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What Are The Ways Water Can Penetrate a Calgary Home?

How to Avoid Water Penetration in Calgary Image

What a home inspector looks for in assessing water management in your home.

Let's Stay Dry Out There!

Water, in all its forms, is an ever-present fact of life, especially for homeowners.  Households commonly use and dispose of hundreds of gallons of tap water on a daily basis. Torrents of rainwater must be successfully shed by the roof and walls during thunderstorms. Groundwater travels through the soil beneath the foundation. We control indoor humidity levels for maximum comfort. The house itself absorbs and releases moisture in the forms of condensation and water vapor. 

When a well-built home is properly maintained, water is a benefit and a pleasure.  On the other hand, uncontrolled water in our homes can cause damage, expense, and considerable inconvenience. It can lead to mold growth, rotting wood, and structural damage. It can also lead to the loss of irreplaceable personal belongings. 

How Your House Handles Water 

Imagine your house as a living thing. It has multiple ways to resist, absorb and channel excess moisture, as needed, to maintain its well-being, comfort and safety.  

Your House Repels Excess Water 

The exterior surfaces of your house, from the roof to the foundation, make up its envelope or "skin." The skin is designed to shed or repel excess water.  If it doesn’t, expect trouble. When roof flashings, windows, foundation walls, and other building components are not properly maintained, rainwater will find its way into vulnerable parts of your house. 

Your House Absorbs and Releases Excess Moisture 

All houses must absorb and release moisture constantly in order to maintain a healthy balance. If your house has "breathing" problems, many types of moisture problems can develop. Trapped moisture -- dampness that cannot be released, for one reason or another -- is one of the primary causes of fungus and mold growth in a house. Fungi can literally eat wood, causing decay, rot, and, ultimately, structural damage.  Trapped moisture in the walls can destroy the value of your insulation and, consequently, raise heating and cooling costs. Wood that stays moist attracts carpenter ants and other insects that can accelerate structural problems. 

Your House Transports Piped Water 

Directly beneath the skin of your house is a complex maze of pipes carrying fresh water into your house, and drain lines to dispose of water after its use. There are dozens of pipe joints and specialized fittings throughout your house, any one of which can develop a leak and cause moisture damage. 

Your House Needs a Firm, Dry Foundation 

The best foundation is a dry foundation. A water-damaged foundation is extremely expensive to repair and can lead to damage in the rest of the house. Groundwater, floodwater, and even rainwater from a misdirected downspout can undermine your foundation and cause settling cracks and wet floors and walls, and lead to conditions that can support the growth of undesirable bio-matter, including mold.

Frequent Causes of Moisture Damage 

Unwanted water can intrude through cracks in the protective skin of your house. It can also accumulate from interior moisture sources.  The most common causes of both types of moisture problems are covered in this section.

Roof and Flashing Problems

Roofing materials can wear out, break, rust, blow off, or otherwise fail and expose the roof deck and structural components beneath to moisture intrusion and damage. 

Most leaks occur around penetrations through the roof, such as at a chimney, plumbing vent, exhaust fan, and skylight. Flashings and sealant joints around these penetrations can crack, fail and leak. Intersections of roof surfaces at walls are also common leakage points. 

Old and defective shingles can curl and crack, allowing moisture intrusion. If old shingles aren’t removed before new roof shingles are applied, they can reduce the life of the new roof. Chimney caps can crack, allowing water into interior areas of the chimney. 

Shingle edges can fail, forcing rainwater to accumulate between the roof and gutter. 

Flat or low-pitched roofs have unique maintenance needs and are susceptible to water problems because they may not drain as quickly as roofs with a steeper pitch. 

Flat roof drains and scuppers can clog and hold water on the roof, increasing the risk not only of a leak but of a possible collapse of the entire roof under the weight of the water. 

Gutter and Downspout Problems 

Clogged gutters can force rainwater to travel up onto the roof and under shingles.  It can overflow and travel down the inside of the wall.  It can overflow and collect at the home’s foundation. 

First-floor gutters can overflow if second-floor gutters have been mistakenly directed to drain into them. 

An insufficient number of downspouts and undersized downspouts can cause gutters to overflow. 

Downspouts that don’t empty far enough away from foundation walls can lead to foundation wall damage and a wet basement. 

