A Life’s Lesson and For Those That Enjoy Schadenfreude


My Dad likes to call these experiences life’s lessons. And well this is a big one. You see this is what I was talking about when I’ve come to be a bit envious of certain GDoN condos or homes that are totally renovated or brand new. While I love the details of my 1920 home, there is always something to fix. So a couple of years ago I needed a gutter replaced and went with a very cheap option. I saw some guys doing work on another house on the block and asked them if they could fix my gutter. Big mistake. It was super cheap for a reason. The gutter basically failed after a year’s service. Here’s what I learned – when a gutter fails bad enough the water just pours down the back of your house. When the water pours down the back of your house it puddles at the base and gets absorbed into the walls. Long story short, it actually decayed the brick. The freaking brick! Insane.


All that pink stuff at the bottom is brick dust. Then it turns out that termites like moisture. So there was some old termite damage when I first bought the house and nothing active but I got totally freaked out and just got an insane treatment that was not cheap. Now I have to get the gutter fixed and the bricks re-pointed. Basically you wake up one morning and all of a sudden you’re out a lot of dough. All because I thought I was getting a deal on a gutter. Ugh. Thankfully the Budweiser 30 can packs were on sale at Giant…

Anyone else experience long term pain on a short term fix?

36 Comment

  • The brick dust would be more likely caused by rats than water.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Are you freaking kidding me? What about mice? Crap. Well there was def. a moisture problem because the reader went bananas.

  • ugh. i feel your pain. whenever it rains hard water just comes in through our back windows. still waiting to have guys come to say how bad the damage to the walls is but my father in law is prepping me for the apocolapyse. this crap should have been in the inspection report. no way the previous owners didn’t know about this.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I truly believe water is the root of all home problems. But I’m positive I don’t have rats. Damn you Neener…

    Anyway I got a cat to deal with the mice:


  • City rats don’t leave dust – they eat the bricks whole.

  • Ahoy !

    Drainage. Drainage. Drainage.

    I’m a stickler for drainage.

    Water can be so very corrosive.

    There is no more an important element to be conscious about your property, than simple drainage.

    When it rains or snows, where does it drain to ?

    Be vigilant and ensure it’s off your roof and away from your property with sloped roofs, clear gutters and downspouts, and splash blocks below to direct the flow away.

    Allow for no ponding on the roof or near the perimeter of your property.

    Drainage. Drainage. Drainage.

    Reformed Somali Pirate “Tantum Eruditi Sunt Liberi”

  • Just had an inspection yesterday for a house I’m purchasing in Bloomingdale. This exact issue came up in the inspection report. We also found termite damage near this point too – which means I have to have a termite inspection now. My inspector basically told me to re-sod the grass so the ground points towards the street and to fix the drainage – reformed somali pirate speaks the truth. Keep me updated on what you do, b/c I’m going to have to do the exact same thing…

  • What did you expect when you bought an old freaking house from some old person that didn’t keep it up? I say always expect the worse because these people were po, so po they can’t afford the or at the end.

  • Personally, I’d rather be gutted by a hurricane of fish-hooks than to buy a newly-built house. But Intangible HQ (built 1915) hasn’t been a good friend either… However, 100% of the pain & anguish is due to the addition in the back. All the 1915 bits are marvelous. So my own lesson has been to never EVER consider a place with some after-market structural mutation.

    Actually it’s led us to pledge that, even upon winning thirty trillion dollars in the DC Lottery, we’d still never own again, and would opt for a rental somewhere. Because if the alternative to owning a problematic-yet-beautiful old place is to buy some wretched, soulless robot hell-box of a new place, screw it. The american dream of property ownership is a truckload of fermented sheepshit.

  • Don’t worry PoP, A lot of those GDoN renovations were done the exact same way. What looks like a fanstastic place is most likely built using the most attractive, cheapest material possible. A lot of these new owners are going to be having problems just like yours in a few years.

    Side Note: Watch out for anything put together by MFD developers. Rumor has it that they are getting sued by a group of people that purchased homes/condos from them because they cut many corners WRT drainage and weatherproofing.

  • Water is the bane of my exitence. I had to dig a 4 foot deep trench 60 feet long to get the water to drain out of my sunken patio. It worked successfully until my neighbor’s clogged gutters spill water into my patio.

