Can a House With a Cavity System Leak?

Here’s an interesting question that we get asked alot…

“Can a house built with a cavity system and treated timber framing leak?” Yes it can.

Please be aware that all homes leak at some stage… both brand new and old homes. You can either have internal or external leaking problems in the home, no matter what year it was built, and if it has a cavity or not.

Here’s an example of both types…

Internal:  Some new builds will leak the very first time a tap is turned on. We have been called out to plenty of jobs where a plumber hasn’t joined/glued a pipe correctly behind the wall and water has saturated carpets and external walls directly onto the treated timber framing (Normally H1.2 or above).

External: Recently we inspected a house in Albany, Auckland using thermal imaging and moisture testing equipment. The house was signed off in 2008 and had a 40mm polystyrene cladding on a 20mm cavity. The potential buyer was confident the home should be fine because it was required to have a cavity and treated timber. Wrong! The window joinery had failed and the timber frame was absolutely saturated in some sections of external wall.

How can a new home leak? When the weather turns from hot to cold, you then get expansion and contraction within the building envelope… and ‘things’ move and settle… and this can cause problems. The house itself also needs to settle and slight movement can take place… and then of course you have sub standard tradespeople who didn’t pay attention to details such as sealing off area where water can get into the walls… especially with wind driven rain! All these little factors combined can add up to some serious water damage to the property (Preferrably not your house, or the one you’re about to buy).

If you are prepared to spend anywhere from $1 – $ 1,000,000+ on a property, then you should get a leak test done regardless of the price tag and year it was built. Even if we aren’t the company you select to do the job, get it done regardless of the situation… for your own peace of mind (Read this first before selecting any other company).

When it comes to buying a house and pre-purchase inspections etc, the reality is that we are in New Zealand and it rains alot (We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you were looking at a home in the Mojave Desert)… where there is rain, there are leaks. It’s your risk at the end of the day, so we can only tell you about our past experiences with home buyers getting absolutely stung… and plenty of them have been people with experience in the real estate game.

Shower Leaks Causing Damp Smell in House

Do you have a musty or damp smell in certain rooms of your home?

Is the source of the problem obvious?

On a regular basis we get calls from home owners saying they have noticed a damp musty smell appear in their home. If you have noticed this in your home, there is a problem somewhere… as these smells don’t just appear for no reason. If you leave these smells go undetected for an extended period of time, the problem can be compounded if gradual leak damage is taking place where you can’t see it happening.

Sometimes it may be due to rising damp, internal plumbing or bathroom leaks, or leaky cladding/window where water has found it’s way down your wall and onto your carpet under the skirting… without you knowing anything about it.

Recently a home owner of the North Shore called us in to find the source of their damp smell problem. There was very little visual evidence of leaking problems within the house, but our infrared thermal imaging camera instantly discovered the problem.

How to find shower leaks?

The dark area in the above thermal image is water on the carpet. On the back of the wall is a shower that is leaking. The home owner had a book case pushed up against this wall, therefore they couldn’t feel the wet carpet… and you certainly couldn’t see it with the human eye because the carpet is a very dark blue colour (as you can see in the righthand photo above).

We took this infrared photo so the home owner could use this visual evidence to back up his insurance claim for the shower leak. In addition, the carpet was very slightly discoloured, so he may now be able to claim carpet water damage as result of a plumbing leak through the insurance company!

Can’t detect the source of a ‘suspect’ bad odour or smell in your home? Call us in for a look… we can normally find the problem quickly and easy using thermal cameras and advanced moisture meters.

How to Find Leaks in Waterproofing Membranes

Detecting water leaks in waterproofing membranes with pinpoint accuracy has just become a reality here in NZ thanks to the latest electronic field mapping leak detection service.

Flood testing used to be the only effective way to determine if/where a membrane was leaking… but there are plenty of downsides to using this method of leak testing. What if you have a roof surface area of 1000 sqm? That’s a lot of water to flood test!

Electronic advances in NZ have now made is much easier to find a membrane leak.

New and Proven. Electronic field mapping will detect any breaches in either new or old membranes with pin point accuracy (excluding black butanol), by ‘charging’ the surface area with low voltage, thus creating a potential difference on conductive and non-conductive surfaces like decks, which is earthed or grounded. Water is still used as the conductive medium with this method, but there is no need to flood the area. The advanced leak detection device then reads the electronic flow across the surface and will pinpoint any ‘vectors’ (where the leak(s) is occurring).

This is an excellent option with new installations to assure the client of quality workmanship before signing off on the job.

What type of applications can this method be used for?

