It’s the water, stupid.

It is inevitable. The setting is the client, architect, contractor meeting. We are discussing the design development drawings for building the new estate home. Construction start is many months away but program elements must be decided upon far in advance in order to move forward with design. At some point in the discussion we come across that one bit of program that always gets my defenses up; the exterior deck placed directly over indoor living space.

These decks are quite desirable to clients as private outdoor retreats or lookouts or even gardens for unusual plantings but they come at a price that in the long run cannot be entirely prevented by even the most experienced and well-intentioned contractor. Water intrusion will eventually become an issue.

Water is one of nature’s ways of reclaiming man’s constructs. Every system that either prevents water intrusion into a building or carries and delivers the liquid to a place of use has a lifespan. It may be a lifespan longer than the average human life, but it will cease to adequately perform its duty at some point.

The point here is not to discourage clients from including special amenities in their high-end design plans. It is to highlight the potential pitfalls of their inclusion and the costs associated with their proper construction, continued maintenance and eventual replacement. Decks over living spaces violate a combination of basic rules; don’t walk on the roof and don’t invite wind-blown rain into sensitive places (Sensitive places would include deck-to-wall intersections over the 150-year-old Steinway). To properly plan for the construction of this sort of amenity, the contractor must take into account the coordination of the desired materials with the correct systems to prevent water intrusion. To properly prepare the client for the deck, the contractor must explain the reasons for the costs of construction, maintenance and possible future replacement. Informing on what to expect is, as they say, “Where the waterproofing meets the flashing”.

There are other amenities that present water hazards; steam showers, pot fillers, swimming pools and indoor hot tubs are to name a few. All can be fantastic features, but all must be handled delicately in the planning and management of expectation and execution.

Water is necessary and luxurious to our wants and needs but its barriers and conduits must always be questioned and tested. Swimming pools, pot fillers, swimming pools, roofs, air conditioner condensation, waste pipes, windows, aquariums, indoor hot tubs, decks over living spaces, storm drains, gutters, even potted plants, are all potentials for water intrusion. This list doesn’t even come close to being complete and every single building trade can have a direct role in water defense or is possibly affected by water.

As an owner, when considering any sort of home improvement always associate each facet with the word “water” and ask the hard questions. Do I need this amenity? Can I manage it properly once the project is complete? As a design professional, one must always double check the potential for water to play a role in any system design.

As a builder of high-end estate homes, the checklist for any and all building system analysis starts with the word Water followed by a frank discussion with both home-owner and architect and a AAA rated insurance policy.