  • Just got stung with 20K bill for structural damage caused by termites. Homeownership sucks…

  • I suddenly feel much better about my house – thank you, PoP 😉

  • Awe Dude, sorry to see that. I strongly second Reformed Somali Pirate’s comment on drainage. Being in the Flood Insurance business, I see the damage water can do on a daily basis. Personally, I never take the cheap way out of a home repair. The risk is just too high and we have too much invested in our homes. If I feel like I can’t do it right yourself, I get a couple of quotes from respectible contractors. Angies List has been a fantastic resource for me in this regard.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I should say I still love my house, despite the troubles the pros far outweigh the cons. Here is happier times:


  • Back on the subject of cats, does anyone successfully keep outdoor cats in the city? an army of rats moved in next door. a dog stays back there, so throwing rat poison over the fence is out of the question. i feel like i need a cat or two to secure my perimeter.

  • The precise thing happened to our house a month ago–and most certainly due to water. The downspout got detached from the pipe drawing water away from the house, and water ate a hole in the bulkhead of the foundation. Brick dust, termite insanity, the whole nine yards.

    My condolences.

  • RD – I think DC rats would kick the cats asses. They are great for mice inside, though. Problem with outdoor cats is they reak havoc on bird populations more than the rodents. If you get a cat, I would encourage you to keep it indoors, for both the cats and our fine feathered friends well being.

  • RD, no humane society adoptee could hold its own against DC rats. Don’t even think about it. Unless you’re considering some kind of lynx. Call the DC Rat Czar, (health department, I think?) get him to come out. Their methods really do work, but you have to keep on them.

  • I have a bad feeling about a small crack that runs between a few courses of brick on the second story of our bay window. We haven’t had any trouble with this in the 18 months that we’ve owned our circa 1895 rowhouse, but there’s some rotten wood that pre-dated us in the window casings in the second floor bay. Seems reasonable that the rot (which has about 40 layers of paint on it so it’s not readily identifiable) is connected with a leak from the past that was sufficiently patched at some point, but I’d like someone to take a look to ensure that this problem won’t rear its ugly head one day. What kind of professional do you talk to about an issue like this? Any recommendations? Thanks

  • Water problems are among the worst. I had to get a waterproofing system installed along the back of my 1920 rowhouse last year because the torrential rains were causing the water table to rise to a point of least resistance, which happened to be the corner of my basement bathroom.
    But the problems are not limited to old homes. I know someone whose brand spanking new luxury loft condo building developed bad water problems less than a year after it was complete. We’re talking condos built and bought during the height of the boom, not an old home showing its age.
    By the way, any recommendations for a good gutter repair/installation company and a good company to clean gutters?

  • I learned the hard way this morning, during the big thunder storm, what a mess a clogged gutter downspout can cause — on the inside of the house. And I had planned to clean it this past weekend and forgot. Stupid, stupid me.

  • Related to ERock’s post, our somewhat elderly neighbors have a non-functioning gutter and downspout which consistently fail in heavy rain and he resulting waterfall overwhelms our drain and floods the patio. We just moved in this winter and the last 3 rainy weeks have been stressful to say the least.

    After one full-on flood in our basement unit and two near floods that were only avoided by bailing out the patio with a wok and turkey pan, the neighbor still insists that he can fix the problem DYI style.

    Other than giving up and stocking our basement with trout, I guess we’re going to have to pay for the professional contractor ourselves. I’m willing to cough up a modest amount if it means I don’t have to stand in a downpour with a turkey pan anymore. If the estimate is high, I’m not sure what we’ll do.

    Anyone else have similar experiences?

  • New on Sherman: Yes. On both sides to some extent, but our west side neighbor in particular has blocked downspout and basement drains and insists that there is no problem because he boarded up his basement door — so there’s not THAT MUCH water coming in. Meanwhile brick is spawling off the back of his house like mad, and starting to affect the back of our place. This is our second rainy season here, and I’m about to do what you’re thinking, pay to fix an irresponsible neighbor’s house. If you come up with any better solution or anyone knows of any city programs for this type of thing, I’d love to know…

  • We got tiles put in on the cheap when we moved in. They all cracked within a couple months so now we’ll have to redo the work. Should have just done it right the first time.

  • I have an outdoor cat that can handle the rats. After the kill it eats mice whole and it can eat about 1/2 a rat. I’ve never seen it with a bird.

  • Well my cat has caught 2 mice – one he left as a “present” the other he tormented (read played with) in front of me until I was able to catch the cat while he had his paw and the traumatized mouse and I could get the mouse by the tail and toss him out the front door. He ran. Fast.

