Q. We're trying to decide whether to cancel escrow on the home we are buying. Our home inspector found 6 inches of water under the building, and he recommends a drainage system to keep the crawl space dry. The seller says the crawl space has been flooded every year for the past 30 years, and he insists that this has never damaged the structure. Now we are deadlocked in negotiations over drainage repairs, and we're thinking we should just walk away from the deal. Flooding under a house is not acceptable, regardless of whether damage occurs. The seller insists that flooding is normal for the neighborhood and that we are overreacting. Should we be persuaded to overlook this problem?
A. Annual flooding under houses is common in some neighborhoods, due to a number of geological conditions. Standing water in a crawl space is certainly an undesirable condition, but it does not always have adverse effects on a home. This, however, does not mean it should be ignored or taken for granted, as the seller is trying to persuade you.
To make the right decision in this matter, there are several variables you'll need to consider. Fortunately, your home inspector brought the issue to your attention, but more information is needed.
If your home inspector found standing water under the house, he may have been unable to conduct a full evaluation because large portions of the crawl space may have been inaccessible. This is something you should discuss with him. The points to clarify with him are these:
• Has water flow under the house caused soil erosion?
• Do any of the piers appear to have settled?
• Do there appear to be any adverse effects to the concrete or masonry foundation walls?
• Does there appear to be any moisture condensation on wood members, hardware or insulation?
• Does there appear to be any moisture-related damage to any of these components?
• Is there sufficient cross ventilation of the subarea to promote drying?
• Is the location of water entry apparent?
Hopefully, your home inspector can answer these questions. If not, further investigation is needed.
If there is any evidence of moisture condensation or wood decay, a thorough evaluation of the subarea by a licensed pest control operator is advised to determine if there is any fungus infection of the framing or subfloor.
An evaluation of the subarea and the exterior ground areas by a licensed geotechnical engineer or other drainage specialist is advised to determine the cause of the flooding and to recommend specific drainage improvements to prevent future flooding. Solutions could include French drains around the building, one or more sump pumps under the building, or drain holes in the foundation stemwalls.
If adequate ventilation of the subarea is uncertain, the building code requires cross ventilation with at least one square foot of screened venting for every 150 square feet of subfloor area. However, this is a minimum standard. Additional ventilation is advisable where unusually moist conditions exist.
Whatever you decide in your negotiations with the seller, proceed with caution. It would be better to spend a few hundred dollars on investigation now than to get soaked with thousands of dollars of repair work later.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
© 2017, Action Coast Publishing