Mastering Home Inspections: Tackling Water Woes Inside & Out

Dated: March 7 2024

Views: 38

Well, Mike, as I know, but for those who don't know, you are a home inspector. Why don't you tell them a little bit about who you are and what you do in terms of that?

Yeah, so we're House Master Home Inspections, we're based in Bellingham. We complete inspections, full home inspections for buyers, sellers, and homeowners as well. Also, commercial building owners. We also complete radon monitoring, water and air, wood-destroying insect reporting, and mold sampling.

Okay, the full gambit.

Yeah, the full gambit of what you don't want in your house, right?

Exactly. It seems like a lot of the outside systems that we have on our house to keep it nice and dry and livable, and enjoyable to be in that space, is all about getting rid of water. Tell me a little bit about your experience when you're inspecting a home, what you're looking for, and if that's definitely up there.

Yeah, to me, that's an issue I couldn't agree more with. In New England, we have very wet weather, right? In the past nine months or so, it has made that very clear. It's a big issue. It all seems like common sense, right? But sometimes it's easier to maintain than it's easier to think about maintaining it than to actually get it done. So what we're looking at is your roof. You want a nice deep pitch to shed water away from the home. Super simple, feeds to your gutters. You want your gutters to be nice and clear, feeding to your downspouts, which go away from the home. Once it gets out to the grade of the home, you want your grade pitched away from your house. So it all seems very simple. People go, 'Oh, I can do that, that's no problem,' right? But it's more like easier said than done a lot of times. And it leads to a host of issues, especially when you have older homes in this area with, whether it be stone foundations or granite brick stone combinations, they're very porous and they kind of show up in a multitude of issues, whether it be rot, insect damage, termites, powder post beetles, could be mold issues, pests, well, like some of those issues that you just described with like those insects, and specifically wood-boring insects in which those are a larger concern than just, you know, like a ladybug chilling in my house or something like that because they're eating things that are important for the house to stand up, right?

Right. My understanding of that is that like termites like wet wood, right? And so like it usually comes starts with some type of leak or improper flashing or something like that which then leads to a damp area and then the bugs come, right? So, you know, what's like when you're walking around the outside of a house, like, what areas are you really paying attention to? Is it, you know, I feel like the middle of a clapboard siding is important but maybe not the most like, what are you looking for?

Yeah, when it comes to, let's say, like termites, you're talking about. So in our area, we have subterranean termites, meaning simply meaning they come from the ground and they're searching for cellulose, right? That's what they're looking for, the part of the wood that they love. And they need moisture to make that happen, right? They want to be in that environment, they want the moisture. So a few things we're looking for is we're looking down at the foundation level. You'll see termite tubes going up, a lot of people have probably seen them before, call them mud tubes, right?

Right, right.

So you see them traveling up. Another thing we'll look for is when you bring wood members of a home, like you're talking about, close to the ground. Okay, so again, subterranean termites, it makes it a little bit easier. They're out there searching, they're looking for their cellulose, and if you bring it close to them, right in the ground, it makes it much easier for them. And then again, the moisture, like we said, makes it... that's basically where they want to be, they want to be around those moist, warm areas. Right?


So one thing that you might have told me that you want separation, so like at your foundation level, be above the ground, you want something that isn't really attractive to insects, bugs, water, whatever. And I think it was you that told me that like every time like mulch has termites in it, so like when we like bring landscaping and, you know, right up to our... not necessarily like concrete foundation, but like to the siding, when you have mulch touching siding or, you know, other natural wood products, like I feel like you're asking for trouble a little bit there, you know? What have you seen out in the field with that?

So a couple things. A lot of many mulches are treated, so they're in good shape. But sometimes you're just... your natural mulches, but you're still going to have bugs, they're going to be in the area. And like we said, they're in the ground and you talk of clearance spot on. So clearance, you want a bare minimum of six inches from grade up to any framing members, yeah? And then even siding. So that would even go for let's say a vinyl siding, okay? So a lot of people will be thinking, 'Well, vinyl, it's plastic, no worries, right?' Because it's not going to chew that, right? There's no issues. But behind that, you're going to have wood sheathing, you're going to have your wood framing, it's all going to be behind there and that's what, again, what they're looking for, for sure.