    Of course nothing beats the rat that ate poison died out front of my house – on it’s back like it was getting a tan. Yes, picking it up and disposing of it was the worst thing I have ever had to do. Gag worthy in way’s I hope never to have to relive. Then there was the smell. Even though the sucker died outside the smell got inside my house and was so bad it took at least 3 days before I felt like it was gone.

  • RD – Few cats can handle a grown rat. I have pulled rats the size of opposums out of my outdoor Rat Zapper, so big I had to squeeze their legs together to tip them out. (It is a shoebox-sized electrocution chamber – works great!)

    But – my neighbor’s outside cat caught juvenille rats about every other day, which he brought back inside the house to play with for hours until they would finally escape and hide under the refrigerator or in the closet, still alive, though usually bleeding and squealing – you do not want this.

    For a nest, you can buy solid blocks of poison and push them down inside so dogs can’t get them. Daily flooding wtih a hose sometimes drives them out, as may pouring in amonia or bleach (But NOT both together – that makes poison gas.) Then dig up the den and stuff lots of steel wool in any cracks.

  • Roof flashing, operable gutters/downspouts/splashpans to evacuate the water. Brick repoint with real mortar (not portland cement) to keep the brick from dissolving and waterr out of brick walls. No cracks in the impervious apron around your house (if you have one). Regrading just sod and top soil won’t do a damn thing if the subsoil has a clay strata that slopes towards your house. It’s the clay strata collecting all the subsoil water and directing it towards your foundation.

  • Find a good mason? I have similar work that needs to be done.

  • Pointing Plus, 202-812-6468, pointingplus.com. The guy is insanely enthusiastic for masonry, meticulous, and very conscience of abating lead paint hazards (which come with any painted brick surface)

  • every homeowner has water problems. it’s just the way it goes. even if you get something done right, at some point it will fail or get clogged or we’ll get 10″ of water in a day and you will have some sort of water problem. avoiding water problems is one of the best reasons to buy a condo in a building whose skeleton is cement like one of the new big condos.

  • I promise herewith never to buy a house if I haven’t seen it during a rain event. Really – it’s crazy that we buy houses without seeing the drainage in action. Our place was missing the front stoop, so all the rain from the roof and the yard pooled into an ocean sized hole in front of the house. The fact that the basement was still mostly dry was a testament to the integrity of my house. We built a new stoop and installed drains for the downspouts…

    But the crazy side neighbor with the vacant falling-down house is always purposefully diverting his stormwater onto my property. I’ve more than once gone out and pulled off pipe extensions meant to take the water off his roof and into my yard.

    Re: new construction. Don’t take anything for granted. The extra posh new construction behind me already has mold issues. We watched it being built and the drainage is a nightmare, simply put. The nice new owners, who paid the price premium for new construction in order to avoid fixing things, are only just now realizing the extent of the needs – retaining walls with drains, regraded pipes, foundation concerns.

    re: cats. For any cat to tackle a rat, they’d have to be starved half to death and have no other options. It’s too likely some other neighbor puts food out and the cat will just eat that and avoid tangling with violent rats. Songbirds are tastier. If you have a neighborhood rat problem, call DC Rodent Control Division (via 311). If there is a restaurant or homeowner who needs to clean up their act, they can help, It’s part of the Dept of Health.

  • saf

    2204 – I love my mason to bits (new retaining wall! Repaired chimney! Repaired rear retaining walls!) Anyhow, we worked with Jose Ramos, of Ramos Brothers Masonry and Landscaping. 301-908-9838.

  • POP, every house in the district has rats. I am surprised it was news.

    The first year I lived in DC our neighborhood was hit with an outbreak of roof rats which are a specific breed of rats that live in attics:

    Rats or mice try to burrow through things and over time they will eat away at your bricks.

    I found a mouse hole in the side of my house, so I took a yard stick and stuck it through to see where the hole went and the entire yardstick went through up to my hand- which is to say the hole went straight through the walls into my neighbor’s house.

    We all know these neighbors- elderly and never bothered to get any work done.

  • Brick dust can come from water and any unsealed brick will produce dust, so it doesn’t have to be rats.

    FWIW, termite damage is quite common in DC. Usually it’s old damage. The worst I’ve ever seen made it up to the roof, which the home inspector had never seen before. (That house was all frame, not brick).

    I just did a whole boatload of water-fighting repairs that involved brick, concrete, gutters, a sump pump, new pipes and excavation of 100+ year old pipes. Oh, and a new basement floor. Almost forgot that.

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