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

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm


Here is How to Dry it Out

By Lon Grossman- Former FreePress Special Writer

 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 eye wear, 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.


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


Interior Condensation Problems / Copper Sulfate for Tree Roots in Sewer Line

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2018 at 12:53 pm


The lower 2-feet of a wall on the northwest corner of the bedroom develops heavy condensation, especially during the cold weather. The wall is wallpapered, however, even when the paper is removed, the condensation still forms. We are presently using a small fan to dry the area.

This bedroom, which is approximately 10’ x 12’ has only one heat register, which is on the north side. The roof has a 3’ overhang and there is a downspout on that corner and the water flows freely.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can correct this condition?


Your problem is not unique; as a matter of fact, it is very common. As you’ve no doubt read in my column, “hot goes to cold”. It’s a fact of physics. Picture a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a kitchen table on a hot, humid summer day. (Sounds good right about now doesn’t it?) As you visualize the glass, note condensation dripping down the outside and pooling on the table. The glass isn’t cracked or leaking. Glass doesn’t sweat like people, so where is the moisture coming from? Answer: the hot humid air in the house collects on the cold glass and condenses.

In your case, that northwest corner is colder than the rest of the room and wall areas. Many people find the problem occurring on a back wall of an unheated closet. It’s often found on the wall behind furniture or up near the top of a wall near the ceiling. That’s because all those areas are colder than others. For example, the unheated closet has a colder outside wall. The top of the wall may have a problem because the insulation has settled. Behind the furniture, where there is either very little or no air circulation, the wall is colder.

The humidity in the air in your house gravitates and collects on those surfaces. Eventually mold starts growing on those surfaces and you know that can’t be good.

You need to add insulation to the exterior walls, at least in some areas. You also need to turn down your furnace humidifier. Ideally the relative humidity in your house should be between 35 and 45%. If you do not have, or are not using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans that vent to the exterior of the house, you need to install and use them.

Finally, there are several good companies that do thermo-graphic imaging of houses. They can show you exactly where you are losing heat and how to correct the problem. It’s not as expensive as you would imagine. As a matter of fact, the cost is quite reasonable especially in light of what they can save you in cost energy dollars.

A couple of those companies that I am familiar with are:

Testing Engineers & Consultants- 248-588-6200


Infravision- 248-254-6474



I just uncovered an old maintenance article of yours that recommended putting 3 teaspoons of copper sulfate down the drain each month. Do you still recommend that procedure or do you suggest a better method?


As my grandmother used to say, “It couldn’t hurt”. Keep this in mind, if tree roots have already penetrated the sewer line, you are postponing the inevitable and that costs serious money.

You can learn about the condition of your sewer line if you are buying a house. That’s important if there are a lot of trees or even just one large tree on the property. You should call a plumbing company that is equipped with a camera that they run through the system. It will tell you the exact condition inside the pipe and if you will be facing a major expense and replacement.

If you currently have sewer problems, they will be able to show you exactly where the line is breached, how bad and how much. It’s better than digging up and replacing the entire yard. Speaking of that, if you are purchasing a house and if it has sewer problems, add the cost of some replacement landscaping onto the cost of the job. Companies charge between $100.00 and $250.00 to run a camera through the sewers. Call several for estimates.

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Ice Dams

In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 9, 2018 at 10:05 am

Remember these two words “Ice Dams”.

In the coming months there’s a good chance you’ll be cursing them because of the damage they could cause.

The melting of the snow on your roof causes ice dams. As the snow melts, it gets to the cold overhangs, eaves and gutters. The snow freezes and starts accumulating a large ice block or “dam”.

As more snow melts, the cold ice water runs down the roof toward the dam. The water refreezes as the sun goes down and that ice starts backing up. As you might imagine, shingles are not waterproof. They are designed to shed water so the accumulating ice is now backing up beneath the shingles.

As the ice melts, it rots the roof structure, ruins ceilings, walls and furnishings and causes mold to flourish.

Your best defense against ice dams is increasing the amount of insulation and ventilation in your attic as well as installing ice shields.

The heat that is melting the snow is heat you’ve paid for. It is lost through your attic because you do not have enough insulation.

There are a few things you can do to reduce ice dams and eliminate any damage they can cause to your house. You should bring the level of insulation up to R-49 or higher. Doing so will save you money on heating and cooling costs and it will make your house more comfortable in the summer as well as the winter. The added insulation reduces or stops the heat from escaping into the attic and keeps it where you want it, in the living space of the house. Go to www.technihouseinspections.com and click on “Insulation- Packing it In” to find out how much insulation you need and how to do it yourself or hire-it-done.

Adding adequate ventilation to your attic cools the attic area above the insulation, which also helps to reduce ice dams, prolong the life of your shingles and also saves on cooling costs. But Michigan has severe winters and ice dams are inevitable. The only way to eliminate damage from backing up of the ice is to install “ice shields” under your shingles.

When re-roofing, you should remove the shingles and install ice dam membranes. In our area, code requires at least “two layers of underlayment cemented together or a self-adhering polymer modified bitumen sheet shall be used in lieu of normal underlayment and extend from the lowest edges of all roof surfaces to a point at least 24-inches (610mm) inside the exterior wall line of a building.”

The only exceptions are detached structures such as sheds or garages that do not have a heating and/or cooling system.

That code is from the 2006 Michigan Residential Code but remember that is the minimum code. In reality, you should go 6 to 9-feet depending on the slope of your roof. Lower slope roofs should have more ice dam membranes. You should also install the membranes in and all the way up all valleys and around all skylights.

By the way, if you don’t think heat you’re paying for is causing the ice dams, go through old photos. Better yet, try and remember what the roof looked like a couple days after a snowfall. You’ll see snow on the garage and porch roofs. You’ll see snow along the overhangs of the house, but the snow over living spaces is gone or melting. If the sun alone were causing the snow to melt, it would be melting evenly all over the roof.

Many people use de-icing cables on their roofs to reduce and melt the ice accumulation. Oftentimes it is successful. But remember, heat loss, along with freezing weather are causing the ice dams. I have on occasion seen where those electric de-icing cables caused secondary ice dams farther up the roof. While many people swear by them, I do not feel they are all that effective.

They can be expensive to operate if left on for long periods of time. Every inch of them needs to be inspected annually to verify they have not become brittle or cracked.

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