Rain in Seattle? No Way.

Article written by Marty Smith

If you are a transplant from some other part of the country, or world, I am curious if you have begun developing webbed toes yet? It seems like you never see a native of this part of the country with their socks off. After a winter like this, you know why.

Golly sakes…is it ever going to stop raining?

I have been a busy boy this year, chasing leaks. Most of the leaks are minor. That does not matter to a tenant. They want it fixed…now. Here is a common scenario: I am called out to a building. It shows water in a unit at the second floor at the top of the window. It is a four-story building. I determine that this is the first time they have ever seen water there, and the management company or owner does not remember ever having seen a leak in this area. I go through my usual check list. Windows are caulked. Parapet cap is secure. Mortar appears to be in decent order, I see no cracking or anything obvious. I turn to the client, whether it is the management representative or building owner and tell them…I don’t know. Bottom line…after a winter like this, if you get a half a cup of water in a unit that has never leaked before, and there are no other obvious problems with that elevation of the building, let it go. First, for me to attempt to find the source of the leak, I am probably going to have to rig that elevation. If I am going to rig that elevation, it makes no sense to just chase the leak. It makes more sense to treat the entire elevation in whatever method is best. The truth is, I am not sure I am going to find the leak anyway. That is a lot of money for a half cup of water. When we get 40 inches of rain in a four-month time period, things are going to leak.

The point is this: I know you are a responsible landlord and/or manager. You have spent the money necessary to maintain your building(s). If the problem does not go away, or more situations become apparent, then spend the money to see what it will take to rig the elevation and deal with it. But, in the meantime, promise the tenant some new paint and wait.

Now, for a story of the other extreme. Twenty some years ago, I was asked to review a project for the restoration of a fairly significant apartment building near downtown Seattle. This was an unreinforced masonry building. At the time I requested that an engineer be brought out to inspect the south side of the building because there was some bulges and waves in the wall. It was serious enough that I would not provide a proposal unless a fix was engineered for the wall in question. The owner refused. Fast forward 20 some years. I am standing with a new manager staring at the south side (same wall). The management company had just finished remodeling all the south side units right before the winter rains hit. The units on the south side are leaking so bad they cannot be rented out. The owner had simply pointed that side of the building (with mortar that was too hard), and when it started leaking again tried to stop the problem by painting the brick. The owner had even gone to the expense of having the URM building seismically retrofitted (for insurance reasons). Three band aids on a broken leg.

When a wall that is 3-4 courses of brick thick shows movement (large bulges and waves), there is a problem. The bond is broken between the brick. No amount of band aids can fix it. It is going to leak…eventually. In this case the water was stopped for 15 or so years. When the water came back, they ‘fixed’ it by painting it. Bought another 5 years. Now the problem is compounded and will cost a great deal more than it would have 20 years ago, not only because the ‘fixes’ have aggravated the problem, but the lost revenues in today’s market are much larger.

Do it once. Do it right. Look beyond the numbers. Ask questions. Be comfortable and understand the answers. The lowest bid might not be the best value.

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