Jobs Homes Autos For Sale

Will sump pump help leaky basement?
By Henri DeMarne | Columnist
print story
email story
Published: 7/31/2010 11:05 PM

Send To:





Q. My house is about 70 years old. I know I have a root problem with my main line out to the sewer, which I have rootered each year. Despite this, during a heavy rain or during spring thaw, I often have water seep through the basement floor, mostly by the main drainpipe, where it goes through the basement floor and in the ash pit at the base of the chimney. Last year, I was out of my house for six months and there was a large rainfall. All my neighbors had water leak into their basement (not from the sewer line), but my basement stayed dry. Usually, my house is the first to get a wet basement in heavy rain. What do you suggest I do to fix the problem? Will a sump pump help?

A. Since you fared so well during the major storm that caused problems to your neighbors, you seem to have a very small one yourself. The first thing you should do is to check the grade around your foundation and correct any spot that allows water to stand against or run toward the foundation. You should also check any stoop, patio, walk or driveway to make sure that water hitting them will not run toward the house. If there is enough space around the sewer line, try to fill it with Waterplug. A sump pump would only help if your basement's concrete floor was poured over a stone bed that acts as a storage medium for water building up under it.

Q. My 50-year-plus Welbilt wall oven and broiler are in good condition, except for the door on the oven from which the springs are gone. I have to keep the door closed with a piece of board. Is there any way I can get this fixed?

A. How impractical! Try an appliance-repair service; they may be able to replace the springs. You'll find them in your Yellow Pages. I have not been able to find anything about Welbilt wall ovens.

Q. We recently had hardwood floors put in our main floor, including the hallway near the front entry door and the hallway near the door to the garage. Because the hardwood floor is a bit higher than the carpet it replaced, there is no longer clearance under the door for a throw rug for people to wipe their feet when entering. We would like to replace the doors, which are standard size: 791/2 inches high. I talked to one contractor who suggested putting in a standard door and making it fit by cutting an inch off the header frame at the top of the door. This didn't make a lot of sense to me. Is it possible to get a door (probably a custom door) made to fit our opening, with enough clearance at the bottom to allow for a throw rug?

A. Your contractor has the best solution, and he or she should certainly know how to take care of the outside step down that will now be 1 inch greater. He or she may find that there is a 2-inch-by-4-inch plate below the header, or, if the header was installed below the top wall plate, there could be simple framing below it.

Q. I have a water issue. Apparently my house sits on property where the water table is high. The house is new construction and has a French drain and TUFF-N-DRI membrane around the foundation. We have had water in the basement on two occasions when the builder-grade sump pump (one-third horsepower) stopped, due to power outages. I have since installed a 3/4-horsepower sump pump and have not had an issue with a wet basement since. My sump pump goes on several times a minute and pumps water into the backyard, creating a very wet area. Will installing a drywell toward the end of the property alleviate this issue?

A. A power outage will affect the more powerful pump as much as the builder-type one unless it has a battery backup. If your sump pump comes on that often, it is unlikely that you can have a normal drywell big enough to take care of the water. It's likely to fill up in a short time, and water will then back up unless you have very gravelly soil or a large trench dug up and filled with egg-size stones or ameration chambers. Even sandy soil is unlikely to absorb water at a faster rate than it is coming into the well. I am assuming that your lot is flat or you would have thought of piping the sump pump discharge to the low area.

Q. I have a big oil leak from my car engine. I wipe it off, but there is a large remaining stain. How can I remove it?

A. Assuming that your driveway is either concrete or asphalt, sprinkle TSP crystals (or TSPPF if TSP is banned in your state) on the oil stain then sprinkle hot water on the crystals. Scrub with a stiff brush and let it stand for an hour or so. Rinse with your garden hose.

Q. I live in New Jersey and occasionally get water in my basement. Usually it seeps in from the exterior walls, where the wall and floor meet. This time, however, we are getting seepage from under the cement basement steps that are on the interior wall. The house is a split-level, and you enter the basement by going through the ground-floor room, through a door in the attached garage and through an interior door in the garage. The steps are in the center of the wall. I can't image where the water is coming from nor can I fathom what to do about it. Do you have any ideas about this?

A. It sounds as if you have a seasonally rising water table under the house. You haven't said if the minor leakage occurs in the spring when the snow melts or after heavy rains. Assuming that your basement's concrete slab was poured over a 4- to 6-inch stone bed, that stone bed acts as a storage for water when the level rises. This condition can often, and very successfully, be taken care of by installing a sump pump to eliminate the hydrostatic pressure that builds up and causes the leakage.

If you decide to have a sump pump installed, insist on a submersible pump instead of a pedestal one. Although some "experts" claim that pedestal pumps last many times longer than submersible ones, I have found that the impellers on pedestal pumps freeze up from the chemical and other deposits in standing water, not with submersible models.

Q. I read your response to a reader regarding water in their basement. You recommended a "fiberglass gutter at the joint of the concrete floor and the foundation walls -" Are you able to provide the names of reputable contractors that provide this service? I went online in an attempt to locate providers in the Massachusetts area and had no luck.

A. Waterproofing contractors install these gutters. To make sure that you get a reputable contractor, check with the consumer-protection division of the attorney general's office of your state for any complaints against them. Also ask for references and check them out.

Q. My wife and I purchased our first home last summer and have noticed significant water leaking into our basement, where our brick steps meet the front of our house. They extend 4 to 5 feet up from the ground to the front door. Looking at the side of the house where the front steps are, there is a box frame roughly 2-by-12 feet that extends from the foundation walls to the first-floor joists. The box frame was full of fiberglass insulation, and when I removed this I was shocked to see rotted particle board. I ripped that down and am now able to see the back of my front steps. It looks like the builder of the house did not use a vapor barrier between the front steps and the house, only a piece of particle board that is no longer functional.

When it rains, from the basement looking through the box frame, you can see the bricks of the front steps becoming saturated with water. After having the front door replaced along with the flashing and Tyvek, the water is still getting in. The only thing I can think of is that it is soaking in through the bricks. Do you have any recommendations on products that I could use to seal the front steps to stop the water from soaking into the bricks and ultimately into my basement? I was looking at a product called Defy Water Repellent.

The original builder had nothing but particle board between the half-wall and the front steps, and you can see in some spots pieces still remain. I sealed the bricks and caulked everywhere around the front door, but still no success stopping the water. My next step is to take out 2 to 3 feet of the top layer of bricks so that I can have outside access to the half-wall in the basement to both repair and install plywood and Tyvek before redoing the front steps. Do you have any recommendations on materials I can use when rebuilding the front steps?

A. The builder made a serious mistake building brick steps against a wood wall, and my guess is that your leakage and rot problems are caused by a brick-stoop surface slanting toward the house. Bricks would not absorb enough moisture to cause the extensive damage you have. Check it out with a level. If I am right, you will need to slant the top outward when you rebuild the steps. Once you have torn down the steps to the level of the house foundation, you can apply pressure-treated plywood over the studs and cover it with Grace Ice & Water Shield or equivalent. Insulate from inside and apply a 6-mil plastic vapor retarder to the inside face of the studs.

Follow-up from a Vermont reader: I saw your recent article on a counter that needed cleaning. I have not experienced newspaper ink, but I have had permanent markers and berry stains on my plastic-laminate countertop. I use a product called Dawn Power Dissolver. It sprays on as a gel, and you leave it on for a few seconds then wipe off without much effort. I use it to clean many things including the stove's burned-on overflows. I found mine at Home Depot, but some grocery stores now carry it.

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via e-mail at

© 2010, United Feature Syndicate Inc.