Sheetrock Cracks from Water Invasion

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With 2016 being one of the wettest years in Minnesota on record, you may be experiencing things in your home this winter you haven’t in past years. Heavy fall rains and the quick freeze may have negatively impacted your home. Water expands as it freezes, affecting building components such as shingles, siding, windows, doors, framing members, drywall, flatwork and foundation walls. Movement from frost expansion can cause degradation to building components and often, complete failure.

Water follows the path of least resistance so homeowners need to ensure they are not inviting water into their building envelope and particularly into the foundation. Poorly installed or under maintained components such as flashings, roofing, siding and exterior  grade will invite water into unwanted areas. Common identifiers are cracks in walls and ceilings and heaving of driveway aprons and sidewalks. Unusual sounds in your home during extreme cold may also be observed. Doors and windows may become difficult to operate. Gaps in wood trim may appear.

Another commonly overlooked area is your attic. Look in there on a cold day. If you see frost on the underside of the roof, you are experiencing heat loss and likely inadequate or faulty ventilation. The frost you see can lead to mildew and eventually, wood rot. Controlling the temperature of the attic is a key part of preventing water intrusion. Figure 1 below is a great depiction of how the combination of heat loss and cold weather can damage your home.

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If you are experiening any of these issues this winter, you need to contact Complete Building Solutions. We can assess your home for possible problem areas and provide a corrective course of action. Don’t let Old Man Winter destroy your home!

What is Wrong with my Windows?

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rotted window

Proper window installation is crucial to having a lasting home. The process should be thoughtfully planned out from start to finish because there are multiple steps that can leave your home vulnerable to degradation if they are not done properly.

Good windows are designed to last 30-50 years. However, a typical warranty provides coverage for only 10 years on average. One of the biggest reasons for this is that window manufacturers know how frequently improper home building practices actually occur. So, as a homeowner or management company how can you tell if your windows have been correctly installed?

Here are some signs that your windows were either installed improperly or are faulty:

-Moisture Intrusion

If you notice leaking from your windows, there is definitely a problem. This could be an array of construction defects including flashing or installation issues. Immediate action should be taken to avoid permanent water damage to your home.

-Drafty windows especially during winter months

Drafty windows are a sure sign that your windows are not insulated properly. This is concerning because around 10-25% of a home’s heat is lost through the windows. You are losing heat and paying big $$ for it.

-Difficulties opening, closing, or locking the window

If you are unable to open, close, or lock your new windows, it is likely it was installed improperly.

 -Fog or condensation has developed inside the window unit

Certain windows, such as double and triple-paned assemblies, are filled with safe gasses that aid in the energy efficiency of your home. When this gas becomes depleted, either naturally over time or because of improper installation, the pane will appear cloudy and/or have condensation. Be sure to clean the exterior of the window to verify that the moisture is within the pane.

-Frost on the inside of windows

Frost on the inside of windows is most likely from poor insulation or a bad seal. It presents a danger to your home because, upon melting, it transfers moisture to anything nearby causing cracked paint, discoloration of materials, and can even migrate to your home’s walls and cause water damage.

All of the above issues are indicative of poorly installed or faulty windows. It is important to have those checked by a professional to prevent any further damage that could be occurring within the home and/or energy loss. Complete Building Solutions, an engineering & consulting firm based out of the Twin Cities of Minnesota, specializes in home performance and has combined knowledge extending over 80 years. We would be happy to do an inspection for you. Check out our Facebook page and give us a call today!

(612) 868-2922

https://www.facebook.com/completebuildingsolutionsmn/

Leaks: Don’t Ignore the Unseen

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Roof Leakage

It is mid-January in Minnesota. We have seen temperatures plunge below zero and return to the mid-thirties (degrees Fahrenheit) multiple times. This varying temperature span is a recipe for attic leaks. Ultimately, the leakage problem exists because your attic system is failing somewhere.

