Residential buildings are constantly under attack—not by barbarians or marauding bandits, but by a force far more subtle and insidious. The most tenacious enemy of a residential building is not fire or structural collapse—though a building obviously should be protected from such catastrophes. It’s water. Left unchecked, simple moisture can quietly infiltrate your building envelope and wreak havoc throughout.
Water damage usually doesn’t have the same dramatic and immediate impact that a fire has on a building, but the damage caused by water infiltration can be problematic for years, even long after the initial leak has been resolved. Mildew and mold are common problems associated with water infiltration in a building, and are not only gross to look at and tough to eradicate but may also pose health threats to residents. Over time, water seepage can also erode a building’s components, compromising their structure and necessitating expensive repairs.
Because of these potentially devastating effects, co-op and condo boards, managers, and staff members should have a general understanding of the makeup, maintenance, and repair of their building’s waterproofing systems. While a building’s superintendent or property manager should be the first line of defense against leaks, broken pipes, and so forth, board members and residents do play a role in protecting their building from the ravages of water. Watchful eyes now can save many thousands, or even millions of dollars in repair costs later on.
Every residential building has mechanisms that prevent water from seeping into the structure, but even when these systems are in top condition, they don’t make the building truly waterproof. Rather, they help to make the building resistant to water infiltration. The degree to which the systems keep the building dry depends upon how well they were installed, and how they are maintained.
The roof of a building is the most important lynchpin of a building’s waterproofing system, but the drainage system for the roof—be it the downspouts on small buildings or the larger, internal roof drainage pipe known as a “leader” that is found in larger buildings—is also vital in keeping a building dry. Because the leader and downspouts take water off of a roof when it rains or snows, even a small blockage of that drainage system can back things up and quickly cause water damage to the building.