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Ask An Expert

Q: Why is water running into my sump pit?
Q: Can you give me information on leak prevention?
Q: Water seeping through basement wall on an old home?
Q: Need help with Foundation maintenance?
Q: Can I put in a window unit to dehumidify my basement?
Q: What is that white chalky substance on the walls?
Q: How do I get rid of the basement smell?
Q: How'd an animal get into my window well?
Q: How do I get an animal out of my window well?
Q: What can I do to prevent animals from falling into my window well?

Q: Why is water running into my sump pit?
"I have a water leak in my new houses basement in my sump pump pit. The water slowly is rushing in from the side wall of the sump pump pit, and causes my pump to run a lot. Is there anything or any way I can stop this leak, even though water is constantly running from it?"
-Visitor submitted question
A: Your sump pump appears to be doing approximately what it is supposed to do. Your main course of action may simply be to ensure that the pump continues to work reliably by keeping up with regular maintenance and considering backup power for the pump if power failures of more than a few minutes duration are at all likely.

In general, I consider sump pumps the last choice solution for keeping a basement dry. If possible, your house should have good surface grading to drain surface water away from the house, a good foundation drain, good waterproofing on the outside of the basement walls, and the roof should drain away from the foundation (i.e., gutters and downspouts should direct roof water well away from the house). If, however, it turns out that your basement floor level is below the local water table during at least some portion of the year (or even just during occasional periods of heavy rain), then even a well-designed foundation drain may fail. A sump pump may be your only solution. I'm not sure exactly what you mean when you say the "water SLOWLY is RUSHING in from the side wall of the sump pump pit," [emphasis mine] or how often your sump pump is running. Perhaps you should have the system checked by a reputable local plumbing contractor. If the sump is filling so fast that the pump is running most of the time, then it may be undersized for the load (perhaps you would do well to install a second sump and pump), or perhaps you need to be considering.

Posted by admin on Monday, January 2, 2006

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Q: Can you give me information on leak prevention?
"In the mainland US, what are the names of at least 5 residential P&C insurance companies offer a discount for installing a plumbingleak prevention system?"
-Visitor submitted question
A: Hello, thank you for the question.

I contacted many insurance companies and the following reported that they may offer premium credits for installing leak prevention systems, depending on the condition of the pipes, age of the property, etc.

It seems that these systems are taken into account when the premiums are calculated, even if there is no specific discount isolated. I wasn't provided with any hard figures or percentages, just that it would be factored into the process.

I hope this helps.

Posted by admin on Monday, January 2, 2006

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Q: Water seeping through basement wall on an old home?
"I would like to know 15 reasons why a 40 year old house would start to have water seep through the basement wall. The basement wall is paneled. The house is located on limestone soil in South Central Pennsylvania. Is is located about one tenth of a mile from a creek. Basement wall seems to be standard 10 inch cement block coated with tar.?"
-Visitor submitted question
A: Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interestingquestion. I have little doubt that one of these issues will be your problem, but the trick is going to be finding out which one:

POOR CONSTRUCTION/ POOR MATERIALS

It would seem that after 40 years an owner would know if his home was poorly constructed or not, but the fact is, what was considered well-built 40 years ago is not always the case today. Materials and methods used back them could very well have exceeded their maximum effective lifespan. In short, they’re just plain worn out. Tars once used to seal a wall didn’t have fibers in them 40 years ago, nor did many of them contain sealants like latex or rubber. Bricks were probably made better back then but there has since been a number of superior mortars developed that are almost certainly not the kind used in the construction of your home. So you see, wear and tear alone can be a factor in leaking basement walls.

SHIFTING SOIL/EROSION

If there has been some significant shifting of soils, like a series of heavy rains or snow melts over the years or even a minor earthquake, sharp stones could very well have damaged the wall by grating against it. On the other hand, the opposite is also true and voids can develop near the wall trapping water that has no place to go except inside. See below:

SINK HOLE, DEFILE OR DIVOT

For example, if a low spot or void has developed near the outside wall it might be trapping or attracting water and forcing it into or down upon the exterior wall. It doesn’t take long under this kind of stress that the water eventually moves inside with you. A major cause of such a void under the ground is a dead tree. If the root system collapses or the tree and root ball is physically removed, a void is often created allowing water to collect beneath the surface. Gravity and time will eventually work against the wall and the water sometimes seeps through.