And talking to... talking on the importance of clearance, this is one of my pet peeves when like we're looking at houses. I feel like people put trees too close to houses, yeah? You know what I mean? Like you plant a tree and yes, that ARB, it happens a lot with the arborvitae or sometimes with like rhododendron, which people don't realize how big that bush grows, uh, and then like, you know, 20 years later, it's like in... in, you know, encasing the entire like family room window and you can't get sunlight in anymore. Like, how far away from should I be putting, you know, trees or landscaping because I want my front to look good, I want good curb appeal for my house, I want to be attractive, you know, but like what's that distance that you like really, really good question, and it all kind of goes together with what you were talking about a minute ago, you're talking about the mulch specifically, you're speaking on the mulch. Kind of go back to that and then I'll come to the the vegetation.

The mulch, what folks

 will do is they'll put mulch against the house and it'll be a nice wide swath of it, okay? That's not good because that is what's going to attract, that's going to hold moisture up against your house, and then it's going to rot your house, right? So you want it just a nice little barrier, a nice little bead around the house, right?


But when it comes to your trees, your trees can... yeah, your trees can hold moisture up against the house, too, okay? So, again, a lot of people think, 'Well, I have a maple tree, I'm good,' right? But you have to remember, you have roots and you have the tree itself. So they're both searching for water, right? That's what they're doing. They're searching for water. And especially the roots. So if your foundation's a little bit leaky, a little bit porous, you have a great environment for them to get into, right? So what we're saying is you want about a minimum of 10 feet away from your foundation, right? But you're still, you're still going to get roots, especially in our area, we have very high water tables, so we have a lot of roots, a lot of roots. So what we're saying is at the end of the day, minimum 10 feet, but if you're looking at 15, 20 feet, you're looking a lot better, right?

Yeah, and especially, especially with like a very large tree like that, like the root ball on like a 50-year-old tree is like, it's not 10 feet wide, but it's like probably eight feet wide, you know? So you get like a... you get a... yeah, you get a decent, decent amount of clearance between the two. Is there, is there any other tips or tricks that you can think of for like the outside of the house? Like I know that you guys are inside and outside, like when you're talking to people on the phone or like after an inspection, what's something that you're like, 'Hey, by the way, you should be doing this, it'll help you out.'

Yeah, that's a great question. So a couple of things, I'll bring up one thing I think you guys already talked about was your gutters, right? So you want to make sure your gutters are clean, especially in our area, you're getting a lot of tree debris, especially in the fall, right? So you want to make sure that those gutters are nice and clear. One thing that I like to see is let's say you have a sloped yard and your gutters are draining down to your downspout, right? So it's coming down, you're getting all that water, you're getting all that debris down to your downspout. Well, now you have the problem of what we were talking about earlier, now you have that water right against your foundation. So what I like to see is a little extension, just an extension off your downspout, maybe four or five feet away from your house. So it's getting all that water away from your house, but you're not just putting it right back down to your house, right? So that's a big one for me. And then again, going back to your grade, your grade is so, so important. A lot of people, they'll build up around their house, right? They'll say, 'Well, I want to protect the house, so I'm going to bring the grade up around the house.' Well, now you're directing all that water right down to your house, okay? So that's a big one for me. A lot of people think they're doing the right thing, but it's really not the right thing. You want to slope it away from your house, right? So that's a couple of things that I like to bring up.

That's actually really funny that you bring that up, because like last week, I was up in Canada visiting my brother, and like, in the wintertime they get a lot of snow, you know, a lot of snow, and so they were taking the snow from their driveway, and they were like putting it up against the house to create like a berm, and I was like, 'Man, like that's just like not the move.' Because now you're like essentially creating a dam, and then you know, like come March when things start melting and like, everything comes flowing, like all that water is going right into the house. And he's like, 'Yeah, we had a little bit of an issue with that last year,' you know? So I think it's just... it's so important for people to understand like that little bit of clearance is the difference between a dry basement and a wet one, you know?

Exactly, yeah. And that's funny you bring up the snow because it's the same thing, it's the same concept, right? So you want to keep that snow away from your house. So you get these big, big snow piles, it's the same thing, it's the same concept, it's keeping that water away from your house. And especially around here, we have a lot of freeze-thaw, right? So that's going to... that's going to just wreak havoc on your foundation, on your... on your outside, on your decks, on your concrete, everything. So it's really important, really important.

What's one of the worst things that you've seen in terms of like poor exterior maintenance? You know, like when you show up and you're like, 'Oh, this is not good.'

