Some things in the house have time. But not all do-it-yourselfers have this luxury. Some structural damage needs to be repaired immediately. We explain how to do this.
A lot can break in a house over the course of a year. And as a do-it-yourselfer, you don’t always have the leisure to deal with it straight away. In most cases, the damage can wait, but some defects need to be corrected immediately – otherwise they can develop into major structural damage.
Structural damage from blocked rain gutters
The rain gutter works like a large funnel into which everything that collects on the roof is flushed. This is not a problem with water and small pieces of dirt (such as moss).
However, if leaves, dirt or moss collect in large quantities, this can lead to them being flushed into the gutter in such a bundle that they not only clog the gutter itself, but also the opening to the downpipe.
If the drain is blocked, the rain gutter will eventually overflow. This can lead to a large number of structural damage. With a typical autumn rain lasting several days, dozens of liters of water are quickly produced per square meter of roof area.
These then pour over the facade, dampen the masonry and thus become a source of mold and tangible structural damage. With a bit of bad luck, the water pushes leaves and dirt deep into the downpipe, where it can hardly be reached without dismantling the pipe.
Clean blocked rain gutters
If the gutter overflows, you need to act quickly.
- Put on sturdy shoes and have a narrow hand shovel, bucket and a sufficiently long ladder ready. Invite a second person to hold the ladder.
- First clean the area around the downpipe connection.
- Then remove dirt, leaves and branches from the remaining channel.
- When the rain gutter is cleaned, watch to see if the water drains off. If it has stopped raining in the meantime, pour a little water into the gutter.
Clean the rain gutters every autumn and check them regularly for the rest of the year in order to be able to clear blockages early on. You can make this work easier by installing gutter grids to prevent leaves from falling in.
Structural damage to the roof
Hardly any other area of the house suffers as much from the weather as the roof. Roof coverings are designed to withstand all of these loads, but over time even the most stable shingles will deteriorate.
If you do not repair damage to the roof immediately, the roof will leak in individual places. Water penetrates. It soaks the rafters below, the insulation material. Putrefaction occurs, or mold. The roof is downright rotting. And because water penetrating further accelerates these processes, the damage adds up until the whole house is in danger of collapsing.
Repair structural damage to the roof
When repairing structural damage to the roof, it depends on what the roof is made of. If there are normal, suspended roof tiles, you can replace them yourself. The situation is similar with tarred flat roofs, which can be made waterproof again by mending the damaged area with bitumen compound. The professional only has to deal with metal roofs and those made of slate.
Regular cleaning of the rain gutter is an important point, but there are several other steps involved in the care and maintenance of the roof surfaces on the house – depending on the type of roofing:
- Regular (before and after winter) checks of the roofing, ideally from the ground using binoculars.
- Immediate replacement of defective roofing elements.
- Repairing cracked mortar areas.
- Check the rafters in the attic (see point eight).
- Removal of dirt accumulations, such as washed-out dust on flat roofs and moss deposits (sponge effect).
That sounds like more work than it actually is, especially since you can conclude a maintenance contract with a specialist company for the more difficult work.
Above all, cleaning can be done fairly easily with a coarse broom with a long handle – especially from the skylight.
Structural damage to the plaster
No house stands still completely. On a busy street, for example, houses are exposed to the vibrations caused by passing cars. In strong winds, even massive walls move in the micrometer range. In the case of new buildings, you have to expect that the building can “work” for several years due to settling movements. This can cause the plaster to crack over time.
Cracks are often cosmetic problems at first, but they can also develop into serious damage. However, even the narrowest cracks are subject to the capillary effect: water penetrates, freezes in winter and thus enlarges the crack. This can gradually lead to real structural damage because the masonry or facade insulation get wet.
Repair structural damage to the plaster
Narrow cracks under 0.2mm can be quickly sealed with a little acrylic and painted over with facade paint. However, if the crack is larger, some extra work is required:
- Tap the plaster around the crack with the handle of a hammer to see whether it has detached from the substrate (sounds dull).
- Knock off loose plaster (extremely carefully with facade insulation) with a hammer and chisel.
- Correctly re-plaster the damaged area and also use the correct plaster.
- Paint with wall paint that matches the degree of aging of the facade (professionals can mix them with old chunks of paint).
Unfortunately, cracking cannot be avoided. Here you can only observe and repair any damage quickly.
Structural damage to the power line
The power lines do not run vertically and horizontally as accurately in every wall as you would like them to be. Especially in old buildings with an unclear history, the lines were often upgraded and laid diagonally. It is therefore possible to drill into a line even though you have adhered to the rule “Never drill exactly above, below or horizontally to the side of switches, sockets and junction boxes”.
If you drill into a power line, the associated fuse will pop out. This averts the immediate danger. However, if the fuse is switched on again, the wall could scorch.
Repair punctured power line
The most important thing is that there is no voltage. With a two-wire voltage tester you should therefore first check all sockets in the area to ensure that the drilled line is really free of voltage. Then:
- Carefully remove the masonry around the drill hole with a hammer and chisel until the line is exposed.
- Cut the line cleanly.
- Enlarge the hole so that a flush-mounted junction box can be placed.
- Set the box with construction adhesive, insert the cable ends, strip the insulation and connect to the Wago terminals – switch on the fuse, check everything with the voltage tester.
- Close the junction box, plaster and wallpaper.
Structural damage due to dripping water taps
Even clean tap water always contains lime and, of course, oxygen. Over the years, this can lead to deposits building up inside a faucet. This hardens the seals. In addition, rust can form, which gnaws at metal pipes. At some point the mechanics can no longer shut off the flow of water as one hundred percent as it was intended. It’s dripping.
If this damage is not repaired, it can become expensive. How expensive can be calculated by placing a measuring cup under the dripping tap or pipe for an hour and extrapolating the amount of water obtained. In addition, things get worse and worse over time. And especially if a water pipe breaks, you have to be prepared for high costs.
Repair leaking line
In the case of the (exposed) dripping line, the procedure is easiest: There are sealing clips for this. They are placed around the outside of the pipe and screwed together. As a result, they seal and at the same time relieve the damaged area.
Important: If the water pipe is under plaster, you should call a specialist. Also because such a repair is an insurance loss.
With a tap you have three options:
- Move the control unit of the mixer vigorously in all directions and screw it down as tightly as possible. Sometimes that’s enough to remove minor debris.
- Dismantle the valve, replace the seals – but this is often not possible, especially with cheap models.
- Replace the entire fitting with a new one – with the future in mind with a model that can also be repaired.
If the problem was caused by limescale, you can tackle it at the root and install a limescale filter or a decalcifying system behind the water meter. Before doing this, you should take the trouble to check the hardness of the water using test strips – the decalcifier can devour several hundred euros without installation.
Structural damage to the door and window
Most door and window seals are made from thermoplastics. Despite their elasticity, they can become hard, brittle, porous over the years. Seals that are moved regularly – i.e. on doors and windows that are opened and closed frequently – are particularly stressed.
When the seals become hard and brittle, they no longer do their job properly. Summer heat can get into the house faster, or heat from heating can get outside. So it will definitely be expensive, although there is hardly any risk of damage to the building fabric.
The problem is that seals break so slowly that you often only notice it when it is too late – for example when there is a noticeable draft near the door or window or you can hear clear whistling noises in the wind.
There are many different sealing profiles, but they are standardized. Ergo: Either contact the window manufacturer straight away and use the dimensions to order new seals or cut off a piece of sealing with a cutter knife and take it to a specialist dealer.
If the new seal has been purchased, the old one can be removed with a cutter knife or a sharp spatula – please look carefully, some variants are not glued, but clamped into a channel and can simply be pulled out by hand.
In the case of glued seals, the gluing zone is now cleaned with a cleaner suitable for the window material (no acetone for plastic windows). Then the new seal can simply be glued on (are mostly self-adhesive).
You cannot stop the aging process of the seals completely, but you can slow it down. It is sufficient to wipe the seals with a damp cloth every time you clean the window. And before and after winter you should apply a little silicone spray or Vaseline so that the seals stay supple longer.
Moisture damage in the basement
Basement walls are in constant contact with the ground. And even the plastic sheeting and bitumen coatings that are supposed to prevent this don’t last forever. Most of the time, problems only appear in individual places, often in the form of salt efflorescence, in more severe cases through really wet stains or even chipped paintwork and crumbling plaster.
Without countermeasures, the wall will get wetter and wetter. This increases the risk of mold. In addition, the water washes out the substance of the cellar wall over years or even decades until at some point only a sandy mass with no bearing capacity remains – then there is an acute risk of collapse.
Fix structural damage in the basement
But before that happens, the prudent handyman has already taken precautions. First and most important step: The affected basement wall is generously dug up to the foundation around the damp area, preferably in late spring or summer – either with a spade or excavator.
Then you can let go for a few weeks, during which the wall has the opportunity to dry out well. Once that is done, the inside out will be renovated:
- The plaster of the outer cellar wall is removed generously around the wet area, and the wall below is coated with a generous primer
- The area is generously covered with a suitable, moisture-resistant plaster
- This is followed by a thick bituminous coating, followed by a dimpled sheet that completely decouples the masonry from the ground
- Inside, the affected area is also cleaned from the plaster
- Then special restoration plaster is applied at the point. It prevents further efflorescence from the masonry.
Ideally, by doing the above steps not just in one spot, but along the entire length of the affected wall. And then it is time to observe – both in the basement and in the direction of the gutter – often the basement walls suddenly become damp because a clogged gutter overflows over them and soaks the floor.
Structural damage to the roof beams
In the attic, too, you should make patrols every few months, as well as after heavy rainfall, and take a close look at all visible wooden parts of the roof.
Because here you can see very quickly whether the roof is leaking – in the form of significantly darker (than the surrounding wood) traces of drainage, which become narrower and narrower from top to bottom.
Such traces of runoff are clear signs that something is wrong with the roof or the water drainage. But the range of possible damage patterns is wide. It goes from mold to rot to masonry damage – but not in every case.
Repair structural damage to the roof beam
An exception would be given if the tracks are still small and a particularly heavy rain (such as a summer thunderstorm) took place recently. Then you should watch over a few weeks and more rainfalls – it is quite possible that just driving rain penetrated, but otherwise there is no further damage. Only when the area increases with every shower do you have to act. Follow the instructions from point 2.
You can avoid future damage to the joists by paying attention. On rainy days or when there is nothing else to do, the good handyman should go to the attic with a flashlight and cell phone camera. If there are traces, take a photo of them and compare them a few days after the next rain using the photo.
Sometimes it has to be fast. Because in some places in the house there are no small problems that can wait. If you ignore it, you can create a worst-case scenario that you can no longer control yourself – you can extinguish a tipped candle quickly and then only have to contend with wax stains. But if you wait until the room is on fire, only the fire department can help. This is exactly how it looks on the house – even if water is the problem instead of flames.