Mar 132010

According to AccuWeather, we’ve received at least an inch of rain and probably closer to two in the past 24 hours.  Combine that with about 3′ of snow that just recently finished melting into the ground, and the soil has gotten pretty saturated around here.  It’s pretty obvious when we can look out the window and see ponds in the back yard and streams in the swales between our house and the neighbors’.  We’ve had several heavy rain storms over our first year of owning this house, but this one was different – this was the first one that actually came in.

Photo of the curious basement window.

This basement window is sealed tighter than an aquarium.

Let me step back for a moment.  When we had our home inspection, we did see some signs that the basement got wet at some point.  There was also a broken water heater that was leaking all over the floor, so it was difficult to know exactly where the water came from.  However, there was also this one window in the basement.  Someone had gone to great lengths to keep it shut and sealed tight: it was caulked, covered with a board, caulked more, grouted, and duct taped.  There was also a small garden hose coming out of a hole in the sill and running over to the laundry tub.  We figured they must have wanted to drain the window well, but we found it hard to believe it could be that bad.

Ok, back to today.  I was taking some tools back down to the basement to put them away, and I thought I should look around to see if any water was getting in.  I’ve done this during each big rain storm to try and get an idea of how wet/dry the basement really is.  There were a few damp spots along the base of the basement wall, particularly on the uphill side of the house (i.e. the water flows towards those walls).  But the real eye opener was that crazy window. Continue reading »

Mar 012010
Icicles hanging off my roof.

Water: you don't want this stuff inside your walls in any form.

As anyone in the AEC industry should be able to tell you, water is the enemy of building structures.  It’s really pretty obvious if you think about it: we slope our roofs so that rain and melting snow run off, we finish the roof with weather resistant materials that don’t mind getting wet, in many areas of the country we use gutters to collect the water and divert it away from the foundations, we clad the vertical surfaces of our buildings with a wide variety of materials that keep the rain from getting inside parts of the building where it can cause rust and decay, we slope the ground around our buildings away so that water does not collect and sit against the walls, and anything that goes into the ground, especially basement walls and floors, have to be built with waterproofing materials and details so that water in the ground does not compromise these elements. (We could, of course, talk about all the fun things we can do with water when we talk about sustainable design, but even then, we pay careful attention to the details so that the water remains where we want it and not in the structure). Once we have done everything necessary to keep outdoor water out, we also take steeps to keep indoor water from creating problems.  For example, water supply pipes have shut-off valves in multiple locations so that leaks can be easily stopped and repaired; and drain pipes are carefully sloped and vented to prevent clogs that can lead to floods.

If your home is anything like mine, you may find many of your maintenance tasks relate to this fundamental issue of keeping water in its place.   Continue reading »