One small hole can allow water into a wall

Posted8/6/2017 6:00 AM

Q. In a recent column about mildew in a shower, you listed a number of possibilities in which water can get into the walls and cause potential problems besides causing the mildew smell your reader complained about.

A couple of your suggestions seem somewhat outlandish to me. How does water get into walls by splashing from a tall person showering? And how through the shower faucet?

A. I see your point, but in the course of my 60 years in the residential construction business, I have seen a lot of the issues I am asked about and answer, including this one.

Many, many years ago, in the 1950s and '60s, our business was concentrated on residential remodeling, restoration and rehabilitation in the Washington, D.C., area. We also built a few architect-designed custom houses by request.

I still remember vividly how my partner and I spent weeks trying to find out where a mysterious leak was coming from in a client's beautiful home.

The ceiling just below a tub/shower was showing a small stain, which seemed to dry up only to recur every time the man of the house, easily several inches over six feet tall, showered when he was home from his frequent business travels. It did not happen when his wife and daughters showered.

The stain was below the back wall of the tub/shower, which added to the mystery.

We ended up having to cut a hole into the ceiling below and one of us would spray water all over the back wall onto the tiles and on the plaster above them while the other was watching from below.

Eureka! Water began to show up as my partner sprayed the plaster wall. We stood on a stepladder and looked at the joint of the tiles and the plaster and saw that there was a very small space where water could enter. We sprayed the wall above the tiles again just above where that small space was, and finally found the source of the leak.

In another case, we had to do similar investigation by cutting into the ceiling below a tub faucet to find the leak. Water entered around the faucet's escutcheon. We caulked under the escutcheon and the leak never occurred again.

But wonders never cease. An Illinois reader sent this: "I read today about one of your readers having a mildew smell problem around the bathroom tub area. I experienced the same. After many attempts to rectify it, I put a hook into the drain and removed a wad of hair. Once gone, so was the smell."

This is a new one on me; I never experienced that one. Hair caught in a sink drain was usually responsible for a sluggish drain. Thanks for adding that one to mildew problems.

Q. Help! Starting last fall, I have had a recurring problem with squirrels chewing through the vinyl siding on my fireplace to access the cavity between the fireplace box and the outer wall. The fireplace is brick for the first 8 feet with a cement ledge then siding all the way to the top. The squirrels sit on the cement ledge and chew through the vinyl as if it were paper. I hired a wildlife removal company that trapped one squirrel. We left the trap for a week after the initial squirrel was trapped and it remained empty so I had the vinyl siding repaired and thought everything was fine. However, just this weekend, there's another hole. I am having the wildlife removal company set traps again today but what I need is a long-term solution. I live in a townhouse community so my options are limited as far as changing the outside of the house to a different material. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Did your wildlife people offer any ideas why the squirrels are attempting time and time again to get in the space between the fireplace box and the outer wall? It almost seems to me as if they are looking for a place to build a nest in a warm and cozy place.

If your wildlife people can't suggest a way to prevent them from chewing your siding, try applying a solution of strong hot peppers over a sizable portion of the siding in that area. Make a batch and apply frequently, hoping that they will ultimately get the message.

If that does not completely end the chewing, less aesthetic alternatives would be to get bird spikes from a hardware store or online at or

Another alternative is to apply a small section of hardware cloth (buy in hardware stores). Bird spikes or hardware cloth can be fasten to the vinyl siding with small dabs of caulking or construction adhesive.

Anyone in the blue yonder with better suggestions?

Q. I am hoping you can help with a recommendation. We need to replace overhead-type garage doors because of snowplow damage in the central Vermont area.

We manage four-unit condominium buildings. Two single-car attached garages are on each end of the buildings. The two garages at either end are under a single peak roof. The garages are not insulated. Roof shingles are asphalt type. All the roof rafters are exposed, as are most of the wall studs. There are no garage roof peak ridge vents or soffit areas. We have experienced no serious garage roof problems such as ice dams.

The single-car garage that is adjacent to the building can be entered directly from the condominium unit. There are no windows in any of the garages. The only way in or out of the outermost garage is the overhead garage door. In most of the garages there is no attic, loft floor, although some loft areas may have a partial floor to allow storage. Each garage has a poured concrete floor. The existing overhead doors, installed about 30 years ago, are wood sectional panels that roll on tracks, and are uninsulated. The doors are remote operated.

We are considering two types of replacement doors. The first choice is to replace with a new uninsulated overhead wood door, matching the wood doors currently installed, which have been mostly problem free.

It is the second choice, which is to replace with an insulated sectional steel panel door, that concerns me. As I understand, an insulated door of the type being considered will be installed in, and surrounded by, a frame on the top and both sides. We are considering an insulated replacement door only because it was recommended by the contractor who currently services our garage doors.

The buildings, including the attached garages, continue to shift during the cold winter months, and occasionally an adjustment has to be made because the tracks get out of square. Also during the winter months, due to movement of the concrete floor, the weather strip on the bottom of the uninsulated door does not always seal all the way across. And another factor to possibly consider, is that due to residents being away, regardless of season, some garage doors may not be opened for several months at a time.

There are no plans to insulate, or modify the attached garages, or to add ventilation. Should we consider replacing our current uninsulated overhead doors with an insulated door?

A. Considering all you have said, it seems to me that there is only need to replace the door with as close a match to the door that was damaged.

I don't see any benefit to switching to an insulated door, since the seasonal movements would affect the fitting of the door and there are no plans to insulate the garages, which would make no sense.

• Henri de Marne, a former remodeling contractor turned columnist and consultant, is the author of "About the House with Henri de Marne" (Upper Access Publishing). He continues to take questions from readers for this column and his website, Email questions to

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