Leaks under a roof garden, Roofs with ballast, Tiled decks, Leak detection through paving stones, Insulated and non-insulated roof structures, Structural decks, Swimming pools, Vertical walls and many more.

For those of you in the construction game, you know perfectly well how hard it can be to track down a leak in a building you’ve built… especially under flat roofs. The problem with water is that it takes the path of least resistance which means the leak and the leak source can be up to 30 meters apart (ugly)!

What if there’s a large building over the top of an underground car park leak? This would normally take lots of trial and error, ‘theories’ from multiple contractors you have to pay for, and your time to nut out the leak penetration point. No more! These types of leaks can now be ‘express’ detected using electronic leak mapping.

Got a waterproofing warrantee that’s about to expire?

Get a check up for any pin holes or breaches in the membrane before the expiration date!

This new method is a simple and logical way test new installations for leaks before covering the membrane over, and finding tricky leaks… and there is only one company with the exclusive rights to this high tech leak detection technology in New Zealand, and the field mapping technicians are internationally trained.

Other services: Waterproofing leaks in concrete, waterproofing bricks, resealing water seeping into basements under block, waterproofing leaking block walls and more.

Roof Leak Repairs – Companies Who Fix Roof Leaks

With so much rain in NZ, roof leak detection and repairs are the most common request we get!

To start with, you need a company who has specific knowledge about how to repair roof leaks, not just a roofing company who only sells complete re-roofing options!

Simple. A roofing company could try to sell you a complete new roof, but a specialised roof repair company will most likely do a target fix. You MUST ask the right questions if you are serious about finding a company who fixes roof leaks cheap, without giving you the hard sell!

Make sure their website is tailored towards solutions about how to fix a roof leak, not total reroof options. You should quickly be able to establish what their ‘angle’ is… keeping in mind that some companies who repair roof leaks in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and anywhere is NZ could give you an initial consultation free… then they’ll climb your roof and give you a quote etc etc… normally painting the worst possible picture they can paint. MAKE SURE you get 3 quotes!

Here’s why…

Many home owners simply don’t have time to wait around to get 3 quotes, and if the first roof repair company looks good, they’ll take it! Seriously, the difference between quotes could be up to $3000 on an average size home (200sqm), so tread carefully. We don’t sell solutions to repair roof leaks, as we are independant inspectors with no vested interest to sell anything beyond what we are hired to do… and that’s to find the leak.

A thermal imaging roof inspection could detect the leak within meters of the origin of the issue, before a ‘roof specialist’ even arrives… giving you a more accurate idea of where the leak is entering the building envelope.

Take care with your home, and take the logical path to find leaking issues in your building before accepting any quotes. Infrared leak detection could narrow down where the leak is coming into your home, giving you more ‘bargaining power’ against the contractor who you hire to execute the repair.

Insurance companies hire us to find leaks… so should you if you require an unbiased approach and reporting.

Locating Leak Damage on Wall Frame Stud

Moisture or leaks infiltrating your wall frame studs can cause problems, regardless if the timber is treated or not.

One of the most common questions I get asked when someone calls me for a pre purchase thermal leak inspection, is “Should I worry about getting a leak/moisture test because the timber is treated?”. YES!

For example: Lets say the home is only 4 years old (Built to the new building code… treated timber on external framing), and there was a window joinery failure from day 1. If the window has been getting hit by wind driven rain on a regular basis, then ‘gradual leak damage’ could occur on the timber framing if the water didn’t get out through the cavity. The same scenario would apply  for pre 1992 built homes… in fact, the timber framing will rot no matter when the place was built if enough water gets to it.

Here’s an infrared thermal imaging leak photo of a wet wall stud in a home with treated timber…

The darker wall stud is a different temperature... couldn't be seen on the wall as indicated in right hand image
The darker wall stud is a different temperature... couldn't be seen on the wall as indicated in right hand image

Locating a leak in one section of a wall can be simple with the right leak detection equipment. If you have any doubt at all in the home you are buying… get it checked for leaks, because the home owner may have fixed the source of the leak, but not the damage it caused along the way.

The benefit of our thermal imaging camera, is that ‘tricky’ vendors who paint over walls and ceilings in an attempt to hide leak marks will get caught out, because if there is moisture on the gib at the time of inspection, no paint will hide it, as it will be a different temperature… which is exactly what our infrared camera will detect and locate.

Marketing and Selling a House with Known Leaks

Does your real estate agent have a good poker face?

