By Garth Haslem, KSL.com Contributor | Posted – Aug 28th, 2019 @ 8:42am
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s happened to nearly all of us: that sinking feeling when you realize your basement is soaked. Sometimes you just get a damp corner, and that’s bad enough. Other times the whole basement can be filled with water, and sometimes what’s filling the basement isn’t just water. It can get pretty gross.
Rot, mold and termites all originate from one source: a wet home. If your walls, ceilings or floors stay wet, molds and mosses quickly move in. Next up: the bugs and spiders. Termite queens will appreciate your hospitality as they begin to make your home dinner for themselves — and a few million offspring.
If that’s not enough to catch your attention, throw a good, solid dose of structural settlement in there as well. It can get downright unpleasant.
Water entry can show up in more ways than you can imagine. Sometimes it comes directly from the roof, from a leak or an ice dam; sometimes it comes from poorly sealed dormer windows, and sometimes it’s caused by critters in the attic. I have seen attics where nesting birds and chipmunks urinated enough to keep a wall wet, and the wet wall became home for a colony of termites.
More often, water comes in through window wells and cracks in the foundation. That’s a biggie, but let’s not forget those valves and traps beneath all your sinks. They can leak as well.
So winter is around the corner, and let’s face it: You can’t solve many outdoor problems in December. It’s too snowy, cold and icy — not a good time to be getting on the roof, and you might not know what to look for anyway.
So what’s the moral of the story? Get on your roof while it’s warm — like now. Do so only if it’s safe; tall heights, steep pitches, and fear of heights are not a good combo. If for any reason you believe it’s unsafe to get on your roof, don’t. Hire someone else so you can keep working, golfing and playing ultimate frisbee. Either way, here is a shortlist that can help you keep your home dry and your family safe this winter.
She’ll be coming around the corner when she comes — but in this case, she’s an ice dam.
It leaks here every year, all winter long. Just use the phrase “ice dam” and watch homeowners’ eyes glaze over. It’s a technical term, right? We don’t get technical terms. There are two ways to deal with such a conundrum: First is to reverse those two words, and you’ll probably get it. The second is to check out a couple of articles, and you’ll get it even better.
Ice dams happen where roof slopes come together or where roof slopes flatten out. They’re super hard on shingles, and when they happen, you’ve got water in your home. Say hello to rot, mold and termites. Then throw in a few spider bites on your child’s face, and the scene is complete.
If you prefer to avoid that scene, here’s another one: Make sure your roof doesn’t do ice dams. Ice melt tape installed now can help you do that.
Missing or Damaged Shingles
Ice dams have torn these lower shingles up — leaking is a certainty.
Let’s face it, most roofs are provided with shingles designed to last 25-30 years, and that’s if everything goes perfectly. The imperfect reality is that the sun hits the south and west slopes harder, and heavy winds can take a toll. Many attics are not perfectly vented, some homes still have swamp coolers (perish the thought) and sometimes tree branches cause drama. In all, nobody gets the design life out of their shingles. If your shingles are failing, you have a rapidly closing window of time to take care of your problem. If you wait until winter and hope things are OK, you’re rolling the dice at best and playing Russian roulette at worst.
Get on the roof and check out your shingles, or have someone else do it. If your shingles are aging, now is the time to get things fixed.
That used to be a rain gutter. Now it’s apparently a planter box for ivy. Do you remember that commercial that says, “I don’t want to pay a lot for this muffler?” We could all totally relate. Gutters are a pain. Who wants to get on a ladder and scoop the goo? Most of us would rather clean the septic tank with a toothbrush.
Still, if that thing is full of leaves, pine needles, critter poop and growing weeds, there’s a pretty good chance it’s not going to drain water. When water doesn’t drain safely away, it gets naughty: ice dams, icicles, overflows into the window well, gutter collapse and avalanches. Think of it this way: If your gutter fills with ice, it weighs hundreds of pounds and can easily fall victim to gravity. You and your children are walking under it every day.
So, roll the dice or clean out your gutters. Choose to get up on that ladder or try to guess which child gets smashed. It’s a dicey game, but some of us thrive on edgy living, right?
Drainage toward the Foundation
Where do you think the water from that drain is going to go?
Most home inspectors quickly learn there is one item they can write up at almost every home: drainage toward the foundation. It also has a close cousin called drainage toward the window well. If you’re a home inspector and you can’t find anything else, you can always prove you were there by writing those two items in the inspection report.
We’ve all experienced basement water entry, and some of us have seen pools of water in crawl spaces deep enough to keep fish alive. What happens next? Bingo! Rot, mold, termites, spiders and, yes, structural settlement.
If this sounds unpleasant to you, then recognize that concrete is not waterproof. You can rely on tar to make your foundation waterproof, or you can use voodoo. In the long run, both methods work about as well. This inspector’s adage? The best way to know that the inside of your foundation is dry is to know the outside is dry.
Here’s the defense against the dark arts of drainage:
- Drain surface water away from your foundation using a “positive” (away from the foundation) surface slope.
- Don’t spray the house with your sprinklers.
- Use drain tubes to force roof drainage well away from your foundation.
It’s the trifecta against a tyranny of terror.
Protect your home and family this winter. It may not cause all of your dreams to come true, but at least it will protect against a few of the nightmares.
Reprinted in full from www.KSL.com.
About the Author: Garth Haslem
Garth is a home inspector, podcaster, broadcaster and long-time contributor for KSL.com. He also works to protect families as The Home Medic at HomeMedicWorld.com and can also be found at CrossroadsEngineers.com. Listen for Garth soon at BYU Radio, Sirius channel 143.