The Iceberg Effect

Famously, the part of the iceberg that can be seen above the waterline is only a fraction of the whole. Not accounting for what can’t be seen has led to some historic catastrophes like the sinking of the Titanic, and indirectly to excruciatingly long movies like Titanic.

Ignoring what’s not in front of you is such an ingrained part of the human condition we have the idiom in English: out of sight, out of mind. Different versions of this saying can be found the world over. French: Loin des yeux, loin du cœur (far from the eyes, far from the heart), Latin: Qui procul ab oculis, procul a limite cordis (Out of sight, out of mind), German: Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn (Out of sight, out of mind), Hebrew: רחוק מהעין, רחוק מהלב (Far from the eye, far from the heart).

Deferred maintenance and upkeep around the house doesn’t often lead to newspaper headlines and movies, but has the potential to be devastating nonetheless.

One of the first things we noticed at the big grey house was that the electrical panel had water damage. The breakers have been replaced but look at the heavy water staining in and around the panel:

Water damage behind panel

Water damage behind panel

So why was the area so wet?

As it turns out a downspout runs along the exterior wall just above the electrical panel. This downspout has to carry the water for roughly ¼ of the total roof area of the house!

The overwhelmed downspout

The overwhelmed downspout

You probably see where this is headed.

Not only were the gutter and downspout clogged with old leaf debris, the downspout was completely impacted. I bet a biologist somewhere could use the build-up in this gutter to track changes to environment over time like they do with core samples from the arctic ice.

Needless to say, the total failure of the downspout to move water way from the house meant that gallons and gallons of water were settling next to the foundation wall, leaking through, and ruining the electrical panel.

Note old in-ground downspout under new elbow

Note old in-ground downspout under new elbow

Let’s be honest. Spending a weekend afternoon cleaning out the gutters has no appeal in the face of warm living rooms, football games, grilled meats, and tasty drinks. Putting off this seemingly simple, negligible task, however, can have serious, expensive consequences.

Fixing the issue

Fixing the issue

I can’t remember the last time I had an inspection where I didn’t talk to the buyer about managing water around the house. At least one or two buyers have probably secretly wondered why I get so fired up about gutters and downspouts. The simple answer is that water is the most destructive element a house faces on a regular basis. I’ve seen houses where owners have spent thousands trying to waterproof a wet basement or crawlspace. Too often, the overlooked issue is the water settling next to the house. Fix the problem not the symptom.

Today’s lesson? Don’t put off upkeep, and if you’re looking at houses pay close attention to how / if water is being directed away from the building.

-Joe