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How I spent Father's Day and Field Day

   A few weeks ago there was quite a big storm complete with tornadoes which did a lot of damage in NW Ohio and SE Michigan.  My heart goes out to the families of those killed. We were fortunate and none of the tornadoes touched down in Toledo but we did discover a problem.  With all that rain some leaked through the foundation and into the finished basement of our rental next door.

   This wasn't our first experience with flooding in that basement.  When we bought the duplex the inspector told us we would need an egress window in the basement bedroom or we could be liable if anything happened to the house and someone was trapped inside.  Our realtor recommended an independent contractor who was much less expensive than any of the advertised bigger name local businesses.  We hired him to do the job.  He dug down next the the foundation probably 3 to 4 feet below what was to become the bottom of the new enlarged window.  He backfilled with crushed marble and said this was to catch rainwater and give it a chance to soak into the ground before filling the hole and entering the window.  It was actually no where near enough and the first time it stormed the basement was flooded with sandy water.  The carpet and bottom part of the drywall was soaked in the bedroom, as was the kitchen, bathroom and hallway.  We had to call a flood repair company and it took about a week to get everything dried out.  Our renter at the time was of course not very happy.

All dug out and with new drain   To prevent another flood the contractor buried a sump pump with a bucket over it inside the hole.  A pipe ran up from that and over to a drain pipe in the front which goes to the storm sewer.  By this time it was getting late in the fall and didn't seem like a good time to start another outside project so we ran an extension cord to the back deck.  We were going to have an electrician run a dedicated line to the pump in the spring.  This worked ok at first and got us through a few storms.  Just after we had been through enough storms that I thought everything was ok I got a call from our renter that it was flooding again.  It turned out that the 
GFI at the outlet had tripped and the pump wasn't running.  Meanwhile I had heard about egress window holes going all the way to the foundation drain.  Our first contractor had told us he dug and dug and determined there was no foundation drain but what I read on the Internet about newer houses like ours made this seem unlikely.  We decided to call a bigger name company and get their opinion, either have them dig deeper to a foundation drain or run the permanent electricity hookup.

   When the guy from the bigger company arrived he assured us that there must be a foundation drain and that it would be best to ditch the pump and dig down to it.  He gave us a quote but also told us he and his father do the same kind of work on the side and assured us he would be much less expensive.  We really did want to go with a big name this time but the quote was high and we really didn't have the money.  We went for it.  It took them all day to get down that far but he did find the foundation drain.  He punched a hole in the top and backfilled with rock.  After that everything seemed ok for about a year until the big storm.

   This time water came into both the bed room and the kitchen.  It didn't come in through the window it actually soaked through the foundation itself where the wall meets the floor.  Here's an explanation of why that happened.  When a house is built with a basement crushed or river rocks are placed along the foot of the foundation.  A drain tile is placed in the rock and more rock is used to bury the drain tile.  A drain tile is a large pipe with holes in it.  The holes allow water in the soil around the foundation to enter.  The rocks allow the water to get to the drain tile while preventing mud from entering it.  If this level is above the storm drain it might drain directly into it but usually it goes into a crock (hole in the basement floor) from which a sump pump sends it out to the storm drain. That is how it works with our house.  The drain keeps the soil from getting to wet around the foundation.  If the soil is too wet for too long the water will begin to soak right through the concrete.

Zoom to the bottom   We also had a downspout which emptied very close to the egress window.  It had caused mud to wash out from under the sidewalk and flow into our egress window hole.  This was occurring under the sidewalk and under the rocks so we couldn't see how bad it was getting.  The drain tile had completely filled up with sand and it wasn't properly draining the water from the soil anymore.  This combined with the heavy rain had caused our new problem.

   Between Aliesha having been recently off work to have the baby, being between renters and having a lot of remodeling to do to get ready for new renters this was not a good time to be hiring anyone.  Still, we couldn't afford to let the basement flood.  Fortunately we are replacing the carpet downstairs but had not done so yet.  We do not want this happening to the new carpet when we get it! We called the big company again. I had already figured out the drain was plugged from all the mud in the crock.  When Aliesha explained it on the phone she was told that the big company did not handle that kind of issue but the owner had worked with a guy who did.  We were skeptical but he said they had done jobs together for 30 years so we had him out.

   Mark the drain guy came out on the 13th.  He pointed out the downspout and said it would have to be moved.  Aliesha had stressed that we were short on money and he suggested that we remove the rock ourselves to uncover the foundation drain and he would come back the following Saturday to unplug it.  He also suggested we might want to add a T to the drain and run a pipe up to the top of the rocks.  Normally foundation drains are pretty much maintenance free but now that it has been plugged once we will probably want to clean it out at least yearly.  This way we have access.

   I was concerned about opening up the hole and waiting for him to come back.  If the sides of the hole fell in it would really be a lot of work to dig it back out.  Also, if it caved in and then it rained...  that would be another window flood all over again.  He was coming out in the morning so I decided to wait until Friday night to uncover it.  I would pull an all nighter if I had to.  Mark had pointed out that each of our corner downspouts went into drains except the one by the egress window.  The two on the other side of the house were clogged.  All the drain pipes were cut flush with the ground.  It was very easy for dirt to wash in.  I used my after work time that week to extend the drains a bit and added fittings so only water from the downspouts could get in and not dirt.  I also added a 'T' to the one on the renter's side and ran a drain pipe to the side of the egress window.  I couldn't get all the way to the problem downspout because the egress window and the electrical junction box are in the way. I hadn't decided yet if I was going to take the drain up and over them or just move the downspout to where it now stopped.

Drain cloth in place   For Friday, the big digging day Aliesha called a bunch of our friends and asked them all to come out and help me.  Jay and I did the digging. A regular shovel was too broad to dig in those rocks. We ended up digging the whole thing out with a garden trowel!  We took turns, one in the hole filling a 5 gallon bucket while the other wold carry the bucket to the driveway and dump the rocks.  Mark J and Larry were in the driveway with a garden hose.  They washed the mud out of the rock so I could re-use it later.  That is actually harder than it sounds and half the rock is still caked in mud in the driveway but they worked hard at it and got quite a bit clean.  I don't know what I would do without these guys!

   We were at it for a good 5 or 6 hours and were almost there.  Jay had dug down in one spot and found the drain tile.  That way we knew we had about a foot or so to go.  Then it happened... it started raining.  It rained hard and we all went inside.  I was really worried this would cause the walls to cave in, the hole would be plugged and the window would flood.  I couldn't stay inside and let this happen so I went right back out.  It was raining hard and the water was pouring out the downspout and into the hole.  I had already bought some additional downspout materials in case I decided to take the downspout to the drain.  I knew I could return them if I decided to go the other way. I cut the downspout, pushed on a 45 degree angle and ran it to the back yard.  It was quite a bit harder than normal to do this in the middle of the storm as the water was coming out with some pressure. I didn't manage to get it on the right way so some was still spilling out of the bend but at least most of it was being directed away from the hole. Unfortunately the ground was sloped towards the hole so some was flowing back along the ground too.  this was the best I could do at the moment though so I went in. We all played cards while I tried to keep my mind off of it.

   Saturday morning we went out, it was warm and sunny.  Most of the water had already dried up.  Only one small spot on the wall had fallen in, it was just enough to make a nice foothold when climbing in and out.  I was very happy.  Jay had spent the night and I started digging again while he hauled the rocks to the driveway.  I had the tile all uncovered just about the time Mark the was ready to clean it.  Since I was already down there he suggested guiding me through doing it myself.  I waited for his say so as I was nervous about doing something I couldn't undo and then I took a saw and cut out a section of the drain tile.  This would give us access to clean it plus it would be where I would mount my 'T'.  That's when we discovered it wasn't just kind of plugged it was completely filled with sand.  It looked like a core sample some scientist would drill to study microbes or pollution or something like that.  Mark wasn't entirely sure we would be able to clean it already and this wasn't encouraging but all there was to do is try.  He had me put a nozzle on the end of our garden hose and push it into the pipe while squirting a narrow jet.  Surprisingly it wasn't that hard.  Once I had it pushed to the end of the pipe a couple of times he had me adjust the nozzle for a wider spray.  The narrow one was to cut through the mud while the wider one was to clean the sides of the pipe better.  Periodically he checked the sump pump.  It was definitely turning on.  The drain it flows into must be connected to the one I sent the downspout to because we could hear it through that pipe.  

