If you don't spend the money required to maintain your house properly now, you'll pay dearly for it later.
Caulking, grout, valve gaskets, clean drains and good plumbing are among your best defenses against interior water damage, one of the biggest threats to a house. Well-cared-for roofing, siding, gutters and downspouts and proper grading and drainage can prevent your house from becoming a casualty during inclement weather.
Broken pipes, leaking drains and cracks in shower walls are a few of the ways water can damage a house from the inside. It's crucial to repair leaks immediately.
A leaking roof, poorly flashed windows and doors, poorly maintained siding and bad drainage are common forms of water damage to the exterior. Damp basements or crawl spaces, cracks in concrete or foundations, sticking windows and doors and rotted framing and siding are also among common water-related problems.
It's easy to see how a damp basement or rotted siding is caused by water. But homeowners often fail to see the role of water in sticking windows and doors or a cracked foundation. Too much water can make a foundation sink or rise depending on the type of soil and the specific conditions. For example, "expansive soil," when wet, can cause a concrete pier under a house to rise. This, in turn, can cause a hump in the floor. This movement often causes doors and windows to stick; it also can result in cracks over windows and doors.
Another potential result of too much water around (or under) a house is rot. The moisture in a constantly damp crawl space can condense on the floor framing and the underside of the subfloor, ensuring their early demise.
A means of preventing water from collecting around the perimeter of a house is a gutter system. If your home doesn't have gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, make sure that they are not leaking and are clean and well anchored. A dirty gutter is worse than no gutters because debris can act as a dam that allows water to back up, causing roof leaks and rotten rafters and sheathing.
Gutter screens will help prevent leaves from collecting within a gutter, but they are no substitute for periodic gutter cleaning. Airborne dirt, runoff from the roof and deteriorating organic material (leaves, twigs, etc.) turn the inside of a gutter into a mulch pit. This material must be removed for the gutters to function properly.
Gutter cleaning doesn't rank high on the list of how most people would like to spend a weekend, but it pays big dividends. Start with a sturdy ladder planted firmly on the ground. When using an extension ladder, avoid placing it against an unsupported section of gutter. Failure to do so can cause the gutter to collapse and result in serious injury.
Years ago, during a visit to a local hardware store, we came across a tool that makes gutter cleaning a lot easier. The "Gutter Getter" is a plastic scoop with a flexible tip that conforms to any size gutter. A man who was trying to clean his ash-filled gutters after the Mt. St. Helens' eruption in 1980 invented it out of necessity.
Tired of having to move his ladder so often to clean his gutters, he later invented the "Gutter Grabber." This nifty tool allows you to clean up to 18 feet of gutter (9 feet in either direction) without moving your ladder. Its pointed blade fits into the corner of the gutter with the two sides flat against the bottom and one side of the gutter, cleaning both at the same time.
Use a garden hose with a spray attachment to thoroughly rinse the gutters and downspouts. Also, use the garden hose to test the gutters and downspouts. Look for signs of deterioration and make needed repairs using gutter caulk.
Prevent downspouts from becoming clogged by installing a strainer in the gutter immediately above the outlet to a downspout. The strainer allows rainwater to flow through while gutter debris is stopped where it can be easily cleaned away. Keep the strainer clean.
Having clean gutters and downspouts isn't enough. The mistake that many people make is to permit downspouts to discharge at the foundation's edge. A good rainwater collection system doesn't end at the bottom of the downspout. At a minimum, a precast concrete or plastic diverter should be placed below each downspout to direct water away from the house. This system is usually effective only if the ground surrounding your home slopes away from the foundation and water is not allowed to puddle.
A more effective system consists of a solid drainpipe below ground that connects to every downspout and discharges into a municipal storm drain or other water-collection system.
This system is no substitute for proper grading at the perimeter of your home. Use a steel rake along with a shovel to grade the soil to slope away from the foundation.
Readers can mail questions to On the House, APNewsfeatures, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020, or e-mail Careybro@onthehouse.com.