Rain drives my garden wild

#230 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 1998, Hills Newspapers

It’s probably good that I didn’t get around to clearing away last summer’s spent plantings before the rains began. At least it gives me some peace to look out at my garden upslope and think of all those tiny little roots still holding onto the soil. With everything so very wet, maybe those roots are what is keeping the hill in place.

If the rain ever stops and I venture out into my garden again, I’ll have a lot to do. Dead plants need to be pulled, there is much pruning to be done, and everywhere there are weeds. It looks like a billion seeds have sprouted and grown over the paths and throughout the beds.

Last fall when the news of an impending El Nino scared me, it wasn’t the condition of my garden that worried me; rather it was my basement. During the last few winters, there has been water in it. Not a pond or a river but enough water in spots to make me have to move things around to keep them dry. Congratulating myself on doing something before winter arrived, I called a structural engineer friend who came and thoughtfully examined the stained concrete floor, trying to determine the path of the water’s flow.

I asked why he thought my water-in-the-basement situation has changed over the years that I’ve owned the house, why it has gotten worse. He said lots of things might have contributed to the change, possibly construction or landscaping on the lots above mine. Or more rain, winds, fewer trees, city drains, luck.

He told me that diverting the water, changing its path to avoid my basement would be next to impossible. But said that I should try to get rid of the water once it arrives. He described to me an ambitious, and no doubt expensive, trough dug into the basement floor. The concrete slab along two walls would be removed, a hole a foot or so deep dug, and the hole filled with gravel.

Horrifying. I could picture the workers, the jack hammers, dump trucks with their loads of rock, me writing checks. Worse, portions of the raised wood floor in my basement recreation room would have to be permanently removed to allow the causeway, strips next to walls where cabinets now stand.

I said no. I threw my fates to the storms to come and asked what else I might do. My friend wasn’t hopeful about it being very effective but I could waterproof the wall at the back of the basement. This might still the wet, he thought, a least a little. And so I hired another friend, the same man who had done foundation bolting for me to paint the wall with waterproof goop. Then I checked out flood insurance.

Flood insurance would cost me $300, a price I found fairly reasonable, but it doesn’t become effective for 30 days and won’t cover anything at all unless there really is a flood. That is, in addition to my damage, at least two of my neighbors, as I recall, would also have to have damage before any claim of mine would be considered valid.
Not long before this, it happened that I had been in the basement of my next door neighbor on one side, a basement he reported has been bone dry during all of the 50 years he’s owned the house. I decided not to spend the money on flood insurance but instead to hope for a miracle from my newly coated basement wall.

Ah, home ownership; it can be a trial. The rains came and stayed. My wall is dry but the floor is wet. It’s not terrible but it’s not good either. Also, outside the house, even on recent dry days, there is a continual, trickling stream of water running from the back garden along the concrete path on the side of the house and down the shallow front slope to the street. It doesn’t stop; it’s as if a hose has been left running from the back of my lot. The sight of it disturbs me even though there doesn’t appear to be any connection between it and the water that has reached the basement.

Everyday now I read in the papers about houses, soil and trees in wet trouble. I am so sorry. We sell houses; our business is to find and help our clients acquire houses that they will make their homes. In all of the ways we can think of we acquaint our buyers with the particulars on the properties they buy. They have them inspected, they talk to neighbors, check city files, investigate history and condition.

Thankfully, outside of an occasional roof leak or clogged sewer, we are not aware of anything untoward that has happened to any of the houses that we have sold. Knock on wood. But probably because I’m feeling so frustrated by my own water problem, I’m considering additions to the agent’s disclosure we give buyers. I’ll leave in the usual stuff about not knowing the precise property lines, school boundaries, and the condition of floors under carpets and would add something like this: No house is perfect. Many factors contribute to the health of any house, some under the owner’s control, some unfortunately not. Parts of houses break and wear out. Rains come, winds blow, dirt slides. Retaining walls fail, rocks fall, trees die. Neighbors, some better, some worse, come and go. Things change.

This entry was posted in Home Life & Home Maintenance. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: