The Guys have been associated with the noble industry of construction for all of our adult lives.

We have seen many mistakes and made a few of our own. The unfortunate reality of some housing mistakes is a two-fold issue. The first is that many such faux pas are the result of “doing what everyone else is doing” without understanding the potential repercussions. The second is that homeowners generally end up paying for them.

Over the course of a couple articles, we will try to explore a few of these, in no particular order, in the context of what they represent over time.

Building too far into the ground. Many houses are simply built lower than they should be. Ideally a home is placed such that finish grade around it can easily provide for a consistent slope away from the foundation. This would allow us to maintain a little more distance between finish grade and siding and would resolve a lot of basement water issues caused by surface water intrusion.

An interesting side point on this is that it is generally less expensive to build a home a little higher in the air. If the average home were simply 6 inches higher, the ground around it could have an effective, but gentle, slope of 1 inch per foot.

Using the wrong backfill. Most of our soils are clay mixtures. Clay tends to invite moisture and helps to move it. It is also not readily compactable so if you dig a small hole in your yard, then re-fill it; you will note the issue of clumping and air cavities in the fill. Use of these native soils to fill in the space around the new foundation, called the overdig, is thought to be a very green thing to do but it actually can create issues over time.

That soil may take a few years to fully compact and will conduct moisture through it and into the foundation 24/7 – one of the main reasons our basements are always humid and dank.

What we all should do is backfill with a readily compactable and well-drained material like sand or pea gravel with a clay mixture cap so that any water or moisture that is near the foundation will “fall” down to the footing drains.

While we don’t want to invite surface water to the footing drains, it is good to know water and moisture will not be held against foundation walls.

Failure to employ good capillary breaks. Capillarity in housing refers to the conduction of water or moisture through a series of materials. Water and moisture will move from material (think soils for this example) to material (think basement walls and floors) unless we stop it. Use of capillary breaks such as plastic (think visqueen), closed cell foams, high-end caulks and glues and synthetic rubberized coatings can stop the movement.

Use of visqeen under basement slabs is now a requirement, but it is still sometimes avoided and abused.

Tar and modified bitumen products have been used as exterior wall coatings on foundations for many decades. But application is often poor and there are better products, like the synthetic “rubber” coatings today, that do a better job over time.

Poorly installed footing drain systems. Footing drains are built to intercept ground water and channel it to an acceptable place like a sump crock, where the water is then pumped out, or to a ditch or French drain placed away from the home.

At a minimum they should consist of a pipe surrounded by pea gravel and a filter cloth, run level around the lowest part of the foundation, the footing. We have seen many without filters that are installed at a slope and not properly surrounded by gravel.

We used to use straw placed on top of the stone and under the backfill material to function as a filter to keep out “fines” or small dirt particles that may eventually settle in the pipe and plug it. Today, synthetic filter cloth is used for this purpose.

Inadequate overhangs. We are proponents of large overhangs and covered porches and entryways. Overhangs of 2 to 3 feet protect the home from excessive solar heat gain, carry roof water further from the foundation and provide more room for proper attic insulation and ventilation.

Additionally, such cover protects and preserves doors and windows over time.

Whenever an older home with little to no over hangs is getting a new roof, we suggest they also extend the overhangs at the same time.

These are just a few of many such considerations we believe the Industry should pay heed to. You should be aware that zoning laws and building codes are many times a factor in the items we discuss. We will be talking about more of these issues in the future so you know what to look for and what to ask about.

Decades ago the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB, published information to the effect that “An additional $1,000 invested in a properly constructed basement could save $25,000 in future repair/replacement issues”. Can you imagine what that number might be today?

There is little doubt the good builders like those you’ll find at know all this and are doing the right things. Now you know, too. Keep in mind there is a price to be paid for the additional value derived from doing things correctly.

 For more housing advice and more,  listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon  or contact us at 

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