Excessive Moisture in the House Q&A

QUESTION

“For the past few weeks, I’ve been having a problem with moisture inside the house. I’ve noticed lots of condensation on my windows and mold starting to grow on the window frames, and at the base of several walls. When I clean the mold up, it goes away for a while, but then comes back. I’ve even noticed mold on some of the indoor flowerpots. I don’t know where all of the moisture is coming from, and what I need to do to correct this. Any suggestions?” – L.J., Oakland

 

ANSWER

Excessive moisture in a house is never a good idea, and over prolonged periods can allow mold and mildew to grow. What you are experiencing is common, and tends to occur after winter rains. During the winter the air and exterior elements of a house are cold and damp. To stay warm, we tend to keep our homes sealed up by closing all of our windows and doors. This eliminates natural ventilation and traps moisture inside the house. Without ventilation or enough temperature, moist air cannot circulate, and the moisture cannot evaporate.

Moisture inside a house only occurs if it is generated by the occupants of the house, or from some external source such as a plumbing or roof leak. Believe it or not, normal living conditions can generate several gallons of water vapor a day. Every time we cook, shower, wash or dry clothes, or even breath inside a house, we are releasing water vapor into the air. Unless we provide some means for this vapor to escape, it will remain in the house and condense on window, wall, and ceiling surfaces.

Ventilation is really the key to controlling moisture in a home, and when combined with some heat, it can ensure that a home remains comfortable and dry. Without ventilation, wet or humid air is drawn to cooler surfaces such as walls, windows, ceilings, or personal belongings, where it condenses on the surface. If the moisture does not evaporate, it creates a cool moist environment for the mold spores in the air to grow.

The first thing you should do is to determine what the sources of moisture can be. The most common sources are from bathing and cooking. Does condensation form on your walls and ceilings after cooking a meal or bathing? If so, you need to increase the ventilation in the area by using an exhaust fan or opening a window. Do you have indoor plants or aquariums? These are also big generators of moisture indoors.

Occasionally, indoor moisture can be the result of standing water under the house, or excessive moisture in the attic. Often times during the winter a home can have some amount of standing water under it, or excessive moisture in the attic from a roof leak or from a lack of ventilation. Moisture from the sub area and attic can infiltrate into the interior of the building through vapor pressure and condense on wall surfaces and personal belongings. It is important to check these areas of the house to ensure that they are well ventilated and basically dry.

If standing water is noted in the sub area, it may be necessary to have it pumped out, or to have fans installed to accelerate its drying. If excessive moisture is noted in the attic, it may be necessary to install additional eave or roof vents.

Moisture and mold growth on the inside of the house usually forms on surfaces that are not exposed to any air flow or movement of heat such as behind dressers, beds, and in closets. Moisture is more apt to condense on exterior walls that are not insulated and in rooms that do not have their own heat register or source of heat. Many homes built in the 1940’s through the 1960’s only had a centrally located wall or floor furnace. These heating units could not efficiently get heat into most of the bedrooms and bathrooms like the forced air furnaces used today. Because of this, it was common for mold to appear.

Once the sources of the moisture are realized, then you have the ability to deal with correcting the mold conditions. Minor amounts of surface mold can be cleaned and removed with a mild solution of chlorine bleach and water. Start by mixing one part bleach and 7 parts water and spraying the solution on the mold. Let this set for a few minutes, and the color of the mold will begin to disappear. Then, wash the area with soap (cleaning detergent) and water and dry. This will remove any mold spores that remain on the surface.

Finally, keep in mind the importance of keeping the interior of the house well ventilated. In the morning open the blinds so that any condensation on the windows can evaporate, and open doors to bedrooms so that air can circulate. And remember to either open a window or use the exhaust fan after bathing or cooking. Following these simple suggestions will normally keep mold from occurring.

Water Under a House Q&A

QUESTION

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a strong musty smell in the living room and dining room. I looked all over for signs of moisture or leakage but did not find any. However, when I looked into the sub area the smell got worse, and I noticed standing water under my house. The water appeared about 2” to 3” deep, and covered most of area that I could see. I’m very concerned, and do not know where the water is coming from. Is it possible that this is from a plumbing leak? How do I find out, and what do I need to do?” – D.S., Dublin

 

ANSWER

A little standing water under a house is not uncommon especially after all of the rains we have been having lately. Once the soil around the house gets saturated with water, water will tend to seep under it and often go unnoticed. However, too much standing water can cause structural damage to the foundation, corrosion to furnace ductwork, wood rot to the framing members, and cause mold and mildew to grow. The amount of water necessary to cause this damage depends a lot on the type of soil under a house, the amount of underfloor ventilation, and the clearances between the earth and the components of the house.

Standing water under a house is usually the result of only two things; either a leaking water line, or from surface water drainage around the house. If it was from a leaking water line, the leak would have to be substantial, and you would hear running water in the house. It would take a few days of leaking to create the amount of water you described, and the leak would continue until the water to the house was shut off.

I suspect that the water under the house is actually the result of poor surface water drainage around your home. It is important for all homes, whether they are built with a raised foundation or on a slab, to be constructed so that the water from rain and irrigation drains away from the house. This is why most homes built within the past 20 years have all of their downspouts connected to a drainage pipe to carry the water to the curb and gutter, and why walks, patios, and planter areas slope away from the house. Builders understand the importance of keeping water away from the house’s foundation.

To determine if the amount of water under your house is serious, look into the sub area from the access opening with a flashlight. Usually, if there is enough height to the sub area, standing water is not necessarily a concern. If the water only covers a small portion of the sub area, and other areas are dry, it is not significant, and will probably drain away after a few days.

