Basement heartbreak month

Installing a second sump pump in your basement is never a bad idea. Postmedia Network

If your home made it through the fall months without incurring any flooding damage due to power failures, general mishaps, or acts of nature, then congratulations, your home’s water dispersal system is seemingly in good working order.

However, fall weather to a home is kind of like Japan showing up to face Team Canada in pre-tournament Olympic hockey. In other words, the ol’ homestead has yet to be truly challenged. A few days of rain, perhaps a little snow, combined with maybe a heavy downpour of leaves, is usually all the fight you’re going to get out of October and November, and, relatively nothing compared to what’s coming this March.

Besides having long been the heartbreak month for Maple Leaf fans, as they helplessly watch their team play themselves out of playoff contention, March has also earned the reputation as the month for basement heartbreak. This due to after months of sweat, blood, tears, and expense put into a basement renovation, the odds favour an exhausted homeowner waking up some morning in the month of March, to a just installed floating composite floor, actually floating, in about four inches of water.

What happened? Well, the various weak spots in your home’s drainage system were working well enough to handle a little rain, but when it came to diverting the water from those banks of melting snow and ice, the systems obviously fell well short of the task.

So, if you’re planning on turning your basement into extra living space this winter, let’s look at how to avoid heartbreak this spring.

First, if your home’s basement floor is below the water table, thereby requiring you to have a sump pit, and accompanying sump pump, in order to collect the water surrounding the foundation, and pump it clear of the home, get a second pump. When one little bobble floating up and down a thin steel shaft is all that protects your $20,000 basement renovation from disaster, it’s time to re-evaluate your risk management.

Sump pumps can jamb, get clogged, or just stop working. So, invest in a second pump, two bobbles are definitely better than one. Plus, have this second pump tie into your water line. This way, you’re not depending on electrical power, or a backup battery (that requires a constant trickle charge) to power the pump, it’ll all be done by the existing water pressure in the line.

Call your local plumber in order to have this job done properly.

Next, let’s check the foundation, and make sure those systems designed to properly divert rain and snow melt away from your home are intact. Checking the foundation means essentially looking for cracks. Whatever the size of a crack, be it hairline, or severe, they’re all potentially problematic, allowing water into the home, while further deteriorating your foundation. Cracks can be temporarily covered, or filled, with a pre-mixed, just add water, hydraulic cement powder. The next step, if weather, and your skill set will permit, would be to cover these repairs with parging, a thin coat, smooth finishing compound that you see on most finished foundations.

Next, if you’ve got window wells, cover them. Window wells collect water and deposit it against the foundation wall, basically the two things you absolutely want to avoid. Easy to install, clear plastic “flip up” covers can be ordered to size, are durable, and lightweight, allowing any basement dwellers to easily escape in an emergency.

Next, clean your eavestroughing, and, make sure those downpipes are depositing rain water at least five feet from the home, not into your weeping tile. Back in the olden days, it was thought efficient to run the downpipe straight down into the weeping system. We now realize this strategy unnecessarily overburdens the drain pipe with water and various debris.

Finally, grade the landscape so that rain and snow melt flow away from the home, with a slope of at least one inch per foot for the first ten feet.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

What to do about slow drains

Why does my kitchen sink drain so slowly?

It’s a question asked by many a frustrated homeowner after post supper cleanup has once again created a sink full of murky water.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this dilemma is quite simple. Basically, you’ve tossed, or have been tossing, something down the pipe other than water.

Solution? First, this may require a change in lifestyle. In other words, stop crushing food waste and vegetable cuttings through the sink drain basket like it was some type of manual garburator. Perhaps it’s time to get into the habit of composting.

Plus, make sure all oil, grease, and food matter get wiped clean off those pots and pans, then get tossed into the garbage. When the only thing going down the kitchen drain is soap and water, the chance of future clogs drops to zero. Concerning this present kitchen drain clog, you’ll either need to retrieve whatever waste matter you’ve allowed to go down the drain, or you’re going to have to flush it through.

Please avoid the toxic waste strategy. Otherwise known as the lazy man’s answer to a clogged drain, a quick fix chemical solution like ‘Plumber butt in a drum’ is a horrible alternative. One, you’re handling something where even inhaling the fumes is hazardous, let alone spilling a little on your hands.

And, for those septic system people, it’s probably the worst thing you could put into the tank, which eventually reaches the soil. Plus, if the chemical solution doesn’t de-clog the drain, and you continue the attempt to flush water through, the toxic liquid will back up into your sink, or dishwasher, and all appliances you have hooked up to the main kitchen drain.

