Sometimes when I learn something, and write a column about it, the payment I receive for the column is enough to pay for the something. But, that may not be the case this time. Still, the (Sudden) Cessation Of Stupidity is actually much better than the alternatives.
When I moved into my house (built in 1918) 23 years ago, it was in pretty good shape. But there were some water stains in odd places along the walls and ceilings. I wondered, should I have the roof replaced? Well, maybe not just yet. Perhaps I could figure out how to stop the leaks.
The worst leak was in the middle of the kitchen, over by the dishwasher. When the rain began, at first nothing happened, but later the ceiling would start to drip. We could put out newspapers, buckets, rags, pots; but when heavy rain began to fall, we had to be prepared for that darned internal leak. Sometimes, but not always. Not even very often. Not often enough to make it easy to find, but enough to be annoying. This leak was four feet from the wall, BUT there was a second-floor outside wall overhead. The outside wall for the second story was set about five feet inside the wall for the first story.
One year I laid out some fiberglass panels on the roof, and that seemed to cut the number of leakage episodes in half. Well, that was good, "but no cigar." The main problem remained: when the rain came in from above, it came out below at places that were NOT OBVIOUSLY connected. Could the rain do that? Could the rain come in at place X, run over at an angle, and drip down at place Y, several feet away from under the place where it went in? Yes, it could. Apparently it did. (See Sketch 1)
Other years, when we had severe storms blowing in from odd angles, such as the east, northeast, or northwest, the rain came in at places and times DIFFERENT from those we were suspecting. Mop it up, fellah.... It seemed to me that when the driven rain came blasting down at heavy rates and severe angles, it would hit the walls, run down, and sneak in at funny little cracks. I tried caulking those cracks, at the bottom of window sills or similarly strange places. Good theory—those cracks did have to get sealed up. But, doing so didn't really stop the leaks.
We had the house painted one year. Still, while certain areas of potential leakage were carefully treated, the sneak paths continued to annoy us. Another year I hired a guy for $250 to put a good tar PATCH on the roof, in the area X, where the leaks were occurring. I never bothered to complain, just because the leaks continued (occasionally) despite the patch.
In 1999, I heard some very suspicious drips that seemed to be right on the ceiling, over my head (T), as I lay in bed. Was I imagining things? I NEVER saw a wet spot on the ceiling. Sketch 1 shows that this is vaguely under the second-story wall, four feet inside the first-floor wall.
But five months later, the ceiling began to lose small swatches of paint in that area. How annoying! What would I do? Ke garne! (That's a common Nepali phrase we bring out when we are PUZZLED! "Ke garne?" just means, "What to do?") As I said, that was in 1999. In January of 2000, I heard another drip, right over my head. And, a different one—then ANOTHER—finally even a little SPLISH. THAT was intolerable! It was WAR!
I went out and bought several slabs of fiberglass corrugated sheeting. I put them on the roof, right over my head, extending for a couple of yards in all appropriate directions. That night, a long soaking rain began, and no drips were heard overhead. Had I solved the problem? Sure....until two nights later, when a strong driving rain led to more sets of drips and splishes. Rats! (I even checked under the fiberglass sheets, and it was completely DRY.)
Then I remembered something my wife had said a year before: "The rain is running over the edge of the downspouts and it's STAINING the new PAINT on the outside wall." She had not said it loud enough, nor insistently enough, but I gradually caught on.
When the rain comes down during the DAYTIME, she is home to watch. When I'm there, the rain is usually falling at night, and it's hard to see what is happening. When the water runs off the upper roof and falls into the rain-gutter at AAAA, it could drain down the proper path—but not in case of a problem. (Refer to Sketch 2) There are three problems which can easily occur:
If the gutter has filled up with pebbles, the rain can't go along the gutters, so it goes over the edge. If the downspouts become clogged up with leaves, the gutters will likewise overflow. If the gutters have sagged at all, they can overflow even if the other problems of proper maintenance have not occurred. When the rain overflows the edge at B' and down the edge at C, some of it may drip off at D. But, some of it may hang around at EEE—and cling to the bottom of the gutter. Then it can get close to the house at F. That's a sneak path. Occasionally, there's a small crack between two boards at G, or further down at J.
The capillary action just sucks the water inside at H. Then, it runs down six feet and drips onto the top of my ceiling. That's where we see trouble. (Note that while I heard drips over my head on the north of the house, I never heard any drips at the kitchen leak on the south side.) I looked and searched for, sealed, and caulked any possible crack within five feet of the drip point. But, I didn't notice the sneak paths eight feet over the drips. Pretty dumb, eh?
Anyhow, all of the logical paths had been well sealed off. But when the drips continued, I kept SEARCHING to find the actual path. My wife hadn't noticed it for 22 years, and I hadn't noticed it for 23. But I caught it now. Finally, it made sense that all of the different sneaky leaks came in at unsuspected places. WHO would suspect that the rain actually came into the house at a place that was protected from the rain—never hit by rain? I had looked at every place the rain hit, but not at the sneak path.
The solution was surprisingly simple: add a little strip of wood or plastic along the bottom of the gutter. I bought about 20 yards of half-round wood strip, painted it white, and glued it onto the bottom of the gutters, up at D. I used Goop, a kind of rubber cement. Now I'm waiting for the next rain. After all, some systems cannot be tested until extraordinary conditions occur. You can't just DO the test. (Still waiting—no hard rain....)
(Is it true that all houses in San Francisco are required to have gutters and downspouts that drain into the city sewers? Also, is it so that in Daly City, the next town south, the houses are required to have gutters and downspouts that do NOT drain into the city sewer, but instead onto the ground?)
Presuming this works well, I will make many copies of this story and hand one to each of the houses in my neighborhood. Then, I will try to get the local newspapers to publish it too.
Meanwhile, Jeaneen Bacon, the person who I purchased my house from, will be ASTONISHED, because it was obvious that she had these problems for years before she sold the house. I don't know if she believes in CUSSING, but she may be doing that now. Especially when I tell her how easy this is to FIX, after I figured out where the sneak path was—after only 23 years.
Some old turkey will say "H'mph, I could have told you that." But no old turkey did. This seems to be one of those not-well-known problems. Can I find this in any home-repair book? I bet not. If it were so obvious, storm gutters would be extruded with a little rim along there, to make sure the water can't run back toward the house. But, is it well-known that severe ice and snow build-up can clog gutters, and force water back up through shingles into the house? Yes. That's in many books.
Anyway, you readers are the first beneficiaries of this SOLUTION. If you have roof leaks, or water leakage along walls, this may help. Pass it along to your friends: a little strip, just a 1/4-in. square, (or half-round) glued to the bottom of the storm gutters may prevent water from running down the outside (and the inside) of your walls.
Now, it's a good idea to keep the pebbles and debris out of your gutters. It also is a good idea to keep your downspouts unclogged. But, you can't always be perfect. So when overflow occurs, you shouldn't be penalized. I rest my case.
All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
Mail Stop D2597A
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090