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Water: Your Home’s Natural Enemy, Part 1

Our Best Home Inspections
Our Best Home Inspections December 31st, 2022

book and a candle in front of a window

The vast majority of issues I come across while inspecting are caused by water. Amazingly, the majority of the structure of your home is made out of elements that don’t do well when they’re constantly wet.

For example, wood with a moisture content of 20% or more is susceptible to fungi growth. Fungi love to break down wood (it’s their food) and the result is wood rot. Both dry rot and wet rot are caused by fungi, and contrary to the name, dry rot actually needs high moisture conditions to exist. Many wood destroying insects, like carpenter ants and termites also prefer moist wood. Damaged floor joists and wood bearing beams could  lead to catastrophic structural failures if ignored.

Masonry also does not do well when exposed to consistent moisture. Bricks and concrete can become soft or deteriorate. This, of course, compromises their structural integrity which can cause major issues if the material in question is being used for the foundation of the home.

So now that I’ve scared you a bit about the stuff that’s literally falling out of the sky as I type this, I’ll give you some good news: Most of these major issues can be avoided by doing some very inexpensive things. In this first blog, we’ll discuss easy ways to keep water away from your foundation:

  • Make sure all of your gutters are attached and do not have holes in them. I know, I know, you already know that gutters that are hanging off your home or that you can see sunlight through are not going to work. But just in case, gutters are there to catch the water from your roof, if they can’t do that because, say, they’re lying in your yard, that’s a problem.
  • Regularly clean your gutters (especially if you have trees near your home). Gutters clogged with leaves will overflow and lead to water running against your foundation, which is exactly what gutters are there to prevent.
  • Make sure your downspouts are attached and not crushed or broken so the water can exit where it’s supposed to.
  • Take a look at where your downspouts end. Does the water pour out right next to your foundation or is there something directing it away? Even if the ground is sloped away from your home, water should not be pouring right next to your home. If it is, this isn’t much better than not having gutters at all, it’s just shifting all of the water from your roof to a few concentrated areas of your foundation. It’s kind of the equivalent of having a hose run in that area, not good over the long term. To correct this, downspouts should extend 4-6 feet from the foundation (if that’s not feasible, as far as you can). Downspout extenders are about $10 and can be found at either big box home improvement store. Installation is easy, they just slip over the downspout. If you have splash blocks under your downspouts, that’s a good start, but they tend to shift over time and end up dumping water where you didn’t intend, so it may be a good idea to switch to extenders as well.
  • Cover your window wells. If you have basement windows that are in window wells below grade, they should have window well covers installed on them. These are typically made out of plastic and prevent water from pooling in the window well and sitting directly against your foundation.

So now you have a place to start!