A healthy attic means three things: first and foremost, the bypasses are sealed, two, an airflow is provided by correct ventilation, and three, the right amount of insulation pertinent to your area is present. To learn more about the attic system check out this blog post  http://cbsmn.com/blog/?p=121 .

When your attic is not performing at its peak, leakage can occur. Many homeowners assume that if a leak were present, it would be visible on the sheetrock surface of their home. This is NOT the case. When was the last time you visited your attic? You might be surprised at what you would find.

There are multiple ways that water can infiltrate your attic. One way is through condensation and frost. When your attic system is not functioning properly, warm air will escape through open bypasses and move into your attic. When this warm air meets the cold attic, it will stick to metals first and wood structures second. During periods of cold temperatures, this moisture will become visible as frost. When the weather begins to warm up, this frost will begin to thaw. All of this moisture has to go somewhere, so it leaks onto the attic insulation.

Another way moisture can enter the attic is through the build-up of ice dams. Again, these ice dams are formed because your attic is not performing adequately. As snow melts and water moves down your roof, the dam continues to build.  Water will search for ways to migrate underneath the shingles, through the roofing deck, and into the attic.

This dripping moisture from condensation & ice dams can cause mold to form, but more importantly, the insulation will become damp. Ultimately, this weakens the materials ability to resist heat flow (R-value=resistance to heat flow). It no longer acts as an insulator, but conversely, as a conductor of heat, allowing warm air to escape through your attic. In concurrence with the ineffective insulation, mold may also form on the roofing deck of the attic. The mold will continue to spread and break down the structural materials in your attic. Can you believe that all of this is may be occurring without you even knowing?

Ice build up on slate roof.

Because Minnesota is the 3rd coldest state in the United States (http://www.wdsu.com/weather/states-with-the-coldest-winters/22668580), it is even more important to ensure attic performance.  This is the time to call the Twin Cities premier engineering and consulting firm, Complete Building Solutions. Your attic will be assessed as a whole, and the proper course of action will be determined. We pride ourselves on our ability to create building solutions for your home that last.

Foundation Urination

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As you can see in the video above, the title is very fitting.

Earlier this week, CBS was called to investigate a property which had sidewalks tipping towards the front door and block failure. Watch what happened when the soil is excavated away from the foundation! Four to five feet of soaked organic clay mixed with an alluvial layer surrounded the foundation wall. This soil had been holding water for over 20 years as clay will never dry out. After time, the ground water will permeate the foundation and has nowhere to go! The building owner had no indication that their foundation was slowly degrading due to the retained water. CBS is known for drying out properties around the state of Minnesota and this property had the same issues we find in buildings on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, builders/developers are not paid to do correct soil conditions on the property when they do the original dig and build. Inadequate soils should be removed and replaced with compactable aggregates that will retain their shape and shed water at the same time. In this case, the clay surrounding the home was holding water instead of shedding it away from the foundation. Concrete sidewalks and driveways are also susceptible to issues because of soil conditions. The holding of water below the concrete freezes and expands during winter months. In the spring the thawing moisture makes the concrete drop back down creating large cracks.

If you suspect that your building is suffering these issues or showing signs of stress or water, give us a call to help your building perform the way it should!

Why not Building Codes for residential driveways?

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Our company, Complete Building Solutions, investigates construction defects – including but not limited to the building envelope, water management issues, soil issues, settlement problems, concrete issues, and driveways. We also can provide engineering services and construction oversight.

As we conduct our investigations we have found that many of the defects observed do not comply with the building codes.  And, as most people know, the building industry is governed by codes. We rely on the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code (IRC), and the Minnesota State Building Code as our references when conducting our investigations as we look for construction defects. They all do a good job of addressing all facets of a building. But, there is nothing in the code that addresses the design or the construction of a residential driveway.

In Minnesota, there are some excellent references that can be used as a guide for the design and construction. However, what is needed is a code that addresses the key elements of a driveway structure. In my opinion the key elements are having the proper subgrade with the required compaction, a solid base upon which the driveway material will rest (incidentally this blog is based on an asphalt driveway), the right asphalt thickness, and once the driveway is constructed keep the water from entering the subgrade (another words – a good water management system).

