen was placed in front of the fan. The little screen did a good job of keeping the elements clean, too good of a job.
The screens, especially in dusty areas or homes with pets became plugged very quickly. Even with the label on the side stating, “clean the heater fins every month,” these screens and heaters got neglected.
Although the heaters had wonderfully clean elements, the flow of air had been destroyed by the plugged screens. The thermostats didn’t know about the restriction of air and kept asking for heat. The elements got hotter and hotter as very little house air was able to flow over the elements to absorb the heat. This occurred over and over until the unit or the wall or both caught fire.
This is not new information as the CPSC noted the recall in Jan 1999. However, I still see the dangerous units in homes that I inspect around the Salem area.
The moral of this tale is; while we are in our friends, family and neighbor’s homes this holiday season we should keep our eyes open for these dangerous units. We should mention the recall to our hosts if we notice the electric wall heaters.
The way to determine if the units are dangerous is the model number. You should look for: models FW, FX, LX, TK, ZA, Z, RA, RK, RLX, RX, RW and ZC
The model number should be on the inside of the unit and behind the front panel. At the risk of being like me, “that annoying home inspector guy,” you should try to locate the serial number without removing the panel. I have learned that it is rude to take out a screw driver and start removing panels during a dinner party! Also there is that little thing of high voltage live wires behind the panel…..
Many posts have been written about how you should prepare your home for the winter months. Here in the willamette valley our
winters are not all that extreme. It does stay wet, however we don’t get much snow on the valley floor and our temperatures very rarely dip much below freezing. These moderate temperatures do have their own set of maintenance issues:
1. Gutters: Gutters, gutters, gutters. Did I mention gutters? Seriously, gutters. The manner in which we receive rain requires properly functioning gutters. For around 8 months we stay wet. Not huge downpours, just steady and wet. Every drop of rain that hits your roof is supposed to be concentrated and collected into a few spots around the home. If the collection system is plugged or allowing water to splash or dump around the home serious problems can develop. This is my number one thing to keep functional on my own home.
2. De-moss the roof. In general, every two years you will want to spread some moss killer. The shady slopes and roofs that are near large trees may need additional applications of the copper or zinc.
3. Remove the hoses from the outside water faucets.
I do not use the styrofoam cover thingys. Again, it is all about our climate. If you remove your hoses it will not usually get cold enough to need those cover thingys.
4. Crawlspace vents. There seems to be a viral belief in the necessity to plug the foundation vents. I do not think that this is a verygood thing to do. Most of our winter temperatures are going to be around 40 degrees. Pipes do not freeze at 40 degrees. More likely than frozen pipes is the possibility of moisture bubbling up from underneath the home. If the vents are all plugged, and water is present you have created a moist, stagnant area that is perfect for critters and fungus that eat the wood that is holding up your home. The moral of all of this is: Do not plug your vents unless it dips below 25 degrees, and as soon as it warms up again, take the plugs out.