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How Lack of Moisture Barriers is Devastating to Concrete Floors and Foundations

building foundations

The floors and foundations of homes and commercial structures need moisture barriers to halt mold and mildew damage and prevent intrusions by hazardous gases.

Consequently, errors in the installation of moisture barriers — or failing to install them altogether — often result in costly damages. Moisture barrier failures can lead to mold and mildew damage between the concrete floor and flooring materials, causing lumps and bumps that make walking more hazardous.

At the foundation level, moisture damage can threaten an entire building. These kinds of losses generate liability that must be established in a court of law. If you’re an attorney dealing with a building-moisture damage case, these points should prove helpful:

Building envelope must be water tight

Moisture damage generally has two causes: plumbing failures or building-envelope defects. The building envelope consists of:

  • Exterior walls, doors, and windows.
  • The roof, the lowest floor, and the foundation.

All these points must be waterproof to protect everything inside the structure. Making sure roofs, walls, doors, and windows are watertight poses unique challenges, for sure, but addressing them is relatively straightforward.

By contrast, sealing a foundation and a floor either at ground level or at below grade (i.e. a home basement) is much more complex. Untangling these complexities in court usually requires expert-witness testimony from a forensic engineer who has examined moisture-damaged areas, conducted scientific tests, and analyzed the most likely causes.

Key challenges

Many residential and commercial structures stand on a foundation of reinforced concrete. Any damage to the foundation of a building threatens its structural integrity, risking the lives of the people within, the value of machinery or fixtures indoors, and the owner’s investment in the building.

With so much at stake, buildings must have a proper moisture barrier separating concrete from water in the exterior soil.

Unfortunately, installing a moisture barrier properly is problematic for several reasons:

  • Water is a fundamental component in the creation of concrete — it helps keep concrete soft before it’s poured into a form on a construction site, and it helps concrete cure and harden after it’s poured. Thus, concrete is all but impossible to waterproof.
  • Concrete is porous or permeable. It draws moisture up from the ground just like a wick and escapes at the surface.
  • Concrete requires a specific amount of time to dry out. But building owners understandably want to get their buildings occupied as soon as possible, so concrete floors may not get enough drying time.
  • Each building site has unique moisture characteristics that might lead to higher groundwater or relative humidity, adding more difficulty to moisture barrier choices.
  • Moisture barriers come in several varieties, creating many opportunities for mistakes.

These factors must all be debated in court. Did the building owner follow standard practices, or were corners cut? Did the contractor willfully neglect important steps in the process, or can the damage be traced to an innocent mistake or an outcome that was impossible to anticipate? Did the concrete supplier ignore weather conditions that might have affected the proper mix of the concrete?

How forensic engineering finds the causes of moisture damage

Forensic engineers can examine moisture damage and attempt to figure out the cause. This can be difficult because a foundation has a building standing on it, but it is nevertheless doable.

At CTL Engineering, we have broad experience in building envelope cases. We can gather samples to identify materials for laboratory analysis and collect data on moisture infiltration. Our diagnostic process can conduct nondestructive testing using infrared, nuclear, and capacitance equipment to figure out where the water damage is coming from, and whether a moisture barrier is to blame.

Our forensic engineers combine extensive technical know-how and trial-tested experience that can make all the difference in complex moisture-damage litigation.

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