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Wet Basements 2/3

In this article I will discuss sump pumps.

In the previous article I suggested that getting water away from the house with properly installed grading and downspouts can keep basements dry 99% of the time.  But what about those times when that’s not possible, or we get one of those severe storms that seem to come with increasing frequency.

If your house is less than 40 years old, then a system was most likely installed to help deal with water around the perimeter of the foundation.  It was installed when the house was being built and before the foundation was backfilled.  It consists of a black tar like substance that is sprayed on the foundation wall all the way from the expected grade line down to the footing (this is at the bottom of the basement walls).  Along the footing, drain tile would have been installed.  Drain tile is the black tubing you see with slots in it so water can drain into it along its length.  This drain tile is covered with filter fabric and gravel to keep it from getting clogged by small fines and it runs along the entire footing to collect water that is draining down the exterior of the foundation.  It gives a place for the water to go so it doesn’t build up pressure and push its way through the walls.

Where the water in the drain tile ends up depends on whether your house has a walkout basement or not.  If you have a walkout basement, then the drain tile would terminate in the back yard.  If you do not have a walkout then the water would go to a sump pump.  In that case, the drain tile goes through the footing in at least one location to the sump pit.  The sump pit is simply a bucket in the ground that collects the water and the sump pump that is in the pit automatically turns on when activated by a float switch to pump the water outside.  Obviously, it is important to get the discharge of the sump pump moving far enough away from the house so that the water does not simply go back down the outside of the foundation to the sump pit.

A sump pump is a handy way to deal with other sources of water too.  These could include any or all of the following: the AC condensate, high efficiency gas furnace condensate, water heater over pressure relief valve (TPR) discharge pipe, washing machine pan, window well drains, egress window drain, and most importantly (because of the volume of water), the drain at the bottom of the exterior basement stairwell if you have one.

With all that water going into the sump pit, a pump failure could create a very bad situation: water in the basement.  Ironically, when you need it the most, during a severe rain storm, is when the sump pump is most vulnerable to failure because of a loss of power.  In the next article I will talk about backup sump pumps.

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Wet Basements 1/3

Moisture in a home is one of the biggest concerns that most buyers have when they are considering the purchase of a home. There is a lot to say about this issue because there are many factors to consider, so this is the first in a series addressing wet basements and this article will start with the big picture.

There are usually two reasons a basement might get water in it or suffer from excessive dampness. First is from water that comes in through the foundation walls when it is raining, and the second is from what might be called underground streams – the natural flow of underground water. Rain water is usually not difficult to eliminate under normal conditions; underground water is almost impossible to eliminate and must be dealt with in the basement.

We’ll start with the easier part: rain water. When it rains it is important to get the water moving away from the house. In our experience, attention to this detail can keep basements dry 99% of the time, and it is usually no more difficult than ensuring that the ground slopes away from the house and that the water from the gutters gets at least 5-6 feet away from the foundation. When a house is built, the ground surrounding the foundation is backfilled after the forms have been stripped away and the water-proofing system is installed. The problem is that the backfill is not normally tamped down and can settle up to 6-8 inches over the course of several years. Additional dirt needs to be added (sometimes several times) to eliminate the sunken areas around the house but this can be a hassle once the landscaping matures. Imagine the situation where someone builds a patio on the back of the house without taking this into account and the patio settles right along with the backfill. A settled patio that drains water toward the foundation usually needs to be replaced. Another problem occurs when homeowners bury the downspouts and they don’t terminate to daylight. Underground drains often fail by separating at joints, collapsing or getting clogged by critters and debris. If underground drains cannot be verified to be working properly they should be considered to be not working at all.

In future articles I will discuss the occasional house that was built in the middle of an underground stream and how that should be handled, water proofing systems, the impact of radon mitigation systems on water proofing systems and backup sump pumps.

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Spring Is Here!

Spring is here! I tested my first air conditioner of the year on an inspection last week and it felt so good. Now might be a good time to check your unit too before the 90 degree weather gets here.

Check the outside unit and clear any leaves and vegetation away. Turn the unit on and let it run for 10-15 minutes. Go make sure the outdoor unit is running and doesn’t sound like a screaming banshee. If you pull back the black foam insulation on the large copper tube at either the indoor or outdoor unit, it should be nice and cold. If you measure the temperature at a supply register close to the unit, it should be about 15-20 degrees colder than at the return grill.

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