These are pictures of our house. This house was built in 1998 by Dennis Godshall of Harleysville, PA. The house was not quite 7 years old when these were taken. We started to suspect we had a problem because the rooms inside developed a musty smell - we traced the smell to around the electrical outlets, so we knew it was something inside the walls. We could not see any leaks, but a moisture meter did detect moisture in the walls at multiple spots. You can see that due to multiple construction defects (including defective stucco, incorrect window installation, and improper grading), the house was literally rotting to pieces beneath an exterior that appeared to be fine. Not even our contractor expected the damage to be as extensive as what they found.
This photo album will document the before, during, and after pictures of the repair process. Note that we start the story with lots of background - if you're just after the gory details, skip to picture 15. You can page through the pictures using the "Next" or "Show All" links on the left side below this message.
Please feel free to sign the guestbook or add comments to the pictures. If you'd like to email me privately, you may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
Date(s): September 30, 2005. 1 - 30 of 410 Total. 13667 Visits.
1 Our House - Summer 2005 This is our house. It was built in November 1998, but we bought it from the first owner in July 2002. The previous owner was selling because her husband had passed away and she didn't want to stay there without him.
The house was designed to look like a 200 year old stucco over stone farmhouse. It has a true 3-coat stucco exterior and a cedar roof. We added the screen porch on the right side of the house a year ago. "This house looks much older. It really looks like it ..." "I read a comment made to hire a structural engineer, ..." View Comments...
2 Left Side We bought the house at the height of a hot market, and in order to compete, we waived the home inspection (thinking the house was only 3 years old - what could be wrong?) We did have an inspection a few months after moving in because we were concerned about a few things, including cracks and stains in the stucco. The home inspector found nothing major wrong and passed the house with flying colors.
This is the left side of the house. The bottom right window is our dining room. The top right window is the master bedroom. The "addition" on the back (with the tall brick chimney) is the family room. The brick chimney vents our family room fireplace.
3 Back Of House This is the back of the house.
4 Right Side The 2nd story windows are my kids' bedrooms. The one on the left is my son's, and the right one is my daughter's. The small windows up top are to the attic. This chimney vents the 2 furnaces and the living room fireplace.
5 This is the left bottom window on the front of the house. Shortly after we bought the house, we noticed that some of the windows had window trim that seemed to be slightly rotted, and some of the windows had water stains. Our home inspector told us this was normal, and that we needed to caulk the trim - a simple maintenance procedure. "The staining on lime finish stucco is VERY common.The..." View Comments...
6 This is the worst staining It's on the dining room window above the bilco doors on the Left Side of the house. As you'll see shortly, the wall behind this window was essentially falling apart from moisture intrusion and rot, yet our inspector pronounced this kind of stain "normal" and said we needed to caulk.
Incidentally, we can't sue the inspector because our contract with him says all suits must be filed within a year after the inspection. It took us 2 years to find this. Bummer, huh?
So in spring 2005, we started smelling a musty smell (like wet dirt) in several rooms. The master bedroom, our son's room, the laundry room, and the family room were the worst, but we could smell it in just about every room. We traced the smell to the electrical outlets - if we took the plates off, we could smell it coming out of the walls. The screws inside the outlet boxes (that held the outlet to the box) were all rusty as well. "California home inspectors are actually bond by state..." "I'm a Level II Thermographer, a certified ASHI Home I..." View Comments...
7 Drip Cap We had a mold inspector out who confirmed that the smell indicated that there was moisture and mold in the wall cavities. We contacted a moisture intrusion specialist who came out and immediately pointed the finger at our stucco.
He said that stucco over wood framing was vulnerable to cracking and moisture intrusion, and that OSB, the sheathing they used behind our stucco, is very susceptible to rot and mold. He said that even the tiny "superficial" cracks in our stucco can wick in huge amounts of water, and that since we have no weep screed, there is no way for water to drain out once it gets in.
He also noted details like the drip caps over our windows - note that there's no metal flashing, so only a layer of caulk keeps the water out. This cap should also be sloped to drain water - it's not. Water collects on the surface and drips into the wall through any gap in the caulk.
8 Cracked Caulk Here is what happens when the caulk fails above the drip caps. We had had the trim painted in May 2004, but the painters missed caulking the top of this window. This crack was wide open, letting water pour onto the OSB behind the stucco. If there was metal flashing either on top of or behind this drip cap, the water would have stayed out.
9 Exploratory Surgery To confirm our suspicions that the lack of head flashing over the windows was the problem, we pulled off the wood trim around the window with the worst staining (the one you see in picture 6). Here's what we found. The OSB was completely shot - I could stick my finger through it. The black is rotten wood, the white is mold. Yum.
At this point, we decided the best course of action was to remove the stucco, repair the damage, and reside the house in Hardieplank fiber-cement siding. We hoped this would keep the historical look (it looks like wood clapboard) but eliminate the moisture intrusion problems with the stucco.
We got a bunch of quotes and ended up going with a builder who was going to charge $30K for removing the stucco, installing the Hardieplank, and replacing all the wood window trim with Azek (a PVC composite material that looks like wood but doesn't rot). Any sheathing or structural repairs would be done at additional cost for time and materials. "You can also see that the window opening was not wrap..." View Comments...
10 Where's the plaster stop? Up close, you can see that the wood trim was installed completely wrong. The window was nailed to the sheathing, a layer of 30-lb felt was placed over the nail fin, the wood trim was not backprimed and was nailed directly over the felt. Then the stucco was brought up to the wood trim, touching it. There should be a metal stop bead between the stucco and the wood - otherwise the porous stucco just dumps moisture into the wood. Once the wood trim got wet enough (remember, it wasn't backprimed, so it soaked up the water like a sponge), it just held the water against the felt paper until it degraded the felt and rotted the OSB. "On much older houses,the stucco always butted up to t..." View Comments...
11 Porch Roof Flashing At this point, we also decided to repair some other issues during the reside. All of our copper porch roof flashings were done incorrectly and had leaked at one point or another - we had fixed them with caulk, but they really needed to be torn off and redone. Note how the window over the porch is installed touching the roof - there is no way to properly flash an installation like this, and so we decided to replace all the windows that touched a porch roof with shorter windows, adding another $3K to the bill. The flashing around the brick chimney and parts of the cedar roof over the family room were also bad, and during heavy rains, we would have to put buckets in our fireplace to catch the water. So we're replacing the roof and flashing on that section. What the heck - it's only money, right?
12 Typical porch roof flashing Note the sheer amount of caulk it took to make this stop leaking. Also note how nicely they NAILED through the flashing, then covered it up with gutter seal caulk. Very professional, no?
13 Another view of the porch roof The tops of the standing seams are not folded over and covered with flashing. And they aren't soldered....they're held together with more gutter caulk.
14 Family Room Roof Intersection This is how the roof of the family room meets the wall of the main house. Note that the stucco comes all the way down and touches the cedar shake shingles - there is no plaster stop. Bad bad bad....
15 Let the Fun Begin....September 2005 Now it's time to tear off the stucco and see what really lies beneath. We're starting on the left side of the house (see picture 2 above).
OK, so when the tearoff began, we expected to find areas of rot below every window (thanks to the lack of head flashing and j-bead around the trim). We thought there might be a little bit of rot under some of the bigger cracks. We were not prepared for the whole wall to be rotten, but that is what we found. This is the area below the 2nd story window to the left of the porch on the left side of the house. We expected the line of rot directly under the edge of the top window, but we have no idea why the corner is rotted so badly.
16 Further down the wall This is the area next to and below the lower window in the previous picture. The further down the wall, the more rot. Here the OSB just flaked off if you touched it. As the contractor was using a prybar on the stucco, it was sinking through the OSB.
Oh, and did I mention that the grading was done wrong as well? Because the stucco continued directly down from the framing over the foundation with no weep screed, it was impossible to tell from the exterior where the foundation stopped and framing began. When they did the final grading, they buried the rim joist partially in the dirt. This is what happens when you bury a rim joist.
17 Another view of that corner Here's another view of the corner you saw in the previous picture. Note the difference in color in the OSB that was protected by the porch overhang vs. the areas that weren't. While the OSB to the right of the window is not rotted through, it has definitely been exposed to moisture - it's puffy and discolored. We're not sure if it will stay or go yet.
18 Rake Wall - Where's the kickout flashing? This is the wall immediately to the left around the corner of the wall you just saw. This wall is a rake wall - it has the gable of the adjoining family room addition meeting it. Where the roofline meets the wall, there is supposed to be a kickout flashing that diverts the water coming down that joint out and away from the wall - we had none. Therefore, all the water running off the roof where it was flashed into the wall was channeled behind the stucco. Behind the plywood are some lovely gaping holes, so what you are seeing is actually the GOOD part of this wall.
