Water Damage Woes & A Pro Tip On How to Avoid Them

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I got a call this week from a man whose home was flooded by a pipe that burst while he was away on a family trip. The water totally destroyed the first-floor finished flooring, as well as the walls in the kitchen, paneling in the halls, and all of the partition walls and ceilings in the basement. I have a feeling we may also have to add HVAC and electrical damage to the list. Once water gets into electrical fixtures, they need to be replaced.

The culprit in this case was the water line to a first-floor powder room toilet. That’s only a 3/8-inch pipe, but it caused hundreds of gallons of water to pump through the first floor into the basement and probably out the basement walls as the system continually kept flowing to refill itself.

This is the second call like this I have taken recently. In the other case, the homeowner was out of town at her winter home in Florida, and the cat sitter came in to a flooded house. The culprit there was a fairly new 1/2-inch line from the sink to the faucet in a second-floor bathroom. While the upper floor suffered some minor damage, the water completely gutted the lower levels, including the basement, the mechanicals, and the personal belongings they had stored there.

In both cases, the homeowners had to go through the misery of dealing with their insurance company to get the damages paid for.

As we head into prime vacation season, here is a simple tip from my plumber: shut off the water main before you leave the house if you’ll be away for an extended period of time. Even if a pipe bursts, you will minimize the impact and only suffer damage from the water that is in the line until it drains out. I do this now every time I leave home for a trip.

While I’ll get fewer calls for restoration projects sharing this advice, I’ll feel good knowing I was able to help prevent the problem in the first place.

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Image: prana@neoprana.net

Water Damage: Un-Sexy Yet Vital Repairs

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Water. It’s a word that strikes fear in the hearts of homeowners everywhere, and for good reason. The worst issue facing any home (besides an earthquake or fire) is a water leak. Water infiltration — which many of us experienced during the local storms this week — can cause serious damage to your home, including everything from rot and mildew to insect infestation and even building collapse. And while repairing water-damaged siding and trim, replacing rotting materials, and fixing vexing leaks are not nearly as sexy as installing a shiny new kitchen or fresh new bath, they are some of the most important projects you can undertake. Take pride in knowing you are protecting your home investment when you fix even the smallest of water problems.

When we think about how water enters a home, we need to think about the house as a collection of interactive and supportive systems. You want your home remodeling to support and tie into those existing home systems. This is why, when you discover a water problem, it’s important to hire an experienced GC who understands your home in this way. A specialist, like a roofer or window pro, typically only understands their piece of the puzzle.

We find that modern homes that feature products like vinyl siding often have flawed systems, especially if they were not properly installed in the first place. For example, my house is a 1957 split-level rancher. It has a brick veneer first floor, and a second floor done in siding. The original asbestos siding was replaced with aluminum during the 1960s, and then with vinyl some time in the 1980s. The original 1950s windows are still in place, but, because the many siding systems were not properly tied into the old windows, most of the windows now show signs of some leaking. The roof is newer, less than 10 years old, but because it was also not tied into the siding properly, there are areas in the siding that we can assume are also leaking. In addition, the gutters and downspouts are undersized, so they clog up every few weeks with even the smallest amount of debris. It’s very clear that these thermal-vapor systems, which should work together, were never considered as a whole.

What does all of this mean for our next remodeling project? It means we have to tackle the whole “can of worms” to correct the various systems so they will finally work properly together again. Roof, gutters and downspouts, soffits, siding, and new energy-efficient windows will all need to be installed at the same time. There will probably be some water damage to correct inside the walls, too. Of course, we will be sure to use the correct systems and processes when we undertake this sizable job.

Irene’s Local Effects

By all accounts most of us in and around Philadelphia dodged the very serious potential effects of Irene. Our hearts go out to those who were not as lucky as we were.

Here are some snaps of what I saw the day after in my own neighborhood;

  • Local streams and rivers were 5-10 feet above normal causing low lying areas to flood. Some people even had to be evacuated by boat.
  • Because the storm threw weather at us from unusual directions, new leaks were discovered;
  • At our house some water came behind the brick screen wall and into the house via the window below.
  • Crawl spaces got wet because the ground outside was so saturated.
  • Tenants at our rental house let us know the old chimney let some moisture in and it stained the plaster ceiling.
  • A customer called to let us know she too got some rain in through her very old worn brick wall, a place that doesn’t normally leak.
  • Tamara reported that a light fixture in her house was dripping too, again with the rain coming in from a new previously unknown leak source.

We were well prepared for much worse. You can see in the photo one neighbor boarded up his large living room window to protect himself. Like many in my neighborhood, I was on my roof the day before the storm clearing gutters and checking caulking.

If you have experienced storm damage we are here to help.

Construction Details that Fail

On my recent warm getaway to Florida’s Amelia Island, I noticed some exterior elements that had not been well detailed on the house where we stayed. As you can see from the images, poorly executed details will fail. They can then become home to other residents you may not want in your home — like termites, carpenter ants, mold, mildew and, of course, little lizards!

This house was well designed and built in the late 1970s. Most of the building technology in the house still worked well for being of that vintage. But this house was a rental, so the maintenance and repairs done on it were of the lowest quality and price.

Note the following “fails”:

– The flashing on the new roof wasn’t installed well, so the painter had to over-caulk it.

– The newer fascia board replacements were too thin and of cheap, knotted materials, so they cupped and twisted, causing gaps that the lizards found.

– The stucco patches and painting were in front of the fascia board in places.

– Tar paper was used as a capping material for a block wall. This is not the proper use of this material.

The result? The repairs didn’t last even a few years, and the property owners wasted their money. Insects and mold had entered the house in places. This house, which is for sale at $300K, will no doubt be harder to sell and pass inspection. Then, the seller will have to pay again to have these elements repaired. Yet another fail.

No Maintenance Exteriors?

I’ve received some flak recently from purveyors of vinyl siding. Those of you who follow my blog know I hate vinyl siding. It poisons people when it’s made, and when you’re done with it, you have to send it to the dump because it’s not recycled. Furthermore, while it’s on your house, you are deluded into thinking you have a “no-maintenance exterior.” I hate to shatter the illusion, but that simply doesn’t exist.

My house is a 1957 split level. Originally, it had wood siding on it. Some areas were in a board and baton style, and other areas were long lengths of pretty cedar siding with an eight-inch reveal. What’s more, the patterns of the original siding highlighted the low-slung style of this house.

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The Glam World of Property Development: Water Damage Woes

Part Two of an Occasional Series

Water damage. While those two words can strike fear in the hearts of average homeowners, they can be a welcome message for property developers. While many buyers would walk away from a deal on a home with water stains or active leaks, if you are a developer or first-time homebuyer with the right know-how, you can cash in on this type of property. But only if you proceed with caution!

Here is a gallery of snaps of water damage I took at a recent initial property walkthrough

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You can see from the photos that there are some buckled floorboards, dead plaster, third floor ceiling damage from the roof, and second floor paint blowing off of ceilings. This is a scary house for most homebuyers. But let’s look closer. We need to know what caused the areas of water damage so we can assess costs for fixing them.

Floor boards – This is top-nailed, 5/16” x 2, 1/4” oak. It’s easy to pull out the few buckled boards and patch in new. Then, all of the floors would need to be refinished. More than likely, the damage happened when the seller’s winterizing service allowed the radiators to drain onto the floor instead of into a bucket. Another possible cause is cracked radiator lines. Be sure to have a professional plumber look for these.

Ceiling damage – Some of the mess is due to the radiator water, and some on the third floor is from the roof. These homes have a flat roof with one scupper at the rear. Typically, this is where the roof will first fail. Be sure to have a roofer check for and make necessary repairs.

Wall damage – Some of this is dead plaster. Old plaster walls are “keyed” into the wooden lath behind them. On inexpensive homes of the 1920’s and 1930’s, we often see the plaster is thin, and with age it finally fails. We can pull the plaster off that wall and drywall it, or patch the affected area with new plaster.