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Originally published Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Never underestimate cheap, easy or stupid in home maintenance

A downspout drain from the roof gutter into the house leaves home inspector wondering, "What the heck where they thinking?"

Special to The Seattle Times

Quite regularly, as a home inspector, I see run-of-the-mill "bad" popping up. Occasionally "that was really dumb" makes an appearance. But you know you are in rare air when "Hall of Fame Stupid" presents itself. Now, gentle reader, is one of those times.

Do not adjust your glasses. Yes, that is a downspout drain from the roof gutter into the house. Water is efficiently directed from the roof into the crawl space. As one might imagine, the crawl space was full of water. Not just standing water, but A LOT of water. If this had been done on the other side of the home also, we could have termed it "sea trials," taken the bolts out of the foundation and checked the whole works for buoyancy.

My first thought, upon seeing this fiasco from outside, was that no one could possibly be that dumb, and there must be a piping system inside to carry the water away along the inside of the foundation.

I was keeping an open mind because on very expensive homes, internal downspouts are engineered for aesthetic reasons. Truthfully, given that it was a '70s tract home in Kirkland, I wasn't betting on it.

Alas, there was no such system. The pipe ended a few inches inside the screen vent, providing a variable 1-inch-to-3-foot gravity-powered water feature, depending on the crawl-space water level at any given time.

After recovering emotionally from the situation, naturally my mind wandered the way I am sure your mind is wandering ... toward that incredulous "What the heck were they thinking?"

This is only a working theory, but it's the best I've got: A low area in the yard between the subject house and the neighbor's house holds water. It had somewhat sloppy grass and needed better drainage, or better soil, or both. Presumably, the downspout dumping its load of water on the area filled up the low spot and made a little pond between the houses. And maybe the neighbor complained, "Your water is flooding my property."

In this situation, options are plenty — a person could dig a buried drain line to carry the water away from the downspout, or bring in drain rock, or put in a yard drain, or use topsoil to build up the level of the yards, or just eliminate the standing water by digging a canal to the street. The and/ors are abundant.

But hold onto your hats! There is yet another option we hadn't considered. The easiest and cheapest way would be to turn the tail piece of the downspout pipe 180 degrees, poke it through the crawl space vent screen and get the water out of sight and out of mind. And that's what happened. Never underestimate cheap, easy or stupid.

The coup de grâce was that the crawl-space screen, after being pushed away for the pipe, was left off so rats could — and did — get in. That was priceless.

The good news is that several feet of water kills the rats that may happen to wander in.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages rental properties. Send e-mail to dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Ask the Expert
Darrell Hay, the Ask the Expert columnist in NW Home&Life, is a local home inspector and manages rental properties. Send e-mail to dhay@seattletimes.com.

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