1. Clogged gutters
If gutters fill up with leaves and other debris, rainwater won’t flow through and out the downspouts—instead it will slosh over the edge of the gutters and down the sides of the house. “Nine times out of ten, the reason people have water in their basement is because their gutters are full,” says Erik Major, an exterior-remodeling specialist with HB Services in Fairfax.
2. Old caulking
“So many times I go into people’s homes and see caulking that isn’t repaired and water that has been leaking into the wood for years,” says Michael McDaniel of McDaniel Construction Company in Falls Church. “Caulking is the cheapest maintenance you can do. Caulking around a bathtub, around a toilet, around the base of a sink can prevent thousands of dollars in damage.” How do you know when caulk needs replacing? “If you clean the bathtub and the caulk doesn’t clean to its original color, that’s an indication it is failing. Or if mold has set in. Or if you see caulk that’s cracking or falling out.”
3. Broken toilet valves
Besides building and remodeling homes, McDaniel also does insurance repairs. “I can’t tell you how many of the claims I get that are water damage from a toilet valve,” he says. Shutoff valves can get rusty and start to leak. Over time, mineral deposits can build up and cause valves to freeze—a problem if the toilet overflows and you try to turn off the water only to have the valve snap off. McDaniel advises: “Turn every valve underneath your toilet and sink all the way off and then almost all the way back on. Do it twice every six months. It flushes the valve out.”
4. Unsealed decks
Another “classic mistake” McDaniel sees: people who power-wash wood decks but neglect to reseal them. “You’ve opened up the surface and are allowing everything to penetrate it. It’s going to rot that much quicker.”
5. Chipped exterior trim
“You think of paint as making something look pretty, but paint is there to protect the natural material,” says Bill Millholland, executive vice president at Case Design/Remodeling. “If you’re not keeping up with painting, chances are you’ll start to see issues.” He says paint and good caulking, along with flashing and siding, can prevent water from leaking into trim around windows and doors, especially at the joints. Don’t want the upkeep of painted trim? Wrap it in PVC-covered aluminum—an option that costs 30 to 50 percent more than painting would but requires no future maintenance.
Have projects around the house you’ve been meaning to do? Suddenly dealing with a leaking toilet or fallen tree? Check out our home repair database for good plumbers, electricians, roofers, handymen, and other home contractors you can trust.
This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.