However, if the water covers a large area and is in contact with the base of any wood supports, or the furnace ductwork, then the water should be removed. The simplest way to remove water from a sub area is to use a sump pump to pump the water out. The pump must be installed at the deepest area of water to be efficient, and the water needs to be discharged away from the house.

If it turns out that there is a lot of water under the house, then consideration must be given to improving the drainage around the perimeter. A simple investigation can often determine where the water is coming from. Water can drain into a sub area from planter areas next to a house, or low points in the landscaping. Walk around the outside of your house and see if you can spot where the low points might be. If most of the water is under the rear of the house, there is probable a low point at the rear yard. Next, check to make sure that all downspouts drain away from the building by using either splash blocks, or corrugated piping to divert the water to a safe location.

Sometimes correcting the low points of drainage and adjusting the downspouts is not enough to prevent the water from infiltrating into the foundation, and other measures must be considered. The best solution for keeping water from getting into the sub area is to install a French drain on the sides of the house where the water appears to be coming in. A French drain is basically a 12” wide trench dug around a building down to the base of the foundation, and then filled with gravel and a perforated pipe sloped to collect and divert the water to the street.

Although, basic in design, French drains often require the expertise of a foundation or drainage contractor, or landscaper to install so that they operate properly. If the drain is installed too far away from the house, does not have the proper slope, or has not be installed with a filter fabric (to keep the soil from clogging the trench), a French drain will not work. Installing a French drain can cost thousands of dollars, therefore before you consider one, make sure that it is necessary.

My best advice for homeowners is to check your sub areas at least twice during the rainy season for signs of standing water. If standing water has been under the house in the past, it will leave a mud like (bathtub) ring around the inside face of the foundation, the interior pier supports, and any furnace ducting or pipes that have been in contact with the water. Find out if there are drainage issues before they cause a problem, because it is much easier to fix them when it is not pouring rain and the ground is real muddy.

The Importance of PreSale Inspections Q&A

QUESTION:

“I am thinking of selling my house and a Realtor friend of mine suggested that I have the house inspected before I put it on the market. I don’t think that’s really necessary because we have only been in the house for five years and we have not made any changes. Won’t the buyers pay for an inspection when they buy the house? Is there any real reason why I should do it?” – A.C., Fremont

ANSWER:

“Regardless of how long you have lived in your home, the best protection you can give yourself is to have your house inspected prior to listing the property. Pre-sale inspections not only tell you the current condition of your home, they also help you to comply with a seller’s disclosure requirements, and limit your exposure to future liability. In California, a seller is responsible for disclosing every “known” material fact that may affect the desirability of the house. This includes potential “red flags”, and conditions which may indicate a problem such as, noisy neighbors, poor drainage, an un-permitted addition, illegal wiring, or unstable soil.

The fact of the matter is that most sellers know very little about the house that they own, and are often unaware of hidden concerns. Think about this. When was the last time you looked in the attic, or under the house? Have there been modifications or additions to the house that were not done with permits or not to code? The answers to these will be the basis of the information that you must legally disclose to a buyer prior to your sale of the house.

In most real estate transactions, a seller does not provide disclosure information to the buyer until after the buyer signs a contract. Usually, within 3 days of signing a contract, the sellers provide this information to the buyer. Any information that is not disclosed or is discovered after receiving the disclosure statement, can potentially create a situation of vulnerability for the seller, and delays in the sale.

To get a Realtor’s perspective on the value of ordering pre-sale inspections, I spoke with Tony Bruno, of the Coldwell Banker office on Walnut Avenue in Fremont. Tony is a well respected, and experienced agent who encourages a pre-sale inspection on all of his listings. “A pre-sale inspection not only protects my sellers from liability exposure”, said Tony, “but it also simplifies the transaction by putting all the information we know about the property up front. This benefits the buyers because they can review this information prior to making an offer, and can then decide if they want to proceed.

“The current market is absolutely a seller’s market, and most homes are being sold ‘as-is’. This gives the illusion that the seller is protected and that a buyer cannot sue, but this is not true. Sellers still have liability for anything that is not disclosed to the buyer”, Tony cautioned. He commented that a seller should order at least a general house inspection and a termite inspection. However, prudent sellers may also get roof, chimney, and sometimes appliance inspections.

The general house inspection will include an inspection of the property site, drainage around the building, the building exterior, the roof, chimney and the utility disconnects. It will also include the interior of the house, the electrical wiring, plumbing lines, the furnace and the water heater, and finally, information about the structural framing in the attic and the garage and the presence of any health and safety concerns.

Once the seller has this information, they have the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to fix or correct an item before they enter into a contract with a buyer. By disclosing this information up front to a buyer, a seller can prevent the buyer from trying to negotiate repairs on those items after they enter into the contract.

Tony stated, “I try to make the selling process as easy and painless a possible for both the buyers and sellers, and I have found that when all the facts are presented up front, each party can make intelligent and confident decisions about the transaction. In fact, local Realtors can now post this disclosure information on the Multiple Listing Service when they list the property. Buyers can view this before they even come to see a listing.”

If you are working with a Realtor, discuss the inspection reports with your agent before you make any decisions. Agents can often advise you whether or not it would be in your best interest to have certain items repaired. Correcting health and safety conditions, drainage or structural concerns is far more important than fixing something that poses little exposure to liability, or a minimal cost to fix. Your agent can also help you establish the terms of the sale based on what is being disclosed. If you would like to talk with Tony more about how sellers can benefit from the use of pre-sale inspections, he can be reached at 510-608-7626.

All About Homes has developed a three page check list called the “Seller’s Property Review”, that home owners can use to help evaluate the condition of their homes. If you would like to receive a copy of this checklist, visit our website or call our office.

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