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Is Your Basement Wet? Here’s How to Dry it Out

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

What is a two syllable word that means dry as a bone? If you can’t say ‘basement’, especially after the last few months of rain we’re experiencing – read on.

Basement leaking can come from a very slight trickle or seepage of moisture. It can also result in standing water so deep you need waders.

The good news is that homeowners can correct most leaking basements inexpensively. All it takes is some sweat equity and a relatively small amount of cash. Here’s what to focus on:

 Around your house

The common cause of basement leaking is the ground around the perimeter of your house is sloped toward the house. The grade or terrain should slope away from your house at least 4 to 6 feet with a 1-inch per foot decline.

What you need to correct this problem is a wheelbarrow, work gloves, shovel, rake and topsoil.

Topsoil can be delivered right to your yard and dumped in a pile at the end of your driveway and can be purchased from local landscaping and garden centers. The more yards you purchase, the cheaper per-yard cost will be.

To determine how much you will need, figure 1-cubic yard of soil will cover 108 square feet 3 inches deep (that’s about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long).

Before you put any topsoil against your brick foundation wall, you should brush the wall with a wire brush and seal it with a water-proofing mastic. You don’t have to dig down to the footings. Just go down until you see the top of the existing black tar mastic and overlap that surface.

Gutters and downspouts

Overflowing gutters and downspouts discharging rainwater next to the foundation are major contributors to wet basements.

Inspect your gutters periodically to make sure they are clean and not plugged with leaves and debris. Make sure they are secure and not pulling loose from the fascia board.

The gutters should be sloped toward the downspout. If not, they could also cause them to overflow. The downspouts should not be connected into storm conductor boots. If so, it puts a major strain on your basement drain tiles. Disconnect them by cutting the downspouts with a hacksaw; add an elbow section and put a 4 to 5 foot piece of downspout pipe in the elbow. That should take any roof discharge away from your foundation walls.

If you disconnect the downspout from the storm conductor boot make sure you seal the top of the unused boot to stop objects from falling in the opening.

Install a splash block at the end of the extended leader to prevent grass, leaves and debris from plugging the pipe and obstructing the flow of roof water, which in turn could cause your gutters to overflow. Ten foot sections of aluminum downspouts cost approximately $12. elbows are around $3 and splash blocks are approximately $4 each at Home Depot.

Gutters that are clogged or loose contribute to a number of problems. In addition to allowing overflowing water to leak into basements, they cause the paint on the fascia and soffit trim to fail prematurely. Ineffective gutters put a strain on the roof and even trim and siding along the entire house.

Basement window wells

Basements are deeper today than house built in the 1920’s and 30’s. Back then basement windows were well above grade level. Today’s basement windows are at or below grade and require wells around them on the exterior to keep the ground away from the window so light can come in. The wells can be made from concrete, bricks, blocks, wolmanized timber or corrugated steel. A common occurrence is that during heavy rainstorms, gutters can overflow and pour water into the wells. And the water seeps into the basement.

Inexpensive plastic covers can be purchased starting at around $10. Install them over the the wells to divert the water away.

Basement window wells that have drains in them should be kept clean so the drain remains open. If you don’t have a drain, one can be installed using a posthole digger. Dig down until you get to the drain tile and then install a section of perforated drainpipe into the hole; fill the pipe and the area surrounding the pipe with pea gravel (small stones are available at landscaping centers). Any water that gets into the well drains quickly to your drain tile.

Flower beds and boarders

Railroad ties, rubber and steel garden borders keep flower beds around the perimeter of the house looking neat and clean but can contribute to a basement leak. They trap the water against the house.

Borders should be installed lower in the ground or have breaks in them so water can drain away.

Basement entries

Basement doors are notorious for leaking. There should be an awning over the stairwell to keep out as much water as possible. There should be a drain at the bottom, too. That drain can get clogged with leaves and debris and if so, the stairwell will flood. The water usually finds its way into the basement under and around the door. For that reason, keep the drain clean and periodically have it snaked out by a plumber.

Clogged drain tiles

Around the perimeter walls of your basement is a drain tile system. The drain tile used to be made from clay crocks wrapped with felt roofing paper. Today’s drain tile uses perforated plastic piping wrapped in a cloth sock. The drain tile then is surrounded with pea gravel and it’s installed at the base of the foundation walls adjacent to the footings.

