Saturday, August 19, 2006

There really is right and wrong, or, why my basement leaks.

I am a pretty orthodox Christian. My view of the world includes a deeply embedded conviction that there really is a right and a wrong. I think most rational people, even non-Christians, recognize from their experience with the world, that there are good ways and bad ways of getting through life.

My basement is a testament to that.

It leaks like a proverbial sieve every time it rains, with water literally gushing down the fieldstone walls. (It rained pretty steadily last night, which was the impetus for this blog...) It need not be so, and I will make it so that it is not so. I hate wet basements. They are worse than useless. I'm not sure why I have such an aversion to damp, stinky basements. It could be because the house I grew up in had a wet basement, and my job was to dry it out periodically. This involved sponges and dust pans and buckets, and was generally quite unsuccessful, since the root cause was never addressed.

The root cause at my house ultimately harks back to original sin. People just didn't do what they were supposed to do.

When the house was originally built, the basement was probably not wet. The house sits up on a nice hill. We have nice sandy soil with minimal clay so it should drain well. The house probably had gutters and downspouts that worked to get the rainwater away from the foundation. Over the last hundred years or so, neglect and laziness have fouled things up.

The back-filled soil around the foundation settled 4-6 inches, which is pretty typical. So instead of the ground sloping away from the house, it now slopes toward the foundation. That by itself is pretty much guaranteed to cause a damp basement. Observant, stewardly and faithful owners would have noticed this decades ago and brought in some topsoil to produce some slope and positive drainage away from the house.

Compounding that problem, the roof was replaced a few years ago. So far as I can tell, they did a good job on the roof. Well, they did use waferboard to repair the roof sheathing in places, and waferboard is the invention of the devil. So long as you keep it dry it's ok. If it gets wet just a few times, it swell up and exhibits all of the strength of wet oatmeal. Effectively, waferboard is laminated corn flakes. The glues used to make little bitty pieces of wood into one big piece of "wood" virtually all contain formaldahyde and other nasties. Never use waferboard inside your house where you will be breathing the gasses released for years by this evil product. The only thing worse than waferboard is particleboard, but I digress.

The flagrant sin that the roofer commited is that he took most of the gutters and downspouts off to do the roof, and then just decided he didn't need to replace them. This causes the considerable volume of rainwater intercepted by the roof to be very efficiently channeled to fall on the ground right next to the foundation, where it can't get away because the ground slopes toward the house. Thus the cesspool that is my basement.

There are several steps that we will take to insure a clean dry, stink free and useful basement:

1. New gutters and downspouts, lots of them. Our house is practically the house of seven gables. I have 2 1/2 stories of scaffolding on order, should be in next week.

2. The downspouts will feed into pipes in the ground that take the runoff far away from the foundation using non-perforated pipe, and then switch to "Big-O" perforated pipe to harmlessly percolate the water into the ground where it belongs. Of course, all those pipes have to be installed in the yard, which means backhoe and tractor work. Wooo hoooo! The "Miss Dig" person has flagged and painted our yard this week, indicating it is ok to dig away.

These two steps alone will solve 80% of the problem at least.

3. Seven cubic yards of screened topsoil will be added around the foundation to improve natural drainage away from the house. This should fix the other 20%.

If those three steps don't entirely fix the problem, then we get out the big guns:

4. Trench the yard (lots and lots of backhoe work) on both sides of the house and install Big-O and effectively lower the water table below the basement floor. The farmers call this tiling the field because they used to use 3' sections of clay tile (pipe) to do the job. This will be unneccessary. I have made a couple of test holes to see how damp things are and see if we have a very high/problematic water table. We don't.

5. Dig up all the dirt from around the foundation and plaster the fieldstone foundation with high strength fiber reinforced concrete. This will make the foundation itself much less water permeable. The new cement is then typically painted with either rubber based glop or ashphalt based glop. Foundation drains would be installed below the footings all the way around the house and connected to a drain that heads downhill at 0.25 inches per foot until it pops out the side of the hill 75 feet away.

Step 5 will solve all water problems in all basements of all houses that sit up on a hill, asuming the gutters work. Even though this would involve lots of fun work with the backhoe and front end loader, it's a last resort because it will suck up vast quantities of time.

Whatever trivial dampness remains after all this will be rapidly and efficiently removed by the dehumidifyer. After insulating the basement, even humidity problems will be a thing of the past.

I will try to post weekly updates on Friday or Saturday.

Finest regards


1 comment:

Small Group said...

well, a wonderful account of fixing a basement. I can't wait to see how I'm involved!

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