Floyd tests owners of leaky houses

HOMEWORK

Leaky houses, Part 2

October 10, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

YOU KNOW you're having a bad day when:

You arrive home to find the bomb squad has cordoned off your house.

You arrive at your office to find the crew of "60 Minutes" waiting for you.

You arrive home to find it's raining in the dining room.

The latter, alas, is what happened to Karol in the recent meteorological unpleasantness. She got home about 7: 30 p.m. and discovered that the roof had leaked in the dining room until a piece of plaster fell down, and then water had poured in through the hole. Also, the basement was a delta of small streams running down to the sump pump -- it looked like one of those aerial photos from National Geographic. And there was no electricity -- for six days.

Karol left the Midwest 16 years ago, because, among other things, the weather was always trying to kill her. But somehow, in all those introductory tours of Cross Street Market, Fells Point and the Inner Harbor, no one mentioned that, oh, by the way, occasional hurricanes sideswiping the East Coast will rain out a bunch of ballgames, rip the shingles off your roof, and traumatize your two small dogs.

Karol knew to some extent what was wrong. There had been problems with the roof when the kitchen was being renovated a few years ago. It had leaked then, and water had gotten to the dining room ceiling, staining, cracking, and weakening it. (The house is almost 100 years old and all the walls and ceilings are plaster.) She thought the then-contractor had solved the problem by finishing the roof. Guess not.

So she called Ron.

He climbed on her deck railings, scampered up a rickety ladder to the roof, tapped around, and discovered, he was pretty sure, where the problems lay.

And they weren't simple. In the first place, some of the shingles were installed improperly in the valley between the old and new roofs -- what Ron called a California valley. Instead of cutting the shingles off in the valley, where the roofs meet, the contractor ran them up the other side of the roof -- sideways. Shingles work because they run horizontally, not vertically. There was also some mysterious flashing that didn't need to be there, and on top of that, the caulk used to hold the shingle edges -- where the ridge of the addition met the old roof -- had failed.

The most radical solution would be to tear off the shingles and examine the roof structure, to make sure that's sound. However, Ron's suggestion was to start with the simplest thing to do, which is to repair the suspected leak area. If the roof doesn't leak anymore after that, fine. The dining room ceiling can then be fixed.

But that wasn't the end of it. As Ron walked around the house, he discovered some tree branches growing under shingles on the original roof peak and popping them off, a drainpipe extension that had come loose (so water was pouring off the roof into the foundation), and some bad grading around the rest of the foundation.

"Don't you even read what we write?" he demanded.

Karol's response (read: excuse) was that she had been busy, had redone the grading years ago, the weather had been too hot or too cold, the ground too dry or too wet -- in short, the typical answers provided by any homeowner for problems caused by delayed maintenance.

So Floyd was a wake-up call for a lot of people: Routine home maintenance can make a big difference when the weather turns nasty. And keep in mind that doing the small things first may solve the problem.

Note: When we talked last week about finding a "good" contractor to work on your home, we should have mentioned that there are other kinds of licenses, besides those from the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Master plumbers and master electricians are also licensed. The point remains the same: Make sure the people who work on your house have licenses and insurance. If they don't, you could be liable for injuries or damage on the site.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at hw@renovator.net or Karol at karol.menzie@baltsun.com. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore MD 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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