Ice Dams 

Inadequate attic insulation allows heat to escape from the house into the attic, which can turn rooftop snow into an ice dam along the eaves. Ice dams frequently force moisture to back up under the roof shingles where it can drip into the attic or walls. 

Clogged or frozen gutters can act like ice dams, pushing moisture up under the shingles and into the house. 

Soffits and Fasciae Can Become Damaged 

Damaged soffits (horizontal surfaces under the eaves) can allow snow and rain to be blown into the attic, damaging the insulation, ceilings and walls. 

Fascia boards (vertical roof-trim sections) can become damaged, allowing the moisture from rain and snow into the attic and atop interior walls. 

Weep Holes Can Become Clogged 

Weep holes, which are designed to allow moisture to escape from behind walls, can become blocked. 

Weep holes can freeze, forcing moisture to back up inside the wall cavity. 

Weep holes can become clogged with landscape mulch, soil and other material. 

Landscape Grade Changes Can Occur 

Recent landscaping modifications may result in water drainage back toward the foundation, rather than away from it. 

A newly built home lot may have been graded improperly, or the original foundation backfill may have settled over time, causing drainage problems. 

Automatic sprinklers may be spraying water onto or too close to the foundation walls. 

Window and Door Flashing and Seals May Need Repair 

Cracked, torn and damaged seals, weatherstripping, and flashing around windows and doors can allow wind-blown moisture to penetrate your house. 

Improperly installed windows and doors can allow moisture into the wall. 

Worn or failed weatherstripping can allow wind-driven rain to penetrate a closed window or door. 

Groundwater and Rainwater Collecting

During wet seasons, groundwater and misdirected rainwater can collect along the foundation wall, or beneath the floor or slab.  Unless it is directed away from the structure by a sump pump or corrected drainage, this moisture can lead to mold growth, wall failure, and other destructive moisture problems. 

If Plumbing Develops Slow or Catastrophic Leaks

Plumbing fixtures, including dishwashers, disposals, toilets, sinks, water heaters, showers, clothes washers, tubs and other enclosures, can have pipe-joint or hose-attachment failures and develop leaks, or hoses can rupture. 

Leaks inside walls may go undetected for some time and result in significant damage.

Kitchen appliances, such as a refrigerator, icemaker or dishwasher, can develop water line leaks.

Metal piping can corrode internally, or be damaged externally. 

Hanging heavy items from pipes can cause a leak or failure. 

Drains can clog and cause water to back up into the house. 

The water heater can have a slow leak or fail catastrophically, causing flooding. 

Condensation Can Form on Windows, Pipes and Inside Walls 

Condensation on windows can, at a minimum, damage window sills and finishes.  At worst, it can damage walls and floors, as well. 

Condensation on uninsulated pipes can collect nearby, or travel along a pipe, to accumulate far from the original source. 

Condensation can form inside improperly built walls and lead to serious water damage and biological growth that are hidden from sight. 

Heating and Air-Conditioning Systems Need Maintenance 

Lapses in regular maintenance can lead to moisture and comfort problems, ranging from clogged drain pans to iced-up cooling coils and mold within the system.  

Failure to clean and service air conditioners regularly can lead to diminishing performance, higher operating costs, and potential moisture problems. 

Humidifiers can add too much moisture to a house, leading to dampness and mold. 

Sump Pumps Need Maintenance or Replacement 

Neglecting to test a sump pump routinely -- especially if it is rarely used -- can lead to severe water damage, especially when a heavy storm, snow melt or flooding sends water against your home. 

Overload of the sump pump due to poor drainage elsewhere on the property can lead to pump failure. Frequent sump operation can be a sign of excessive water buildup under the basement floor.  This can be due to poorly sloped landscaping, poor rain runoff, gutter back-flows, and other problems. 

Lack of a back-up sump pump, which can be quickly activated in the event the first pump fails, can lead to serious water damage and property loss. This is especially important if you rely heavily on your sump pump to maintain a dry basement, or if you live in an area of seasonally high groundwater.  Sump failure can cause extensive water damage and the loss of valuable personal belongings.  

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Doug Bowman

Certified home inspector, condominium document analyst and Realtor. More than 10 years experience in general real estate.

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