You need to understand what you are working with.

This is a house I designed and built in 1978.  For the most part it looks the way I built it, except for the big wrap-around deck and the addition to the back of the home.

On a recent adventure to see how some of my wood foundation houses are behaving (after more than 35 years), I stopped and introduced myself to the current owners of the home.  They were very gracious and were happy to show me some issues with the home and it gave me a chance to help them with some questions they had about the home.

They had experienced some flooding of the basement space and were told they needed to install a perimeter drain around the interior of the foundation–including a sump pump.  While this is a common “remedy” for concrete foundations, it should never be necessary for a properly installed wood foundation.  Any water intrusion (that could not be accounted for by penetrations of the foundation like drain pipes etc) would almost have to be from failure of the installed drainage system.

A wood foundation sits on 12” of pea gravel with perforated drains to collect the water and drain it away to day-light.


Because the perforated perimeter drain continues out of the stone after it exits from under the slab, and slopes downward toward the termination of the drain at daylight, water typically would never be expected to reach the interior perimeter drain installed higher up in the stone.  If the day-lighted drain becomes blocked or crushed for some reason, water can fill up the stone under the concrete slab and then come up around the slab and into the basement space.

A recommendation to install an interior drain by cutting away the floor is a very expensive and unnecessary undertaking.


I can’t help but wonder what the installers of the interior system thought when they found my installed perimeter drain under the slab.  Did they use? Remove it?  The correct repair would have been to figure out why the stone was not draining and fix it.

A little research about how wood foundation systems function could have saved the home owners considerable amounts of money.

Back to the addition to the home.


Note how the roof overhang on the addition does not extend past the wall as much as my design.  See how the shorter overhang results in much more weathering of the siding?  Large overhangs on homes can serve many functions, including protecting the siding and helping to minimize solar gain in the summer time.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Thinking outside the Turkey!

This post came just in time for Thanksgiving a few years ago—and I am thankful for that!


Perhaps not so much looking forward to Thanksgiving

I got a call from a very nice lady I met at my doctor’s office. She wanted to talk to me about a water leak on her back deck. She was having a difficult time figuring out where the water was coming from and, so far, after many months, no one she had consulted with had come up with a satisfactory answer.

She said that the roofer couldn’t find anything wrong with the roof and her electrician, a plumber, a pest control operator, a jack-of-all-trades person and a very cleaver son-in-law couldn’t figure it out either.

She was at her wits end by the time she called me to see if I had any ideas. I asked her a few questions to try and eliminate a few of the possibilities. After all, figuring this sort of thing out is a process of elimination–it is never going to be rocket science no matter how illusive or elusive the answer may seem.

I told her I had some time the next day, and I would stop by her house with my moisture meters and brain and see if I could figure it out.

She informed me that whenever it rains really hard, or for a long time, the wet spot shows up and gets worse the rainier it gets. Well that sure sounds like a roof leak, doesn’t it? In this picture you can clearly see the wet spot and it most certainly tested “positive” for moisture with my moisture meter.


There was a toilet on the other side of the wall in the area of the wet spot, so the bathroom, while not a great suspect, was a possible suspect too. But investigation of that area turned up nothing out of the ordinary and what the heck would a leak in the bathroom have to do with rain?

I checked the attic in the area above the wet spot. But again, nothing consistent with past, present or ongoing leaking could be found.

The moisture meter could find nothing in the wall near the wet spot and all the flashing details of the deck attachment to the house seemed well done—a lot better than most decks I see.

As you can see in the next picture, the ceiling of the roof that covers this deck is vaulted and there is virtually no way wind is going to blow water into this area—especially given that this spot is not on the side of the home that is most exposed to the prevailing winds and weather.


It was an opportune time to figure out the problem because Seattle had been in a monsoon for several days and it was raining hard when I got to her house.

The deck surface is a composite-type decking and the deck has a very long set of uncovered stairs that go down to the back yard. These stairs are actually the first clue as to what is going on–even though they are quite a distance from the wet spot.

Since I was just about out of ideas and I had already opened myself up to ridicule by stating that the solution was not rocket science, I was starting to think that perhaps I was going to have to eat the whole rocket!

Suddenly it all came together in a flash that I am sure it would not have come to me “after” turkey dinner.

However, I have to think that the anticipation and planning for the cooking of my 26 lb Thanksgiving turkey must have played a critical part in my epiphany.

I turned to her, and with some trepidation asked, “Do you keep a bag of salt where that wet spot is–for the stairs in the winter time?”

I knew instantly from the expression on her face that I had indeed hit upon the answer. In fact the ultimate “taste test” confirmed that the wet spot was indeed salty. The wet area gets bigger the more it rains because there is more moisture in the air to be collected by the salt. The wet spot was purely hygroscopic and getting rid of the salt deposit will get rid of the wet spot.

But now I need to get back to the “very clever son-in-law.” He perhaps came the closest to a possible answer with his guessing that perhaps it was a raccoon marking his territory–that would indeed be another way of getting salts to the area. Now I am having second thoughts about that “taste test.”

Sometimes you have to think outside the turkey!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner already.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Here’s mud in your eye!

I have slung more drywall mud in my life than I care to think about. My messed-up shoulders will attest to that. I am quite sure that the amount of the goop I have spread around with a trowel is in the thousands if not tens of thousands of gallons. I have spent many hours clunking around on stilts. In fact, I was on stilts when the wave of the 2001 Nisqually earthquake moved through the house I was working on. When I got out of the house the telephone poles and wires were still waving. I had gotten pretty comfortable going up and down stairs on stilts.

One of the things you learn pretty quickly about drywall mud is that it takes forever to dry if it is installed too thick–especially if the weather is humid. Building up successive thin layers creates a much better job than trying to push-the-river with too much material.

Generally when you needed to do a heavy fill you would mix up some of the stuff with a quicker set time. Silverset was one of my favorite types because it sanded pretty easily when dry–unlike some of the other brands that set up more like concrete. In the early days of my drywalling career there was only stuff that set up so hard you could barely sand it.

After discovering the light-weight products, we used to call “mud-lite,” life became much easier. There was Silverset 20, Silverset 40 and Silverset 90. The numbers referred to the number of minutes you had to work with the material before it solidified in your bucket–and several times I got to experience the reality of these numbers.

Everyone remembers fooling around with Plaster of Paris–well these fast setting joint compounds are a bit like that–just not nearly as hard when set.

I had a flash back at an inspection and my shoulder understandably started to hurt.


Mud Light

Someone could have benefited from knowing about Silverset 90–and a little bit better understanding of electricity might have been advisable as well.

Perhaps this was just their version of “mud-light.”

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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