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Flooding tortures homeowners: Wet basements a part of spring

By DANIEL VALENTINE, The Capital Staff Writer

Last Saturday, Kristin Humphreys crouched in her basement with a Shop-Vac, trying to suck up 60 gallons of water before company arrived. Yesterday, she was at it again.

The frenzied chore has grown familiar to the Annapolis glass artist. Every time there's been a heavy rain since she bought her Smithville Street home three years ago, she's had to step in, around and through a continuous flow of water in her basement studio, sopping up the floors about four to five times a day.

Welcome to basement flooding - water torture for homeowners.

"It gets to be all you think about," Ms. Humphreys said. "If you go to the store and it starts raining, you just think: 'Oh my golly, what's happening down there?'"

Ms. Humphreys was not alone these last few days.

After 21/2 inches of rain last Wednesday, and another 2 inches since Sunday, residents across Anne Arundel County have been dealing with rising water swamping their homes.

At his West Street office yesterday, Doug Branzell tried to keep track of calls for his roving teams of plumbers. By 2 p.m., the list had grown to 60 homes and counting.

"We haven't gotten off the phone all day," he said as the phone rang again. "There goes another one."

Charles Levine, spokesman for Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing based in Laurel, said his office had more than 300 calls in the Baltimore region yesterday as homeowners started noticing the first leaks of the rainy season.

"People start seeing spots on their wall, and where the wall meets the floor. That's your weakest point," he said.

Most of the calls were minor enough - just small trickles of water that creep in slowly. But others are far more severe.

"We've got a couple in Odenton, and they've got 8 to 10 inches of water in there," Mr. Branzell said.

For most of the recent spate of basement flooding, Mr. Branzell said the culprit is usually a busted sump pump - a float-activated device under the concrete floor that starts removing water after it reaches a certain level under the foundation.

"Most of the time, there's either no sump pump in there, or it's failed," he said.

Mr. Branzell recommends testing the pumps every month.

"That way, you'll know it's there when you really need it," he said.

Residential sump pumps can run between $100 to $400.

But Ms. Humphreys' problems go beyond the sump pump, which she replaced last year.

The leaks at her house are all around the foundation. The bottom three feet of walls in her basement glisten with moisture and are stained from the several times the water has risen to the owner's thigh level.

Ms. Humphreys says her best option is to install french drains outside her basement. But that would cost at least $1,500 to $2,500.

"When something like this happens, it's devastating," she said. "It makes you realize that you don't have the money."

Mr. Levine said waterproofing a home can sometimes cost between $2,000 to even $10,000.

"It all depends on how severe it is," he said.

Ms. Humphreys said buyers need to pay extra attention to potential basement leaks when purchasing a home.

"They (the previous owners) did a really good job covering up the mold," she said. "Do your research. If the basement looks freshly painted, you need to ask whether there have been problems."

Ms. Humphreys says her home was built in the 1930s, which contributed to the flooding. But new homes are just as susceptible, Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing's Mr.Levine said.

"A lot of older homes actually do better. They have a good solid foundation," Mr. Levine said. "A lot of the time now, they build the homes so fast that they don't allow the proper curing for the concrete. We get calls from new homeowners all the time."

Mr. Levine said homeowners should clean their gutters and other home and yard drainage systems before the April rains begin.

If your basement starts to flood, Mr. Branzell said to first check the pump, then look outside for any pools of water that may be leaking in the house.

"If you can stop the flow from coming in, you could be OK," he said. "If not, call us."

 

Published March 29, 2005, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright 2005 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.



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