Friday, March 1, 2013

Ice Damming

Can you see four inches of ice sitting on top of these gutters? 

Why does this happen on some houses and not others?

Can you see the snow is melted below the chimney and near the upper portion of the roof? 

Are there visible roof vents?  No.
Is there at soffit vent at the eave? No.
Is there a ridge vent? No.

We all know heat rises.  This rule of physics applies inside a house as well. 

The reason the snow melted on this house is that the shingles were heated from underneath even though the outside temps were well below 32 before this picture was taken.  The melting occurred from underneath. The water ran down the roof, and as it got out from above the heated area, froze and created a thick, heavy of layer of ice at the eave. 

This ice not only puts a lot of weight on a home's gutters, it can expand up under the shingles, and as it melts, find its way through the nail holes and create leaks in a ceiling or wall. 

The objective of a roof ventillaton system is to equalize temperatures underneath the roof with temperatures outside. 
As you can see from the illustration, there are several ways to vent your roof. 

Effective venting coupled with excellent insulation that keeps the heat inside the living space is the correct way to address a problem like ice damming. 

Another culprit that may create melting on your roof when temps are below freezing, even if you appear to have a well vented roof and proper insulation, is recessed lighting in the ceiling just below the attic.  The image below shows an infrared photo of a what a recessed light may look like in an attic.

These energy powerhouses can provide enough heat in an attic to raise the temperature under the shingles above 32 and melt the snow above them.

What can you do about this?  One idea is to change to a much cooler LED, or compact flourescent lit can.  Halogen bulbs have been the most common type of bulb in recessed lighting.  Try touching a halogen bulb after its been on for a few minutes.  They burn very hot.  Many can lights are equipped with high temperature shut off protection, so even if you can devise a way to prevent the heat from a halogen bulb from escaping into your attic, you have raised the risk of having your can lights shut themselves off because they get too hot.  LED bulbs burn at a fraction of the temperature of halogen bulbs and have become much more affordable than in the past.  They burn less energy and last many times longer than their halogen counterparts. 

Contact Integrated Home Inspections for more information on how you can alleviate ice damming at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Water in the basement

If its not the number one cause of anxiety for home buyers and sellers alike, its in the top five. Some of that anxiety may be mitigated with a better understanding of the systems in place to control that water and some of the more common areas of failure. 

Without question the most common cause of wet basements is surface water drainage.  This is something that can be easy to detect and relatively straightforward to remedy.  Common deficiencies are: 
-  Negative grading of soft surfaces - surface water drains back toward the house.  Many times this is caused by settling.
-  Negative drainage of hard surfaces - Sidewalks, patios, and stoops
-  Malfunctioning Gutter and Downspout systems - melting snow and rain is not moved away from the foundation.
-  Drainage systems are impeded by ice, roots, silt, have been crushed or there is a blockage down the line.

When surface causes are addressed and appear to be in working order, we look for signs of system failures that are a little harder to see.  An understanding of the foundation drain tile and sump pump system is required. 

The image above represents a general foundation water management design that has been used in homes for the last 50 years. 

The two circles represent drain pipes or "drain tiles."  These are open areas where water can collect and be moved to manageable areas.  There are generally drain tiles outside the foundation at the footing and inside the foundation around the perimeter of the footing leading into the sump croc which is the trapezoid with the arrow coming up and out. 

Outside and inside drain tiles are connected by "bleeder" tiles in the footing. This design creates a low resistance path to move water from outside the foundation to inside the foundation under the concrete floor and into the sump croc where it is pumped out of the basement and away from the house. 

Generally, when the sump mechanism or inside drainage system is not functioning properly, water is seen seeping into the foundation area at the base of the walls and up through cracks or openings in the concrete floor. 

Troubleshoot this system by starting with the sump pump. 
-  Be sure your pump has power! Sounds simple but storms take out power, breakers can be tripped, outlets may go bad, plugs may be partially or fully removed.  A back-up power plan is always a good idea.
-  Make sure the float is functioning by plugging the pump directly into the outlet and bypassing the float switch.  Floats can malfunction for many reasons and sometimes need to be adjusted within the croc.
-  If the pump isn't pumping, troubleshoot the pump.  Many times debris or a small stone can get into the pump and lock it up.  Otherwise it may be past its usable life and needs replacement.  They don't last forever.  It's a good practice to learn how to check your sump pump for proper operation throughout the year.
-  Inside tiles may be blocked with silt or concrete.  If the pump is working and water isn't flowing well into the croc, you may have inside drain tile problems. 

If your outside tiles are not functioning correctly you may see water forming further up the wall.  Many times, silt fills in these tiles and they can no longer move water to the inside tiles and into the sump croc.  It can take dozens of years for this problem to develop.  Contact a qualified foundation inspector to do more exhaustive testing. 

Lastly, water that originates away from the outside walls, and is more interior to your basement, is likely from other interior sources.   Keep in mind that, generally, in more modern construction, your clearwater sump system is separate from your sanitary system in your home.  This means your floor drains, where condensation from your furnace runs, and discharge from appliances like water softeners drain IS NOT connected in any way to your sump pump.  Circumstances may vary and if you are in an older house the sanitary sewer may be connected to the storm and sump system.  Check with a qualified inspector or contractor to best determine your unique situation. 

Through careful, and methodical, evaluation you can systemmatically begin to determine the root causes of basement water and quickly get on the road to repair.  To contact me for further information please visit: