Structural Systems: Grading and Drainage

A professional property inspection is an impartial third-party visual evaluation of a properties:


  1. Structural Systems
  2. Electrical Systems
  3. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Systems
  4. Plumbing Systems
  5. Appliances
  6. Optional Systems (Sprinkler, Pool, Outbuildings, Private Water Wells, Septic)

Each ‘system’ has its own number of inspectable items. In this series of articles, we take a closer look at some of the more common ‘defects’ of each inspectable item. Today’s article will discuss:


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The inspector shall report as Deficient:


(A) drainage around the foundation that is not performing.

(B) deficiencies in grade levels around the foundation; and

(C) deficiencies in installed gutter and downspout systems.

Drainage issues can be a property holder’s bad dream. The explanation behind evaluating your yard is to move the water/overflow from where it is right now making a trip to an alternate area. By and large, property owners regrade the yard to get the garden to incline AWAY from the house with the goal that it does not pool close to the foundation and conceivably cause flooding and water issues later.


If you have ever had to file a claim resulting from water problems, it is NOT a fun experience. The potential causes of water infiltration are numerous, but are typically related to the immediate grading and drainage around homes. Water infiltration can result in damage to structural elements of the home and, more seriously, health issues resulting from mold and fungus under structural basement floors or in the wall cavities of finished basements. Storage items could also be damaged by water exposure, resulting in property loss.


CBREI has observed numerous sites where the grading adjacent to homes was flat or negatively sloped toward the structures. This is a serious defect regarding the numerous claims that can arise. A CBREI inspection looks at provisions made for the control and drainage of surface water around buildings. Common industry standards require a minimum slope of 6 inches in the first 10 feet adjacent to the foundation. It is also a common industry standard that untreated wood is isolated from the site grading a minimum of 6 inches to help prevent decay and infestation. During construction, the grading adjacent to the home is often installed to slope away from the home, but as the backfill settles, the grading becomes flat to negative. The grading should be installed with enough slope that even after settlement, there is still positive grading away from the home. The soil reports require compaction efforts to be made in the backfill. The compaction effort is to minimize settlement to tolerable limits.


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One part of water control around homes that is commonly overlooked is the control of roof drainage.


In one instance, we observed a home where the owner hired a contractor to construct an addition, along with re-roofing and gutter installation for the entire home. The original downspouts from the gutter system were tied to underground pipes that discharged away from the foundation walls. During the construction, the contractor installed one of the new downspouts discharges adjacent to the crawlspace of the original home. The crawlspace flooded as a result of the improper discharge of water adjacent to the foundation wall. The home happened to have been constructed in a relatively non-expansive soil area; otherwise, more significant damage to the home could have occurred from the improper water removal and infiltration.


Wet and saturated soil adjacent to foundation walls is typically a result of several factors, including:


  1. Improper disposal of roof water runoff
  2. Poor surface drainage
  3. Window well problems
  4. Lawn sprinkler installation adjacent to the foundation
  5. Inadequate foundation drains
  6. High water table elevation

In most cases, grading adjacent to the home is the leading cause of the problems. Grading problems and the resultant water infiltration may result in insurance claims arising from:


  1. Damage to the finish systems from soil expansion or consolidation
  2. Mold, mildew, high humidity, and fungus growth under structural floors and can possibly cause respiratory problems for residents
  3. Wood rot and structural failure of structural floors
  4. Water damage to finish materials such as carpet and drywall
  5. Inward foundation wall movement and cracks resulting from increased hydrostatic pressure on foundation walls
  6. Exterior concrete flatwork (porches and sidewalk) movement (heave or settlement) because of water infiltration into the backfill
  7. To prevent water infiltration damage from water adjacent to the foundation walls:
  8. Install and maintain a good gutter and downspout system
  9. Provide positive slope away from the foundation in accordance with all governing building codes and engineering recommendations
  10. Keep landscape irrigation away from the foundation walls
  11. Provide proper perimeter drains around the foundation walls

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For a small upfront investment by the builder that allows for proper drainage, maintenance accessibility, and redundancy, many damages and subsequent claims can be avoided. Homeowners and contractors must work together to prevent water from adversely affecting the home. In the case of multi-family complexes, the yearly reserve fund should be set to include maintenance of the property’s drainage features.

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