19 Better View of the Rake Wall Here you can see how the rot starts a little above the roofline and continues down that whole wall and around the corner. A 10-cent piece of metal flashing and 2 seconds to install it could have prevented this. The square of new tarpaper is up there to keep water that runs off the roof now from gushing into the gaping holes in the wall.
20 Oh Wait - THERE'S the kickout flashing My contractor put it in ... 7 years too late.
This is only temporary - that whole roof is getting replaced, with all new flashings into the gable wall.
21 Entire Rake Wall - Another Mystery Here is anothe view of the rake wall. The rot in the previous picture is mostly hidden behind the bush at the bottom of the window. But why all that discoloration in the peak? Note that the discoloration is present everywhere except very close under the eaves - again indicating that the stucco exposed to any kind of rain was just leaking like heck. Was it cracked? Just too porous? Your guess is as good as mine!
Note too the line of rot running horizontally to the left of the window, right behind the scaffolding. Again, why there? It seems to begin at the gap in the OSB sheets and run downwards. There is a master bedroom shower a few feet to the left of the window and the vent fan runs horizonatally through the ceiling above the window - perhaps this is some kind of condensation thing from the attic if the vent duct is leaking? But the damage seems to originate from the outside in. Who knows?? Suggestions are welcome - add your comments below! "This is most likely caused by the tar paper or draina..." View Comments...
22 Family Room East Wall Moving around the corner from the rake wall, we come to the family room wall on the left side of the house. This wall is actually semi-ok - the OSB is discolored, but solid, at least til you get to the lower part of the wall. The part behind the bush is kind of trashed. Note that the eaves protected the OSB at the top - it is only the lower part where the rain would have hit it more that is discolored. "You would be surprised how many houses we do that the..." "I was going to say looks like it got wet during const..." View Comments...
23 On the other hand... Moving to the other side of the left side porch, things aren't so pretty. This is the window from picture #6 - the one we did the exploratory surgery on. Things are bad here -- so bad that the window started falling out of the wall as they were pulling sheathing. The studs behind it are gone gone gone...
24 Where's the stud? See, I told you they were gone.
25 Northeast corner - master bedroom subfloor This is the area above and to the right of the window from the last picture. The corner is very rotten - 2nd floor ribbon board is gone and the subfloor is rotten - we're hoping it's just the bit under the sill and we won't need to pull up the hardwood floors in the bedroom. The stud in the corner of the house needs to be replaced as well. We're going to try to save the other studs, but they may need to be sistered (the outside inch or so is so rotten I don't think it would hold the nails for the new sheathing. All the insulation you see here is soaked - this is the first spot where the insulation is wet (amazingly, despite all the rot in the other pics, the insulation was dry as a bone).
Incidentally, the musty smell was the worst here in the master bedroom, along this wall. So based on my not-exactly-scientifically-proven "stink scale", this should be as bad as it gets. We hope.
26 A Distance Shot Here's a distance shot of the area to the left of the left side porch. You can see that the whole wall is basically gone, except for the area protected by the eaves.
27 How bout some closeups? This is a closeup of the 2nd story ribbon board. That big hole right in the middle? My contractor hollowed that out WITH HIS HAND. You can reach right through it into the floor joist cavity.
I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that this house is NOT EVEN 7 YEARS OLD!!! "All along, I've noticed that your windows, at the sil..." View Comments...
28 This is the rim joist in the bottom right corner All rotten. Once again, the combination of bad grading (look how close the dirt is to the framing) and the lack of weep screeds in the stucco (thus, no way for water that gets behind the stucco to get out) has done in the rim joist and sill plate.
29 Let's pause and review This is what the left side of my house looked like on Tuesday....
30 Pause & Review part 2 ...and this is what it looks like on Friday.
But wait...there's more! Follow the "Next 30" link below.
