Rain, rain, please stay away

#259 in a series of true experiences in real estate
October 1998, Hills Newspapers

Winter before last, quite unexpectedly, my basement was wet. A stream of water crossed the concrete floor of the furnace room and garage and also ran under the raised recreation room floor.

I mopped it up a number of times but even as I mopped, water continued to seep in. I couldn’t tell where the water was coming from. It might have been coming up from below the floors or it could have originated from the upslope at the back of my house.

The situation was so frustrating. It looked terrible downstairs and I had to move a bunch of things around to keep them dry. When I asked people what I should do they said that I probably needed a sump pump. But others told me that if the water was rising from below from saturated dirt, a sump pump might not work. Someone said I should have a different kind of pump installed, one that would slurp up water on the floor surface. And, of course, I was told that I should hire a drainage expert.

For some time I stayed out of the basement as much as possible, pretending that the problem would cure itself. When that didn’t happen, I called a drainage person. He came and looked and muttered, then scared me to pieces with his suggestions. He wanted me to have a trough dug around the edges of the downstairs rooms. Everything currently installed on the wood and concrete floors would have to be torn out. The floors would be cut out and the trough dug to a depth of a foot or so. The dirt would be removed and gravel put into the trough. Perhaps pumps would be installed, too.

When all that was done, the wooden floor could be rebuilt and, in the case of the concrete floors, repoured. I was horrified. There were no guarantees of success either.

The more I thought about this “fix”, the more depressed I became. It sounded to me like an incredibly disruptive and expensive project, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I had waterproofing “paint” applied to one foundation wall, hoping against hope that it would stop the water.

But it didn’t. When the rains came, the basement was wet again. The water hit sheetrocked walls and wicked up causing ugly black mildew spots on the surface. Also the exposed brick chimney for the recreation room fireplace “grew” fuzzy stuff, a sure sign of more (new) water. Things looked bad.

Still unwilling to cut up floors and dig a trench, I called two people, a mason who specializes in fireplaces and a house-smart friend. The mason said he could spray the outside of the chimney with a clear sealer. He thinks this will work. I hope so. It didn’t cost much money which was nice, and he added a new rain cap too.

The friend came and walked around the outside of my house looking at all the downspouts. He pointed out two downspouts at one back corner that must handle a huge amount of rainwater both from the roof and from a concrete patio. He took a garden hose up on the roof and flooded the gutters and downspouts.

Several gutter corners leaked. The downspouts gushed water, most of which had no place to go except under the house. He experimented with temporarily closing off two downspouts, watching to see where the water would go. Finally he climbed down from his ladder and told me what he thought should be done.

A few days later (I do have good friends), my friend returned to the house with long lengths of plastic pipe and other supplies. He dug a shallow ditch along one side of the house. He plugged up one of the downspouts to route water to another, and he sealed the cracks in the gutters. In the trench he laid rigid plastic drainpipe with a grilled water inlet set in new concrete at the top end and a cemented outlet at the bottom.

In other areas, he teed together corrugated plastic pipe that he’d attached to three different downspouts, then ran the pipe around two corners of the house to the street.

It looks impressive, certainly makes me think that I’ve got a good chance of having a dry basement this year. I’m hoping. If it does work, maybe I can paint the blackened sheetrock or, at worst, replace it.

Whatever happens, I am more than pleased by the careful thought that went into my friend’s plan. He was so logical. He simulated lots of rain, watched what happened to it, then figured how to get it away from the house. I really appreciated this.

The drainage person I originally contacted did not even walk around the outside of the house. He just looked at the basement, then proposed his big project.

Of course I don’t know yet who was right, if either of them was. I’ll have to wait to see what happens this winter. Wouldn’t it be nice, I frequently think these days, if my friend’s thoughtful approach is the solution to my problem?

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