Robert Lamoureux | The uncertainty of leak repairs

Robert Lamoureux
Robert Lamoureux

Question: Good afternoon, Robert. I’m hoping you can help with a problem we’ve discovered during all of the rains this season. The south side of our home has leaked over the last few years, though minor. We never dug deep into the issue before this year — just managed the water and then forgot about it.  

This year was different. The leak was severe, so we ended up with a contractor out who did water testing and determined that the waterproofing paper behind the stucco is damaged and in need of replacement. 

He confirmed that our windows are still in good shape, though the home is 18 years old, and that it is all behind the stucco. We subsequently requested a bid for repair, from that contractor and several others. 

All are within similar pricing for nearly the same work, but the numbers are sky high! The one contractor, who did the original detecting, is more detailed yet more vague about the final number. The bid reads that there “may” be change orders that come up, as they begin repairs. It states that they don’t know how far up our two-story home they may have to go, that their original numbers are conservative for where the damage may stop.  

Does this all make sense to you? We are somewhat confused as to why they cannot confirm our final numbers. Can you help explain?  

— Joe and Jean B. 

Answer: Joe and Jean, great question. It sounds like your contractor is doing their job well, estimating what may be but also alerting you prior to your commitment, that it may be worse than expected. Contractors cannot see through walls, so estimating is all we can do in cases like this, until we begin tearing away the stucco and actually set eyes on the paper behind. If your contractor, let’s say, estimated going up 4 feet from the bottom and replacing that paper, yet gets to that 4-foot mark and discovers that the old paper is failed above that, they are now committed to continuing on up until they find good paper to tie into. 

Damaged waterproofing paper will not hold back water and, from a contractor’s perspective, if they fail to find good paper to tie into, then they are failing to make a proper repair and could be liable for additional damage. I have seen multi-story buildings end up with the entire elevation open and in need of new paper. It is not something, as a contractor, we like to put onto folks, the surprise of change orders and additional costs, but this is the way our industry works when we can only estimate the entirety of the problem.  

Be sure that your contractor is licensed and insured, and that at the end of the job they perform a final water test to ensure their work is holding.  

On another note, if you are going to these lengths and your windows are 18 years old, I highly recommend replacing them during this process and upgrading to the best quality you can afford in today’s market. At 18 years old, it’s a matter of time before they fail, and when that happens you are back to breaking out stucco for a proper repair. Do it now, while the elevation is open.  

Also, be sure that the contractor doesn’t open an area like this until seasonal rains are confirmed over, because when it is open it is just a target for more water damage into your home. Best of luck. 

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].  

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS