Basement & Foundation

Bailing out basement window wells

When basement window wells fill with water, it usually indicates poor surface grading. To correct the problem, the surrounding soil or other surface must be sloped away from the window well. This may require raising the window well. Observe the surface water during a heavy rain, and you will see what needs to be done.

The ground should slope away from the house at a pitch of about 1 vertical inch per linear foot. Hard surfaces such as concrete should slope away ¼ inch per foot. Downspouts and sump pump discharges must be directed well away from the foundation and window wells.

Additionally, the window well should fit tightly to the foundation. The well should extend about one inch above grade and several inches below the window. Keep the well free of plant material and other debris. Ideally the window well is dug out to a depth of 18 inches below the window opening and filled with gravel to allow for drainage.

Window well covers only divert rainwater; they offer limited protection.

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Sump pump basics

The sump pump protects your home from groundwater forcing its way down through the soil into that hole in the ground we call a basement. A drain tile system below the basement floor channels the water into the sump pump crock. Then the sump pump lifts this water to the surface outside or into an underground storm sewer pipe that drains away from your home.

The sump pump and drainage system is separate from the sanitary sewer system that drains waste water from your home to the septic system or to a sanitary sewer treatment plant.

Test your sump pump every few months. Start the pump by adding water to the crock or lifting the float. The pump should start when the water is 8 to 12 inches below the basement floor slab. The water in the crock should be clear, without roots or debris. Watch to be sure the pump removes water from the crock.

The pump may have a float on the end of a rod or wire. Be sure the float operates easily and can’t rub against the crock or the cover. If the float sticks, the pump will not run, and your basement could be flooded.

If the pump is older and worn, rusty, or noisy, it should be replaced. The pump should be securely mounted in the crock. The power supply should be from an outlet, not an extension cord, and the plug should be securely fastened to the outlet.

If the pump runs more than several times per day or runs often during heavy rain, you should have a spare pump or even a second pump mounted in the crock. The second pump could have a float set for a higher water level so that the second pump only runs if the first pump fails. If you live in an area where the electrical power fails during storms, I would consider a battery backup for the pump system.

You might also want to consider installing an alarm that will alert you if the sump pump fails. This could save considerable damage from flooding that could result from this failure. Options range from expensive home alarm systems to a simple battery-operated water alarm. One of the best and most effective for the price is the Water Detector from Zircon Corporation. It cost about $12.

The Water Detector is a palm-sized unit operated by a 9-volt battery. When in contact with water, it continuously emits an alarm for up to 72 hours. The unit will float and continue to sound an alarm during a flood.

See the shopping mall for "Keep Your Basement Dry," "Tips for ‘Down Under’-Protecting Your Basement," and for battery operated water alarms.

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When roots invade your sump pump crock

If you notice roots in the sump pump crock, they indicate a potentially serious problem that needs further investigation and corrective work. Roots originate in exterior drain tiles, follow bleeders under the footings, then snake through interior drain tile. If the roots block any part of the drain tile system, they could hamper water drainage. Improperly drained soil and the frost that develops in cold weather can push against the walls, causing horizontal movement and cracking.

Don’t panic, but do take steps to investigate the problem. A professional can evaluate the extent of the problem by cutting holes in the basement floor to expose interior drain tile and bleeders. The condition of the bleeders will indicate how severely the exterior drain tile has been affected.

Don’t commit to extensive repairs without evaluation of the drain tile system. This testing, which costs about $400, will determine the necessary steps to take.

You should also walk around your property and evaluate trees that may be the source of the problem. A tree’s roots usually extend beyond its leaf area (crown). Willow, locust, cottonwood and Chinese elm trees are particularly troublesome in extending their roots into sewer and drain lines. Their roots can extend four times or more beyond their crown.

If you do use a basement repair contractor, carefully check references. Your contractor should evaluate the problem before proposing any repairs. Contact several contractors. Make sure anyone you hire belongs to the local home builders’ or professional home remodelers’ roup.

Also, consider hiring a basement repair consultant or structural engineer who works independently of any repair contractor. A consultant can help you determine what needs to be done without the conflict of interest involved in selling repair services.

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Sealing a concrete basement floor

At times, bare concrete floors generate dust that gets tracked onto other surfaces. Bare concrete also creates a "dust storm" when you sweep the floor. You can easily seal the floor to control this dust.

Now, I’m talking about clear sealer, not paint. Painting a concrete floor is much more difficult than sealing because of the preparation and acid etching involved. Paintin g concrete can also result in peeling and other problems down the road.

A clear sealer penetrates the concrete, prevents dusting and staining, and makes the surface easy to clean. Look for sealers at building supply stores and cement and brick dealers. UGL and Thoro are two brands. UGL calls its product Clear Masonry Sealer.

To apply the sealer, you must thoroughly clean the concrete, removing all dirt, wax, dust, mildew and loose material. Grease and oil should be removed with detergent. Rinse well with water. Any salt stains (efflorescence) should be removed with an acid etch such as Dryloc Etch.

Apply the sealer per the manufacturer’s directions. Usually the surface temperature must be over 40 degrees, and you will apply the material with a roller, brush or spray. One coat is sufficient in most cases. Some slight darkening may take place. Be sure to provide adequate ventilation as you work.

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