Home buyers… there are still real estate agents in NZ who are willing to say whatever it takes to get pen on paper. Most agents are above board and ethical… but you get the odd one who needs to make money and has a good poker face when it comes to telling you how “they don’t know of any leaking issues with the home“. (Even if there is water dripping through a ceiling like the case below).

Today was a classic example which you may be able to relate too, or it may sound familiar. It went something like this…

1) It was a rainy day and the home owner decided they were sick and didn’t want anyone around at the house. We put the heat on them for cancelling the infrared inspection at the last minute. The buyer got his way and we got into the home to do the inspection as per original plan.

2) We get in the house, and the first thing I see is the cleaner with a mop and bucket in hand? So much for no-one being welcome that day. You’ll see why the cleaner was really there in a moment.

3) Before I started the thermal imaging inspection, the real estate agent tells me “the home owners are pedantic and very fussy, and if there were any leaks they would have had them fixed”. I took her on face value (Turns out to be ‘poker face’ value)

4) The very first room I find a leak with the infrared camera… and this continued for the first 3 rooms. 3 rooms, three leaks. Hmmm.

5) I then see the cleaner moping the tiled floor in the next room we were about to moisture test. She then leaves, and what do you think the first thing we see is? Water dripping from the top of the door frame onto the floor! The cleaner was staying one step ahead of us moping up the leaks hoping we wouldn’t see any signs! Are you kidding me!!! She did this on two occasions and got caught both times. Little did she know that a thermal imaging camera will see the leaks anyway.

6) To cut a long story short, there was a total of 14 leaks throughout the house, and 12 of these were big ones. Here’s just one of them…

Water dripping onto the floor through this leak
Water dripping onto the floor through this leak

I like most agents, and I get plenty of work through them… and most of realtors do disclose everything for their own sake… but some just aren’t following the rules.

Summary: You can’t point the finger at the agent if you buy a home that leaks because you didn’t get it tested first on your own accord. Regardless of the marketing and verbal representations made when buying a house, it’s up to you to do your own research.

Do Solid Block Houses Leak? – Wet Batons

Are you considering buying a solid block house?

Is there any point getting it checked for water leaks?

The general perception about homes made of solid block, is that they will never fall down and won’t leak… so there’s no real need to get a pre purchase  leak inspection before buying. This is not true… you certainly can get water seeping through block walls and rotting the batons and carpet etc. I’ve seen it many times over.

Rotted batons below ground level
Rotted batons below ground level

The most likely scenario for such leaks to occur, is when the floor level of the house is below the ground level directly outside the area. The other reason the batons behind the wall will rot is there’s a roof leak travelling down the wall.

In general, block houses are more solid and less likely to leak then other traditional building methods, but are you prepared to take the risk of buying an ongoing hidden leak for the sake of spending a few hundred dollars for a thermal inspection prior to buying?

Fortunatly the owner of the above home is ethical and is doing the right thing. At the time of this building inspection, he was in the process of repairing and sealing the block wall prior to selling the house. You can actually seal block/brick wall to prevent water leaking through, but it’s a very vulnerable area that isn’t straight forward to fix long term.

If you are buying a house with any external wall of the home below ground level (i.e. Built into the side of a hill), then certainly consider getting a thermal imaging leak inspection… it could make a huge difference to your purchase price if the structural intergrity of the area has failed. Leaks can be a real pain… so find out first!

Some leaks found during home inspections are nothing to really worry about (like an internal plumbing leak). It’s the leaks inside external walls that are the ‘not so friendly’ ones… regardless if it’s a solid block home or standard home with timber framing (especially plaster cladding homes with no cavity).

One question I commonly get asked from buyers, is “How many homes do you inspect wouldn’t have any leaks?”. The answer is about 5%. Yes, 5%. But… there are good leaks, and bad leaks. Good ones can be fixed easy at low cost and most likely have caused minimal structural damage. Then you have the monster leaks that travel down between the walls, penetrate the timber, saturate the insulation, rot the bottom plate, blow out the skirting board then make their way onto your carpet and saturate the underlay in the process. Most homes will leak at some stage… it’s just a matter to what extent. Even new homes leak if there’s a failure in the window joinery, or the shower hasn’t been sealed correctly. These are all things you need to know before paying the $$$. 

FACT: You will not see the leaks that I will see when walking through a house due to the high tech equipment that I use (I wouldn’t see these leaks with my naked eye either)… and that’s why you should consider getting thermal imaging during your buying process. It may be cheaper than you think… and certainly a great peace of mind after you move in!

Gardens Against Plaster Cladding Causing Leaks

Are you living in a plaster cladding home, or a house with no wall cavity system?

One common issue we regularly come across is where home owners have pushed a garden up against the house to a higher level than the base of the cladding.

