I have a project with complicated waterproofing issues. How can I make sure they’re being done correctly?
There are 5 very important things to understand about waterproofing details:
- The city inspector does not inspect for them. They have plumbing inspections for health, electrical inspections for safety, insulation inspections for energy requirements, framing and concrete inspections for structural integrity, and even drywall nailing inspections to ensure quality control. But there is no box to check on your job inspection card for waterproofing.
- There aren’t that many contractors who know how to do them correctly. There are no classes, no certifications; nothing to teach contractors how to properly install a window, put flashing under a door (door pans), or waterproof an exterior deck over a living space so that they don’t leak. I typically look at two remodeling projects a week, and it’s extraordinarily rare that I remark to the prospective client: “Wow, these installers really knew what they were doing!” Mostly I find the exact opposite.
- The average lay person does not know how to tell if their contractor is doing them correctly. And why would they? Only people who have been doing this full time for decades can lay claim to the title of “expert”. The number of possible building conditions and emerging new products make it very difficult to have an extensive knowledge “database” of current proper means and methods.
- Water Intrusion is, without a doubt, the single biggest repair cost for wood-framed structures. Unexpected costs are never welcome and these least of all. Your construction budget should be for things you enjoy, not things you don’t.
- It costs more to do it right. If your home is on or near the Great Highway in San Francisco, you MUST use copper flashings. It costs more, and SF does not require it, but galvanized flashings will rust to nothing inside of 10 years, leaving your 30-year deck a little short on expected lifetime.
Wow. LOTS of bad news. What can you do? Some good suggestions:
1. Ask these three questions: What are my options? What are the costs associated with those options? What are the risks and benefits for each? If you have a thorough understanding of the answers to these questions, you’ll have a much better chance at settling on the waterproofing solution that’s right for your project and your budget. Be sure and ask these questions before you sign the contract, not after.
2. Once underway, make sure you understand what is being done and why. Make your contractor walk you through every aspect of every detail so that you know it as well as they do. Make them prove that what they are doing is the right thing to do. Be a pain in the ***. Be a good consumer. Remember that what gets decided before construction starts is not always what gets done by the busy carpenters.
3. Hire a third party specialist to represent your interests in the waterproofing aspect of the project. There are many contractors and architects who do this. If you hired an architect to create the plans, start with them; but ask them to prove that they have expertise in this specialty area. Remember – expertise only comes with extensive experience.
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