Drain tiles usually drain into the storm sewer or sump pump. The drain tile can collapse or be damaged by tree roots. In either case it can be a costly repair because of the labor costs involved. Replacing damaged drain tile systems have put many basement water proofing contractors’ kids through college.

Settling concrete slabs

Improperly sloped concrete patios and driveways usually have settled because the earth beneath them was not compacted properly. Erosion and gravity do their thing and your patio starts sinking. When it’s sloped toward your house, all the rain that lands on it flows toward the foundation wall and eventually finds its way into your basement.

If the concrete slab is not cracking and broken you should check into a repair called mud jacking. Mud jacking (also know as concrete raising) is about half the cost of replacing concrete.. The company drills holes in the settled section and pumps a slurry beneath that slowly raises the concrete to the desired height or slope. Mud jacking contractors can be found in your local yellow pages listed under concrete.

Cracks in walls

Hydrostatic pressure is the term used to describe the pressure water can exert when it accumulates and is pushing against a wall. When enough water accumulates, it will either push the entire earth on its axis away from your basement wall or push your basement wall inward. I’m betting your wall gives in first.

Commonly, a hydrostatic crack is found in walls made of cement blocks. Evidence of movement will be a horizontal crack that is 3 to 5 courses of block from the top. The crack usually will be along a mortar joint and that joint will be open. If its been filled with mortar, it will be wider than all other mortar joints in the wall. The wall will, with time, bow inward.

If the movement is not severe, the movement can be stopped by making sure the exterior landscaping and concrete are sloped away from the house.

Individual cracks that leak can be repaired by basement waterproofing contractors.

Rod hole leaks

Poured basement walls use steel rods to hold the forms in place while the concrete is being placed. After the concrete cures or hardens, the rods and forms are removed. Many contractors install a cork and mastic to fill and seal those rod holes. Oftentimes, the cork cracks and the rod hole leaks.

The homeowner can repair rod hole leaks easily by chiseling them out, rinsing them out and filling them with hydraulic cement. Twenty pound buckets of hydraulic cement costs about $14. One bucket should be enough to do dozens of rod holes.

While wearing protective eyewear, chisel out the center of the damp area where the leak is occurring (Chisel in about 3-inches). Take a garden pump sprayer filled with water and rinse out the hole. While wearing gloves, quickly mix a small amount of the hydraulic cement and roll the cement in your hands into the shape of a cigar. Push the cement into the rod hole as far back as you can and smooth the surface even with the basement wall. Hydraulic cement is easy to work with but it heats up and expands in your hands. Before attempting to fill the first rod hole, practice with the cement so you can determine how fast you need to work.

Condensation

Most basements feel cool and damp. That’s because they are. To determine whether you have a condensation issue or the basement leaks, tape a piece of aluminum foil or plastic to the wall or floor. Leave it in place for a day or two. If moisture is on the surface, you have a condensation issue. If moisture is behind or under the plastic then you have a seepage problem.

To reduce condensation you should insulate all plumbing pipes with pipe wrap. Turn off, drain and clean the humidifier in the spring. Repair dripping faucets. Cut shrubs away from the foundation walls and make sure everything is sloped away from the house. Do not hang clothes to dry in the basement and make sure your clothes dryer is clean and vented to the exterior.

You can open the basement windows to air out the basement but don’t do it on a hot, humid day. That will only add to the basement’s humidity. If all else fails, purchase and use a dehumidifier.

Sewer problems

Sewer problems causing the drains to back up can be extremely costly. You can rent a 100-foot snake at tool rental companies.

Plumbing and sewer companies are specialists at snaking out sewers. Plumbing companies can run a camera through the sewer pipe and determine exactly where an obstruction occurs and whether the pipes need replacing.

Backflow or gate valves can be installed where the sewer connection leaves the house. When city storm sewers back up into the basements (where they did in many cities not too long ago) the homeowner could close a gate valve and prevent a flooded basement. These systems are expensive because you need to install a back-up sump pump that will pump excess water to a dry well in your yard. The problem with backflow gate valves is they need periodic maintenance to keep them working properly and you’d need to be home and aware that the sewer is backing up in order to close the valves. Finally, you cannot use any plumbing in the house until the problem has passed and you open up the valve. It has also been recommended that you install a clean-out downstream of the valve as well. Without the clean-out, it’s possible that a sewer snake could get tied up in the valve itself.

