Home inspectors guarantee that the basement will be dry – at least, that’s what buyers may think. In reality, inspectors must identify any signs of moisture intrusion and advise the buyer on steps to take. Understanding how water intrusion occurs will make us all better home inspectors.
When basement leaks indicate
a brick problem
Take a look at the top of the block basement wall in the photo below. Staining at the top of the wall almost always indicates a surface water issue: Water on the surface of the soil is entering the block from the outside (illustration B013). But this pattern is a little different – lower on the block, and uniform. Hmmm.
This certainly should be identified as abnormal entrance of water into a home. Does an inspector stop there or take a look outside? Since I was serving as a consultant to help the owner resolve this problem, I investigated a little further than I would during a home inspection.
What I found outside
The owner had been trying to solve the problem with grading, gutters and extended downspouts, but leaking and staining continued. While surface drainage was done correctly, soil and bark were piled high against the brick veneer. The owner had little choice with this because of an adjacent high driveway. The gutter was clear. Downspouts discharged into an underground flex tube, which had just been replaced and was working.
Compounding the problem were small roof overhangs over the 1½-story brick surface. The brick wall faced north, straight into the direction of most wind-driven rain. The brick became saturated every time it rained.
Digging up soil at the base of the brick veneer, down to the top of the block wall, revealed no visible flashing and no weeps. Ouch.
How they should have built it
Remember that all siding can leak, including wood, vinyl, brick and faux stone. Behind brick veneer, there should be a 1-inch air space and at least one layer of a moisture-resistant barrier. The barrier should be terminated at flashing to the exterior, with weeps to drain water and allow ventilation (illustration X002C).
This wall was built incorrectly: no flashing, no weeps and the brick veneer buried in the soil. If there is a flashing, it does not extend beyond the face of the brick (illustration B077). Compounding the problem was a lack of overhangs to stop rain from saturating the brick on this north-facing wall.
Coming up with solutions
The best solution would be to remove the brick and rebuild the area properly by raising the top of the basement wall, adding a moisture barrier with a proper air gap behind the brick, and installing proper flashing with weeps.
A cheaper alternative would be to remove the lowest brick portions, install a flashing under the moisture barrier in sections and add weeps. If there is a moisture barrier in place, the area should be backfilled with gravel to allow drainage and drying.
But owners always want the cheapest solution. So we will spray the brick with a breathable sealer that rejects bulk moisture, backfill the outside with gravel, cross our fingers and monitor the area for leaks.
A final tip
You should understand the many ways moisture can enter homes and inform your customers of any concerns you notice. Never guess at a solution to a problem if you are not sure of the answer. Unfortunately, brick veneer is often installed incorrectly – but luckily, it doesn’t always leak because it is protected by wide overhangs and does not face wind-driven rain.
Tom Feiza has been a professional home inspector since 1992 and has a degree in engineering. Through HowToOperateYourHome.com, he provides high-quality marketing materials that help professional home inspectors boost their business. Copyright © 2015 by Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It, Inc. Reproduced with permission.