April Showers Bring … Water Problems?

Laurence Elliot

By Laurence Elliot

Spring has arrived, but before the blooms, comes the rain. Water is one of the biggest sources of home damage and rain isn’t the only source. Water can creep into your home over months or even years without attracting much attention, until one day you wake up to costly repairs. It is critical to take preventive and in some cases, corrective measures to keep water where it belongs – away from the home. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The simplest and most common method used to divert water away from the property is gutters and downspouts. They collect and divert roof water and in conjunction with proper grading techniques, can help control surface water around the home.

Well over 95 percent of water penetration problems into below grade areas of homes are due to improper grading and surface water that is not managed properly. So what is grading? Well, we aren’t taking about red pens and gold stars. “Grading” is a term to describe surface elevation changes when compared to other areas around or near the house. Simply put – a proper grade allows water to flow away from the home and foundation, while an improper grade allows moisture to flow back toward the home and seep into the soil. With improper grade, rain saturates the soil, pressures the foundation and eventually forces moisture through the foundation into the basement or crawlspace.

How Do I Check Grading?
First of all, individuals who are buying a home should have a home inspection prior to purchase. Checking for grading issues will be one of the things an inspector will do. Remember that if the ground is extremely dry, the evaluation on inspection day may not reveal all conditions. Upon moving in and as part of regular home maintenance, homeowners should examine gutters, downspouts and grading after heavy rains and continue to do so periodically, especially if flower beds, walkways or other changes are made to landscape.

Can I Fix Poor Grading?
Negative grading can be a fairly cheap repair. It can be as simple as shoveling soil toward your house or bringing in soil from another part of your property. Be careful not to cover your existing siding, which brings up a number of problems like inviting termites for dinner. If you must add soil from an exterior source, use top soil (sometimes referred to as “blackdirt”) or grading soil. These soils will keep much of the water at grade level until it has a chance to move away (or toward) your house. Do not use sand because water flows through sand very easily and can turn a bad situation worse. In order to divert water away from the walls of the house, the soil must be dense and must slope away from the house.

What If Water is Still Getting Into the House?
Annually cleaning a home’s gutters and installing extensions on the downspouts will typically address any roof water. Moderation in the amount of water sprayed into mulch and flower beds also helps to prevent water penetration. Another common source of water is floor drains in recessed exterior stairwells or patios. Annual cleaning of these drains will ensure that they can perform their designed function and direct water away from the foundation.

Methods for Controlling Groundwater
Not all water that enters a house comes from the roof or ground surface. Subsurface water or groundwater, which is typically the result of a high local water table, may try to upwell into a basement through the slab from underground. In a basement, this water is most easily controlled by a subslab sump and electric pump system that collects underground water and pumps it to the surface away from the foundation area. Occasionally, a second sump system may be required.

Method for Controlling Excessive Moisture Vapor
All foundation materials are porous allowing some moisture vapor to pass through from the exterior. In homes where excessive moisture is present, some control method should be used to prevent problems with wood destroying insects and fungus. In basements, the most common method for controlling moisture vapor is with a dehumidifier. In crawlspaces, moisture vapor penetration usually comes through the soil floor and can be adequately controlled with a proper vapor barrier and crawlspace vents.

Laurence is US Inspect’s area manager for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Laurence was in the real estate profession for 25 years as a real estate broker and instructor. He is the first non-inspector in company history and was instrumental in developing a deferred payment plan for US Inspect customers. As a REALTOR, Laurence relates well to the needs of REALTORS and their clients’ needs. Prior to US Inspect, Laurence has been a top-producing agent who recruited over 250 agents, an instructor at Penn State University and president of his local board of REALTORS. Laurence enjoys playing drums.