Male and Female role reversal can really mess things up!

Perhaps the title got you to start reading, but I think to avoid getting kinky real fast, I will let the double entendre end with the title.

This post is about how a simple assembly issue with a downspout on a home has resulted in significant visible water intrusion resulting in water damage in the crawl space. Of course there is also a good possibility (or should that be bad possibility?) of hidden damage in the house wall structure as well.

The problem is compounded by missing flashings between the top of the brick wall and the trim board that sits on top of the wall. For a wall to shed water properly, all changes in types of siding and trim should either lap over the surfaces below or counter-flashings should be provided at these transitions. Under normal rainy conditions the installation “might” perform just fine, but under driving rain conditions or improper assembly of downspout components, these connections may allow water to get behind the brick where damage to untreated wood structures can occur.

So take a good close look at the following picture.


Can you see how the downspout is on the “outside” of the elbow instead of “inside” the elbow (circled in red)? Because it is on the outside, water can run outside the elbow and onto the brick ledge at the top of the wall and then under the trim board where it can then find its way to the crawl space. With enough water, the water will even find its way up the gentle slope of the brick.

In this next picture you can see where the area in the crawl space is obviously wet and damaged. Proper flashings will have to be installed—and of course the downspout connection will need to be repaired. Someone will have to make a decision as to how to deal with the possibility of hidden damage and whatever repairs might be necessary.


I will leave that decision to the contractor hired to make repairs. Damage could be minimal and will likely be fairly localized—but who really knows until someone starts to take things apart.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Moisture Ants—who invited THEM in?


Moisture Ant “Carton”

These little wood destroying organisms are awesome!

Well maybe not so much for your house, but at least the damage will likely stay pretty localized.

moistureantsinvitation1Moisture Ants are only present if there is a leak or wetness sufficient to cause wood decay/rot.

What they seem to like is very slow consistent leaks–too much and they don’t seem to be encouraged to build a nest.

All it takes for them to get started is a little leak at a plumbing fitting or wood that stays wet from some other constant moisture condition.  Houses will often show evidence where they come and go seasonally due to more or less moisture seasonally.

Wood in contact with wet soil will often stay wet enough that when the wood decays the Moisture Ants will move in.

Their nests are designed like sponges that will move water to wood that is not decayed and thus promote the spread of the decay. In this manner, if there is sufficient water supply they can expand the nest quite a distance.

In the case of a plumbing leak that is small, they might be able build a nest that will successfully absorb all the water to the point that the leak might never show itself–only becoming evident when the wall or ceiling is taken down for some other reason.

On a recent inspection I found a very nice structure of a Moisture Ant colony. It was built from the crawl space floor up a corner created by a support post and the concrete foundation–as can be seen in the picture above.

From there it wrapped itself around the leaking bathtub drain. Once established, the leak, maintained by daily showers of the home’s occupants, was sufficient to maintain the Moisture Ant structures. These structures are called “carton” and have a sponge-like appearance (like the picture at the top right).


The moisture in this instance was sufficient for the ants to extend the carton up the walls above the drain area and across the wall behind the toilet. This is why there were elevated moisture meter readings under the floor and in the wall between the tub and the toilet.


In this case, the damage will be perhaps a bit more extensive than most instances—but who really knows until things are taken apart to be repaired.

The ants were not working the day I found this infestation–most likely dormant for the winter–or the house being vacant for some time. They will likely be back though–unless the leak gets fixed.

That is one of the best things about moisture ants–fix the leak and they just leave and go find some other rotten wood. Typically they are only in our homes because, in some way, we have invited them in.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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So you think you know everything there is to know about CO detectors?

I sure did not and still do not.

In recent years the push to install CO detectors in homes has resulted in them being required in many jurisdictions and certainly any jurisdiction that has adopted the 2009 or later IRC Building Codes will require them in New Construction. Washington State currently requires them on each floor level and in the vicinity of each sleeping area when a home is sold. In most homes this means there will typically be two of the devices but with large sprawling homes with basements and/or multiple stories there could be several more.

CO detectors for residential construction must meet the requirements of UL 2034.

What is not commonly understood about these detectors and UL 2034 is that they are “not intended to alarm when exposed to long-term, low-level carbon monoxide exposures or slightly higher short-term transient carbon monoxide exposures, possibly caused by air pollution and/or properly installed/maintained fuel fired appliances and fireplaces.”

carbonmonoxide(please reread the previous quote and the information below VERY carefully as it is counter-intuitive)

Following these standards, the alarms are: 1, not “allowed” to alarm when CO is lower than 50 parts per million; 2, they are required to alarm within 50 (yes you are reading that correctly) minutes at levels up to 150 PPM; and, 3, they are required to alarm within 15 minutes at Carbon Monoxide levels up to 400 PPM.

What the standards do not address is the fact that some individuals are greatly affected by being exposed to lower levels of CO over longer periods of time.

The Kidde user’s guide states: “While anyone is susceptible, experts agree that unborn babies, small children, senior citizens and people with heart or respiratory problems are especially vulnerable to CO and are at the greatest risk for death or serious injury.


They go on to state: CO alarms provide early warning of the presence of carbon monoxide, usually before a healthy adult would experience symptoms.

So does this mean that those most in need of protection are not in fact protected?

Other alarm makers have similar recommendations.

This next caution from Kidde is very important, as I can attest to, from an incident at a recent inspection: “CAUTION: THIS ALARM WILL ONLY INDICATE THE PRESENCE OF CO GAS AT THE SENSOR. CO MAY BE PRESENT IN OTHER AREAS.”

When I turned on the oven at the inspection and it had been operating for just a couple of minutes, I started to experience some of the symptoms of CO poisoning. (Once you have experienced these symptoms you can almost become your own CO detector—but unfortunately human beings sleep, and then there is the problem that you might not notice very low levels of CO and thus be no more effective than UL 2034.) My “real” CO detector found over 600 PPM and yet the CO detector plugged in at the countertop on the other side of the kitchen did not go off and would not (under UL 2034) be required to go off until the unit experienced 400 ppm for as much as 15 minutes. Depending on air currents in the home, the unit might never see appropriate levels–even after the person using the stove succumbed to the gas.

The biggest concern that I have with all of this information is: “Who reads the instructions?” Are we creating an awareness of CO detectors where people are assuming they are protected when they in fact are not? While I still think installation of these alarms is probably a good idea, and that perhaps more appropriate residential CO detectors may be forthcoming, I think it is at least as important to better educate people to recognize the symptoms associated with Co poisoning as well as to be aware of what these detectors do and don’t do.

Again from Kidde: “Be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: – headaches, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation.

Recognize that CO poisoning may be the cause when family members suffer from flu-like symptoms that don’t disappear but improve when they leave home for extended periods of time.”

Carbon Monoxide in homes is a serious issue, and legislation/codes do not adequately address all the concerns associated with it. It is in all likelihood dangerous to assume that they do–if we and our families are to be safe in our homes. This is especially true as homes become tighter in relation to becoming more energy efficient.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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