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Landscaping from a home inspector’s point of view

By Mitch Kuffa

With extra time at home these days, you may be thinking about getting outside and tackling that exterior project you’ve been putting off. Here’s a few things to consider before you do.

At least 50-75% of all houses that I have inspected have a landscape condition that can adversely affect the house structure. Here are some of the most common areas of concern.

Overgrowth

When people landscape, many have what I call the “Aquarium Scenario.” Buying trees and shrubs for your yard is like buying fish for your aquarium. The area is limited. If you do not research the characteristics of all the different fish, they will grow at different rates, eat each other, and the larger ones take over the aquarium.

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Research the characteristics of anything you plant. Are they early or late bloomers? When do they lose their leaves? Do they have seasonal flowers (which attracts certain types of insects)?

Large plants create shade (which prevents the sun from drying the earth), many provide harborage for insects and they can scratch your siding and ruin your roof. You should be able to walk between the shrubs and the house. Can you?

Vines

Vines should not be able to grow up onto your house. I know that they’re pretty, but they get into your gutters, will grow into cracks or openings in your overhangs and recently I witnessed vines that actually grew into a crack of a foundation and were growing on the furnace in the basement! They can ruin the brick and it creates traffic patterns for insects. Once removed they often leave stains that are difficult to clean.

Grade

Many times the grade around the house is not pitching away from the house and can, therefore, allow water to collect near the foundation. The basic rule of thumb is that the 8’ perimeter around your house should pitch away from the building at a ratio of 1-12 (or 8” in 8’). If this cannot be done, then alternate methods of diverting water away from the house should be used, such as underground drains, catch basins, swales or similar.

Another condition of concern is where the neighbors (or adjoining property) is higher and/or pitches water back to your property. This is considered nuisance water and can flood areas during heavy rains, can impact septic fields, can freeze in pedestrian traffic areas, etc. The rule of thumb here is that any surface or roof drainage which creates a hazard or any other nuisance to adjacent properties due to discharge into, onto or across the building, premises or thoroughfare should be abated by the owner of the improperly drained area.

Landscape Barriers

We often see landscaping details around the house being surrounded by wooden ties, rubber edging or landscape blocks. This in itself is not a problem but does discourage surface water from running away from the house in a normal fashion. If you have dirty gutters that may overflow or downspouts that discharge into this area, the problem increases. If you have clay soils, they have the tendency to hold water which then applies pressure to your foundation.

FYI – You cannot “dump” water into flowerbeds that have restricted perimeters.

Speaking of Flower Beds…

It’s common to see flowerbeds that have been built up after years of adding mulch, wood chips, etc. The top of the flowerbeds become higher than the top of the waterproof tar line on the foundation. This can saturate the exposed masonry and work its way into the basement. This condition becomes more sensitive when you have a concrete block foundation that has open webbing within the blocks themselves and allows the water to flow inside the foundation wall.

Trees

Large trees often get too close to the house and can affect roofs, impact foundations, and/or porches and can even allow their roots to infiltrate underground drains and tiles. The basic rule of thumb (believe it or not) is that no tree should be planted closer to your house than what the height is at full maturity (in other words a mature 30 ft. tree should not be closer than 30 ft. to the house).

Stumps deteriorate landscape ties, old stored firewood, dead limbs all encourage infestation. Carpenter ants and termites frequent decaying wood and if close enough to the house can eventually move into the building.

Pedestrian Hazards

If you intend to install any walkways, stairs or patios, make sure that they can be easily utilized with no pedestrian traffic hazards. Many times they are made out of patio blocks, stones, railroad ties, etc. and have large gaps, holes and an irregular surface. It may be pretty, but often it makes sense to add guard rails, stair rails or similar.

Decks

Finally, please realize that if a part of your landscaping plan is to build a wooden deck you should pitch the ground beneath that area away from the house and preferably cover the ground with a sheet of plastic. The reason for this is that rainwater runs right through the deck, saturates the ground beneath and then is not allowed to dry normally due to the shade caused by the deck itself.

To learn more from Mitch, check out one of his 50+ articles on Blue Water Healthy Living, click here. To contact him, you can reach him at 810-329-4052.

Inspections By MJK
Mitch & Celeste Kuffa
627 N Riverside
St. Clair, MI 48079
(810) 329-4052

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