CHANGE IN WATER TABLE

If you have had flooding in your area in the past 10 years or so the water table might have risen or the underground water flow and volume changed directions. If your exterior basement walls are in the path you’ll need to consider redirecting the flow through evasive drainage measures or perhaps even digging up the basement walls and re-treating the exterior. In addition, if your nearby creek is not draining properly for some reason (flood, beavers, downed trees, etc) the water table around your house could have changed substantially in a very short period of time.

CHANGE IN RUNOFF DRAINAGE, DIRECTION, VOLUME.

For example: If your sidewalk or driveway was built pitched “toward” the house, or has cracked or shifted so that it is now tilted (even slightly) toward the house it will drain water right down your basement wall. Eventually, if left unattended, it WILL find a way in. After 40 years, if would almost definitely have found a way in under these circumstances.

CRACKED OR BUCKLED WALLS

This really speaks for itself. If the wall is damaged, even on the outside where you can’t see, water is likely entering the masonry and finding a way in.

BASEMENT FLOOR IS CRACKED, SEPARATED FROM THE WALL, OR NO LONGER LEVEL

If you have developed an opening at the floor between the wall and the foundation, it won’t cause a leak in the wall. What does cause wall leakage is when this damage goes undetected and the wall deteriorates from the ground up, and water makes it’s way through the wall at a point higher up than where the original separation occurred.

HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE

This is simply water building up against the wall until the force or movement of the water (or sheer gravity) enables it to penetrate the wall at the weakest point. At 8.33 lbs per gallon, fifty gallons of water weighs about 416 lbs. So you can see how much pressure would be applied to the wall over a long period of time from just the weight of the water alone – and that’s not even factoring in force or other extraneous pressure that might occur.

DEBRIS IN THE DRAIN TILES OR MISALIGNED DRAIN TILES (SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “WEEPING TILES”)

These conditions can trap water, cause it to erode the wall and eventually seep through a weak area. Note: Once this water builds up it will find the places of least resistance and come through the wall there, so keep in mind that the place where the water is coming into the basement might actually be some distance from where the water is building up or flowing toward the exterior wall.

DRAIN PIPES CLOGGED, DAMAGED OR INAPPROPRIATE.

For example: If you have no extension on your sump discharge pipe excess water can pour out at ground level and then run right back down the outside basement wall.

GUTTERS, TROUGHS, AND EAVES

Assuming you have downspouts on the gutter work of your home, take a look at the end of the downspouts where they meet the ground. Do you have extensions on them? If not, and the water is probably not being carried far enough away from the house before it is released. Instead it is probably draining directly out of the end of the downspout where it goes straight down along the side of the exterior basement wall. Same goes for your gutter troughs along the edge of your roof and the eaves of your roof. If the water is not successfully draining into the downspout it could be running down the side of the house and straight into the ground onto the exterior basement wall.

If you have no extension on the downspout of your house gutters, gutter leading water off your roof and away from the house, it will simply drain straight down into the ground and down the basement wall.

IMPROPER BACKFILL

While the backfill job might have worked for many years, it may have settled, washed away or even be causing the pressure on the wall itself. Same with the gravel – it may be washed away, compressed and not allowing water to drain or causing pressure against the wall itself.

WALL OR FOUNDATION COATING

The treatment applied to the exterior wall and foundation might have outlived it’s maximum effectiveness or it might have been substandard or incorrectly applied to begin with.

CONDENSATION

Let’s not rule out the possibility that your basement is really leaking. It may be coming from another source such as condensation. Condensation within the basement can come from a number of sources including washing machines, improperly vented dryers, a basement shower, sweating cold water pipes and leaking pipes. Condensation can also form when warm basement air comes in contact with cold outside walls and basement floor. The walls become wet and take on the appearance of leakage. Sometimes it can be fairly profound.

