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When it rains, it pours

June 26th, 2014 at 12:05 am

Back in the beginning of May, during a particularly heavy storm, water seeped into the basement of our raised ranch, and a small patch of carpet got wet.

I'm not home much at all (I work out of state so the only person at home during the week is the SO), and we don't spend much time downstairs in the basement, but as far as we're aware, this was the first time water had gotten into the house.

All right, it's confession time. I'm a few different things, but handy is not one of them. I grew up in city apartments with my nose buried in books, and I'm lucky if I can identify -- much less wield -- a screwdriver. The SO is also very mechanically/manually challenged. He is utterly flummoxed by wonton wrappers and never learned how to ride a bike.

Suffice it to say -- neither of us had any clue what to do. How big of a deal was this leak? Is it a sign of progressively bigger problems to come? Or was it a one-time fluke due to extraordinarily heavy rainfall? I wasn't there to see it happen, so I don't even have a sold conception of how much water there was, although the SO claimed he blotted through an entire roll of paper towels. (But have you also seen boys with paper towels? Do they ever use less than an entire roll on a spill?)

So we try to investigate what might be wrong. There might be a small crack in the foundation where the leak was, but maybe it's been there all along and is just superficial. The gutters weren't quite sloped right and were dripping a bit. The ground near the house has settled a bit, so some water is running/pooling against the side of the house.

Any or all of these could be plausible explanations for the water, but given our lack of expertise in these matters and the number of 'horror stories' one finds on the internet, I feel like I have the housing equivalent of medical students' disease.

First, the SO called some "dry basement" people. It turns out that they all want to tear up the floor of the basement, drill holes in the foundation, let all the water in to relieve the hydraulic pressure, and pump it out with a sump pump and generator -- all to the price tag of $3000 to $10,000. Um, WTF? No thanks, it was a bit of wet carpet, not a full on flood.

Then he called some gutter people, thinking that it's fairly low-hanging fruit, since the gutters shouldn't be dripping anyway, even if the drip is unlikely to be the sole cause of the water. Their offers ranged from a basic repair/tune-up to fancy patented proprietary systems.

Shortly after the initial leak, the SO dug a trench that re-routed most of the runoff around the house. It was kind of hideous looking, but it was definitely catching the water, and there hasn't been another leak since. He wasn't sure if the amateur trench would hold, so he called professional landscapers. Those proposals ranged from "Why are you wasting my time with something so minor? Call me back when you have a real problem to fix" to multi-thousand dollar projects.

If I'm being totally honest, I'm not sure we need most of these services, for a problem that may not even recur. However, the SO is kind of insecure about his lack of home maintenance expertise, as well as a fair bit more paranoid than me (his mind always goes to the worst-case scenario, which is great motivation for saving money, but fairly harrowing for everything else in life), so he feels better about being a bit more proactive rather than waiting and seeing and risking additional water damage.

He hired a gutter guy to replace the leaking gutters and add an extra downspout ($300). He also hired a landscaper to replace his hand-dug drainage ditch with a rock-lined dry creek bed ($900). He's also contracted with another landscaper to reslope the yard ($500) and reseed the lawn (that got torn up by the creek bed installation).

In addition to all of the above, he also wants to take down a dead tree that he's been eyeing for the past few years ($1000), and exterminate some carpenter bees ($200). Now he's also looking at window guys, because one of the windows seems to be rotting out a bit, and he's also considering hiring an asphalt guy to reseal the driveway ($850).

I am trying really hard to stay calm about this, because these are, by far, the largest expenses I've seen. On the other hand, I don't want the house to fall into disrepair, and I'm fine with hiring professionals to handle jobs we can't do on our own.

But we are feeling a little overwhelmed and in over our heads when it comes to dealing with the expense of home ownership and maintenance. I know we can technically afford everything, but is getting all this work done the right course of action? I guess you live and learn. This might be the one area where we will suck at conserving resources.

9 Responses to “When it rains, it pours”

  1. snafu Says:

    Do you live in a region that is prone to major rainstorms? Can SO talk to neighbours? Did they have any water in their basements? Is there a colleague who prides himself as a DIY? Is SO interested in learning about home maintenance or does he prefer 'hire it out.' The issue with 'professionals in home maintenance is the risk factor. The person you contract with is rarely the person who arrives to do the work. The person who does the work has no credentials he may/may not have the needed experience to fix the problem and not make it worse or misdiagnose. In some cases contractors take advantage of homeowners who they believe doesn't have a clue.

    Can SO start with easiest fixes and see if that solves the problem? Is there any evidence of mold in the area that got wet? How long until the area was 100% dry? Take pictures and post, likewise take photos to Home Depot or Lowes where staff can help identify problems and suggest solutions. Can SO stand on a ladder? Where is the foundation crack relative to wet carpet? Patch wet size 12" x 12" or? Where is window relative to wet? What is 'rotting' window frame? If he stabs it with a fork does the wood fall away/crumble? Screw driver? Often a cheap, easy to use wood filler product is the answer followed by paint dabbed on is a good idea because a serious wind storm could cause the tree to fall and do damage to your property or neighbours. Have at least 3 different companies bid on the job to cut, land in defined area, chop up and remove . SO can 'paint' the stump with product to deaden roots.

    I guess you've already contracted with gutter guy but understand what product he'll use, degree of slope and where new downspout directs water in a heavy storm.

  2. Marie @ Financial Debauchery Says:

    My aunt's house was prone to flood, even a mild rain would cause a flood, and water entered in her house. Just last year, she did a major renovation of her house, she made sure that the water will not enter anymore.

