Houses, Slopes, and Water

Today my clients looked at a house sited downslope from the road with clearly insufficient drainage. Clearly because you could simply look at the driveway and follow the path of least resistance for the water right under the garage door into the garage…which showed clear water damage including a big crack in the floor. There was no French drain, no attempt to divert the water from the house. Complicating drainage matters further, the bulk of the house was situated even lower than the driveway so water that failed to make it into the garage would instead congregate at the front of the house to seek another way down hill, probably underneath the house.

Good slope and soil clearance
Good slope and soil clearance

Fortunately, my client was a smart and experienced home owner who recognized these signs and was wise enough to pass up this particular opportunity for headaches. To help you be an equally savvy buyer, there are a couple of key signs that anyone can look for when they approach a house they are interested in purchasing.

  • Is it lower than the road? If so, are there clear provisions for dealing with runoff. This can include culverts, French drains, foundation coatings, pitched landscaping, etc.
  • Is it the low spot on the lot? Ideally, the house is at a high point on the site. If the lot is level, you should look for the soil to slope away from the house so any rain hitting the siding or the ground near the perimeter will drain away on the surface.
  • Is there at least 8 inches of space between the soil and the lowest wood on the house? This is more a termite issue than a drainage issue, but if you’re looking at foundations and soil, you might as well pay attention to this basic requirement as well.

If any of these questions triggers concerns when you are looking at the house, make sure to bring your concerns to the attention of your real estate agent. If you decide to write an offer on the house, these items would all be good reasons to insist on an inspection by a qualified inspector and perhaps a soils engineer as well. Without a well drained and solid foundation, any house will eventually develop problems. The cheapest way to solve problems like these is to avoid purchasing a home that already has them.

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