The past year has been fascinating in the inspection business. As a national company, we've dealt with water intrusion issues in virtually every possible scenario, from unexpected freezes in Arizona to massive snows and rains in the Northeast to tornados and hurricanes in the South, our clients' homes have been hammered with lots of moisture issues. It's something we know a lot about. Here are some lessons we've learned as successful home inspectors.
Most residential water damage is the result of improper drainage. Before you spend lots of time worrying about getting water out of your basement, worry about letting water in. Too many homeowners spend their time and energy trying to figure out how to pump water out of their basement sump pump versus trying to prevent it from entering in the first place.
Simply put, basements are natural places for water to collect. Most basements or crawlspaces are at least partially below grade. This means that water at grade (grade refers to the soil that is placed against the home) level from rain or melting snow will permeate soil and attack foundation walls. Most foundations simply can't handle massive levels of water without seepage. As a homeowner, you must do your best to minimize this water flow. Here's how:
- If you have a gutter and downspout system, make sure the gutters are clean. Clean gutters increase water flow to the downspouts and minimize water flowing over the gutters and flooding the perimeter of your home.
- Make sure that all downspout elbows have extensions and that all downspouts are directing water AWAY from your foundation. A good rule of thumb is that the elbow and its extension should slope away from the foundation at least ½ inch for every foot of length. We recommend downspout extensions be installed at every downspout and extend away the home.
- Make certain that you have a battery back-up sump pump installed for every electric sump pump installed in your home. Many homes in the Midwest experience regular power outages due to an unstable power grid. A power outage during a storm will render an electric sump pump useless. Once the pump crock pit fills with water, your basement will flood.
Check the grade around your home. Grade refers to the soil that is placed up against the home. The grade should be 6-8" below any cladding on the home such as vinyl, aluminum or wood siding, stucco, or masonite. This will help to prevent these materials from drawing up moisture. If necessary, remove some of the soil or adjust the slope so that the grade slopes away from the home.
Remove and relocate any trees or bushes that are very close or in actual contact with your home. Trees and bushes can damage exteriors and their roots can penetrate drain tiles (the tiles that carry groundwater to the sump pump and away from the home and its foundation walls). For example, many homeowners have experienced major damage to their drain tile system as a result of the weeping willow tree. A willow tree is beautiful, but it loves water and its roots can extend for hundreds of feet. A damaged drain tile system can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to repair.
The same is true for your lawn. If it's located too close to the structure, watering it to keep it healthy may have a very negative impact on the structure, especially if water is performed by sprinklers.
Check the location, timing and pattern of automatic sprinkler systems at your home. Sprinklers that are near the home can spray exteriors and soak foundations. Leaking sprinklers underground can do even more damage. Damage to concrete structures can occur very quickly, as concrete is quite porous.
Check the slope of any non-permeable surfaces near your home such as walkways, patios, driveways, etc. When it rains, does water route away from the structure or is it flowing against the building? After a number of years, concrete surfaces installed in colder climates often shift due to frost heave. The frost heaves the concrete in such a way that water is now routed towards the house instead of away from it. Make any repairs necessary to improve slope so that water runs away. In some cases a simple solution such as trimming grass that borders a concrete walkway will dramatically improve drainage.
Put on your raincoat. The next time it rains, go outside and take a look at your home. Pay close attention to the roof and how water is handled by your drainage system. You'll learn a lot about which sections of the roof handle the most rainfall, which sections are most protected, where rain actually ends up and what might be done to improve the drainage system. You'll learn which areas of the foundation receive the most water, how that water is handled and how long the area stays wet. While you're looking, make diagrams with notes and create a master map so that you can explain it clearly to someone else when it isn't raining. Start making contact with home professionals such as roofers, plumbers and landscapers so that you can complete a project quickly, if needed.
For more great ideas on how to improve your home's drainage, don't hesitate to contact us.