Yeah, so a couple things. So we've been talking a lot about wood-destroying insects, so termites. And so we went to a house and you can actually see the evidence on the outside of the house, which you don't normally see. You see the tubes, the tubes we were talking about earlier. So that's... that was pretty bad. Another thing that we've seen that's pretty bad is just the overall, the overall... not really maintenance, but the overall construction of the house. So let's say they built it up around the house, they have the water coming down to the house, they have all this rot, they have all this insect damage. It's just... you go down in the basement, it's just a total mess. It's a total mess. And so it's... it's tough because a lot of these houses, they look great, right? You pull up, it's a beautiful house, but then you start looking around, you're like, 'Wow, this is a... this is a disaster.' So it's tough. It's really tough, yeah.

Yeah. I... that... that was one of my questions that I had on here was like, 'What's the thing that you find the most in the basements of houses?' And my... my... I think it's mold, right? Like, I feel like you walk in, you see like black spots all over the place, you know? And it's... it's really... it's not a great thing. So, you know, when... when you're in a basement and you see... like, what do you do? You know, what's the

... what's the... what's the protocol for that?

Yeah, so you're right. It's... it's mold, it's a big issue. And so what we do is we're looking for... we're looking for signs of water intrusion, right? So we're looking at the basement walls, we're looking at the floor, we're looking at your sump pump. So sump pump, big issue, right? So sump pump is designed to take water away from your house, right? That's what it's doing. So a couple of things we're looking at. We're looking at the grade, we're looking at where your downspouts are coming out, we're looking at the sump pump. So if you have water coming in through your walls, we want to address that, we want to get that under control. We want to look at the sump pump, make sure that's functioning properly, and we want to see what... what conditions it's in. So it's... it's a big deal. And then also when it comes to your floor, so if you have water coming up through your floor, we're... we're looking at where it's coming from, we're looking at where it's going, we're looking at how much you have, you know? So it's... it's a big... it's a big issue, and it's... it's... it's not something you want to mess with, for sure.

Yeah, and it's... it's one of those things where like once you see it, like it's like, okay, this is an issue, like now we have to... we have to do something about it, you know? And... and it's not... it's not always cheap to... to do it, you know? So I think like... like we're talking about, like just a little bit of maintenance every year, like cleaning out your gutters, like making sure that you have that clearance, you know? Like it'll save you in the long run, you know? You're... you're... you're spending a couple hours on a Saturday, or you're paying someone, you know, a couple hundred bucks to clean your gutters out, like that... that's gonna save you, you know, probably tens of thousands of dollars in the long run, because it's... it's a lot easier to prevent than it is to... to fix, you know?

Absolutely. And it's... and it's tough because a lot of these houses, they... they look... they look fine, you know? You pull up, it's... it's a beautiful house, but then you start... you start looking around, you start seeing all these issues, you start... you start seeing the mold, you start seeing the insect damage, you start seeing the... the... the... the rot, you start seeing the... the... the issues with the foundation, the issues with the grading, and you're like, 'Wow, like this... this is... this is a disaster waiting to happen,' right? And so, like you said, it's a lot easier to take care of it, you know, before it becomes a... a huge issue. So that's... that's... that's what we're... that's what we're doing, you know? That's what we're... that's what we're trying to... trying to help people out with.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I... I... you know, I can speak for myself, and... and... and say that like, I don't like going into a basement and feeling like I have to shower when I get out, you know? And like, a lot of times you... you get... you get that feeling when... when you're down there and you're like, 'I shouldn't... I shouldn't be breathing in this air, you know?'

Absolutely. And... and... and... and... and not just for... for... for health, right? Not just for the health of your... your home, but... but for... for your family, too, right? So it's... it's a big deal. And... and I know you had... you had mentioned it earlier, too, it's... it's... it's an energy thing, too, right? So if you're... if you're... if you're house is... is... is... is... is not... not sealed up, it's... it's costing you money, right? So it's... it's... it's a big issue. It's... it's... it's something that... that people don't... don't always think about, but it's... it's... it's... it's... it's... it's a... it's a big... it's a big issue.

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Mike, I... I want to... I want to thank you so much for joining us today. This has been... this has been awesome. I feel like I've... I've learned... I've learned a ton. I hope everyone out there has learned a ton, too. Um, and... and yeah, I just want to... I just want to thank you again for... for... for being here.

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Tim Lumnah

Hello, I’m a REALTOR® and Certified Buyer Representative graced with the great honor of buying and selling homes for the community of Greater Boston. I grew up in Massachusetts and work....

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