MILDEW, MOLD, BACTERIA

These can erode grout and eat away at mortar. If your area has a high prevalence of mold spores than this might be something to take into consideratioTREES, ROOTS, ROCKS

Trees can sometimes spread roots over an enormous area. If roots are working into the walls or pressing against them, crack can occur and allow water to enter. Roots can also move large rocks, slabs and even boulders toward your basement walls causing the same type of damage. It might not be apparent from the inside but what’s happening on the outside of the wall can be serious. Don’t discount that old oak tree 20 yards from your house as being the culprit either. Again, some trees have roots that are absolutely huge.

I hope you find that my research exceeds your expectations. If you have any questions about my research please post a clarification request prior to rating the answer. Otherwise I welcome your rating and your final comments and I look forward to working with you again in the near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.

Posted by admin on Monday, January 2, 2006

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Q: Need help with Foundation maintenance?
A: A study of failed foundations (ADSC 2000) estimates the cost of foundation repair at over 12.5 billion dollars annually. The most common cause of foundation failure/problems is poor maintenance, which can normally be prevented. Considering that most remedial action will not completely keep a foundation from moving, it becomes even more important that the homeowner complies with the required maintenance procedures to reduce movement and allow the house to function as originally intended. This is just as important after repairs have been complete because the house may move in an area that has not been repaired or is still dependent upon bearing soil stability for continued performance. Since many foundation repair companies require homeowner maintenance as a condition of their warranty agreement, compliance is also good business and one of the best insurance policies available.

The following categories of maintenance are the most common problem areas and should be addressed in a scheduled sequence to reduce movement before and after foundation repairs to minimize distress in the foundation and the structure it supports.

Slope Maintenance
The foundation should have been installed sufficiently above site grades to allow proper post-construction surface drainage. It is the homeowner's responsibility, however, to maintain these positive drainage conditions. The primary function of good drainage is to prevent ponding near, or intrusion of water, under the structure, which would increase seasonal moisture fluctuations, or migration of water.

Much of the damage caused by expansive soils is due to lack of timely maintenance by the homeowner and is in some part preventable.

Under ideal conditions the slab will maintain its original position. Unfortunately soil is not consistent and the moisture content is seldom at an optimum ievel in the support soil when the slab is constructed. Many slabs are poured on drier than normal soil that later becomes wet from capillary rise of water from below, causing the thin floors to lift. After repeated drying and rewetting of the support soil, small amounts of soil are squeezed from the interface of the concrete base and the soil base to lower the wall into the ground, much like a car tire miring into a rut. If the soil has a high amount of clay content, it wilf also deform under pressure, much like children's putty during the swelling stage.

Earth Perimeters
The excavated area outside the foundation is usually filled with loose soil fi!l when a house is constructed. This is usually called the "backfill area". Maintaining a positive slope in the backfill area next to the house is the most critical aspect of slope maintenance. During the first few months or years, this material often settles. In many cases settlement is severe enough to reverse or flatten the slope next to the foundation. Reverse or negative drainage will cause ponding of water during precipitation or heavy irrigation. Ponding allows an excessive amount of water to percolate into the ground" next to the foundation, which may accelerate this settlement. To avoid this, the homeowner should periodically compact the backfill area by tamping with a heavy piece of wood such as a 4 "x 4 ". Hand compaction works best after a rain or snow melt has dampened the ground or with the careful addition of small amounts of water by the homeowner such as with a drip line. Additional soil should be added as necessary to maintain a positive slope away from the foundation. This soif should always be clay, not sand, so moisture can be better maintained and water will run off instead of soaking in spotty high concentrations.

The minimum slope requirement should be 5% for the first 5' away from the foundation (3" of drop) and then at a minimum discharge slope of 1% (approximately 1/8" drop for every foot of distance) from that point on. The type of vegetation may dictate a greater slope to avoid over saturation of the critical perimeter soil. Some type of ground cover is recommended, however, to reduce erosion and lower the frequency of slope maintenance work.

Flat Work
One of the beneficial functions of Hat work {sidewalks and patios that are not part of the foundation) adjacent to foundations is the prevention of evapotranspiration and fluctuation of water intrusion to the bearing soils. Therefore, every homeowner should conduct a yearly inspection of concrete flat work and do any maintenance necessary to improve drainage and minimize infiltration of water from rain, snow melt and lawn watering This is especially important during the first five years for a newly built house because this is usually the time of most severe adjustment between the new construction and environment The process of inspection and maintenance should continue over the years, but, cracking, settling and other problems should become less common.

Because perimeter fill material may not have been compacted in 4" lifts at optimum moisture (as is normally recommended by engineers), settlement is greater along the house A negative slope may occur that will allow ponding This concentration of water will allow permeation through cracks in the concrete and over- saturation of perimeter bearing soils This deeper saturation will often times cause damage to the foundation and/or basement floors Because evaporation is limited by the flat work, the ponded water may dramatically increase moisture levels at the crucial perimeter beams and/or piers.

When this tilting of flat work occurs, the concrete should be replaced or mudjacked to reverse the negative slope If a minimum of 1% slope (again about 1/8" for every foot of distance) is maintained, however, it will only be necessary to seal all cracks and
ports of entry to prevent vertical water migration This will include the perimeter joint around the foundation grade beam A urethane or other flexible sealant should be used that will allow some movement but prevent water passing below the slab

Flower Beds
Changing the site by the addition of flowerbeds, patios, fences, swimming pools, etc , may cause water ponding, which will exacerbate the wet cycles. Therefore, proper drainage considerations during such additions must be made

Nurserymen will specify peat, bark, sandy loam and other planting substances, which, in conjunction with bed borders, will increase moisture levels above that desirable Therefore, flowerbeds must have some provisions for elimination of excess water. This may be in the form of weep holes, drain barriers or other removal systems. The problems created by flowerbeds are not a popular subject since homeowners will resist good engineering to beautify their house. There should be a balance between vegetation utilized for aesthetic demands and harming the bearing soils.

One of the primary problems in flowerbed design is installation of a concrete or steel barrier that will resist normal water run-off. If these barriers are desired, they should have openings cut to ailow water passage and avoid over-saturation.

The use of highly permeable materials such as peat, bark, etc., should only be used if topography allows installation of subsurface drainage to collect excess wafer and discharge it away from the foundation. This will also require installation of an impermeable barrier at the bottom of the flowerbed to help collect water for removal by the drain medium.

Shrubs planted in the flowerbed should be chosen for their compatibility to the shallow barrier of the bed. Short and very contained root growth will be a plus to proper health and maintenance of the bed vegetation.

In the flowerbed, the slope should be a minimum of 5% (5/8" for every foot of distance), unless ample subsurface drainage can be created to discharge water away from the foundation.

Gutters And Downspouts
Gutters should be inspected twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. All debris should be cleaned out and metal gutters checked for rust. If there are trees near the roof, gutters may have to be cleaned out more often.

Check the slope of the gutters, since poor slope causes water to accumulate in low spots, building up debris and accelerating rusting. Slope of the gutters should be a minimum of 1" of fall for each eight feet of length. The gutter can be installed so that it drains in one direction. If, however, any single length of gutter is more than 35' long it should be installed to drain both ways from the center or have downspouts at a spacing of not more than 20' on center.

The easiest way to check the slope of a gutter is to use a garden hose or pour a bucket of water into ii and see if the water flows out smoothly or ponds in low spots. The gutter should then be adjusted to remove any high or low spots that prevent the smooth flow of water.

Downspouts should be checked for clogging at the same time the gutters are checked. Clogging often occurs at the elbow where downspout and gutter meet. The elbow can be removed for cleaning, but it may be necessary to use a plumber's snake to clean the down- spout. If there is a problem with leaves, a leaf strainer or leaf guard is a good buy as long as neither prevents proper function of the gutter.

