Home inspectors bring added value to every home inspection by sharing knowledge. We can’t prevent major disasters like floods, but we can help our clients understand their home’s flood exposure
Depending on your service area, your clients may be exposed to one or more different types of flooding. You can help long-term area residents and relocated homebuyers understand the risks.
To plan for floods, you need to understand the type (or types) of flood you may face. Each one bears a different impact in terms of how it occurs, how it is forecast, the damage it causes and the type of protection you need.
Types of Floods
River – Fluvial
River floods occur when a river, lake or creek overflows the containing banks, spreading water to the surrounding area. Rainfall or snowmelt fills the water channel beyond the capacity of the banks. These floods can be rapid moving vehicles and even push homes off foundations.
Rain – Pluvial
Extreme rainfall creates surface water on the ground irrespective of any riverbanks. The water rises gradually, leaving enough time for people to evacuate, but often causing structural damage to buildings.
Steep ravines and canyons shed water down a channel that may have had no water. These floods are rapid, with powerful water surges that may carry large destructive debris. They are a type of pluvial flood that occurs in areas often considered dry, like oak woodland canyons, chaparral hills and desert canyons.
Also known as storm surge. Seawater driven by heavy winds floods coastal lands. The combination of high tides and extreme winds can cause severe property damage.
High-intensity rainfall exceeds the limits of drainage and sewer systems, causing water to flow in streets. The water rises fairly slowly, but as it extends, it can cause damage to buildings.
History and Preparation
- If you see signs of previous flooding, advise your client to get a natural hazard disclosure. Look for flood potentials like 100-year flood plain history, and nearby rivers and dams.
- Educate your client on preparation to avoid water damage with clear service gutters and downspouts. Note that they could install drainpipes and ensure they are free from clogs annually.
- Advise your client to go out after a long rain to check for standing water near the foundation. Make sure soil grading and concrete slope away from the home to prevent water damage. And, for good preparation, have a backup plan or two with sandbags, a working sump pump and, for emergencies, a portable submersible pump.
Home Disaster Water Damage
As an inspector, you know that small findings can lead to water disasters in a home. These floods have nothing to do with rain or wind or weather; they result from ignored system failures and structural defects that lead to water inundations in the home.
As a home inspector, you can help your clients avoid expensive flooding repairs by assisting them to understand how moisture affects the structure of the home they live in. Moisture on floors and in walls leads to softening wood and hidden nightmares that require expensive repairs.
The recommendations you make now can help prevent water damage in the future. Your advice is the added value you bring to a home inspection. It takes checking things off on a list to deliver valuable information to keep your client safe in their home.
When you advise on your findings, you build trust in your business. Making small homeowner-related suggestions like these can help you build trust with your clients:
- Clean debris off the roof, in the roof valley and on the backside of chimneys.
- Keep trees free and clear of the structure and roof that can cause damage and leaking.
- Avoid cheap plumbing repairs; they may come back to bite you at the worst time possible.
- Do not use PVC pipes inside the house, in the garage, in the attic or in the sub-area or basement; use only approved materials for plumbing inside the footprint of the structure.
- Once a year, pop your head into the attic and, during winter, do the same in any sub-area crawlspace and smell for moisture, mildew and other odors. If you smell moisture, it could be a problem developing or an issue that needs long-term correction.
As a home inspector, you are out daily seeing what water can do to a home, but your client may not be aware of the disasters that await related to potential water damage. Your experience and knowledge can help guide them to take care of their own home.
Threats of Untreated Water Damage
Clients can often dismiss potential water damage threats as small, especially if they are “hidden” from their everyday life. You can help your client understand the potential risks by describing the consequences of neglecting a minor problem.
The restoration agency, ServiceMASTER of Pittsburgh, lists the following common water damage consequences:
- Weakened structure and ruined flooring and drywall. Flooring soaks up water and becomes prone to mold. Wood structures that support walls and floors become soft and weakened. Drywall can become brittle or warp and can develop mold, requiring it to be cut out and replaced.
- Corrosion. Water contains elements that can break down pipes constructed to come in contact with only tap water.
- Damaged electrical system. When water comes in contact with outlets, wiring or electrical boxes, the system can become compromised and unsafe. This calls for immediate remediation.
- Damaged concrete or brick. If not sealed correctly, water can erode concrete and brick, compromising the structure.
- Mold. Within 24 to 48 hours after water damage, microscopic amounts of mold can begin to grow. It may not be visible until one to two weeks later.
- Musty odors. Certain surfaces will become smelly only a short time after water exposure. Carpets often, begin to smell, quickly and become a breeding ground for more bacteria and an attraction for bugs
- Permanent staining on walls and floors. Water that’s not cleaned up immediately and appropriately can leave permanent stains on walls and floors. Sometimes, paint cannot cover up these stains. Any staining will decrease the value of the home.
Besides the structural issues, water transmits health hazards to residents. Bacteria, chemicals and other toxins can invade the house, creating potential health risks to residents. Fungus and mold can penetrate surfaces and start growing before the damage is visible. Mold can cause respiratory infections, aggravate allergies and cause headaches. Insects, too, are drawn to damp surfaces as the perfect place to lay eggs.
Share Your Knowledge
Your knowledge, experience and expertise as a home inspector is extremely valuable to your clients. You can suggest ways to keep a home sound and protect residents’ health. These elements of home inspection are often overlooked by clients who just want to make a deal, but whatever your client’s motivation for an inspection, you can use your experience to identify potential problems. Your knowledge conveys your expertise about keeping a home safe and sound.