BASEMENT/BUILDING ENVELOPE

I have an older home that has a dug out basement. Are there any special precautions I need to know about to prevent problems with this type of basement?

Most of the dugout style basements I come across have a perimeter type footing that holds the home up and an inside half wall that holds the dirt back in the basement. Much of the time the inside half wall is leaning inwards due to the pressure of the soil. On several occasions I have come across walls that have failed and the soil has partially covered the furnace and hot water tank. The key to keeping this type of basement sound is to keep the soil dry. This means the outside ground and the roof water must be directing water away from the home. If you allow the soil between the footing and the half wall or retaining wall to get wet you are causing extreme pressures on the retaining wall. Most of the time the perimeter footing is cracked and shifted meaning the soil under it has moved. In this case there is only one place for the soil and water to go, into the basement. Keep it dry, or risk the very structure of your home!

What is the best and cheapest way I can protect my basement from moisture intrusion?

Regardless of the type and style of basement you have you need to do two things to help control water around your home. First make sure you have a positive slope away from your home. Preferably use clay to create a slope and then cover it with top soil. The slope should move water at least 8’ from the sides of the home. Secondly you need to control the water coming off the roof. I can’t tell you the number of homes I inspect that have poor eaves troughs and downspouts. 2” of rain is one thing but when you gather up that two inches and direct it all next to your foundation wall you are putting your home in jeopardy. Trust me there is not a foundation in the world that is designed to withstand this quantity of water. If you have got away with this so far lucky you but I advise you to extend the downspouts out 8’ and farther if necessary to make sure the water does not pool up next to the house. 

The importance of using vapour barrier in a crawlspace.

One of the most misunderstood areas of the home is the crawlspace.  There has been disagreement on several parts of the crawlspace for decades. The big questions are;  do you heat the area or keep it at the outside temperature, should the walls be insulated and vapour barrier applied, and do you need to have any vapour barrier on the floor.  One thing is for sure, if you don’t do it right you could end up with a result like the one shown.

First of all if heat is present in the crawl space you will need to try your best to separate the heat from the cold. When the heat and cold come into direct contact with each other frost develops as you can see in this picture. When it warms up outside the frost melts and the wood becomes damp. Before you know it the framing/skirting is rotted and mouldy. The best prevention for this is to insulate and vapour barrier the walls. The vapour barrier stops the transfer of moisture and the insulation slows down the heat transfer. The result is a more comfortable and healthy home, not to mention a solid foundation.

If the home is for seasonal use and the crawlspace is not heated then you don’t need to insulate the skirting walls. But you still should put down vapour barrier on the soil so the ground moisture does not enter the crawlspace. I often see crawlspaces with very damp soil. It is crucial that this soil moisture be kept out of the crawlspace. Therefore you need to lay a sheet of 6mm poly over the soil and seal it around all the edges as much as possible.  With the advent of the spray foam industry we now can insulate and vapour barrier in one application. A few inches of foam will make a tremendous difference in the comfort of your home or summer cabin. There is much more to be said about crawlspaces but little space to say it. Feel free to call us for more on this and other topics.

 

Get your sump pump ready for spring.

For anyone who follows my blog you will know I have some concern about this year’s runoff due to the high volume of snow we have received this year. In this issue I want to talk about sump pumps. For some homeowners the sump pump is a critical component in the home. I have inspected homes that have $25,000.00 backup diesel generators in place so the sump has power at all times. Sound like over kill, well I am sure it is not to the home owner that keeps having water backing up into the basement.

Most of our homes are water tight but in years when the water table is high and there is an expectation of a substantial snow melt it is prudent to be prepared for the possibility of water intrusion. If your sump runs several times a day on a regular basis you may want to take some steps now to prevent a disaster this spring. By this I mean it is critical to make sure that the sump runs every day without failure. If the power goes off or if the pump fails do you have a backup plan, no pun intended? In the case of a home where the sump runs regularly it is likely that the water will over flow the sump in short order if the pump does not work for some reason.