  3. Carol Says:

    Most of the things he did sound reasonable. Especially to get the land not sloping towards the house. Will the dead tree fall on the house? That is not outrageous for tree work here in Massachusetts, either. As far as the windows go, check with a carpenter. they can often fix reasonably, rather than replace the whole window. (i.e. replace a window sill only.)
    Good luck and welcome to home ownership!

  4. creditcardfree Says:

    Whoa! He is going all in isn't he? The trench was a great idea, and anything to keep water from pooling near the foundation, such as regrading to slope away from the house. We had to add some dirt near our foundation once, we did it by hand and it solved the problem. I prefer to start with the least expensive and move from there.

  5. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    My sympathy and empathy! Years ago, my teenage son put in a french drain where a downspout emptied onto a concrete pad near the house. This really sped up the water clearance. It was inexpensive material from the hardware store and free teenage labor.

  6. amberfocus Says:

    @snafu - We're in Connecticut, so aside from the occasional tail-end of a hurricane, the rainfall here usually isn't exorbitant. We shouldn't be prone to localized flooding because the house is fairly high up on the side of a wooded hill, so while runoff does flow down from the woods above, if the water is properly diverted around the house, it does not collect at all, and the neighbors do not have problems.

    That's why I'm fairly sure the people trying to sell us sump pumps are way overreaching. I was there when one guy came, and his sales pitch gave me the heebie-jeebies. I may be ignorant, but I'm not stupid, and I absolutely HATE being emotionally manipulated.

    The SO has been talking to neighbors and co-workers. He is willing to learn, but he has SERIOUS lack of self-confidence, and would have to go really slowly and with a LOT of hand-holding -- way more than most people can reasonably provide. That's why, at least for the bigger jobs, I think it's better to just pay someone and get it over with. Granted, hiring someone is fraught with its own kind of emotional trauma -- the SO got quite upset when one handyman advertised himself as a "husband for hire" -- so it's kind of a lose/lose proposition. :P

    We did get mold in the basement during the summer, but it hasn't happened since we got a dehumidifier. The area that got wet was not by a window (there is no window in that room) and it was dry by the next day. I do not have a picture of the water, unfortunately, but he claims it was slightly larger than the size of a cat?

    As for the crack in the foundation, this is what it looks like --


    While it is near where the water came in, I can't tell how bad it is and there's no way to formally evaluate how deep it goes without a major excavation.

    We do have a ladder to get up onto the roof to check and clean the gutters. We had the gutters done last week, and they are definitely nice and no longer leaking. We opted for regular open gutters, not the proprietary ones. The fancy gutters didn't get good reviews on consumer reports, and we don't like "black box" systems that you can't see into. Cleaning them a few times a year isn't that big of a deal.

    As for the rotting windowsill, it's part of a bay window. The wood is discolored and slightly soft, but it's not falling apart or anything. I don't have a picture right now but maybe I'll take one this weekend. The bigger concern is whether it's rotting because of a leak that's letting in moisture that could compromise other parts of the house, because one of the windowpanes of that window is also leaking, and the two problems might be related.

    We are definitely trying to go with the simple, easy, and low-cost fixes first, and I get that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I just have a really hard time trusting salespeople with a financial interest in convincing you that you "need" something.

    @Marie - We know people in the same town who live out by the water and they need sump pumps and generators in their basements. I never wanted to deal with that, so I picked a house up on a mountain. I figured if we ever truly flood, it better be after the rest of the town washed away first, heh.

    @Carol - The dead tree is not near any houses, but it is right next to the power line that supplies electricity to the house. We had a tree guy come out to evaluate it, and the guy said it wasn't an urgent removal, and may even stay up for many years to come, but it's definitely dead and should be taken down at some point. I tend to be a procrastinator, but I think the SO just wants to get it out of his hair.

    @creditcardfree - Yes, he's going all in! The gutters were done last week, the trench was done last weekend, the reslope was done today, and the exterminator is coming soon. The window guy/carpenter has to wait until the inside of the house gets cleaned, ha.

    @Joan - It's wonderful that your son is learning how to put in French drains! We thought about those, but decided that trench + gravity ought to be enough. My family focused solely on academics, so when I went out into the world, I had ZERO practical skills. I learned how to do some stuff, but house and car problems I can only solve by throwing money at them. I guess you pick and choose your battles. Smile

  7. Carol Says:

    We are like you, not very handy, but have been home owners for a long time so more experienced. We had a foundation crack fixed very reasonably (250.).They made less of the project than I would have guessed. The tree near the wires would make me crazy cause I hate power outages in my old age. Keep your antenna up for snake oil and you'll do fine. The soft wood on the windowsill is not good, I think.

  8. creditcardfree Says:

    Another thought for the future is to look at You Tube videos for simple repairs that you may be able to do yourself. I just did some successful computer maintenance after watching a very good video.

  9. snafu Says:

    I hope you treated any mould issue with an appropriate bleach/water ratio wipe down. Thanks for the photo...that's a teeny foundation settlement looking crack but you could check at HD for a tiny tube of Urethane filler. Easy less is better, baby step, home maintenance project very similar to filling small picture hook divots in walls using spackle.

    I suggest DH have a look at You Tube Window Frame repair and try a small amount of wood filler smoothed on damaged sill area. When dry, light sand with sandpaper 'sponge' like block. Dabb on 3 coats of paint and see what happens. You don't want to make a mountain over a molehill.

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