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Silt on VP narrative


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Crawlspace: Silt (Dry fine mud) stains the top of the vapor barrier in the crawlspace. The silt indicates prior water in the crawlspace (which could either be from the time of construction, episodic or seasonal. There’s no way for me to tell). Check the crawlspace during the rainy season after extended rains. If there is water getting on top of the vapor barrier, first take a look and see if there is a simple explanation as to why water is filtering in and correct it (for example minor grading and drainage issues at the exterior). If there is no obvious point of entrance then have a small sump pump dewatering system installed to control the water to below the level of the vapor barrier. Such an installation should cost less than $500 to install if it’s needed at all.

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OK, would you kindly Katenize this.

Chris, Oregon

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Crawlspace: There is silt on the vapor barrier in the crawl space. It may be left over from the construction phase or episodically deposited by certain weather conditions that cause the crawl to flood. When it's been warm and dry there's no way to tell. Try asking the current owners if they've ever noticed water in the crawl or if they know why the silt is there.

Check the crawlspace during the rainy season after extended and /or heavy rains. If there is water on top of the vapor barrier, first take a look and see if there is a simple explanation as to why water is filtering in and correct it (for example minor grading and drainage issues at the exterior). that's your jobid="green"> If there is no obvious point of entrance and I didn't see any indication that there would be, have a small de-watering system installed to control the situation.

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

Crawlspace: Silt (Dry fine mud) stains the top of the vapor barrier in the crawlspace. The silt indicates prior water in the crawlspace (which could either be from the time of construction, episodic or seasonal. There’s no way for me to tell). Check the crawlspace during the rainy season after extended rains. If there is water getting on top of the vapor barrier, first take a look and see if there is a simple explanation as to why water is filtering in and correct it (for example minor grading and drainage issues at the exterior). If there is no obvious point of entrance then have a small sump pump dewatering system installed to control the water to below the level of the vapor barrier. Such an installation should cost less than $500 to install if it’s needed at all.

If I can't determine whether or not the evidence points to a chronic problem, I recommend that they visit the crawlspace in January, not just "in the rainy season after extended rains." In my experience, lots of crawlspace water problems in our area don't show up till January. It takes that long for our soils to become really saturated and back up into those crawlspaces. There's a seasonal creek on my property. It starts to run in the first week of January.

I'm forever hearing realtors say, "Well it really rained a lot last night. If that didn't make the crawlspace wet, nothing will." They’re wrong. The amount of rain doesn't matter; it's the saturation of the soil.

Next, if there's an obvious mechanism for water entry such as a damaged gutter or a reversed grade, then address that as a recommendation in the report. Don't wait till they see water and then make them responsible for finding the obvious cause.

I would never, ever say, "If there is no obvious point of entrance then have a small sump pump dewatering system installed to control the water to below the level of the vapor barrier. Such an installation should cost less than $500 to install if it’s needed at all. "

If I wrote that, they'd remove precisely one shovel full of dirt and toss the cheapest lame-ass pump they could afford down there. It would do absolutely nothing except maybe electrocute someone. If there's really a water problem in the crawlspace, it needs trenches, filter fabric, drain tiles, drain rock and either a good gravity drain or a good sump pump (including a GFCI-protected receptacle). Ain't no way that's happening for $500. Real drainage systems cost about $4K. If it doesn't need a real drainage system, then there's no reason to waste $500 on a worthless sump pump.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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If there's really a water problem in the crawlspace, it needs trenches, filter fabric, drain tiles, drain rock and either a good gravity drain or a good sump pump (including a GFCI-protected receptacle). Ain't no way that's happening for $500. Real drainage systems cost about $4K. If it doesn't need a real drainage system, then there's no reason to waste $500 on a worthless sump pump.

Here in the land of basements most homes have a sump pump. Soil saturation is a fact of life as is a water table well above the basement floor levels. Not every home can be drained to daylight.

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Originally posted by Chad Fabry

If there's really a water problem in the crawlspace, it needs trenches, filter fabric, drain tiles, drain rock and either a good gravity drain or a good sump pump (including a GFCI-protected receptacle). Ain't no way that's happening for $500. Real drainage systems cost about $4K. If it doesn't need a real drainage system, then there's no reason to waste $500 on a worthless sump pump.

Here in the land of basements most homes have a sump pump. Soil saturation is a fact of life as is a water table well above the basement floor levels. Not every home can be drained to daylight.

Well, sure. Here too. But if you're going to install a sump pump, it's got to be done correctly or it will be worthless. If your house has a genuine water problem, you need a drainage system. A sump pump may be part of that system, but it's not the whole thing. In fact, it's only a small part of it.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Sometimes, sure. But, the full blown tile/pump system isn't always necessary. Lots of times it's not. The folks selling these systems, and also we HI's, have to cast a very wide net in our observations & analysis because we have no basis for accurate analysis; we gotta go holistic.

Bsmt. water problems can often be figured out, and the simple installation of a single pump set in a crock can work wonderfully, IF one has the luxury of time for observing.

I've figured out, and "cured", lots of folks bsmt. water problems by seeing what's going on for about 6 months, and then installing a single pump in the right location to take care of the saturation in that area.