There are a lot of things to be said here but I will try to narrow the focus down to the most common issues I come across and solutions I can recommend. First of all I always recommend having a back up pump ready to install if the first one fails. It is difficult to find a pump when we have just been hit with 5” of rain in three hours, and yes this happens sometimes.  Secondly I recommend installing a sump alarm. The sump alarm will tell you if the water level is rising too quickly for the pump to handle or if the pump fails. Be sure to test the sump and float soon, it it hums but doesn’t turn it is time to get it fixed.  Thirdly it is a good plan to have a generator or battery back-up nearby to keep the pump running if there is a power failure. You shouldn’t need a $25,000.00 unit but if you have chronic water issues it is smart to have something handy to keep the water moving.  Newer homes have better set-ups with an overflow to the city sewer or separate water course but most of us have to deal with the old hole in the floor type sump. Even the best preparation may not be enough but at least you will know you did all you could.  My best advice is, be prepared!

I predict we are headed for a record snow melt this spring. I am concerned for the hundreds of homes in the Midwest that are likely to flood as a result.

One of the greatest issues I find by far is a negative slope around the home. If the home is well built it is possible that the soil next to the wall can handle this onslaught of water but most do not. The result of course is water intrusion into the basement. I want to help those of you that are concerned to get prepared for the spring melt when it arrives.  Preparation for the inevitable is smart, trying to deal with a disaster as its happening is almost always futile. So get ready now. Below I will give you a few hints that may help.

First of all I recommend that you take advantage of the nice mild days to get out in the yard and move some of the snow back away from the house. If your home is like mine you may have a large deck that is buried in three feet of snow.  Often I have to report that the slope under the deck is toward the home. This means that when the snow on the deck melts water is going to lay up against the home until it can run off somewhere. Unless you are confident that this is not a concern for you, I suggest you move the snow now to an area that you are sure will run away from your home.

Secondly make sure that the eaves troughs and downspouts are in good condition and ready to handle the melting when it arrives. The most common problem with downspouts is that they may be frozen in the ground or below ground. I recommend that you examine the drainage paths and make sure the drains are open to the sun where they can defrost on the warm days. Draining water from your roof to underground piping is not advisable in our climate as it will surely freeze and cause the water to pool next to the home.

Remember that water management around your home is a critical component to keeping your basement dry. Please don’t rely on weeping tile to do its job because if it fails, it is too late to prevent a flood. Preventative maintenance is the best approach. Ask anyone who has had to deal with a basement flood and they will tell you it is not fun. Furthermore insurance companies will not pay for run off or seepage damage. Once the damage is done, mold becomes a real possibility and you don’t want to have to deal with the cost of remediating mold damage.

Finally for those of you that have a sump pump. I strongly suggest that you test it now. Just trip the float for a few seconds to hear it run. Even if there is no water in the sump you should test it. If you are one of the many homes in this area that rely on the sump to keep the basement dry then I suggest you have a backup sump ready to install if the first one fails. There are even some homes that I recommend having a generator or battery backup because the sump is all that keeps the water at bay.

I hope you find these steps helpful and as always feel free to ask Border Home Inspections any house related questions you need answers to. If I can’t answer the question I will try to find someone that can.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR BASEMENT FLOODS

HOW TO DEAL WITH A FLOODED BASEMENT

The recent heavy rains in Lloydminster and Edmonton have left a lot of families in a tough position. If your basement has moisture in the floors and walls you need to act quick to avoid the worst impact of the moisture, MOLD. Mold will begin to grow within 48 hours in the right conditions so removing the moisture is critical as fast as you can.

First things first. You need to determine if the moisture/water is from ground seepage or from sewer water. If the water is sewer water you will likely have insurance, but good luck getting insurance from ground seepage. In any case you should call the insurance company right away and ask them what you should do. The worst thing to do is nothing.  Trust me when I say the problem will only get worse if you ignore it so don’t procrastinate.

I recommend that you have a plan in place within 24 hours of the flood occurrence. I recently was asked to sample the air in a flooded basement before the removal of the damaged drywall and flooring. I could see lots of mold like growth in the week old flooded basement and could not see the point in telling the clients they had mold when it was so obvious. Testing is important after the remediation is complete and the basement is thought to be mold and moisture free. Testing the air beforehand is pointless in my opinion.

Once you are satisfied that the moisture is dried up and the wet materials have been removed and dried out you can have the area tested for mold spores in the air or if you wish to proceed without the testing (not recommended). Before restoring the building you should try to fix the issue that led to the moisture in the first place. Often this is poor drainage outside and around the home. In any case you will want to be sure the problem does not re-occur. If you take anything from this article it should be that quick action is necessary if you get water in you basement.

Exterior Hardboard Siding and older vinyl windows

The most destructive elements of a home are the sun and moisture. The exterior materials in the home have to be designed and maintained to withstand these destructive forces of nature. We have seen different materials come and go that have been less then satisfactory at standing up to the job. One example is the vinyl windows most of us have in our homes. The older vinyl became brittle when exposed to the sun and often cracked if you touched it. There are thousands of these windows still in homes in the Midwest and most are no longer lockable or effectively stopping the cold winds. Todays vinyl windows are UV protected and last much longer while providing far superior insulating value.

Even wall cladding must be specifically designed to withstand the elements. The majority of the homes from the 1970’s had a hard board siding product such as x-90 installed. These products have stood the test of time but are now breaking down and in some cases rotting the walls of the homes they were intended to protect.  Many of these products incorporated plastic splines that were designed to keep them on the walls, these plastics became brittle just  as the vinyl windows have. The result is that much of this siding is falling off. Some products held up better then others when they were kept well sealed with paint.  If you are considering buying a home or own a home with older windows and siding you need to evaluate their condition closely and determine what if any action may be required to keep the exterior wind and water tight.

Foundations Concrete and Pressure treated wood

FOUNDATION

Concrete foundation issues can be grouped  into two major problems type, displacement and leakage. Displacement is when cracks or movement occur due to external pressures placed upon the walls and floor by the wet expansive soil outside the home. Cracks in concrete walls are usually grouped in two categories, horizontal or vertical with horizontal usually being the more serious type. If a crack runs horizontal it is possible for the wall to bow inward and compromise the entire structure of the home. Most vertical cracks on the other hand are not as likely to shift under pressure but are often more likely to leak. If you have cracks in your foundation don’t be too alarmed as most foundations develop cracks.  If you have large long cracks that have shifted or slipped it could be serious and you should have the issue looked at by a professional.

Most foundations in our area  are constructed using pressure treated wood. There is a lot of controversy on this type of construction but I believe the science and proven track record  have shown that these basements are here to stay. A wood basement has many advantages not the least of which is ease construction and modifications for vents, wires and even chimneys. The main issues we see with PWF construction is that they were not constructed properly and the pressure from wet clay soil often drove the wall inward. The wall should be properly blocked and strapped to withstand normal stress but two very common mistakes often cause problems in these walls. One issue is having an unsupported driveway next to the wall. This will apply extra pressure on the wall and cause it to bow. Once the wall gives a little the driveway usually settles in toward the home and creates a low spot where water pools making the problem worse over time. The second common problem is the lack of end blocking. End blocking is required to help distribute the load from the wall to the floor joists. Often times the end blocking is missed or removed by the different trades when the home is being built. Without the end blocking the wall moves quite easily. The movement often occurs during back fill or in the first couple of years after construction.

ONE SMALL MISTAKE COSTS THOUSANDS TO MAKE IT RIGHT

I recently  inspected a basement wall in a ten year old home that was leaking. I was disappointed but not surprised to find out that all the effort was a result of the poor workmanship of the builder. In this case the wall was taken apart to find the source of the problem. From the outside it occurred to me that there may not have been any tar paper under the stucco but when the wall was opened up there was tar paper but it was installed improperly. As the title suggests the mistake was small but the under lapping of the tar paper cost this homeowner a lot of money. When the stucco got wet from the dripping water from the joint in the bottom belt strip (bottom trim of the siding) it soaked through to the tar paper as it is supposed to. The problem is that the water was then directed in against the OSB (instead of away from it) where it created mold and rot.

The same thing happened in the corner when the downspout was not properly extended out away from the home. The entire corner was beginning to rot. I have seen this in the advanced stages on older homes where the entire corner including the framing was compromised, thus causing the home to shift slightly, not to mention the mold growth. Its hard to imagine the damage that one small oversight by the builder/renovator could cause such a large problem, but it does albeit slowly over many years. The tools used by a good home inspector such as thermal imaging and a good quality moisture meter along with experience may help the home buyer identify this type of problem before they own the home and the problem.