Water Damage: Un-Sexy Yet Vital Repairs


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.

Home Maintenance Tip: Air Leaks

This is the best time of year to locate air leaks in your older home. You will know you have them if you can feel drafts, or if your heater is working too hard.

Many people who live in older homes accept the discomfort of leaky windows and doors as “just the way it is” when, in reality, the fixes are very easy and inexpensive to make.

Start by taking a quick tour of your house and identifying the leaks and cold rooms; make a list of those you find. The typical areas of air leaks are any penetration in the “skin” of your home. That could mean a window or door, or a pipe or wire penetrating your home’s walls.

Then, tackle your list one leak at a time to reduce energy use and heating/cooling bills and increase the comfort of your home.

Often, simple chores like caulking, sealing with spray foam or a gasketing system can fix the problem in just a few minutes. If they can’t be fixed that quickly or easily, if a window or door really needs to be replaced, now is the time to start your springtime fix it list. Other less considered sources of air leaks are attic hatches and plumbing trouble doors. Believe it or not, these should be as well sealed (or better) as the doors and windows in your house. Typically, they are nothing more than a plywood sheet = very leaky! Gasketing should be around each of these to prevent air leaking, but still maintain easy use and access. This requires a bit of skill to do well, so call us when you have your fix it list and we’ll get these things done for you.

Oh Baby, It’s Cold Outside

With temps hovering in the 30s all week — and it’s not even officially winter yet! — you may be noticing drafty windows and inefficiencies in your heating system. If your home needs to be more tightly buttoned up this season to stay cozy, give us a call. We can help you choose the right products and suppliers. Act quickly if you want to take advantage of tax rebates ending on 12/31/10.

Image: Emery Way

Older Homes – More Energy Efficient Than You Think

Older homes tend to get a bad rap for being energy inefficient. The truth is, many older homes have built-in energy-efficient systems that a homeowner should learn to use and, if possible, enhance. Here are some fake rolex examples of what I mean:

A stone or brick home with thick walls will retain heat in the winter and cool in the summer by way of its mass. Often, the older home will also have small windows on the third floor or attic. These are meant not only to allow light into the house, but also to allow hot air out in summer. Opening these small windows creates negative pressure inside the house, which then draws cool air from the basement. This is natural cooling at work. That’s because a basement’s mean temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees in summer. Utilizing this cooling air convection, combined with the thermal mass of the brick or stone home, means many of these homes can go several days at a time during a heat wave and not require any artificial air conditioning or cooling.

Since it’s heating season, we should also focus on some “passive” methods for making and keeping an older home warm.

Sash locks — These are the small closures on your double-hung windows you turn to lock them shut. You probably think they are for security, but they are really there to push the two sashes tightly into the sash frame and also to pull the sashes tightly together. This small piece of hardware makes your older wooden windows much more efficient by creating a tighter seal. Many older double-hung windows have not been properly maintained over the decades. The top sash might be stuck with paint, or the sash frame may be “out of square.” Other common problems are weights and chains that have failed. All of these problems can be fixed with some TLC and good carpentry. Happy to help; just give us a call.

Special Reasons to Think Windows and Doors!

Winter is right around the corner … now is the time to think windows! In addition to energy tax credits that are currently in place, you can save up to $550 with a mail-in Live Smart Rebate when you replace your old windows or patio doors with select Weather Shield® products with Zo-e-shield® glazing before 12/31/10. And, when you purchase a window-replacement project worth at least $10,000 from Myers Constructs (choose from select brands available), you’ll receive a complimentary home BPI energy-efficiency audit (value: $500). This test will identify areas within your home that may be causing you to spend more than you need to on your monthly utility bills.

Call us at 215.438.6696 for details on how to qualify for these exciting offers.

Significant Home Ruined by Poor Window Choice?

A couple of years ago, I toured a home that was for sale and built by esteemed architect Louis Kahn. It was a lovely 3-bedroom, 2-bath, very modest-sized gem of a house in Elkins Park, a suburb just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. At that time, I was looking to move, and I found this house very charming and beautiful. Everything about this house “fit” within it. The yard was well tended with mature plantings and a small stream. The price was not out of reach. But, in the end, it was just too small for our family. But I’m so glad I took the opportunity to go see it because it reminded me about an important lesson: windows can make or break a house, even an architecturally significant one.

If you visit the Louis Kahn Wikipedia page, you can see the house I am talking about on the right-hand side, and I’ve included an image in this post.

When I saw this house, it was almost completely original and “un-remuddled.”

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Myers Constructs, Inc., to Present at 2010 Old House Fair

Myers Constructs, Inc., will be on hand at The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s 2010 Old House Fair on Saturday, April 3rd, at the Germantown Friends School, located at 31 W. Coulter St., in Philadelphia. (Hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.)

At 1:00 p.m., Myers Constructs, Inc.’s recent customer, Caroline West, will receive a Homeowner Award.

At 2:00 p.m., Tamara Myers, LEED AP and window expert, will host ”Refurbish, Renovate, Replace: A Look at Historic Window Projects,” a presentation on window renovations that preserve the historical integrity of an older home while providing energy savings.

Admission fees for the 2010 Old House Fair are as follows: $10 for general admission, $5 for Preservation Alliance members, and free for children under 18. Contact Amy McCollum, Old House Fair Co-Coordinator, at amy@preservationalliance.com or 215.546.1146 x7.

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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