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Feb 25
2009

Dr. House on Chasing Leaks


Posted by C. Mason Hearn in windows, window leaks, stucco, repairs, leaks, exteriors, cracks

Mason:

Here's one for you ... how do you fix a leaking window - in a stucco / concrete block house ... that comes somewhere from the wall above (appears above the window), but only when raining from a certain direction ... which no one else can isolate??

In addition, if this is helpful info to know or not (?) ... we also had the entire front face of the house re-painted with 2 coats of a professionally recommended "rubberized" paint that was supposed to give and expand better with the severe high temps we sometimes have here ... the thought supposedly was that it would help fix it by preventing moisture from wicking through cracked paint and hence through the concrete block ... still though - no improvement - my personal thought is that this "professional" was really just looking for the money??   

I'm afraid we're gonna need to tear the whole wall - maybe even the whole front side of the house down to start completely over at this point ...

(Sad, but true ...)

Gina S; Viera, FL

 

Gina:

Do you ever watch the TV show, House?  The medical team usually starts with some treatment for a likely prognosis.  When that does not succeed, they progressively run more invasive tests, and ultimately, AHA!  The fix is typically quite simple once the root cause becomes known.

Leak-chasing is one of the toughest jobs in home repair.  It takes a forensic / detective mind ala Dr. Gregory House, and knowledge of how building systems work, especially when you're talking about a "not every time it rains" thing.  Realizing that in Florida (and other areas under harshly wind-driven circumstances), it sometimes literally rains upside-down, the difficulty of finding the source of the leak is compounded.

Sounds like what others have done for you is what I would suggest as a starting point.  That is, visually inspect the likely sources, and light-handedly provide potential solutions for those possible causes.  The rubberized paint that you refer-to is likely an elastomeric coating.  That would seal-up the stucco surface, and bridge any tiny gaps that might be wicking-in water.  Good move, but clearly not the ultimate solution.

I would also pay particular attention to all construction joints - especially, between the surface stucco and the protruding trim stucco, over the window.  There is certainly some form of joint there... it may not even be visible at most times.  A good bead of high-quality exterior caulk should stop any leak at that point.  Make sure that the caulk is compatible with both the stucco and the elastomeric coating work you've done.  Also be aware that even the best sealants require regular maintenance and replacement... movement of this joint and weathering is going to eventually break this seal.

I would also renew the sealants between the window frames and stucco.  A less-likely scenario; however, the water could be driven upward through your wall cavity, and appear on the inside, higher than the point of entry.

It is unlikely that this water is coming from a roof leak.  From the picture you sent, the roof lines appear simple; no penetrations or unusual conditions in that area, etc.

Beyond the surface observation / remedy of the obvious, the job of tracing the leak's exact source becomes somewhat destructive, as one may need to open the wall / ceiling to find the water trail (typically while the exterior is being blasted with water under some pressure... moving from the lowest evidence of leakage, upward), and follow that to the exterior.  However, I don't think you should need to tear down the entirety of the wall and start over.

I would think that Florida would be brimming with forensic leak-chasing services.  If the first steps (caulking) do not work, I would make some calls to try to find an expert to help you with the more-drastic steps.  Finding the source is the most laborious and difficult thing.  I assure you, that you'll find the remedy to be astoundingly simple.

How fitting... I think I shall now be known as "Dr. House".

Mason






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