What is the proper subgrade? The answer – one that is not prone to frost heaving.  Damage from frost heaving can result in buckling your garage door trim to causing the misalignment of your garage door making it difficult to open and close.

Complete Building Inspections In MN

The subgrade should be either granular or should be con-bit.  I can tell you that most subgrades under driveways consist of clays and silts, soils that are considered expansive – those are not the proper subgrade.  So if you have subgrade consisting of clays and silts, it should be removed and replaced with granular material or con–bit (this is normally referred to as a soil correction). Here at CBS we recommend using con-bit rather than granular material. Whether it is con-bit or granular it must be compacted and it should be compacted in lifts. Each lift should be about 8-10 inches. Once the subgrade is prepared then the base is constructed.

The area where we see most of the driveway problems is right in front of the garage door. This is an area where the native soils are used for backfilling and they are seldom compacted properly and are placed wet. It is the area where the contractor has to excavate in order to install the footing and construct the foundation. Typically the excavation extends out from the building’s foundation several feet and extends down to the footing.

That is also the area that is most prone to become wetter over time because other elements feed moisture into it (poor water management for one). Disregarding compaction and allowing the subgrade to become saturated are the key reasons why driveways settle and are subjected to frost heaving.

Moisture Intrusion Solutions

As previously noted, poor water management can affect driveway behavior. Since the presence of water reduces the strength of the pavement structure, it is important to not let water enter it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen downspouts dump huge amounts of water right next to the driveway.

The next element of importance in a pavement structure is the base. The base is the layer directly below the driveway surface (either asphalt or concrete). AS previously stated, this article is based on a hot mixed asphalt driveway. The base material, in my opinion should be a class V material or con-bit (recycled concrete and asphalt). The thickness of the base will depend upon the thickness of the asphalt.

Let me explain – the design of the pavement structure should be based upon a term called “Granular Equivalent” (GE). The granular equivalent concept defines a pavement section by equating the thickness of the base and asphalt layer to an equivalent thickness of granular base material. Note: this is not my term, but a term used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN/DOT) for designing pavement sections.

As an example, a class 5 aggregate base has a granular equivalent of 1 per inch of thickness and an asphalt course has a granular equivalent of 2.25 per inch of material.  So, if I have an asphalt thickness of 3 inches, and a class 5 course of five inches, my granular equivalent would be 11.75 inches. If I had an asphalt thickness of 2 inches and a class 5 base of seven inches, my granular equivalent would be 11.50 inches.

So you see the granular equivalent can be any combination of asphalt and base. It goes without saying that the higher the GE number, the better the pavement structure (I have personally seen this to be true).  Low GE’s might not show pavement distress in the first few years but within 3-7years, signs of distress will begin showing up.

The next element in the pavement structure and the ones everyone sees, is the surface course. To be frank, I am not sure what specification most residential paving contractors use for their design mix. I have seen HMA thicknesses from 2” up to 3” used for driveways. I think most paving contractors will use 2”-2 ½”. Especially in large residential developments. If you are an individual homeowner the contractor will probably use 2 ½” – 3”.

In my professional opinion, I would recommend 3” – 4”.

Now getting back to the GE. I would recommend a GE between 10.5”-12” for residential driveways. Similarly, for reference – the Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association (MAPA) recommends a GE of 11.5” for driveways also.

Conclusion:

Neither the IBC, nor the IRC include information for residential driveway designs. Nor is there a recognized national standard. Maybe it is far “fetched” of me to think that one could be established, but at the very least, I believe the Minnesota State Building Code should address the issue.

Incidentally, I have over 30 years of experience with the Hennepin County Department of Transportation dealing with bridge and roadway designs.

Bruce Polaczyk, P.E.

Negative Grade

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This week’s blog is on a topic that has been fresh on my mind as of late, that being negative grade around building foundations.

Many people don’t acknowledge that this plays a crucial role in the longevity of your buildings foundation and the way water moves around your property.  Grade can be defined as slope, and you’ll want to ensure that the soils around your home are sloped in a positive fashion so as to direct water away.  All too often when we get to a property experiencing moisture related problems we find that the soils are pitched back towards the buildings foundation, allowing water to flow back in the same direction.

You may be asking yourself what happened to the soils around my home?  Why did they settle?  Soils around a building will settle over time.  When your home was new, the soils were probably placed in a positive fashion by the builder.  However, most builders will not take the time to compact the soils used to backfill your home because that takes time and resources, and let’s face it, time is money.  You may also want to consider the type of soil your builder may have used to backfill your home.  Sure, you may have some black top soil underneath your landscaping but what’s underneath that?  We typically see a lot of natural clay used for backfill purposes during our investigations.  This is likely because it’s essentially free to use for the builder and it’s already located onsite.  The time of year the soil was placed back in against your foundation will also play a crucial role in things.  Had the soil experienced a month of solid rain, or maybe it was frozen in chunks during the winter months?

Like any building product, soils contain certain properties in the way they move and how well they accept moisture.  Clay for example is a very cohesive soil, meaning it can get very hard when dry but will expand and become something you can throw on a potter’s wheel in art class when saturated.  Throw the seasonal freeze and thaw cycles experienced in a year’s time in Minnesota into the mix and you now understand why this becomes so crucial to the longevity of your homes foundation, surrounding driveways/sidewalks, patios, deck footings, etc.  When correcting the grade around your home we often recommend a soil correction before achieving the final, positive grade away from the foundation.  This entails removing the saturated, cohesive, unsuitable soils used by the builder and replacing them with a compactable, more permeable soil such as recycled asphalt and concrete (con-bit), red rock gravel, or equivalent.  Compaction of this soil in layers is a must to ensure your newly achieved positive grade does not settle leaving you in the same boat you may currently be in.

I briefly touched on moisture in the soils in the last paragraph.  One other item to consider as you look at the settled landscaping around your property is whether or not you have rain gutters along the eaves of your roof and where the rain gutter downspouts drain to.  Rain gutters are a must to direct your roof water where you want it to go and this includes the downspouts.  CBS recommends placing extensions on your downspouts that take the rain water away from all landscaping along your foundation, sidewalks/driveways, deck footings, etc.  Did you know a 1” rainfall will produce .6 gallons of water per square foot of roof area??  That’s a lot of rain water allowed to access your building foundation should you not have rain gutters and downspouts directing this away!

I’m going to leave you with a couple of photos of the damages to building foundations we’ve witnessed due to prolonged exposure to water and negative grade.  The first images are of deck joists that are pulling away from the ledger board due to vertical movement in the outer deck post footings.  Not only may this cause costly damage but may also present a safety factor to its users.

deck joists that are pulling away from the ledger board due to vertical movement in the outer deck post footings

deck joists that are pulling away from the ledger board due to vertical movement in the outer deck post footings

deck joists that are pulling away from the ledger board due to vertical movement in the outer deck post footings

deck joists that are pulling away from the ledger board due to vertical movement in the outer deck post footings

The last image is of a deteriorated concrete block foundation that has been exposed to water in the soils for the last 25+ years.  We actually see this quite commonly, believe it or not.  This moisture in the soils, when combined with the movement in the freeze and thaw cycles experienced in Minnesota, has broken down the concrete blocks to mere sand if you will and can be broken just by kicking them with your shoe.  Concrete products are not designed to take on such moisture and movement in the surrounding soils.

deteriorated concrete block foundation that has been exposed to water in the soils for the last 25+ years

deteriorated concrete block foundation that has been exposed to water in the soils for the last 25+ years

Hopefully after viewing this blog you have taken away something about the importance of having a proper grade around your building that you may want to apply to your own projects this coming spring.  Until next time, stay warm and keep an eye on your buildings!

