What you see is not always what you get. This commonality exists in the numerous cases I have investigated for water intrusion and moisture issues in buildings. The source that appears most obvious and straightforward may not, in fact, be the root of the problem at all.
The shell that protects a structure protects you, your belongings and contents. This is commonly referred to as the ‘Building Envelope.’ This entity of the building sometimes is overlooked until water intrusion is present. Simple maintenance checks on the envelope system can prevent or avert costly disasters in the future. The physical components of any envelope – the foundation/crawlspace, walls, doors, windows and roofing systems – are all engineered to control the amount of infiltration of precipitation, air, heat and/or vapor. The integrity of the building envelope is, therefore, most essential in providing a sound performing system and healthy environment for the building proper.
Moisture penetrating the building envelope of residential, commercial or industrial structures may originate from unlikely sources. Finding the cause, determining the extent and formulating an effective resolution to moisture problems can be a daunting and expensive task for owners and their insurance companies. The expertise of a structural engineer can be the best tool in your arsenal to fight water intrusion, as time is of the essence to correct the problem and prevent further damage.
The usual suspects of water intrusion sources are roofing systems, walls, crawlspaces, plumbing and winter and summer condensation. The most common exterior penetrations come from roofs, walls, and crawlspaces, and weather plays a key role. Building envelope failures may allow rain, snow and/or ice to enter a structure from virtually any direction, including precipitation breaching the envelope through the ground.
The most common interior culprits come from condensation of windows, doors, plumbing lines, and leaks from plumbing fixtures such as sinks, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances. Condensation may occur from numerous locations in and around the building, and may occur in both the winter and summer months.
Condensation generally forms when warmer air comes in contact with cooler surfaces, such as glass in windows and doors, unprotected piping or toilet fixtures and unvented laundry rooms or bath areas. Therefore, it is key to abating moisture problems to control the level of humidity of inside air to help reduce or eliminate the occurrence of condensation.
Below is a list of the five most common problems I see involving moisture related issues in Warren investigations. Approximately 70 to 80% of my cases involve one of these types of water intrusion.
- Trapped water in a crawlspace
- Defects in HVAC drip pan in an attic space
- Plumbing leaks from kitchen and bathroom fixtures
- Inadequate repairs to roof drainage systems
- Improper flashing methods at roof/chimney interfaces
In summary, my suggestion in providing protection for your residence, building or industry, is to actively partake in some due diligence. Routinely check and maintain the building envelope that protects not only the building, but you, its assets and its contents from water intrusion and moisture issues.
Allan Abbata is a senior consulting engineer at Warren and a licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia. Allan holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He has more than 40 years of applied engineering expertise to include in-depth knowledge of building codes, rules and regulations that guide design. Allan has also prepared construction drawings and specifications, provided on-site supervision and inspection of construction projects, and. has overseen project management and responsibility for overall performance of building contracts while also serving as the client’s liaison with local, state and federal agencies and municipalities.