We’ve been getting our first rain of the season here in Northern California — it’s officially time to clean the gutters. This got me thinking about all the building problems I’ve seen over the years and how small maintenance measures such as this can prevent problems down the road. In fact, if I could give any advice to the average new homeowner, it would be this: keep water away from your house.

Since water flows downhill, figuring out how to accomplish this is fairly straight forward, but for what it’s worth, here are a couple case studies that illustrate my point:

  1. Mary (name changed) bought her California bungalow home new in the 1960s. Her lot then drained from the backyard to the front and out onto the street. In the 1980s she decided to have a friend of the family put in a concrete walkway in the side yard. With insufficient regard for how the lot was supposed to drain, the new walkway prevented water from draining off the lot and channeled all the side yard water to the base of her chimney. Since the soils on Mary’s lot were fairly expansive (“clayey”) and water-retentive, this water caused the chimney to heave and subside during wet and dry periods of the year. By the mid-2000s, the entire side of Mary’s home was unlevel, requiring a costly foundation rehabilitation.
  2. Tom (name changed) loved the redwood trees around his house but hated cleaning the needles that so quickly filled the gutters. The gutter over the garage was particularly prone to overflowing with water due to quickly-clogging downspout. Over time, the gutter developed a kink and whenever the water overflowed, it would overflow at this kink. This caused a standing pool of water below at the edge of the slab floor in his garage. After a while, Tom noticed that this area of the garage was higher than the rest. Failing to make the connection between the kink in the gutter and pool of water just outside his garage and the heaving, the slab eventually failed, leaving a nasty 1/4″ crack through his garage. Can you guess what caused it? You’re right, water!

Isn’t it funny how for some reason we don’t think twice about changing the oil in our cars, yet when it comes to our homes, which, for most of us, constitutes the largest investment of our life, we don’t pay attention to small things?

Just last week I visited a home in Lafayette, CA in a neighborhood where the least expensive home was over $500,000, only to find a case of complete negligence on the part of the previous homeowner(s). Their pier and grade beam foundation had cracked and subsided in an area of the home. I was amazed to find that rather than addressing the root cause (poor grading, excessive water build up), they attempted to re-level the home with wood shims between the sole plate and grade beam!

Sometimes it’s best to just remember that they keep me employed . . . That said, I hope my friends and readers will avoid costly mistakes by remembering the importance of keeping water away from their homes. If you or anybody you know has questions about their foundations, please feel free to drop me a line at Simmons Engineering.

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One Response to Time to Clean the Gutters

  1. Carol Van de Wetering says:

    Great blog, Clay. Jan was just saying this morning what a great student, extra income, etc, job it would be for someone to go around to homes with gutters before the rains begin and give them a price on cleaning their gutters. (actually, he was lamenting our home’s needed cleaning) I hate for him to get up on the ladder – being retired and getting “more mature” in years. And there’s always a danger of minor cuts which, being on a “blood thinner,” is not a good idea for him. That being said…. where are those students?

    P.S. I always enjoy your wisdom. You’re on such a fast track, when you become “more mature” you will be a storehouse OVERFLOWING with sagacity!! 🙂

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