Ice Dams vs. Natural Ice Build-up

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I find that homeowners often confuse natural melt/freeze ice build-up with a systemic ice dam problem in their home.  I also often hear people say things like “ice dams cannot be stopped in Minnesota” or “nature causes ice dams, you cannot fix Mother Nature.”  This also leads me to the conclusion people need to learn to differentiate between the two occurrences.

Early February provided some interesting weather here in Minnesota.  Temperatures have fluctuated between dry, extremely cold days to days with weather near or just above freezing with a lot of moisture in the air.  We have seen a lot of natural ice build-up and several cases of hoarfrost which is less common in Minnesota due to dry weather in the winter.

Hoarfrost:

Hoarfrost is defined: “A grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc.”  Occasionally we wake up to this phenomenon and see these crystalline deposits on trees, fences etc.  You probably notice it mostly on trees.

You might wonder how this affects my home.  With high humidity in the air, condensation can occur in areas and freeze.  We often see this occur on plumbing stacks on a roof.  There are two conclusions when we find this issue; either it’s a one-time occurrence (hoarfrost) or it’s a systemic problem caused by condensation coming from the plumbing stack.

It is important to differentiate between the two.  If the plumbing stacks were installed improperly, the issue should be corrected.  We find that often they are cut too high off the roof elevation (more than 12”) and freezing will occur due to the install.  This should be corrected immediately.  However even when properly installed the plumbing vent may still freeze due to the moisture in the air (hoarfrost), this is a “one-time” occurrence or something that will happen infrequently and while clearing the ice is advised, there is not a problem that needs to be addressed.

Natural Ice Build-up vs. Ice Dams

We receive a handful of phone calls when the weather fluctuates between near or above freezing during the day and drops below freezing at night.  Most homeowners are concerned due to icicles forming on the eave or visible ice on the roof.  Again it is important to differentiate between Mother Nature and an ongoing problem with heat loss in your attic space.

Ice Dams form due to heat loss in the attic along with improper ventilation.  Attic bypass often allows warm air from the home into the attic and in turn it warms the roof deck.  This melts the snow on the roof, when the melt reaches the cold eave (overhang) it then freezes.  When there is enough ice built up and it reaches the warm area on the roof, water builds up behind the ice, working its way uphill and will often cause leaks in the attic.  This can lead to problems such as; leaks, mold, warped roof deck and deterioration of shingles.  Also, heat loss and bypass lead to other attic issues, most notably moisture issues.  I’ll to a whole blog about this in the future, stay tuned!

Even if all your heat loss is stopped and your ventilation is performing you can still have some ice form on your roof eave.  We see this happen with or without gutters, although more often when gutters are present.  When it snows, and either warms up near or above freezing during the day or the sun shines on the roof during the day and then at night the temperature drops, we see natural ice forming on roofs.  The most important distinction to make here is that there is no water sitting behind the ice or working its way uphill on the roof. Thus there is no problem with your attic.  Again, it’s ok to have a little ice on your eave or a few icicles as long as your attic is performing.

Natural Ice build-up

Natural Ice forming on a roof.

A saying that we repeat a lot around our office is that “gutters are a double edged sword.”  While they do help move roof water away from the foundation of your home, they do enhance the natural ice build-up on a roof eave.  Gutters along with the overhang are cold, so naturally when they will form ice in the winter.  Gutters are often necessary to move roof water, this only reinforces the need to properly insulate and ventilate your attic space.

Conclusion

While in most cases we still advise you have a professional inspect any potential issue, it is important to understand the difference between natural ice and ice formed from unnatural occurrences in your home, namely heat loss.  If your attic space is sealed and there is proper ventilation in your attic a little ice can be expected from time to time, but if you are seeing large amounts of ice or what you feel are ice dams, you should have a professional inspect your attic space and get a recommendation on how to remediate these issues.