It’s a rainy Friday and I’m sitting at my desk looking at the soggy earth, wondering how it would affect the deck party that my wife and I plan to attend. As I look out the window, I notice that the downspout from my porch roof is disconnected. The rain water is being dumped right next to the footer.
I should go right out and reconnect it but it’s raining pretty hard. I might get wet. Maybe I’ll wait until the rain stops. The trouble is, that is what I thought the last time it rained. So as soon as I’m done with this blog I guess I’ll go out and fix it.
A few years ago, I taught a continuing education class for real estate appraisers. The title was “What Makes a Good House Go Bad”. It covered a number of items that can affect the structure and value of a house. Two of those items have to do with water and one of its characteristics. When water freezes, it expands. Fill a cup to the top with water, put it in the freezer and watch what happens. So, how can that cause your house to go bad?
Expanding water can cause sheetrock cracks and it could also cause foundation failure. Let me first address sheetrock cracks. Many homeowners, in the Poconos and elsewhere, head south for the winter. When they do, they “winterize” their houses. Typically, that includes draining the plumbing system and turning off the water and heat. It may not be obvious to the homeowner, but wood framing members contain small amounts of water. When the water freezes, it expands. The freezing/thawing cycle causes the wood to expand and twist. Over time, sheetrock cracks can develop. The solution is to prevent the house from freezing. Most home builders recommend that the heat should not be reduced below 55 degrees (F). I know that the homeowner will have to pay for the cost of heat, but in the long run, the house will last longer.
Now, back to my rainspout, when storm water is allowed to infiltrate the soil adjacent to the foundation the long term effect can be catastrophic. Figure 1 below illustrates how water can wash out the soil that has been backfilled next to the foundation. The same freezing/thawing cycle discussed above can, over time, cause foundation failure. Rainwater is more plentiful than the small amounts of water that can be found in framing lumber and, when frozen, it can expand dramatically causing the foundation to heave. One indicator that this is occurring is a horizontal crack that can develop along the basement wall at about the mid-height, see Figure 2 below.
If you see cracks like the one above, call a foundation expert as soon as you can. If you haven’t got any cracks yet, fix the downspout, which is what I’m going to do right now.
The next time it rains, I’ll write a blog about another item caused by water that will make a good house go bad -- mold.