Basement water alarm

Basement water alarms are available for $15 up to about $50. They help prevent costly water damage by alerting you that water is on the floor or starting to back up. They usually operate on a 9-volt battery and should be placed by floor drains, near the laundry area, by a sump pump or wherever there is a potential for water damage.

The Sonin Co. has a wireless model for around $30 at Home Depot. The sensor can be in the basement while the receiver can be up to 50-feet away.

Finding problems underground

These are things to look for in a basement if you don’t know whether it leaks:

  • When you open the door to the basement take a whiff. Do you smell a musty, moldy odor? If you don’t trust your nose, trust your eyes. Examine the bottom of anything stored on the floor. Do boxes have water stains? If so, they’ve been in contact with moisture.
  • Look for staining on the bottom of finished walls. Sometimes the stains are concealed by plastic baseboard trim. If possible, pull the trim away to look behind it with a flashlight. Look for stains on the back of interior finished walls and under the stairway. Water stains on wood usually are recognizable. So check the bottom of wood shelving, partition walls and paneling carefully. The darker the stain the more involved the water problems are.
  • Loose floor tiles can be a sign that moisture is leaking into the basement. Are there one-eighth-inch gaps between the tiles? They weren’t laid with those gaps. Moisture caused the tiles to shrink. Often, you’ll notice tiles with gaps at one end of the basement or just near the perimeter walls but the tiles will be secure and tight fitting in the middle of the basement. That indicates areas that have been exposed to leaking.
  • Look for efflorescence, the white powdery, fluffy growth on masonry walls. It’s a result of moisture mixing with the water-soluble salts within the wall and leaking into the basement. Efflorescence itself doesn’t mean the basement floods. The moisture could be evaporating once it wicks through the foundation and is exposed to the air.
  • When purchasing a house, another clue that a basement might leak may be an absence of stored belongings. Have the current owners lived in the house for a long time, yet they’re not using the basement for storage? Are they storing items only on one side of the basement?
  • Are the foundation walls freshly painted? Fresh paint is a red flag to any home inspector. Realtors know stains and efflorescence may not look all that good, but fresh paint usually means a wall looked worse than minor stains, and that could signal a problem.
  • Look for rust stains around the furnace cabinet and the steel stanchions that support the house. Heavy rust could be a symptom of ongoing flooding. Around the furnace those rust stains could just mean the air conditioner or humidifier leaked, so examine the pattern of the rust.

Solving a Water Direction Problem / Granular Carbon Water Filter System

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Q:

We need assistance and direction to a problem we are having where water is entering the foundation, garage, and basement. We feel this is linked in someway.

We first noticed that after a heavy rain saturated the ground, we would find water puddles in the basement that flowed from the garage wall. We took out the drywall and molding and applied Dry Lock water sealant on the wall (rod holes) and replaced the drywall. Well, for about a year, everything was fine but then we noticed that on the other end of the garage wall, the situation repeated itself and we used the same process.

We never made the connection until recently that when the temperature drops below 20 degrees our garage floor rises up about an inch and a half and separate from the driveway. Once the temperatures get above freezing and remains there for a couple days, the garage floor goes back down and even with the driveway. Could it be that water is getting under the garage floor somehow and with the freezing and thawing that takes place is making the water somehow find weak spots in the wall and leaking into the basement? However, now it is starting to come up from the basement floor as opposed through rod holes, but is still against the garage wall side.

Who do we need to contact in regard to our concerns? Do you think these issues are linked?

A:

I’ve seen many garage floors that heave upward when it freezes. The culprit is obviously water beneath the slab. In your case, that water is flowing toward a foundation wall that may not have been waterproofed. The builder possibly didn’t see a need to seal the wall since there was going to be a garage on that side of the house. He may have sealed it but obviously not adequately.

Your first order of business is to keep water away from the garage. Make sure all ground around it is sloped away 4 to 6 feet. Check to see that the gutters do not overflow, and that the leaders all discharge 4 to 6 feet from the garage. Seal the gap between the garage floor and the driveway with a viscous sealant.

After that deal is sealed and the problem continues, I’d call a basement waterproofer for estimates. You’ll want to waterproof that entire wall from the basement side.

Q:

I have a granular carbon water filter system flowing from my main house line. The problem I am having is that it greatly reduces water pressure throughout the house. So bad in fact if you flush a toilet you lose most pressure everywhere until the toilet refills. I figured out that removing the actual filter solves the problem. Is that ok or do I need a professional to come and have the housing system removed from the pipe?

