How a Certified Home Inspector Spots Old Evidence of Flooding

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There’s no way to know everything that has happened in a home. If a house has survived a flood, there might be hidden damage that a new owner needs to know about.

Although a certified home inspector doesn’t dig into walls or lift up flooring to see the bones of the house, certain indicators on the surface can point to a problem lurking underneath. Here are six signs of water infiltration that might prompt the buyer to investigate past flooding conditions in the area and question whether or not the home is structurally sound.

#1: Efflorescence on the Foundation or Basement Walls

One of the most common signs of water infiltration, efflorescence or mineral deposits usually indicates either a severe event or a chronic problem. Water leaves behind a white, chalky-looking residue, especially on masonry materials.

Delaware Quarries explains:

“They are, for the most part, water-soluble salts that come from many possible sources to mar and detract from an other­wise beautiful and serviceable structure . . . there must be water present to dissolve and trans­port the salts.”

A severe flood that wakes a while to recede can leave these deposits and so can ground water that chronically seeps through the basement or foundation walls. Even if the masonry feels dry, efflorescence is a good reason to investigate further.

#2: Wood Rot or Water Stains on Framing Members

Pressure treated lumber resists wood rot, at least for a while, but treated lumber is usually reserved for exterior projects such as decks and porches. If exterior wood shows signs of rot, water is or has been a serious problem. If the home’s framing members have evidence of rot, the integrity of the structure is at risk.

Water stains, on the other hand, can result from a minor event. They’re usually dark and look wet, even when dry. But sometimes, water can leave efflorescence and a bleached appearance on wood materials.

#3: Mold and Mildew Along Baseboards

As with water stains, mold and mildew on the ceiling or upper parts of the walls probably indicate a water leak. If they’re on the lower parts of the walls, especially in corners, which tend to take longer to dry out, there might have been a flood.

Mold and mildew don’t happen overnight. Their presence means the home has had either a major event or it still has a chronic water infiltration problem. If it’s chronic, look for signs of wallboard deterioration and baseboard warping.

#4: Cracks in the Foundation

Water in a glass might be easy to handle, but a large volume of water is powerful. During a flood, it can break windows, push in doors and carry a vehicle down a street. It can also crack a home’s foundation.

Foundation cracks don’t always indicate a flood. Cracks can happen over time from normal settling. But if the cracks are severe and accompany other flooding earmarks, especially efflorescence and a thick layer of old, dried mud in the crawlspace or basement, flooding is a more likely cause.

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Isolated water stains probably indicate a leak, not a flood.

#5: Water Stains on Drywall or Plaster

When water seeps through drywall or plaster, it tends to leave a dark, brownish yellow stain. Much of the discoloration is from the wood materials that water travels through. If there has been a flood, dirty water contributes to the color of the stain.

Typically, stains on the ceiling are the result of a roof leak or leaky plumbing on an upper floor. If the stains are small and contained in one area, the home probably didn’t experience a flood. If they’re widespread, there might have been flooding from a major plumbing leak or serious roof damage. Yellow stains on the lower parts of the walls could mean the home was partly underwater at some point.

#6: Rusted Metal or Rust Stains

Much of the hardware used to build a home is designed to resist rust. But no metal is impervious to damage. Even galvanized metals can eventually break down and corrode if submerged for long periods of time or exposed to a chronic damp environment.

Rusted fasteners, such as drywall fasteners inside or siding nails outside, should be a red flag. You might not see the fastener heads, but the telltale sign is a series of evenly spaced rust stains on walls. Siding fasteners are rust resistant, so corrosion indicates a long-term or major water problem. Inside the home, fasteners and nearly any other metal, such as door hinges, can rust from just one exposure to water.

Some locations are prone to flooding. If the buyer lives in the area and it’s had at least one major event, they’re probably aware of the risk of buying a house with flood damage. What they might not know is the extent of damage that water can cause.

Rainbow International says it can affect the home’s structural and electrical systems and create an unhealthy environment through contaminated water, broken sewer lines, damaged gas piping and much more. If flooding has affected the home, the buyer might want to to talk with a structural engineer and a lab that can test for contaminants.

ICA School arms you with the knowledge you need to find defects that make a home a risky investment or an outright hazard. If that sounds like the job for you, enroll now and start your training today.

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