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When Water Intrusion Causes Structural Damage

Monday, May 15, 2023

Tate Watson

Wood and water do not mix for a happy ending.

Along the Gulf coastline, we have an extremely harsh environment with high temperatures and humidity, coupled with salt air, strong winds, and rain throughout the year.

The constant wetting and drying of our structures—on top of bad original construction—can all wreak havoc on critical sealants and waterproofing, especially around porch posts and beams, as well as windows and doors.

Near the beach, most homes have several open porches or balconies to take advantage of the beautiful Gulf views and sounds of the water, with most sealed from the weather for a nice clean look and no water leaking below.

For long, trouble-free life, these waterproofed porches must be installed with the latest and best installation products and practices. Sadly, it doesn’t often happen this way.

Improper installation of waterproofing on open porch decks and around posts and beams can cause very serious damage in a short period of time.

We’ve seen major wood rot show up on structural beams in as little as one year after the original construction. However, smaller leaks can take 10 or more years to show significant damage.

Older structures may have failing products after enough weather exposure and time.

What is the most challenging part?

To discover sooner, rather than later, the small signs that can indicate the likelihood of water intrusion. It’s one thing to talk about how serious water intrusion, rot and structural damage can be…but how do you even know if you have a problem?

What are some signs I should look out for?

  • ​When the caulk and paint are bubbling and blistering and just doesn’t look right, it’s often because of the moisture coming from behind the paint.
  • ​The joints and wood trim will look off. If it looks odd at all, it’s smart to reach out to someone to check. It could be failing because moisture is coming from behind the wood trim and is trying to find a way out and it will via those joints in the trim.
  • ​Look around posts, waterproofing, and beams.

Bubbling/blistering paint

Cracking and changes in paint/trim

Rotting beams/trim

How do you know for sure the extent of any damage?

First, get an experienced professional or licensed contractor who has dealt with these types of problems to have a look. Then, if warranted, remove some trim details to look behind for the damage and/or have the home inspected for water intrusion by a professional who specializes in that field.

If caught early enough, the damage and repairs could be relatively minor, but quite often, by the time you have clear visible evidence, it means the problem has been going on for quite a while and the damage and repairs can be extensive.

The photo below shows the rotted structural posts and beams that were behind the white trim. The trim around the rotten posts was the only thing holding the house up.

So we have some damage, now what?

Whatever you do, don’t wait too long to make the repairs, because it will only get worse and more expensive. You should hire the most qualified contractor you can find, to make the repair correctly, so it will last, because the repairs can be difficult and costly.

Why is it such a big deal getting this kind of structural damage fixed?

These are major sub-structures for your home that have to be removed carefully, piece-by-piece, and the home has to be fully supported temporarily while that work takes place. We also have to remove all cosmetic trim around these areas (post and beam trim, porch ceilings, decking) just to get to the main damaged structure.

Next, we replace the old material with the new, connecting it all correctly and applying new waterproofing with the most current best practices.

Replacing the rotten post

Finally, we put all the “pretty stuff ” back together. It’s a complicated, time-consuming process, one that is much more difficult than new construction.

Not many builders know how, or want to tackle a tough, risky project like this. This work is not inexpensive.

Surely my posts, beams and joists on my porch are pressure treated and can hold up to moisture, right?

You might think so, but the structural beams are most often untreated LVLs (Laminated Veneer Lumber) and when moisture is held around these, they can rot very quickly.

While the posts and joists are almost always pressure-treated—and they can withstand some contact with water—the real problem is when the water gets in but can’t get out. This will cause that material to significantly deteriorate over five or more years.

Rotten, 6x6 pressure-treated post

What can you do to prevent water intrusion and structural damage?

Unfortunately, often times you can’t see the damage until it’s too late. The only thing left to do is to replace it sooner rather than later. While these kinds of repairs are certainly costly, it will only get worse over time and could end up costing even more money.

If you see damage like the images in this article, definitely get someone to look at it. An experienced contractor or engineer that specializes in water intrusion are your best bet. A special water intrusion inspection company can look behind surface with infrared camera and have other technology that can help them identify problem areas.

Some contractors will do coverups and may defer you spending a large chunk of money, but it absolutely doesn’t solve the underlying problem and it will eventually catch up with you.

Remember…
Water will find the path of least resistance and work its way down, and if it gets trapped around any wood products, they will deteriorate over time.

Worried you might have structural damage on your property?

Simply request a consultation with some brief details about your project and we'll reach out to learn more!

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About the Author

Tate Watson

owner, 850 building group

Tate has been building and remodeling homes for over 30 years, specializing in residential construction. He has earned a reputation for delivering high-quality projects on time and on budget. 850 Building Group has become a go-to choice for clients seeking exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. Outside of work, Tate enjoys spending time with his family, duck hunting and growing his faith and commitment to God.

About the Author

Tate Watson_Headshot png

Tate Watson

owner, 850 building group

Tate has been building and remodeling homes for over 30 years, specializing in residential construction. He has earned a reputation for delivering high-quality projects on time and on budget. 850 Building Group has become a go-to choice for clients seeking exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. Outside of work, Tate enjoys spending time with his family, duck hunting and growing his faith and commitment to God.

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Established by Tate Watson and located in gorgeous Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, 850 Building Group has been custom building and remodeling fine homes for over 30 years.

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850 Building Group, LLC
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