When that happens the fumes will bowl you over quicker than news of the PK Subban trade. Then you’ll have to deal with what is essentially a toxic spill, where your sink and appliances will have to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Drains that move slowly, or continue to clog, could be due to a plumbing issue. Drain pipes need to be vented to the open air in order for waste water to flow properly. So, if the drain in question is lacking a proper air vent, or this air vent is blocked, or the cheater vent, a small mechanism used to vent a pipe when connecting to the main stack isn’t convenient, is jammed shut, then this will have to be remedied.

Or, the slope of the drain pipe could be too steep, or too level. Drain pipes need to be sloped to 1/4 inch per foot, and be of the correct size. A larger than necessary diameter of pipe will not be helpful in creating good flow if the water being fed into it is minimal.

Venting, as well as pipe slope and diameter, are issues that should be checked and corrected by a certified plumber. If the sink contains a few inches of standing water, try plunging. Similar to a toilet plunger, except smaller, and, try not to get the two mixed up, a sink plunger should be able to shake things up to the point where there’s at least a little movement.

Once the sink is dry, set the tap to hot, fill the sink back up to a few inches deep, then repeat the plunging. If plunging doesn’t work, you’ll need to insert a sink auger, a.k.a. snake, into the drain, pushing and twisting it until the entire length is buried in the piping.

Still not de-clogged? Get a bigger snake. Or, insert a “Y” with cover into the drain pipe in a section that may be close to the clogged area, normally where several pipes converge. Be sure to have a garbage pail, shop-vac, and towels at the ready, because who knows how much water is backed up. Then, try a longer drain auger. If all fails, then call in the professionals.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Go-bag is a worthwhile investment

A flooded basement can be a nightmare. (File photo)
A flooded basement can be a nightmare. (File photo)

“I just don’t get why our basement flooded.” Or, “our house is built up so high, so where’s the water coming from?” And, “we’ve never had this type of flooding before.”

These are some famous last words expressed by many an exasperated homeowner, standing in their basement, watching the house cat float by on a yoga mat, salvaged from an exercise room that is now four inches deep in water.

The how’s and why’s of water infiltration will be argued, strategized and brainstormed until we all reside on the planet Mars, or until a Canadian-based team makes it to the Stanley Cup finals, whichever comes first. What we know for sure is that flooding can happen in both new and older homes and is exponentially more likely to occur once you’ve finished the basement, or have used the term “never” to describe your basement flooding experiences.

So, assuming a basement flood, or water in the basement – since whatever pipe break upstairs will have water eventually showing up in the basement anyway – is part of every homeowner’s inevitable future, we all need to prepare a Go-Bag. Actually, considering the amount of supplies needed to efficiently rid a basement of water, realistically, you may need a Go-Closet.

Now you may question: “Why go through the time and expense of creating a Go-Bag, when a simple call to the insurance agent is usually all it takes?”

Two key points here.

One, the quicker you can get rid of the water, the better. Depending on a number of circumstances, including time of day and the availability or proximity of a restoration crew, it may be hours before the fellows start hauling equipment  down your basement stairs. If you can get a jump on the crisis and get things somewhat under control before the clean- up crew arrives, the less chance there will be for total loss.

Don’t get me wrong, the first call out in a flood situation has got to be to the restoration people. You’ll require their manpower, expertise, water-removal pumps, humidity control units and dryer fan machines in order to get the basement atmosphere back to normal. However, every bit helps, and if that means being able to keep the flood flow to a minimum, or even dropping the water level a bit, then that will pay dividends.

Which, brings us to Go-Bag reason number two. By taking early action, you may not want, or need, to file an insurance claim. Insurance claims regarding flood losses are a relatively easy process to complete the first time, not so easy the second, with there likely being no third dance.

So, we do what we can to avoid the first claim. Plus, there’s likely a deductible in your policy that will cost you hundreds, or thousands of dollars, depending on which program you’ve chosen.

As a result, if you can keep the damage to an affordable amount, it might be best to pay now, when the damage is  relatively minimal and file for compensation later, should your home suffer a full water disaster.

If the Go-Bag expense and strategy sounds a bit like having one insurance policy in order to guard against another, well, it kind of is. However, having a plan B is never a bad idea.

What goes in the Go-Bag?

Rubber boots, of course, rubber gloves, sump pump and the all-important and never too long sump-pump hose. Sump-pump hoses come in 25-foot sections and cannot be spliced together without the proper connecting flange and tie-clips, which don’t come in the bag with the hose. So, be sure to pre-attach the hoses to a length that’ll easily reach and go beyond, the nearest window.

Next, besides a few buckets, old towels and water scoops, you’ll need the indispensable shop-vac. Capable of drawing up water as well as dirt and practically indestructible under general use, no home should be without one of these guys.

Good building, and good luck avoiding any floods.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard