Water is an important ingredient of life, right? Right! Without it you will die in a few days. So why is it an enemy of your house? Water is one of the most powerful solvents in nature. Given enough time, it will dissolve almost anything. It is also the life sustaining ingredient for many flora and fauna that attack your house. Things like mold, fungus, termites and other critters need it or are enabled by its presence, to destroy your house, either quickly or slowly.

On your home, it erodes the paint, stains the siding, dissolves the mortar holding brick and stone together, corrodes the metal flashings meant to prevent water intrusion, softens the soil supporting your foundation, washes away the soil supporting foundations and retaining walls and other structures, washes away or saturates hillsides causing land slippage. The list is extensive and none of its effects are good.

In my home inspection business and my Infrared Thermography business, water intrusion is the enemy. It’s what I’m looking for.

The number one “issue” or defect that I find during inspections is improper drainage or control of environmental water around the structure. These defects cause millions of dollars of damage every year. The sad thing is it is usually easily handled. Why isn’t it? For most people, its lack of understanding of the whole problem.

Overview of Drainage

The ideal condition for drainage it to have the structure at the top of a hill. While not always possible, the same condition can be artificially created. This is accomplished by a process known as “grading”. Grading is simply moving the soil around the structure to create an area that slopes away from the structure. Current grading standards call for a 2% slope (1/4 inch per foot) slope away from the building for a distance of 10 feet. Depending on the lot conditions, this can be easy or more involved. On some lots, it requires aggressive use of sub-surface drains (called “french drains”) or construction of a “swale” or artificial ditch, often lined with concrete, to direct the water around and away from the footings. While more aggressive measures such as french drains and swales can be expensive, the payoff comes in the fact that your house does not sink into the softened soil that unhandled drainage issues will produce.

Gutters and Downspouts

No gutters on the house? So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that every 1000 square feet of roofing area captures 625 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on it. Where do you think this rain water is going? Right off the roof onto the ground about 12 inches from your foundation! Wonder why your foundation is settling and the doors in your house no longer work freely or you have water in your basement? Lack of proper gutters is most likely the problem.

One mistake I see often is that there are actually gutters on the house but the downspouts are dumping all the water collected right into the very nice planter right along side the foundation and concentrating it there. Duhhh! Simple fix; install a “rain leader” or extension on the down spout to direct the water away from the planter to an area where it will drain away from the foundation. In many new construction houses I look at, they actually install an underground piping / drainage system to receive the outflow from the down spouts and direct it to the curb. This is called “day lighting to the curb”. Very good idea but not always possible. In extreme conditions like a lot that slopes to the rear, away from the street, the drainage system can be directed to a “sump pump” collector system that will pump the water back up to the street for disposal in the storm drainage system.

How about just directing the drainage off the property somewhere? Maybe, but usually not a good solution. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to make your problem someone else’s problem by simply allowing your drainage to flow onto their property. If the natural lay of the land causes some water to flow off your property to another’s, that is usually allowed. It’s “Mother Nature” at work and she didn’t read the rule book. Artificially creating this condition with a constructed drainage system is a No No!


What the heck is “flashing”? (No, it’s not running across the football field without any clothes on!)

Per the R. S. MeansĀ© Illustrated Construction Dictionary:

Flashing; A thin, impervious sheet of material placed in construction to prevent water penetration or direct flow of water. Flashing is used especially at roof hips and valleys, roof penetrations, joints between a roof and vertical wall, around windows and doors and in masonry walls to direct the flow of water and moisture.

As you can see, this is a very important part of any structure’s protection system. Improperly installed, rusted, or damaged flashings can lead to hidden damage inside walls and such that may not become visible until much damage is done. Damaged or missing flashings create conditions very hospitable to mold and termites.


Obvious as it is as the first line of defense in keeping you and your house dry, roofs get the short end of the stick when it comes to proper maintenance.


Surprised? It’s a fact. In order for you to get the longest and most trouble free life out of your roof, there are several things you must do.

  • Check your roof every year and make sure there are no areas of concern such as damaged or corroded flashings.
  • Check for missing, out of place (slipped) shingles, wind damage, snow / ice damage, cracked clay or concrete tiles.
  • Aging composition shingles displaying loss of granule coating, deteriorated “ridge” caps. (these go first)
  • Missing flue caps or terminations. (the wind fairies steal them)
  • Missing chimney cap or spark arrestor with proper rain cover.
  • Accumulation of debris – this accumulation traps moisture which will deteriorate the roof covering and flashings much faster.

In conclusion, water can be your friend or your enemy. As with most things, if you don’t control it, it can cause problems.

Inspector Dana

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