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Paint peeling, plaster crumbling — what to do?

By Alan J. Heavens
Philadelphia Inquirer

Q: I had a new roof put on my home 10 years ago. In the last couple of years, I have noticed, first on one and then another, and now all interior sides of exterior walls, paint peeling and plaster crumbling. This is happening only on the first and second floors. The third floor, right under the roof, is in fine shape. I want to stop whatever it is, a leak of some sort, I imagine, and fix the walls (the easy part, I’m sure) before the day comes when my house goes on the market (not imminent). Where do I start in the search for the source of the problem, and whom do I hire to do the searching? It occurred to me that the gutters are a likely source. Should I call the roofer? (I do not think he installed the gutters, but I believe he reinstalled them.)

A: What kind of a warranty came with the roofing job?

Most of the queries I receive on this subject are from readers who say they have 10-year guarantees, and that if problems occur after the warranties end, the roofers wash their hands of them.

It’s a tough call. Look at the winter just past. If you get enough of those, a roof can deteriorate faster than any warranty can predict. It’s just an average, based on as much experience as the roofer can gather.

Yet I’d give the roofer a call to see what he or she thinks and whether some time could be spared to take a look.

You say that based on the good condition of the third floor, the roof seems OK. Then the second and first floors could have problems for other reasons — the gutters may, indeed, need adjustment if they haven’t been maintained properly or were affected by the weight of ice and snow.

If your house is made of brick or stone, pointing might be necessary. Fascia boards could be rotted.

If the source remains elusive, a former colleague wrote a column a few years back that is often recalled by readers with problems similar to yours. She obtained the services of an inspector who, using a moisture sensor and an infrared detector, was able to discover the source.

The colleague says it was costly but worth it.

Q: Some bricks on the front of my home are deteriorating; I have no idea if it is an animal causing it or what. Have you ever seen this or heard of this occurring before? Any remedy you could recommend?

A: Brick is porous, and the older it gets, the more likely it is to deteriorate because of stresses created by weather.

Your wall is in contact with soil. When it rains, or when snow melts, water in the soil saturates the brick with which it is in contact. The freeze-thaw cycle accelerates deterioration, called spalling. Water penetrates the brick, and the surface flakes and pops off, creating that chewed-off look. Some say you can repair a spalled brick, but I believe the solution is to replace it. You’ll also need to address the cause: moist soil coming in contact with the brick.

Perhaps removing the soil and replacing it with a couple layers of roofing paper topped with crushed stone, so that any moisture flows away from the foundation, will do the trick.


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