Spiash blocks should be long enough and sloped enough to carryall water well away from the foundation and beyond the backfill area. Water should be discharged no closer than 5' from the foundation. Usually it is necessary to add a downspout extension in order to get the water far away from the foundation. It is possible to purchase extensions that have flexible elbows that can be bent up to make it easier to mow the lawn. The extensions should be left down at all times. Special roll-up type down- spout sheets (plastic tubes) that attach to the end of the downspout are also available. These plastic tubes extend when filled with water and roll up when empty. If erosion is a possibility, splash blocks can be placed at the discharge point to prevent associated problems.

Because the materials deiineated above are readily accessible at most hardware and do-it- yourself stores in a variety of makes and colors, they can add to the aesthetic qualities of a house.

Sub-Surface Drains
Subsurface drains will many times be utilized when topography, vegetation or construction does not make it possible to drain at the surface. These may consist of drain inlet basins, trench drains, funnel drains, etc. If correctly installed, subsurface drains should require little maintenance. The most important thing to re­member is to avoid covering or obstructing the drain where it discharges and to maintain adequate slope. It may occasionally be necessary to clean out roots, nests or other debris from inlet basins or discharging ends of the pipe.

Inlet basins should be inspected every 6 months to ensure these do not become clogged with leaves, grass, soil or other debris, which would negate func­tion. The bottom of these inlets normally has a sedi­mentation basin that requires removal of dirt as fill adds up over time. It may also be necessary to back wash (main lines when discharge becomes a notice­able problem. If problems persist, running of a (me­chanical snake may be necessary to remove the obstruction.

Settlement problems in a yard will many times crush piping and reduce the discharge flow, which will cause sedimentation to occur and subsequent closure of the drain lines. Damage may also result from the driving of heavy trucks across the surface. In any case, repair will normally require excavation and replacement of the drain line. This may be an even greater possibility if clay tile is used in lieu of heavy duty PVC.

Location of clean-outs and discharge lines will be a plus to locate problems and tnitiate corrective action. Therefore, a drawing of lines and locations should be made during installation for future reference.

Capillary/French Drains
Capillary drains are installed to intercept and collect moving subsurface water and discharge it away from the structure. Unless the slope allows, this will many times require installation of a deep sump and pump to collect water and discharge it through a shallow drain line.

The pumps utilized in this operation may malfunction and unless an alarm system is installed there will be no warning. Therefore, it is advisable that the home-owner inspect the sump at least every 6 months to make sure trash, debris or pump failure has not occurred. If a solid sump well cover is used, there will be less potential for debris, but the horneowner will not be able to view the sump and determine if it is func­tioning. Therefore, the addition of an alarm is recom­mended to provide a warning to the horneowner prior to the onset of other problems, such as upheaval or water intrusion into the structure.

Discharge lines should have cfean-outs to allow removal of obstructions by use of a snake or by jetting. Because effectiveness of these systems is largely unknown until problems occur, it is wise to also backwash the system from the discharge end and/or at the sump at least every 2 years. The effectiveness of this backwash will normally be seen by a discharge of debris, which may have clogged the system.

 

Capillary drains are many times utilized as moisture barriers along the perimeter of a foundation to shed water and stabilize sub slab moisture. This will include extension of an impermeable barrier drain material under flower pipe beds and up along French Drain grade beams. Therefore, it is important for the home-owner to avoid any planting action that may puncture the barrier material. If this damage occurs, it will be necessary to patch the hole with materials that main­tain the integrity of the barrier.

Irrigation/Sprinkler Systems
Watering of lawns and house perimeters must be regulated to maintain consistent moisture content under the foundation. Therefore, allowances for shrubs, plants and trees must be regulated for each segment of the yard. It is advisable that watering along foundation perimeters should be on a mainte­nance basis in corroboration with seasonal needs. This should be in conjunction with plant and tree require­ments so that added water will not be siphoned from under the foundation.

Seasonal monitoring will necessitate different watering for the sides that receive added and hotter sunlight (south and west sides), which increases evaporation. This monitoring will also take into consid­eration time of day for watering. Most authorities recommend early morning watering so that less evaporation will occur.

It must be understood that over watering can be just as damaging to the foundation as under watering. If an electronic sprinkler system is installed, each of the factors listed above must be incorporated into the sequence and timing. Visual observations must also be included in the process to make adjustments beyond the capacity of normal programming.

A variety of watering heads and systems are on the market that can be customized to a homeowner's needs. There are bubble sprays, side sprays or angle sprays that discharge from riser heads or pop-ups and can be mixed to provide complete coverage. Where evaporation is a concern, however, a drip system will provide necessary watering very efficiently. A close inspection of the ground surface is necessary to ensure appropriate volumes and consistency. The goal is to keep the soil near and under the foundation a consistent moisture (neither wet and/or muddy nor dry and cracked).

An inspection of the sprinkler system should be performed at least twice a year to determine if zones are functioning properly and if heads are improperly discharging/broken or if leaks have occurred that will provide uneven watering. This will, in the case of electronic watering systems, require running through the system to determine if times, duration and fre­quency have been maintained.

Vegetation And Trees
Studies from England and the United States have proven conclusively that trees can cause damage to foundation stability and in more severe cases complete foundation failure. Engineering studies map the effect of moisture withdrawal, which can severely damage a slab- on-grade foundation and cause movement in a pier and beam foundaiion system." Even when the perimeter of slab has been underpinned, the interior slab will often deform as moisture migrates to the perimeter as a result of root capillary action.

Planting of shrubs, flowers and trees should be with the understanding of mature growth. Since additional moisture withdrawal will occur, distance and watering patterns must be planned. If distance away from the foundation cannot be maintained, root barriers may be necessary to reduce and/or eliminate penetration under the slab and subsequent moisture withdrawal during times of drought. The depth of this barrier may vary according to tree or plant root expectations. These barriers, if properly constructed, can also serve as a moisture barrier, which will add stability to moisture contents under the foundation. Several agriculture agencies have material available which provides projected root and moisture requirements for different types of vegetation.

Trees should not be planted closer to the foundation than approximately the mature height of the tree. Some studies also indicate the tree limbs should not invade the footprint of the house at maturity. There is a variance with different types of trees that will necessitate their planting even further away. If the proper distance cannot be maintained, it may be necessary to install a root barrier to reduce the risk of future problems. Pruning of tree branches so that they do not extend over the structure can also be an effective way to limit root growth under the foundation.

The plants should fit the environment. In areas where droughts frequently occur, it may be necessary to substitute drought resistant plants and trees to incur less action on the foundation and provide easier maintenance of the foliage.

Plumbing Leaks
Leaks in water and sewer lines will change the soil equilibrium under a foundation and can lead to differential movement/damage. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize signs that indicate problems exist.

If sewer lines are frequently stopped-up and roots are observed when clean-out rooters are used, a sewer test should be conducted to determine the presence and location of the break. Repair of a break should be made immediately to avoid damage and future problems.

If abnormally high water bills indicate a sudden surge in water usage, wet spots occur that can- not be explained or the owner should hear the sound of water running in a bathroom (note: The bathroom nearest the water supply line will provide the best indication of a water leak), a test of the pressure Sines should be conducted. If leaks are found, they should be repaired immediately.

If hot spots occur in the floor or unexplained water should pool, it is a good idea to call a plumber. Catching leaks early will many times avoid extensive foundation damage that may be very difficult to repair.

Plumbing Leak Repairs
Leaks will often occur under a slab-on-grade foundation that require breakout of a segment of the slab to gain entry and repair the plumbing. Care should be taken to perform proper compaction of the soil when repairs have been completed. This will require adequate moisture in the utilized soil and compaction of layers no thicker than 3" to restore soil bearing to as it existed prior to excavation The vapor barrier should be repaired with piastic and a bonding material to provide a vertical moisture stop from vertical capillary action or water migration that may enter the living space.
Even in the case of post tensioned slabs, a minimum of #3 reinforcing steel bars, at a spacing of 12" on center, should be utilized by drilling into the existing slab horizontally and epoxying the reinforcing steel bars to provide integrity. A bonding agent should be utilized at the edges to provide the necessary bonded joint between existing and newly placedconcrete. It is normally advisable to install a moisture shield at the surface to prevent migration of water through the concrete This same procedure should be employed if it was necessary to break through a grade beam to repair a plumbing line except that non-shrink grout or epoxy concrete should be used to remold the beam.