There should be a sufficient gap between your ground level and the bottom of the cladding (‘Ground Clearance’). If you put dirt up to or above the bottom of the plaster cladding, you could get what’s called ‘capillary reaction’. This simply means the saturation of the dirt can soak back up the plaster and get absorbed into the bottom plate of timber in your wall (and beyond). If you notice your skirting boards have swollen or you have a small leak around the edge of your carpet, then you may already have wet timber in that wall, and possibly other walls of the home if the ground levels around the house are similar.

No matter what type of cladding you have, you should always keep your garden off the wall where possible, unless it’s up against a concrete foundation that has a waterproofing membrane as a precautionary measure. Just like a human, a home needs to breathe, and air needs to be able to circulate around to help dry out any damp areas. Gardens can stifle this process in critical areas, especially if the drainage in the area is not getting the water away from the house.

Can you simply cut the bottom of the cladding to create sufficient ground clearance?

This would depend on how far the cladding runs down past the bottom plate of timber. In many cases you won’t be able raise the height of the cladding base because you’ll expose the timber and potentially compound the issue. Consult a qualified builder who has experience with monolithic, harditex, insulclad or preferably all types of plaster cladding systems to assess your situation and what can be done to improve your drainage etc.

Tip: Take a walk around your house, and if you can see ANY areas where water could potentially touch the bottom of your cladding (excluding block), then you may need to look at drainage options for that area.

If you do see an area where wet dirt or water could be leaking into your home or building, then a moisture test in the area could be a wise move to make sure you aren’t covering up already rotted timber. Moisture and leaks in your walls can spread like cancer… don’t take the risk. Thermal imaging and leak testing could quickly put your mind at ease!

Banks requiring leak and moisture inspections before lending?

Here’s another solid indicator about the risks involved with buying a home built in NZ

There have been a growing number of phone enquiries to us saying “the bank would like a leak and moisture test on the home before they lend us the money”. So why would this be?

As you are most likely aware, the leaky home problem in NZ  is constantly talked about in the media… and for good reason. People are watching their bank balances plummet to the floor in legal fees because they didn’t get a moisture test before buying their home (not to mention the stress involved)… and guess who else risks losing money on leaky buildings? The banks!

Question: Would you lend your money to someone buying a home in NZ built between 1992 and 2004 (leaky home era), without getting it checked first with a thermal imaging camera and moisture testing equipment? Unlikely. I know I wouldn’t.

The banks can also see that some of these homes are ‘risky’ or potential leaky buildings, so to help reduce their risk, they also want to know if the home they are lending money on is a potential ‘lemon’. The bank may not require moisture testing if you have a very large deposit, but if you intend on borrowing the majority of the money, then don’t be surprised if an infrared moisture inspection becomes one of their lending conditions.

Are there any homes that don’t leak?

The majority of homes we inspect do have a leak of some kind. Some types of leaks wouldn’t warrant pulling out of a property deal, whilst others certainly would. EG.Would you prefer to find a shower leak that only requires the screen to be resealed, or find a leak running down the wall from ceiling to floor in a home with no cavity system and untreated timber (Common is leaky buildings)? Give me a shower leak anyday!

Take care when buying, because some homes simply aren’t as tidy as they appear… and most people find that out after they become unconditional on the home… because they didn’t want to spend the money up front to get it checked out.

Now that you know about infrared thermal leak detection, do you think you could buy a home without it? Some people would take the risk and ‘hope for the best’, but with all the leaky home issues in NZ, most savvy home buyers don’t take the risk of buying without an infrared building inspection first. Here are more thermal images of hidden leaks in ‘nice looking’ homes.

Swollen or Bulging Skirting Board? Leak

One of the most common indicators of a leak is a swollen skirting board.

Commonly referred to as a ‘blowen skirting’.

The key is to find the leak source before it gets to the point of doing damage, but that’s not always possible. So where is it coming from in the first place?

The following thermal imaging photo shows you what I found during a house inspection in Sumner, Christchurch. In this case, the skirting was actually in tact and not showing any signs of swelling due to mositure , yet the thermo camera picked up the problem right away….

Dark area indicates hidden leak
Dark area indicates hidden leak

Wouldn’t you prefer to know this before buying the house!

This particular leak was actually coming from the roof, and running down the side of the window frame and showing itself at the bottom of the wall/skirting area. There was a cladding detail running around the perimeter of the house that was flat of top, so the water had no way of running off. The cause of the leak was a crack in the polystyrene cladding above this detail just below the roof line.

We find leaks and moisture… that’s all we do.