Fall is an ideal time to get some home maintenance done, perform some checks on the exterior and interior of your home, and otherwise make sure everything is in good working order. It’s also a great time of year for outdoor/yard work, including replanting, installing new beds or planters, trimming trees and brush, and more. Both of these areas of fall housework can be leveraged to help protect your home from water damage, if you know what to do and how to do it.
While we don’t need to worry about snow and ice in Southern California, the rainy season of October to April is nearly upon us. With the bulk of our annual rainfall happening during this period of time, along with cooler temperatures and generally higher humidity, its prime time for water damage to occur. Storms and flash flooding are much more commonplace during the late fall, winter, and early spring months. Now is the time to get prepared.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that homes need maintenance from regular wear and tear. Leaky plumbing, damaged roofs, clogged gutters – these can all be devastating in terms of water damage potential. Fall is a great time to conduct a kind of home check-up, and either directly address any maintenance concerns, or hire a contractor or expert to fix things up for you. Not only will that ensure you get the most out of our home investment, but it will serve to minimize the potential for any water damage as we move into the rainy season.
Likewise, there are some simple steps you can take with your landscaping and overall yard layout to help reduce the chances of water damage for your home. Fall is a great time of year to make sure your yard is “fire ready” before the highest fire danger occurs, and you can take care of both fire and water concerns with a few well-planned landscaping projects and updates to your yard and surrounding areas.
These are all easy projects you can knock out during a weekend or an evening or two, and most can also be completed by hired experts if you prefer that option. We’ll tell you all you need to know about maintenance and landscaping to prevent water damage in our guide below.
Let’s start at the top, literally, and talk about roofing. Over time, roofs can develop leaks. Missing shingles, the normal expansion and contraction from temperature changes, gaps left during construction, animal damage, and even rotting of wood from existing water damage can all lead to leaky roofs. That, in turn, can allow moisture into your attic, ceiling spaces, or even outright water leaks into your living area. This can happen even if you can’t see the water, with leaks into walls and other spaces often hard to spot or invisible. All that water buildup and excessive humidity can easily lead to mold, mildew, and microorganism growth, some of which can be toxic (and smell pretty awful, too).
Periodically inspecting your roof from the ground for any signs of missing shingles or damage is a great start. It’s also worth having an experienced roofer do an inspection up on the roof (this is dangerous, so it’s best to leave it to professionals), to check for any damage or signs of rot or leaks. They can replace any missing or damaged parts of the roof, and often address a small problem with the roof before it becomes a much bigger, more serious water damage problem during the rainy season.
Gutters and Downspouts
Gutter and downspout problems are often a key contributor to home water damage. Throughout most of the dry period of the year, you very well may not think twice about your gutters and downspouts. However, when heavy rains hit, gutters and downspouts are essential to moving water way from your home. The fall is a great time to either clean your gutters and downspouts, or have them professionally cleaned out. Leaves, twigs, nests, and other debris can accumulate and block the water flow. Cleaning will ensure that water has a clear path to drain off the roof and away from your home.
Additionally, if you have a lot of tall trees in the area and find your gutters often become clogged or need frequent cleaning, you may want to consider investing in the kinds of screens or slats that are available to put over the gutters. They help to keep larger objects out of the gutters themselves, where they can become stuck and lead to a clog, and are relatively inexpensive (especially when compared to the potential water damage remediation costs you may otherwise incur).
It’s also a good time to consider where the downspouts go when they get to the ground. Downspouts that drain right out, straight to the ground next to the foundation of the home, are not accomplishing much of anything. They are just concentrating and dumping water in one of the worst possible places to allow it to migrate into your basement or slab foundation, and into your home. There are many ways to route water from downspouts away from the home, most of which are available at hardware stores and similar locations. Downspout extenders, flexible attachments, solid diverter plates, and more cost just a few dollars, but can save you thousands in the long run. Adding drains for downspouts that then empty out to the road or municipal storm drain systems are also a possibility, though tend to cost much more than these low-cost DIY solutions.
Siding and Windows
As with the roof, it’s useful to spend some time inspecting your home siding or exterior walls, as well as windows, doors, vents, and other openings into your home. Minor earthquake damage, home settling, thermal expansion, animal activity, and normal wear and tear can all lead to cracks and gaps in the exterior of your home. These create perfect vectors for water to leak in during rain storms. A quick inspection can reveal any problem areas, which can they be treated appropriately. Most often, a little caulk, some weather stripping, expanding foam material, or a couple small pieces of wood are enough to seal up any kind of siding, wall, window, or door issues in short order. More extensive repairs may require a contractor (such as replacing a vent fitting or window opening that is damaged beyond simple repair).
While Southern California residents don’t need to worry about the pipes freezing in the same way our friends at higher latitudes do, it’s still important to maintain your home’s plumbing system, and periodically have it checked out. Even simply tightening connections, cleaning or snaking drains, and inspecting for any leaks are often enough to spot a potential problem and correct it. If you don’t have the tools or feel qualified to do this kind of inspection and “check-up” on your plumbing directly, there are many plumbers in the area who offer these kinds of services.
Too often, pipes, water hoses, and other plumbing features in the home are the source of water damage, at all times of year. While you can have your plumbing inspected at any time of year, it’s handy to take care of it as part of a general fall maintenance routine, along with the other tasks we’re addressing in this guide. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that certainly holds true with potential water damage from plumbing in your home.
Taking Care of Humidity
Excessive humidity in the home can also be a source of water damage. It does not require leaky pipes, a leaky roof, or holes in your siding, for example. Long, hot showers, with insufficient ventilation in bathrooms can cause moisture build-up, which can lead to mold and mildew growth. Use bathroom vent fans (if present), or have them installed to help cut down on humidity buildup. Any home heating and cooling systems that come with a variable humidity control should be periodically adjusted and inspected, to ensure an optimal amount of humidity is output.
At the same time, if you notice significant humidity buildup from no particular defined source, that often is most visible later in the fall, as temperatures start to decrease and air humidity levels increase. Often, excessive humidity can be addressed with a portable dehumidifier, opening the windows and allowing fresh air into the home, or running a fan. If problems persist, there may be a hidden leak in an appliance or in the structure of your home, allowing moisture in faster than you can get rid of it. That warrants further investigation and remediation to avoid toxic mold growth or physical water damage to parts of your home.
Basements and Slabs
Most homes in the greater Los Angeles area don’t have basements as standard features. Those that do should routinely check for any water seeping into the home through the basement, and ensure a proper system (a sump pump or French drains, for example) is in place to deal with it. While basements are not common, being below ground level means they are far more prone to moisture seeping in from outside, especially if yard drainage and grade are poor (we’ll talk about that in a later section of this guide). Even in otherwise well-controlled basement settings, it’s worth some monitoring for water seepage during heavy rain and flash flooding events.
What most homes do have in the Los Angeles area is a slab foundation. Concrete slab foundations are common, and while they would seem to be worry-free in terms of water seepage (as compared to basements), that’s simply not true. Over time, due to the settling of the home, movement of the dirt and land under the slab, and even earthquakes, slab foundations can crack. These cracks can allow moisture (and often dirt and other debris) to seep up from below. This is almost always more noticeable during a heavy rain storm, and may show no signs of problem during the relatively mild rain that occurs during the summer months. A cracked slab or leaky basement requires professional repairs. Keep an eye out for signs of water damage to flooring, especially the telltale signs of water damage in wood flooring, as this is often the first sign of a cracked slab.
Pruning Trees and Branches
Fall is a good time to do a little arboreal maintenance, pruning any trees and branches that have grown out of control during the year. You want to try to cut down on any branches that may overhang the house or gutters, since these will drop leaves, twigs, and other debris into the gutters or onto the roof, and can cause damage or clogs, leading to water damage as a result. For tall or large trees, it may be advisable to hire a professional tree-trimming service.
Sloped Beds and Planting Areas
Proper slope to your yard, particularly in the area immediately surrounding your home, is essential to avoiding water damage. Slab cracks and leaks, or basement leaks in particular, are exacerbated by poor slope, grade, and drainage. You want the overall slope of the land to move downhill as it goes away from your home, to promote natural drainage of any water, particularly downspout and gutter runoff. Depending on when the home was built and home much erosion has occurred over time, these conditions may be less than optimal around your home.
An easy solution is to buy some dirt, top soil, mulch, or other planting material, and build up the natural slope surrounding your home. Raised beds or planting areas can also help with this natural grading or runoff, and give you a place to plant flowers, trees, shrubs, or other flora. If you already have beds or planting areas around your home, then fall is a good time to shore them up, raise up the area closest to the home, top off any eroded materials, and replant with cooler-weather, water-loving plants for the rainy season ahead.
Plants and Grass
A healthy lawn, and numerous plants, trees, and bushes around your home can be a great way to help cut down on potential water damage. Living plants sequester water in their stem, roots, and leaves. They also help to retain the soil and prevent erosion from flash flooding and water runoff. Rather than stones or Astroturf, popular during the recent droughts, consider planting a real, living grass lawn. Likewise, the best planting beds around your home aren’t those filled with fake plants and decorative stone. Instead, plant real plants, and you can layer decorative stone or much on top of planting soil, which will help prevent runoff and erosion as well. All of these ideas for landscaping will help to prevent water pooling near your slab or foundation, and promote proper grade and draining away from your home.
Installing Storm Drains in Your Yard
Even with proper grade, some areas are simply prone to flash flooding and water accumulation. In these cases, it might be wise to consult a professional about installing storm drains in your yard. Low areas in the yard can easily be fitted with robust storm drains and a simple drain pipe system, which can lead to municipal storm drains, the road, or a retention basin or other area for outflow that is far from your (or others’) home. It will help prevent standing water or flooding in your yard, which could easily turn into water seepage into your home.
Areas that are highly prone to flooding, especially flash flooding, may require some more creative landscaping and more extensive grading or modifications to a yard. Creating natural drainage points or channels for runoff, natural berms or other flood control measures, and a robust system of landscaping to absorb water are a good start. Additional soil, re-grading the yard away from the home, raised beds, drains, and similar may all be required to prepare for potential flash flooding and the requisite water damage that may occur. This is especially common in areas down-slope from recent fire burn areas, which can suffer from flash flooding during the rainy season for several years or even a decade after a wildfire.
If Water Damage Does Occur, Contact FunGuy Inspections for Help
Preparation is key to minimizing the potential for water damage to your home. The maintenance tasks and outdoor landscaping adjustments that we’ve suggested for the fall season are a great way to achieve this minimizing effect. But no preparation is perfect, and leaks, floods, clogs, and other problems will ultimately happen. When you experience water damage to any part of your home, or suspect water damage is or has happened, then you should seek out professional help to identify the source and extent of the damage. FunGuy Inspections is the leading inspection company in the Los Angeles area, that specializes in mold, mildew, moisture, water damage, lead, asbestos, and other home hazards. With advanced equipment and skilled technicians, FunGuy Inspections can help pinpoint where your water damage is coming from; check for mold, mildew, and other growth; offer advice and solutions to prevent future damage; and give you the information and analysis you need to make the best choice for repair, renovation, and remediation.
Stay safe, be prepared, and stay dry SoCal!