Reinforcing Steel Exposure
Many times concrete will blister or peel along the grade beam and reveal post tensioning cable ends or conventional reinforcing steel bars If left unprotected, corrosion will slowly reduce the originally intended strength of these reinforcing steel members Therefore, it may be necessary to properly clean the steel and remove all bond and then install an epoxy grout or non-shrink grout to build back the beam and protect reinforcement In more severe situations, it may be necessary to drill and epoxy reinforcement dowels/ stirrups to build out the grade beam and provide adequate coverage of the reinforcing steel.

Brick, Rock Or Cladding Cracks
Movement weathering and freeze damage will often times create cracking in the brick veneer or mortar that will allow passage of moisture into the vulnerable wall material Because this will often lead to deterioration of wood members, it is advisable to seal these cracks with a urethane. mortar or caulk that will prohibit weathering problems Where obvious structural problems are visible such a lateral displacement of veneer, lateral shields Of other retainers will be required to prevent additional movement damage.

Vent Covers
The original purpose of vent covers is to provide adequate circulation of air under the floor of a pier and beam foundation so that moisture will not build up and cause deterioration of wood members Although coverage of these vents will save money in reducing heating bills, it will often provide the unwanted environment for wood rot Therefore, it is not advised that these covers be utilized unless other means of air circulation are available such as a sub floor vent fan(s).

Recent revelations of houses where the growth of bacteria was so invasive and so deadly that the houses could not be salvaged, have led to anew examination of detection and prevention of such growth.

Animal Damage
Dogs, skunks, armadillos, snakes etc will many times burrow under a slab or pier and beam foundation This will undermine the bearing soil and may provide entry for water that was not possible prior to the excavation Therefore, it is necessary to back fill the segment and/or place an impenetrable shield to prevent further entry It is also important to restore positive drainage to prevent foundation moisture instability.

Termite Damage
Wood should not touch the ground at any place near a foundation This will only invite termites and provide avenues for their passage to more appetizing segments of the structure Therefore, the homeowner should take care to avoid laying, placing or constructing wood that engages the ground This includes removal of any wood pieces that may exist in the crawl space of a pier and beam foundation When you add moisture to wood on the ground, you provide a perfect environment for growth of termites and other wood eating insects

Interior Doors
It is a known fact that most slab-on-grade foundations will move differentially, which can cause misalignment of interior doors Therefore, some flexibility in the fit of the doors will reduce the inconvenience of this movement

Interior doors should have a minimum 1/8" to 3/16" clearance between the top and side with the frame This will allow some seasonal movement prior to sticking It is also a good idea to provide adequate clearance off the carpet or floor to further buffer movement and allow for different heights of carpet and/or flooring.

Tom Witherspoon
President of SiW Foundation Contractors. Richardson TX
M S M A S. University of Texas
at Dallas. Doctoral Engineering Studies
at Southern Methodist University
"Residential Foundation Performance", * book published 2000


Posted by admin on Monday, January 2, 2006

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Q: Can I put in a window unit to dehumidify my basement?
"Dehumidifiers do well in basements, since we're mainly interested in dryness, and usually not coolness. Wouldn't we be better off, though, putting a window air conditioner in a basement window, and getting the additional benefit of cooling? Would the window unit do as good a job of dehumidifying?"
A: The window air conditioner will cool the basement and shut off when it is cool enough to satisfy the thermostat. The RH may well be in the 90% range at that time. So you will have a nice cool and damp basement. The dehumidifier has a sensor inside which responds to humidity. It will run until the air becomes dry to the setpoint of the dehumidifier - if you want the benefits of both then you will probably need both. Remember, cold air can not contain the same amount of water that the same volume of hot air can so if you cool the basement down to 50 degrees the relative humidity could be 100% but the total quantity of moisture in the air will be less than it was when the air was 80 degrees. So you might consider running an air conditioner and a small heater to warm the air back to 70 degrees or so to decrease the relative humidity. But . . . . . . . that is exactly what a dehumidifier does!! The heat from the motor and the heat of condensation are kept in the room to rewarm the air which was cooled by passing over the evaporator coils in the unit.

Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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Q: What is that white chalky substance on the walls?
A: Efflorescence. Concrete is made of three materials, stone, lime cement, and stone. What you are seeing is a chemical breakdown of the bonding agent that holds your wall together. The water that is inside of your foundation wall will, over time, leech the lime cement out of the wall, leaving nothing to hold it together.

Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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Q: How do I get rid of the basement smell?
A:
  1. Ventilate. Too much moisture is the cause of musty basements, and a couple of open windows at opposite ends of the area may provide adequate cross-ventilation to air out the smell.
  2. Get rid of any mildewy carpet padding, and deep-clean your carpets. Set furniture outside in the sun to air out.
  3. Mop or wash down concrete floors and walls with a solution of bleach and water (about 3/4 cup chlorine bleach to 1 gal. of water. Let the solution sit on the concrete surfaces for 5 minutes, then rinse and dry. 
  4. Check the drainage around your house. Porous basement walls may transmit moisture from the ground outside during rainy spells, and the trapped moisture increases the humidity in your basement. Make sure the ground slopes away from foundation walls, and that downspouts extend 6 feet or more from the house.
  5. Waterproof the basement. Look for cracks in the walls and floor and seal them with hydraulic cement. Apply concrete waterproofing sealer where the floor meets the wall.
  6. Buy and install a dehumidifier as a last resort to remove excess moisture.


Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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Q: How'd an animal get into my window well?
"I discovered an animal in my window well. Why did this happen?"
A:

It's not that the animal is trying to make a home for itself in the well; it has fallen in by accident and can't get out. Typically animals that end up falling into window wells are most often skunks and sometimes muskrats and baby rabbits. A skunk will often go along the foundation of a home searching for grubs and insects where they are most abundant and because skunks have poor eyesight they do not notice the window well until too late. As for muskrats and rabbits, it usually occurs as a result of feeling threatened by something and in trying to escape end up falling into the well.



Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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Q: How do I get an animal out of my window well?
A:

For skunks and muskrats, the easiest way to resolve such a dilemma if the window well is shallow enough (no more than 2 feet deep) is to get a piece of wood (at least 1 foot in width) and tack a piece of scrap carpeting or an old towel to it to create traction. Place the wood in the well on as gradual an angle as possible to serve as a ramp. As these animals are really not comfortable climbing, it is important to make it as easy as possible for them. Leave the ramp in overnight as many animals are nocturnal. If it is a hot day, cover part of the window well with cardboard to provide shade. If the window well is too deep the ramp won't work. The alternative is to get a deep bucket that will fit into the well, then place some food (wet cat food or leftover cooked chicken works well for skunks) towards the back of the bucket and lay it on its side. When the animal goes into the bucket for the food, gently tip the bucket upright and slowly lift it out of the well, then move away from the well and gently tip the bucket on its side again and back away, giving the animal a chance to escape when it feels confident that the coast is clear. When attempting either of these rescue operations, it's important to remember that skunks have poor eyesight and only spray as a last resort when feeling threatened. Therefore to put it more at ease simply move slowly and talk softly when approaching the window well, that way the skunk is aware of your presence and does not feel threatened. Skunks also give a warning by stamping their front paws, meaning back off or else! In the case of a baby rabbit, simply use a towel to gently scoop it up and lift it out to safety.



Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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Q: What can I do to prevent animals from falling into my window well?
A:

To avoid this situation repeating itself, it's worthwhile to purchase a window well covering or to use 1"x1" welded wire mesh as a cover.



Posted by admin on Monday, March 30, 2006
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