Drain cloth around the outside too   With the drain cleaned Mark left and it was time to add the 'T'.  The original drain tile was soft pipe.  Rather than using fittings they had just cut slits in one end of each pipe and pushed it into the next.  The hole turned out to be right next to a joint so I pulled it off on that side.  I used hard pipe so it was pretty easy to just push the existing slitted end into my new pipe.  On the other side I used a rubber boot with hose clamps on each end.  A company called Fernco is well known for making those so they are commonly called Fernco Couplings. This was what Mark had suggested since it was too wet, muddy and cramped down there to be able to glue a real fitting.  Later, after it was all buried I started to worry.  I want this to last at least 30 years, It's not easy digging all of that.  I searched Google quite a bit and found mixed opinions.  Apparently in some areas it is against code to use Fernco fittings for buried pipes but in other areas that is the only kind of fitting allowed!  Most everyone who had buried one and wrote about it said they had no problems and that they last just about forever so I feel good about it.

   We were supposed to have a poker game at the house Saturday night.  We were still finishing up when Chris (KC8UFV) arrived to play.  He got put to work cleaning rocks with Mark J and Larry for a little bit.  I ran my new pipe up the center of the hole. I also lined the dirt part of the hole with drain cloth.  It's a cloth made out of some sort of coarse plastic fibers.  It is supposed to let the water through but not mud or roots.  It looks like the stuff they staple to the bottom of box springs.  The roll I bought was rated for 30 years so it should be good.  I had no idea how much to buy so I have quite a bit left over.  I think I will eventually run it along the ground on that side of the house as it's only a narrow walkway between the house and the fence.  I'll put rocks over that and make the area a rock garden.  It's hard to get a lawnmower in there with the egress window and various utility boxes.  Once I had the cloth in place we decided to call it a night and go play our poker game.

   The next day, Sunday / Father's Day everyone was gone and I poured that of the rocks which had been cleaned back in the hole.  That about half filled it.  I was going to start cleaning more rock and dumping it after work throughout the week but Monday the weather report changed and said it would rain.  I was still worried about a cave in so I called Aliesha.  She called Jay and they went out and bought a ton of river rock and put it in while I was working.  It only cost $30.  I would have spent a lot more in water to clean the rocks!  Now the rock is still in our driveway looking ugly for the neighbors.  My dad might take it for his driveway as he is in the country and his is gravel.  Since they already had the rocks done I had Monday free to go back to working on the downspout.  I ran it along the wall at a 45 degree angle down to the new drain.  Now all the roof water should end up in the storm sewer instead of our basement.  All that is left are a couple small downspouts coming from a small extension of the roof in the back. They don't empty near any windows but I may run them into a drain next summer to be thorough.

Finished!   It ended up not raining Monday after all but it did rain Tuesday.  That's when I saw that even though the downspout was moved there was still quite a bit of water coming between the cracks between the boards of the retaining wall. Over time I'm sure that would have still carried too much mud in it.  Last weekend (Field Day) I took care of this.  I used a sledge hammer to break up the sidewalk and discovered there was quite a hole under it that the water had carved.  I dug all the remaining soil from the outside of the retaining wall.  Then I stapled more drain paper around the wall and filled it back in.  The path the water had taken is gone now but even if water does soak through and flow between the boards the cloth should at least keep the mud out.  I think this should take care of it at least as long as the boards last.  I'm sure they will eventually rot and needed replaced.  Maybe by then we can spring for a vinyl shell.  I didn't ask anyone to help or even tell them what I was doing.  Our friends had helped so much already I didn't want to ask for more.  It was a pretty big job and pretty much took all of Saturday so I missed Field day.  Looking back there are other people I probably should have called but that's ok.  It is done now and I shouldn't have to deal with this again for a long time.  Right???

**Photos taken with Droid, I'm sure Aliesha would have done better

2 Comments - Add Comment

Problems - 2012-12-31 11:43:42 - Reply

If you install a custom made clear dome over that it should prevent water going in and will last even longer. Just a suggestion.

Leif - 2013-01-01 11:32:40 - Reply

That would be nice. Would it still be acceptable as an egress window though? We made that hole in the first place so we could legally rent that room as a bedroom.