A:

You can keep the housing system in place without the filter and it shouldn’t present any real problems. More to the point, why is your water pressure so bad? If you have old galvanized pipes that are causing poor water flow, you’ll need to replace them in the very near future. They generally last 40 to 50 years. Galvanized pipes were replaced with copper around the 1950’s. That means don’t get a sentimental attachment to your existing pipes. If you have city water your pressure should be between 40-60 PSI. That should be adequate if you have copper or plastic pipes. Then if not, check your blood pressure before you call the plumber to determine why you have a problem. Call the city to check if the meter is restricted or defective.

If you’re on well water you may want or need that filter. Check with a water conditioning company. They should be able to install a system that will not restrict the water flow as much as the one you have. This is one time when you’ll be glad that the pressure is on.

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An Inspection Makes a House a Home

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2017 at 10:50 am

Not all home inspectors are the same, each having their individual style. Their procedures and reports also differ, so it’s important to be educated before hiring someone. Since your home is probably the largest purchase you’ll ever make, you should understand what the job of a home inspector is and what they do. It’s not the inspector’s job to tell you to buy the house or walk away from it. The inspector usually has no idea what you’re paying for the house. So, even if it is a “disaster” it might be priced so low that it’s a great deal no matter what is found during the inspection.

The home inspector’s job is to impartially and objectively, let you know what you are actually buying. The condition of the roof, structure, plumbing system, water pressure and hot water tank should be evaluated. The home inspector should let you know everything about the electrical system and if it is adequate and safe. You’ll learn about the insulation, the furnace or boiler, if it is operating properly and not leaking carbon monoxide into the house. The inspector will not be able to tell you if the heat is even or adequate throughout, but should let you know if there isn’t a heat source in some rooms or additions (yes it happens). The inspector will let you know if the foundation appears bad or if the basement leaks. When the inspection is complete, you will probably know more about the house you are purchasing than the sellers who may have lived there for 30 years. This inspector will also make a “honey-do” list for the prospective purchaser (my client) of all the “nit-picky” items. If the inspector finds a lot of things in disrepair, remember almost everything can be fixed. The client should be shown what the inspector sees and why it is a problem. He doesn’t make up the problem or exaggerate the seriousness of it, but tries to put it in the proper perspective. We actually have more to lose if the client doesn’t buy the house because it’s possible that two or more real estate offices might blacklist us from referrals (the selling office and listing office).

Why do you need a house inspection? Let me answer that question with another question. Who else in the transaction is looking out for your interest? Is the realtor, who only gets paid if you buy the house, able to be totally objective? Some real estate salespeople tell their clients they really don’t need an inspection because “The seller filled out a disclosure statement”. That document serves to somewhat protect the realtor. “I didn’t know the basement leaked. They filled out the disclosure statement and signed it saying it was a dry basement.” I, in turn am not interested in what the Realtor refers to as a “disclosure statement”. I refer to it as a “Liars statement”.

The inspector will easily be able to determine if the purchaser is handy by the questions they ask, and the purchaser should ask questions. The adage about there being “no such thing as a dumb question” seems especially true on a home inspection. The buyers are spending a lot of money on the house and the inspector should not only make them familiar with the house and how it works, but also its condition. The buyers are encouraged to ask questions. I have had buyers ask what the furnace is and what it is for. If they have to ask, it is because they really don’t know. For that reason, most inspectors want the purchaser to accompany them on their inspection.

On the other hand, the inspector does not want the seller of the house following along on the inspection because they often get defensive. This is a house they live in and now they are hearing about all the little problems that have been ignored, forgotten, or never knew existed. Another reason the seller shouldn’t participate in the inspection is that they didn’t pay for the information. Finally, the buyer needs to feel comfortable about asking questions without being in the presence of someone with whom they are negotiating.

There are some home inspectors who feel their client is the one who refers business to them, i.e. the realtor. They don’t want to lose the referrals (read that as money) so the inspector may feel he has to downplay a problem or gloss over suspect defects. Then there are some home inspectors that are not particularly thorough and issue short reports that basically don’t tell you much. There are also inspectors that have little training and experience and are just out of their league. These inspectors fit the “obligation” of a home inspection and rarely cause a problem for the salesperson. Some realtors refer to the good, competent inspectors as the “deal killers”. Home inspectors, in return, have “names” for those realtors.

