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About The House

Hugh Cairns: Gutter drainage problems

Gutter Drainage Problems -What are the Signs?

If you’ve had a Hugh Cairns Home Inspection then you know that water is the number one enemy of any home. You also know that once water enters a structure that it’s usually a costly fix. So when it comes to water, there is not much room for turning a blind eye. Finding gutter drainage problems early on, when they are small is sure to save plenty of headaches and money.

The primary function of your gutter and downspout system is to manage moisture that gathers on your home, gather it up, and discharge it well away out of harm’s way. The best time for a perimeter drainage system inspection is now.

Understand the power of water on your home.

Rain that falls on your home adds up really fast. Every inch of rain that falls on 1,000 sq. ft. of roof covering generates up to 600 gallons of runoff - on the average home that translates to 1,000 gallons. – and it happens fast. Compare that to the flow rate of your ½” garden hose – flat out at normal conditions – the garden hose will produce about 10 gallons a minute. It’s plain to see that managing the water from your roof is critical.


What are the Signs?

Sagging, poor slope, clogged or under-sized gutters. Clogged and overflowing gutters can divert water into the structure where rot and mould can take hold. Look for signs of leaking seams especially where they butt against the house. The best time to assess the system is when it is raining and immediately afterward. If you don’t take action, overflow water can stain and deteriorate your siding and ruin your paint job. Look for dead leaves and debris blocking the flow of your gutters.

Improper discharge. Dumping hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water too close to your foundation can be a recipe for disaster. With simple gutter extensions you can divert that water away from the home where it won’t end up entering the home where it can ruin flooring, framing and structural components, and furnishings. Get the water away from your home.


Hugh Cairns: TPR valve leaks

As you can imagine a leaking hot water tank is not good news. Small leaks are a clear sign of a looming larger problem.

When water is heated it expands. This is because when water is heated, its density decreases and as a result its volume expands. In the average 40 gallon hot water tank, increasing the temperature of the water from 90°F to 140°F will expand the water volume by a half-gallon. When your hot water system is closed (when a tap or valve is not open) the extra volume of the heated water must go somewhere. That’s why plumbing supply systems have a series of pressure reducing valves and back flow preventers designed to stop the water from flowing back to the heated supply which eventually increases the pressure in your hot water tank.

Excessive thermal water expansion in water heaters can cause potentially dangerous conditions. When high abnormal pressure exists in a hot water tank, internal parts like fittings and connections may fail causing water to leak. If high pressure causes a flue way to collapse - it can lead to the potential release of combustion gases into your home or if there is enough pressure the tank has the potential to rupture or distort which will likely void the tanks’ warranty. Al of these conditions can lead the TPR valve to open.


The TPR valve

Our plumbing code requires that thermal expansion be controlled. In the event that excessive pressure is achieved there has to be a away to relieve that pressure. That’s why hot water tanks have a TPR valve (temperature pressure relief valve). Commonly installed on the top side of the tank, TPR valves open up to protect the system in the event of high pressure. If you ever see water coming out of the valve or its extension pipe it’s time to call the plumber.

Hugh Cairns: Hot water tank failure

A leaking hot water tank is not good news. While a small leak may seem somewhat of a nuisance, it can quickly turn into a big problem.

Hot water tanks often have large storage capacities. Most tanks I inspect are in the 40 gallon range, which is a lot of water. It isn’t so much about the volume of water in the tank, but that the tank is under pressure. When homeowners experience a plumbing leak on the supply side of the plumbing system, the leak usually continues until someone discovers it. The longer the tank leaks the higher the probability of major damage. In extreme cases a complete failure of the tank can occur causing a significant flood. Repair bills are sure to follow and damage to personal property a reality.

Be careful to check out the other mechanical components in the hot water tank area. There can be other sources of water that cause puddles near tanks. Other sources may be plumbing waste lines, appliances near the tank or condensation which can accumulate and drip to the floor.

A water heater leak does not diminish or go away with time. Tank leaks usually accelerate so it’s best to move quickly to fix the problem. Your first move is to shut the power and water supply off to your heater off and call a professional plumber.

For more information on hot water tank leaks click here.


Hugh Cairns: Carpenter ant damage

To read last week's article, Carpenter Ants, click here.


In this case of this home, Camponotus vicinus have made themselves at home. The vicinus species have a black-red-black body. The other kind of carpenter ant, Camponotus modoc, is easily identifiable as a large black ant. Both species vary in size, ranging in size from 4 mm to 12 mm long, their relatively large size makes them easy to spot. In our area, damage to buildings caused by carpenter ants is considered more serious than that caused by termites.

Corrective measures: One of the best things that you can do to dissuade these wood destroying organisms is to not invite them to your home. They definitely enjoy moist wood so make sure your roof is in good repair and make sure that your irrigation system is directed away from your structure. Remove any and all decaying wood from the yard. Store firewood off the ground and far from the home and should you have some delivered, inspect it prior to unloading for infestation. Carpenter ants can be imported onto a property by delivery of organic landscape material from an infested site elsewhere or from firewood delivered from another area.

Get your vegetation well away from your house. In my experience, carpenter ants tend to give preference to such food sources as sugars produced from evergreen trees and shrubs, berry vines and bushes, ivy and other climbing and crawling ground covers.


Carpenter ants can infest a structure by a singular fertile reproductive or by way of an entire colony. When a single reproductive establishes a colony it can take up to six years for the colony to mature. A parent or satellite colony cab move from one location to another in a matter of hours.

Read more About the House - Hugh Cairns articles

About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with for DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding and turn your home a nicer comfortable place to live and increase its value. Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency this column is here to guide you with some useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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