Over a 35-plus-year career of building, renovating, and inspecting houses, I have developed a process to identify moisture sources, assess damage, and develop solutions. It’s largely informed by my location in climate zone 2. While I started out in California, I came to New Orleans (NOLA) in 2008 to observe the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and stayed on to help the rebuilding effort, which continues some 15 years later. In this hot, humid climate zone, any building project must address overwhelming moisture loads—ones much greater than in most parts of the country. Average annual rainfall here is about 60 inches. The relative humidity is often over 80%, the alluvial soil is full of moisture, and let’s not forget hurricanes, which are an ongoing threat.

Almost all my work, whether I am consulting or doing renovation work, starts with a site visit. I concentrate on the building envelope, the part of the building—floors, walls, ceilings, and roofs—that separates the interior conditioned space from the exterior unconditioned space. The visit results in both data and observations that form the basis of my report. Most of the time, I am working for building owners to ferret out a problem and devise a way to fix it. Every building and every problem is different, and there is no easy recipe to follow. Instead, I lean on an assortment of lifelong work practices, which underpin the process I follow on a building inspection:Solidly understanding how buildings are put together. I am constantly reinforcing this knowledge by observing mistakes; failures are great learning opportunities.Studying building science. I have been a student of the physics of moisture and energy transfer through building envelopes my entire career. At this point, the best lessons come from observing buildings and working out what combination of principles (convection, conduction, radiation, condensation, diffusion, drainage, and so forth) are at play. Knowing building codes and industry standards.Asking questions about the problems. I call this the Columbo approach (after the TV detective). Collecting and analyzing data relevant to elevated moisture. This involves an organized process of using detection tools, recording the results and combining them with what I’ve learned by asking questions, and making sense of all these outputs to determine not just the cause of the problem but also the best course of action to solve it.

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