Please don't take down this site - ever. I have a similar problem, but I live in a condo. After years of fighting with the HOA about whose is responsible for the structural defects, I sued. Basically, I was suing my neighbors, so I wasn't the most popular gal around. In fact, I was physically threatened by three neighbors. I paid about $300,000 for legal, engineering and mold experts. Repairs were finally made, but the next rainy season, there was more water intrusion. More repairs, more water intrusion. That continued for four years. I now live without a kitchen, walls, flooring, cabinetry, etc. My place still smells like mold. All of the tie downs, nails and electrical boxes attached to the studs are rusted. Why did I stay and fight? I wanted to preserve my credit and not have a foreclosure on my record. The $300,000 was paid in small amounts over a long period of time. Each month, I was told that we were closer to a solution - just another $10K here and there. Obviously, I should have walked away and let the bank foreclose. Your website is amazing and informative. I don't feel alone anymore. Enjoy your new home. - Nikki, Thu, 11 Apr 2013 10:46PM
Perhaps you already addressed this, but have you looked into suing the builder? I am not a big proponent of suing people (despite my profession!) but it seems fair that your builder should share this burden. In the end there may be reasons you cannot sue (like a statute of limitations)or recover anything, but I hope you have at least considered it. I feel your pain! - Mary Ann Leichty, Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:02AM
Thank you for your very informative documentation and taking the time to do so to help others. I just rented a home which we thought was a perfect chance for more room and space to combine families, and the musty smell is driving me crazy. Thanks to your time and attention in relaying your experience, we now know what to look for before we spend money on professionals to look further.
I just happened upon your site as we are just starting our nightmare. Our problem was brought to light by termites. The house is 100% EIFS clad and we're not sure of the extent of damage yet. My wife and I are originally from lower Bucks so we're re very familiar with your area as we still get up that way often to visit family. We now live in Virginia Beach, Va.. We have been in this house for 17years (new when we moved in) before the problem was brought to light. I certainly feel your pain and hope the ache has dulled. - John A Smith, Sat, 19 May 2012 2:24PM
You are a strong woman! Thanks for sharing your story....we have recently moved into a 7 year old house that has a musty smell. I am praying that we do not have a situation as bad as yours was. - Lindsay, Fri, 24 Feb 2012 2:22AM
Just found this site while I was looking for information about bad smells coming from odour damage. I didn't expect to stay so long, then I started reading and thought what a great job you did documenting everything and explaining everything, and especially *understanding* everything that they'd done wrong. I thought of posting to say you're pretty amazing and intelligent. Then I kept reading and the saga kept unfolding until I learned at the end that you are also a beautiful person who decided not to sue an innocent despite having legal recourse to go ahead. I'm sorry that being a smart and kind person hasn't made you more lucky with your house, and the financial and health problems it has caused you. Best regards from Canada - Jon W - Jon W, Sat, 17 Sep 2011 6:43PM
I thought we had problems! My, what an ordeal you've been through. We've had problems with leaking windows & roofing since we bought our house in 1997. We're looking at replacing our second set of replacement windows! The first two replacement installations were incorrect, now we've discovered there may be an issue with the stucco installation over a "fan folded foam core material". We will be getting another opinion or two on the stucco situation before moving forward with total removal. These leaks have caused so much stress & anguish! We look forward to someday having a "dry" home. Thanks for sharing your story, I've learned so much! - Cheryl Geertson, Tue, 24 May 2011 10:48AM
Wow. I thought I saw some nightmares. Like you I documented it, though I'm a little behind on updates. It's really sad the shortcuts and downright stupid things contractors (and amateurs) can do. I'm still looking after several tries to find one with intelligence beyond the second grade, and who owns a framing square. Very very sad. I'm doing many of my repairs myself, and I make mistakes, but for a "professional" contractor, there is no excuse (beyond being lazy and wanting to hit the bar more than work). But enough of my affair - thanks for sharing...I hope your repairs last. Nice home. - Glen | http://www.mannure.org/TheStory.php?story=House, Mon, 25 Apr 2011 7:35PM
Have you considered posting a link for any one who would like to make a voluntary donation. You never know, it might work. - Misty, Tue, 8 Feb 2011 7:53AM
After having flooding in my house on a HUGE hill there had 2 b a problem. Long story short 10 months after initial onslaught with flood chasers out here on a weekend from Texas plus FEMA that acknowledged a miserable roof but could do nothing till Allstate did their thing. Allstate paid the thieves $8000 of a $14000 bill to "dry out the carpeting". NEVER dried out ( u can even just look under the carpet & see the problems. Padding never reinstalled bc I would not deal with a rip off artist nor the roof so now I hv continuous medical problems ( mostly respiratory) so much so I sleep sitting up & then get woken up 2 hours later by literally choking bc I cannot breathe. Atrocious. Amazingly atrocious. - J Harrer, Sat, 2 Oct 2010 5:17PM