There are many different types of structural damage that can lead to water damage issues. Many structural problems are a result of damage from the roots of trees and shrubs, changes in ground conditions, flaws in architectural design, and aging of the construction components. Here we will examine some of these issues and the damage that may occur as a result of them.
Roots are one of the more common problems when it comes to structural damage. It is natural for roots to seek out water, and drain lines not only contain water but also other nutrients and oxygen that trees and shrubs need to survive. Roots will grow into water lines, partially or completely clogging the line. When the flow of water is impeded, it has to flow somewhere and it usually flows back into a home. This is without a doubt the most common cause of sewer backups in buildings.
Ground conditions change because of the expansion of soil as it absorbs water. The ground cannot compact or expand downward, so it expands upward. Then as the moisture dries up the ground may sink back downward to its original position. In any event, the upward heave can stress and/or crack structural components. Cracks in walls and foundations are another way for unwanted water to enter a home.
Because of changing ground conditions and the shifting of a foundation, windows and doors may eventually not work properly. As windows and doors are forced out of square, the potential for water gaining entry into your home increases. Windows may become “stuck”, not opening or closing fully. Door damage may show as gaps on a side or on the top or bottom. Sometimes they will swing open after being firmly closed, because the plunger no longer lines up with the strike plate. These issues will ultimately make it easier for water to leak in around them to damage flooring or walls.
Sometimes it all comes down to human error. People make a design mistake; the wrong product is used for a particular situation; materials used may have been defective; workmanship may be faulty. Any of these can result in structural damage that results in an unintended water issue. What makes these flaws hard to find is that many times the flaw doesn’t become apparent until months or even years later.
Let’s face it; sometimes the reason that structural damage occurs is just a result of time, age… and possibly delayed maintenance. Everything gets old and wears out over time. Floors begin to sag, pipes deteriorate, shingles dry out and crack, brick mortar cracks, it’s just nature that things wear out over time. Like old cars and old people, buildings need repairs and maintenance over time. Chimneys leak because of cracked mortar, roofs leak because the shingles wear out, windows leak because the caulking around them dries out and leaves gaps that water enter through. And it doesn’t take 20 years to require maintenance. These things can happen in just one season.
Tree Roots – If you ask any plumber who offers drain cleaning services they will tell you that you should have your home’s main drain lines cleared every year. The cost of this service typically runs between $100 and $250. Compared to the cost and effort involved in remediating a sewage backup, the usual result of these issues, this would be money well spent. You may not have large trees in your yard, but what about trees in your neighbors’ yards. Tree roots do not understand property boundaries; just because they’re on someone else’s property doesn’t mean they won’t affect your system. Additionally, odds are that you have shrubbery, and shrubs can cause just as much damage as trees.
Ground Movement – Unless you live in an earthquake zone (and we all do to a certain degree), ground movement will usually be related to drainage issues. Water should always be moved away from a building. Proper grading and directing down spouts away from your home is an absolute must. Ground swelling due to moisture can cause foundations to crack and allow water to enter your home. Also as water moves against and around the foundation, erosion of the supporting soil can occur, which can also lead to structural damage of the foundation.
Flaws/Human Error – Mistakes happen! They are rarely intentional. Materials can be defective. Construction procedures can be mistakenly missed or not done properly. A few years back, it became apparent that certain copper tubing used for water supply lines was defective. After just a few years of service, holes began to appear for no reason, flooding walls from the inside out. Entire plumbing systems had to be replaced because of “thin-wall” copper lines. There is no accurate record of the thousands of homes that were affected by this one event. These problems can’t be planned for; they just have to be corrected as they arise. Over the last twenty or so years, copper tubing is being phased out as more and more plumbing companies are now using PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) plumbing tubing.
Aging – This is perhaps the easiest issue to deal with (but not necessarily the cheapest, unless you compare them to the cost of repair or replacement). All it takes is a good maintenance plan. Roofs are good for a certain length of time. They should be checked for missing or damaged shingles, especially after any storm containing strong winds. Caulking needs to be reapplied around doors, windows, and roof vents every couple of years to ensure that water doesn’t enter. Chimneys require a periodic inspection to ensure that water is not entering around the chimney cap or through cracks in the mortar. These are all things that a homeowner should consider when maintaining a structure.
When it comes to structural damage, a good maintenance plan involves you and a team of trusted professionals. You need a list of specialists on whom you can depend to advise you when issues arise; roofers, stone and brick masons, landscape specialists, a drain cleaning company.
If you suspect your home may have structural issues, you need to respond quickly to limit the possibility of a water intrusion that can result in thousands of dollars of damage. A 24-hour help line is available by calling 877-960-0491. Experienced professionals will help answer any questions you may have and offer a plan to remedy any structural damage problems.
Written by Mark Huey