There are realtors who might see home inspectors as adversaries or at the least, a necessary evil. There are also many realtors who truly are looking out for their client’s best interest. A good realtor generally has an attitude that is similar to a clerk in a store showing merchandise. They will point out anything that is visible to their client, the buyer. They also rely on good inspectors to educate their clients.

“What you see is not always what is there”. Realtors know that a good, professional inspection will give the buyer not only peace of mind, but will increase their credibility with their client for future referrals. Also, it’s worth mentioning that a thorough inspection should insulate the Realtor from any potential lawsuit against them of their real estate company.

Are you under the impression that municipalities in which, inspections are done by city inspectors protect your investment? Think again. A municipal inspector looks for code violations, period. These inspectors don’t remove electrical service box covers to check for double tapping, aluminum wiring, overheating circuits and oversized breakers, which can only be discovered by inspecting in the main service box. Believe it or not, if the house you are considering buying has aluminum wiring, a bad foundation, asbestos, old galvanized plumbing, or even a wet basement, they are not code violations and not even covered by city inspections. Even a bad roof is not a code violation unless it is leaking on the inspector’s ahead at the time of the inspection. To correct those items is a major expense and a potential deal killer, but a city inspector does not address them.

I’ve been doing inspection in Southeast Michigan for over 35 years but I know I’m not perfect. I am also not naïve enough to believe I’ll find every flaw in a house that I’m inspecting. I just hope if there are any major problems that I’ll find them.

Remember, a home inspector is not a specialist. We consider ourselves “professional generalists”. We don’t have to be a licensed electrician to observe, check, and report on loose and improper wiring, double tapping, aluminum wiring, oversized fuses or breakers, overheating wiring or improperly wired fixtures and outlets. But we need to recognize it and advise our client. We’re only in the house for a few hours and in that time we need to discover, evaluate and report to our client everything that we find. We also need, as I said earlier, to put it in the proper prospective. Remember, the inspector doesn’t know the price or the value of the house. A $200,000.00 house being purchased for $175,000.00 may sound like a great deal, but what if it has a bad foundation and/or needs $40,000.00 in repairs? It suddenly becomes no deal at all.

Over the years we’ve seen houses in which the sellers paint over rotted wood, which by the way is very common. I’ve seen people put furniture and boxes in front of foundation problems to conceal them. We have found fresh, wet paint on basement walls that leaked, and burned or torn carpeting covered with a throw rug. Burn marks on kitchen counters that have been covered with sponges, saucers, plants, etc. And yes, I found a counter top with a crack that was covered with the cord of a coffee pot!

Since the inspector is a ‘guest’ in the home, the inspector is not allowed to start moving furniture, boxes, or crates. If that cheap figurine should break, it immediately becomes a priceless heirloom for which the inspector is usually on the hook. This is one reason many inspectors, like myself, insist that the buyer or their representative (such as a family member) accompany them on the inspection if at all possible. The main reason is so the client can learn about their next house and how it works. In addition, they see things as we do and not let their imagination make it worse. It also helps our client see what’s not visible because of stacked boxes, junk or furniture obstruction the area.

It’s a challenge when sellers try to hide problems. I’m not saying we always find the hidden ones, but is can become somewhat of a game. When a buyer sees a burned or cracked counter, it means they’ll need to replace that some day. However, when we find sellers trying to hide problems with fresh paint, plants or sponges, the buyer immediately wonders what else is the seller hiding. They know we’re doing our job, but they also know we’re only human.

Do we make everyone happy? Sometimes. But that’s not our goal. The good inspector realizes the only one we need to make happy is our client, the purchaser. We know our clients want the house otherwise they wouldn’t be paying us to inspect it. We also know if the house fails the inspection, they will be disappointed. But the inspector and our client know we saved them a lot of money and grief.

To find a good inspector, consider your realtors recommendation but do your own homework. Call several companies. Don’t shop just for the price. The more qualified and professional the inspector, the more valuable is the service you are provided. Ask about their qualifications and licenses as well as errors and omissions insurance. Ask how long they have been in business. Then verify the information with the Better Business Bureau.

There is no licensing for home inspectors in the State of Michigan at this time but you can verify with the State Licensing Board if the inspector is a licensed builder and how long they’ve held a license. You can also check if there are complaints against the individual or company. It is not unusual for someone in business to have complaints lodged against them, or be sued but how many times and how they were resolved should be a concern to you.

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