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I see lots of silty plastic as well.

So, I'm not sure what the consesus is. . . .

If there's not an obvious point of entry, bad grading, bad gutters, etc., does one write it up? Additionally, if there's good ventilation and no problems with rot or bugs, I don't write it up. Maybe I'm in err?

If a cause isn't determined, do we default to the "montioring" clause discussed recently in another thread?

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That barrier was put down before the home was framed and there isn't a water line. A lot of that silt could have accumulated over the time between installation of the barrier and when they finally got the roof over the whole thing and dried it in. Sometimes there can be a foot of water in the foundation with the plastic half-floating on top before they ever get the roof on. If that had happened, there probably would have been some kind of water line evident.

When I see them with that much muck on top, no water line, and the exterior drainage and guttering seem to be fine, I recommend putting down a clean barrier over the existing one and then checking the crawlspace at least once during the rainy season. I don't specify January - usually I tell them 'sometime in the middle of the winter rainy season.'

Unless you do that, it's probably going to be impossible for the client to know at some future point, unless he or she actually enters the crawlspace when there's water in there, whether the muck was left behind from flooding that took place before the home was framed in or water has entered since taking delivery of the home.

Yeah, that is a form of monitoring, I suppose.

I don't know whether I can totally agree with Chad; that's it's Chris' or any other home inspector's job to know what's causing it. Sometimes, there's no way an inspector can know anything except, "There's been water over the vapor barrier that's left silt deposits."

If there's no evidence of current flooding, and it could have occurred during construction, or was caused by an issue that's been repaired, the only way to know and be 100% certain that it's not still occurring is to conduct a grading test around the structure. How many homeowners are going to allow that?

So, you have to create a situation where the new homeowner at least has a way of knowing whether there's been flooding or not. The cost of a whole new barrier that's not completely sealed to the walls and piers and at overlaps can be less than $50 in materials and an hour or two of labor. That's a relatively cheap way of knowing in the future if you've still got water.

I tell every client that he or she needs to either personally, or hire someone to, inspect conditions in their attics and crawlspace at least annually. If you're going to tell your clients to make sure they're checking and cleaning their gutters, telling them to make sure they check the roof for missing/torn shingles, telling them to ensure they keep vegetation off the structure, maintain proper earth-wood clearance, and periodically inspect and touchup the exterior paint and caulking, you need to tell them to make sure they periodically look at these areas as well.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by hausdok

. . . When I see them with that much muck on top, no water line, and the exterior drainage and guttering seem to be fine, I recommend putting down a clean barrier over the existing one and then checking the crawlspace at least once during the rainy season. . .

I tell people to never put a new vapor barrier over an old one. It just creates a thousand pockets where water can get in but never get out again. The trapped water festers.

The vapor barrier in Chris's picture looks fine, just dirty. If you want an indicator to tell if it's flooded again, use your finger to write the date in the silt in a few places.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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The redi, roto rooter folk in my parts charge $1500 - $2000 for a sump pump only installation. I have seen them do it and I think it's a big rip off. But you're right, quoting $500 will lower the level to morons. There is a plumber down here who does a first class job with a Zoeller pump and everything for $500. Maybe the thing to do is just give out his name & number?

Chris, Oregon

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Do you think that there is anyway to eliminate the monitoring aspect of a finding like this?

I don't think that clients will monitor something anyway. They will just let it become a big problem and then blame the inspector for not recommending that something be done about it at the time they bought the house.

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by kurt

Sometimes, sure. But, the full blown tile/pump system isn't always necessary. Lots of times it's not. The folks selling these systems, and also we HI's, have to cast a very wide net in our observations & analysis because we have no basis for accurate analysis; we gotta go holistic.

In my region, the sump pump alone is inadequate 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the time.

Bsmt. water problems can often be figured out, and the simple installation of a single pump set in a crock can work wonderfully, IF one has the luxury of time for observing.

Maybe in other parts of the world. In my small region, a single sump pump doesn't work. It'll dry out a circular area with a about a 6' radius and that's it.

I've figured out, and "cured", lots of folks bsmt. water problems by seeing what's going on for about 6 months, and then installing a single pump in the right location to take care of the saturation in that area.

If that method works here, I've never seen it. Every single time I've seen a sump pump installed alone with no drainage system to feed it, it's been a miserable failure.

That's not to say that drainage systems are always necessary. In lots of cases, the only thing people need to do is maintain their gutters and their wet basements and crawlspaces dry right up.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

. . . There is a plumber down here who does a first class job with a Zoeller pump and everything for $500. Maybe the thing to do is just give out his name & number?

Chris, Oregon

Sorry, if he's installing a pump without an accompanying drainage system to direct water to the pump, the job isn't complete. I'm immovable on that point.

Also, in my experience, plumbers are the absolute worst people on earth to install drainage systems. I've never seen a plumber do it right.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

Do you think that there is anyway to eliminate the monitoring aspect of a finding like this?

I don't think that clients will monitor something anyway. They will just let it become a big problem and then blame the inspector for not recommending that something be done about it at the time they bought the house.

Chris, Oregon

It's rare that I find a crawlspace where I'd recommend monitoring. I can almost always tell if the water issue is chronic or if it was acute.

If I really can't tell for sure, I tell them to go down there in January and look.

Life's full of uncertainties and inspections are full of limitations. Sometimes this is one of them.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Jim Katen Sorry, if he's installing a pump without an accompanying drainage system to direct water to the pump, the job isn't complete. I'm immovable on that point.

For a crawl space, couldn't a perimeter ditch a foot deep (or less even) and some perforated flex covered with gravel be considered a drainage system?

The trench has to be lower than the floor of the crawlspace or basement or it'll be of little value. If the foot-deep ditch is inside and lower than the footing, yes, it'll work well to direct the water to a sump pump or gravity drain. If it's outdoors, it'll only be partially useful.

"Installing" a de-watering system would include some way to get water to the sump.

To be honest, from your first post I thought you were vehemently opposed to sump pumps.

I prefer to see the system drain by gravity. If that isn't possible, then there's nothing wrong with a sump pump as long as it's properly installed. What I object to is a sump pump installed instead of a drainage system.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Chris said: If there is water on top of the vapor barrier, first take a look and see if there is a simple explanation as to why water is filtering in and correct it (for example minor grading and drainage issues at the exterior).

Mike said: I don't know whether I can totally agree with Chad; that's it's Chris' or any other home inspector's job to know what's causing it.

I firmly believe that grading and drainage issues fall into our laps.

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Mike said: I don't know whether I can totally agree with Chad; that's it's Chris' or any other home inspector's job to know what's causing it.

I firmly believe that grading and drainage issues fall into our laps.

I agree; they do, but sometimes there's no way to know, when you're on-site, what's causing the issue. That's why owners need to go down there every once in a while and look around. If they don't, it can be months - sometimes years - before someone will need to go under the house for something and sees that there's an active infiltration issue, or something else, going on.

Around here, the best time to do that is in the middle of the winter-spring rainy season. It starts raining pretty regular at nights around here in the fall. By December it rains most days too. By March it can be back to nights again and stay that way until around June. My experience is similar to Jim's, in that I think it's best to check things mid-winter after the ground's had a chance to become waterlogged.

The quandry that the clients find themselves in is that we aren't always able to tell them whether it's an on-going issue or something that's been resolved, so they have to make the choice of whether to purchase anyway and then to check things out on their own once they've moved in.

Your discription of gravel-filled-and-filter-fabric-lined swales is what's done a lot around here. They rarely use pipe unless it's a very serious water issue that directed swales can't resolve.

Sometimes infiltration is unsolvable but there's no question that it's occurring and nobody cares unless it's not being managed correctly. I know of one house out in Sultan that's built down on the flood plain of the river. Nice house, except the "crawl"space is about 10ft. high and floods every winter. To me, the house looked strange way up on top of that tall concrete foundation, but most of the homes in that neighborhood were done that way. When I arrived to do the job, the homeowner brought me a set of river waders, smiled, and said, "T think you'll probably need these." He was right.

On another one in Everett, I rolled around under a then-27-year-old house for about 10 - 15 minutes on top of a pristine 27-year-old vapor barrier that felt like a water bed. It'd been sealed to the walls and piers and whenever water from the nearby marsh surfaced underneath the barrier would float on top of the water and later recede. The underside of the house was beautiful; no mold, no rot, no bug issues, no funk, because they'd installed a perfect barrier.

Now, with those two houses, the cause of the infiltration would have been duck soup to diagnose. Looking at Chris' photos, maybe not so simple. Hard to say without being there.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Also, in my experience, plumbers are the absolute worst people on earth to install drainage systems. I've never seen a plumber do it right.

Jim do you recommend a particular company or companies when writing this issue up?

I imagine you don't go thru all the verbiage to describe how to properly install a dewatering system in a crawlspace.

Also do you recommend that the same company address grading and drainage around the house as part of the recommendation?

Clients and worst, sellers, do a horrible and useless job most of the time attempting to do even simple grading and drainage corrections.

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

Also, in my experience, plumbers are the absolute worst people on earth to install drainage systems. I've never seen a plumber do it right.

Jim do you recommend a particular company or companies when writing this issue up?

John's Waterproofing - 503 364-3978

Ability Plus Drainage - 503 246-0474

There may be others, but these guys are the only one's I've ever seen do it right the first time.

I imagine you don't go thru all the verbiage to describe how to properly install a dewatering system in a crawlspace.

No, I don't. But I sometimes tell them what not to do and I might briefly describe that trenches, fabric, rock and tile are necessary.

Also do you recommend that the same company address grading and drainage around the house as part of the recommendation?

"Have a drainage contractor design and install a drainage system to ensure that water does not accumulate in the crawlspace. Insist on a warranty."

If the drainage contractor thinks that grading is necessary as part of his system, it's his call. He's the one who'll have to back up his warranty.

If I see a grading problem, I'll certainly recommend fixing it regardless of whether or not there's a drainage problem.

Clients and worst, sellers, do a horrible and useless job most of the time attempting to do even simple grading and drainage corrections.

That's because they don't really believe it's necessary.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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