For countless years, we’ve studied, trained and certified ourselves on the types, effects, and steps to mitigating water damage, but do we really understand its causes and its origin? While we may have spent countless dollars and hours on ASCR and IICRC mitigation training, often we overlook the most critical part of our training. The cause of moisture mitigation is not only an important step in creating a permanent moisture-free environment, but also a critical step in addressing the problem in the first place. After all, how effective can mitigation efforts be without determining the source, extent, frequency and duration of the water damage? Sometimes even these answers can be more important in the long run than determining the type or amount of water damage present – especially with recent trends in mold coverage and remediation options. So where can we start? Whether you have 30 years in the construction business or 3 months, you’ll find that virtually all moisture intrusion problems result from virtually the same 10 reasons:
• Landscape and drainage issues
By far the most common cause of water intrusion is landscape grading and proper drainage. With the advent of mulch mounds and mold damage, directing water away from buildings has never been more important. The best landscape solutions allow for water to flow away from the building naturally by using the natural slope of the land rather than various drainage systems. Although temporarily effective, drainage systems should be employed as a backup mechanism when effective landscape grading is impossible or when the water runoff is uncharacteristically heavy. As they will become obstructed and fail over time, it is important to periodically check their effectiveness.
•Wallpaper or other moisture barriers
When considering decorating options, consider the environment. Although vinyl wallpaper may allow for easy maintenance, it may not be the best option for a basement or a bathroom where leaks and moisture rage a constant battle. Applying high-gloss paint or using vinyl wallpaper locks in just as much moisture as it keeps out and this locked-in moisture will result in mold damage. Sometimes simply letting the walls breathe may be the very best option.
• Construction related water damage
Sometimes a moisture problem needs to be traced all the way back to its roots. Was the home adequately protected from moisture throughout the construction process? Although complete water protection is impossible during the construction process, did the construction company protect the materials while they sat in the driveway for weeks before being used? Did they finish the roof before installing the drywall? All of these are important questions and will determine the health of the home and its inhabitants.
• Drywall installation
Since drywall is the number one victim of mold damage, it is important to address the original installation of the drywall material. Was the drywall lifted off the floor with a drywall-lifting tool prior to installation? Provided that this was done, the drywall panel may be up to 1” off the floor, thereby eliminating multiple moisture problems resulting from frequent but small water damages.
• Roof and gutter design
Most exterior water damage problems start at the top. Ultimately every moisture problem below the roofline, other than landscaping issues, may have been prevented or certainly lessened if the roof design and gutter system did its job. It is for this reason that one of the first things to identify in exterior water damage is the role of the roof. Do the slopes of the roof allow for water to run away from the home or do they simply allow water to flow back toward another exterior wall like a waterfall? Where necessary, was a cricket or saddle roof installed to direct the water away from chimneys or walls? Are the gutters large enough to handle the amount of water they will receive in a normal rainfall? Most importantly, are there adequate, dedicated downspouts to handle the water?
• Tile installation
Obviously, the bathroom is a room that needs to be designed with water in mind. This not only applies to the sink, toilet and the shower, but also the floors and walls. While it may be acceptable to install a tile kitchen backsplash over drywall or plywood, this may not be acceptable on a bathroom surface that will receive constant soaking. Check and see if a concrete board, cement base or even a rubber membrane has been installed in these locations to prevent future water damage problems. This will give the tile a solid base on which to be installed while repelling water much better than plywood or normal drywall.
• Hydrostatic pressure, sump pump and floor drains
This category is a catchall for the various problems encountered in just about every basement. In some situations, and depending on the current building code, these problems may either be related or be entirely separate. Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure water exerts on the exterior walls of a basement foundation. It is typically found where the foundation is below the local water table level. As concrete is porous, the extent to which this water pressure overwhelms any applied moisture protection will determine the amount of water intrusion into the basement. Hydrostatic pressure can be amplified by the effect of the ground as it swells and further drives trapped water into the foundation in the case of a severe rainstorm after a drought. While a sump pump may help to relieve this pressure, an electrical failure or mechanical failure can quickly change the outcome as the water overwhelms the sump pump. Homes without sump pumps or those with inadequate pumps may find themselves the victims of multiple water damage problems within a day or two of each other. This further complicates mitigation attempts as it extends the incident time and delays drying.
• Exterior surfaces (brick, EIFS and stucco)
As with all construction materials, the installation is as important as the quality of the materials. This is no different with brick, EIFS (Exterior Insulated Finishing System) and stucco. Provided that the materials are installed properly, each surface treatment can work properly for many years and provide a very comfortable and efficient living environment. Although building codes and manufacturers’ instructions vary, the basic rule is to allow for the release of moisture that accumulates from the temperature differential between the interior of the home and the exterior. It is for this reason that each exterior surface is designed with moisture venting systems and vapor barriers to protect the living environment. It is important that not only these surfaces be installed with vents and moisture barriers, but that they are also properly maintained and kept above ground level.
• Moisture barriers and caulking
Although a minor part of the reconstruction process, proper installation of flashing, vapor barriers and caulking can be a critical step to preventing moisture intrusion. While installation methods vary greatly depending upon the surfaces involved and the joint, the basic premise is to once again drive water away from the house and to make sure that they are periodically inspected and repaired. When installing vapor barrier treatments to window and door openings, it is not only important to continue the treatment up to the opening, but it is also important to wrap each opening as well. When installing flashing, particularly in brick, caulking is never an acceptable alternative to an actual mortar cut that places the flashing between the brick rather than just on the surfaces. When dealing with caulk, the key is to apply it to any open joint (other than vents left open to allow air circulation and moisture release) and to reapply as necessary or on an annual basis. Sometimes this $20 repair will prevent a $20,000 mitigation project.
• Pressure differentials and exhausting mechanisms
When there is a difference in temperature between an interior and exterior environment, air infiltration will occur. Air infiltration during a winter season will result in what is called the stack effect. The stack effect occurs when the warm air within an indoor environment rises and escapes from the upper portion of the home and from the ceiling and attic. As this warm air is released, cold air is pulled in from the bottom portion of the house to replace it. That is why sometimes severe energy loss may be an indication of a moisture problem; especially if an adequate moisture barrier at the bottom of the house is not in place. When this happens, the cold air may also bring in moisture with it. Although, makeup air systems and highly efficient insulation systems help to equalize this pressure differential, they are no substitute for other moisture prevention measures such as flashing and landscape grading. Adding to this problem are any bathroom fans and dryer vents that may or may not vent to the outside. Not only do they create unnecessary humidity when they fail to exhaust outside, but they also compound the pressure differential problem.
Through careful analysis of the above 10 points, an experienced restorer can make not only correct mitigation judgments, but he or she might also be able to provide the customer with crucial guidance on how to avoid them in the future. With a long-term approach such as this, the experienced restorer will not only be able to grow the business, but also save time and expense. After all, isn’t that the value that we promise to our customers every day?