To save yourself remorse, keep the house dry

“Ah, the joys of home ownership!”

We’ve all heard that wry adage before, usually in regards to some pricy or inconvenient home repair.  But if you keep track of the work that goes into a home, you’ll find one inescapable truth: most damage inside a house is caused by water flowing to places where it doesn’t belong.

Let me name a few of the classics: roof leak, frozen/burst pipes, wood rot and eventually termites (they like rotten wood), basement seepage, mold, and mildew. Whether you’re a brand-new homeowner or have been in your house for decades, I recommend taking the time to inspect and consider any repair needs that will protect the investment that you call home, especially as we head into winter.

  1. Roof: It may not be exciting or fun, but the roof is a home’s most important structural element. After all, what else is shelter but a roof over our heads? If you have attic space, inspect it 2-3 times a year and look for leaks, particularly after a heavy rain. Be extra vigilant around a chimney, and if possible, inspect the flashing around the base of the chimney for any weak spots where water could enter. If your roof is difficult to reach or has no attic, hire a roofing company to look at the roof every few years, and address any sudden ceiling stains- they are likely signs of a leak.
  2. Gutters: Don’t under-estimate the importance of a working gutter. Especially this time of year, clean leaves out of the gutter and make sure the water has a proper place to go. I saw a house where a clogged gutter led to water damage on the exterior wall, which led to termite infestation in the adjoining floor joist!
  3. Plumbing: Pipes need to be looked at on an annual basis. A minor leak can be fixed with a $5 pipe, but left unaddressed, the repair will be much pricier. Places to inspect: under all sinks and toilets, behind the access panel to the tub/shower, where the water line enters the home (usually the basement or garage), and the laundry area. If there are pipes in an unheated area, cover them with foam pipe insulators or even electric warmers. If your area has had a deep freeze, keep an eye on your pipes. If your house is vacant over the holidays, keep the heat at 60F to protect the plumbing, or if you’re leaving for an extended period of time, drain the lines and shut the water off!
  4. Basement: Some basements are just damp. Many homes are built in wet areas (like our aptly named Whitemarsh and Springfield Townships), and basements get seepage from the earth around them. If you’re a new homeowner, spend a year or two in the house before finishing the basement. A heavy storm has destroyed many new walls and carpets in basements- if you really want to finish yours, be sure to get a french drain and sump pump/pit dug before taking any other steps. A french drain provides a stream for water to flow through around the basement’s perimeter, and the sump pit will collect and the sump pump will pump out the water, keeping the rest of the room dry.
  5. Yard drainage: Is your backyard like a sponge after a rainstorm? The Philadelphia region has a lot of older homes; many homes were landscaped with a swale to divert water, but after 50 years or more, a yard’s grade is often, well, degraded. By hiring a professional to re-grade the slope to send water away from your house, and if necessary re-dig the yard’s drainage, you can actually make a difference in drying out the basement and get to enjoy your yard for more months of the year.

These aren’t the flashy renovations that make your home look better, but these maintenance recommendations will keep your home dry. By keeping unwanted water out of your property, you are protecting everything that is in the property, saving you grief and money down the road.

-Michelle Cross Smith, Realtor®

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