Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Phew! Flooding crisis narrowly avoided!

Wow, Mother Nature! You are sure putting us through our paces.

It was good you rained my friend Arden and I out of our scheduled golf game!

Instead, we went for dinner.  And it rained steady from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. After dinner, we decided to drop by the house, as Arden hadn't seen it since he helped me spread some sand around the basement, before we poured concrete!

And with a crack of thunder, it began to hail. And pour rain. In buckets.

And the rain began to fill the window well near the basement suite door. The same window that leaked in the last rain storm.

Torrential rain. We were soaked.
Thank god for Arden who immediately helped me dyke the water from further pooling near the window, then helped me bail out the window well so it was below the waterproofing membrane. I can't imagine what would have happened if we didn't drop by the house to check it out.

The lack of flooding is a tribute to Ken Albrecht, our cribber, who did an amazing job with the foundation! I am so glad I asked for a waterstop in the footing key. And perhaps it is the luck of our site- as the water, when it does disappear behind the ground surface, manages to go somewhere.

A few inches away from diaster!
I was concerned after bailing water out of the window well, why the newly installed sump pump wasn't working- and the sump pit was slowly rising dangerously close to the top. Thanks to Jordan, our plumber, who answered my urgent text message as to how to get it started. I'm not sure why it didn't kick on automatically. But it did start up when I plugged in only 1 of the plugs from the sump pump. Hmmmm.... Hopefully he'll drop by tomorrow to figure it out.

I am also wondering why the sump pit didn't fill more often- during other rains and snow melts. And why it didn't fill fast in today's down pour. Is the weeping tile clogged or plugged with sand?  Is the water finding other courses below the surface?

And there she blows! Sump pump spitting
out the water!

Yay! A sump pit with a very low water level!
I am wondering why it hasn't filled more often.

Again, thank you so much, Arden- for helping me narrowly avoid disaster in the basement. I can't imagine the havoc all that water would have created had it come through the window.  And we'll have to re-schedule golf! I owe you big.


  1. We had similar issues at one of our projects last year. I couldn't for the life of me understand why the sump had two plug-ins. But I plugged in the one that wasn't, and it started up and the wells dried up - I really should figure out how it works!

  2. If your sump pump is like mine (Flotec brand, very common), the pump and the switch each have their own wire. The plug on the switch (most likely a round floater) has slots in the back that another plug can go into. This funny looking switch plug goes into the power outlet and the pump plug goes into the back of the switch plug. Normally this back plug is not energized, but when the water level rises enough to tip the floater switch, the back plug gets energized, turning on the pump. The switch turns off when the level drops enough to tip the floater into the off position.

    Whether your sump pump gets to word hard or not depends on local soil conditions, lot drainage and whether your neighbours have sump pumps. It is very difficult to predict. However, a window well filling up despite it being connected to the weeping tile, is a concern. That water should drain easily to the weeping tile and be take out by the sump pump.

  3. Hello Shafraaz,
    I would echo Philip's concern about the window well's poor drainage. A properly designed and constructed window well should drain to the footing weepers.

    25 years ago, heavy spring rains combined with rapidly increasing temperatures caused all the snow to melt. I came home to find three feet of water in the basement. Over the following year, I made many changes to protect and waterproof the basement of my hundred year old house. One step was to install two sump pumps. Each was on a separate plug and circuit breaker. One pump was submersible. All of the defensive measures were expensive, but the flooding caused almost $50,000 in damage and lost personal belongings. Recent Insurance agency reports indicate that basement flooding is a major factor in insurance claims. In the past, basements were used for mechanical services and storage. Now, people are finishing their basements and this is becoming living space. Therefore, there is more risk and increased repair costs.

    With your sump pump, periodically check the float to verify that it is operating freely. Ensure that the bottom of the pump is not clogged. I elevated the pump slightly to keep the base above any silt. I also installed a check valve to prevent the expelled water from flowing back into the pit. At the top of the outflow pipe, I put in a P trap gooseneck so that when the pump shut off, any water would flow out of the pipe to the outdoors by gravity.

    You have had several leakage issues due to rain. The house is designed without any roof overhangs. Therefore the walls and windows are not shielded from the rain. The drip line is at the wall. Could some of the water problems be the result of the design?

  4. I just enlarged the two pictures of the window well. The muddy sides of the depression slope to the window. The water is very murky. Siltation may have clogged the drainage stone and the weeping tiles. This may explain the lack of drainage to the sump pit. You should have someone inspect the system. You should also install your window wells soon to prevent additional infiltration by mud.

    It would be wise to lay some patio stones under the pump's outflow pipe. Slope the ground away from the house. Otherwise, you may experience erosion and backflow towards the wall.

  5. Thanks Philip, Chris & Jim for the comments!

    I am working with our plumber to figure out why the sump pump didn't trigger on with the high water level in the sump pit. I will add a block at the base of the pit to keep the pump above silt- great idea- and that of a check valve too.

  6. Jim- on your comment on the lack of overhangs... Yes, I regret now not having an overhang on the north side of the house. The damn architect in me wanted the roof to bleed into the wall, and appear as one element.

    I should have known better, as the north wall bears the brunt of the prevailing wind/weather.

  7. Shafraaz,
    I hope you don't mind a suggestion.
    Until you solve the sub-surface drainage issues and finish the window well, you need to divert surface water and rain from the house. Dig a shallow (4-6 inches deep) trench about 1.5 feet or more from the window well pit. Dig this depression in an arc following the pit's edge. Use the excavated soil to build a small berm between the top of the window well hole and this trench. Dig another trench to drain the first trench to the street.
    Using 2x4s, OSB and tarps or 6 mil Poly, build a shelter (tent) over the window well. The edge of the tent should end beyond the berm. This combination will keep rainfall from draining back into the pit and causing more damage.
    Have a good weekend. Jim

  8. Hello Shafraaz,

    Over the week-end I was thinking about your water leak issues and the lack of a North side overhang. I have an idea, but it would require a slight change to the envelope and would alter the modern appearance of the house.
    On the South side, you have solar panels running the length of the top of the wall. If you were to install an angled overhang at the top of the North wall, the drip line would be forced away from the house. The overhang would shelter the wall from the weather.
    This would change the look of the house, but the North overhang (hat brim) would reflect the South solar panels, so there would be some symmetry and continuity in the feature. -Jim

  9. A couple of months ago, on the website, Peter Yost wrote a blog about the Underground Roof. In some areas of the U.S., homes have shallow overhangs. As you have experienced, this leads to basement water problems. Peter suggested laying roofing membrane (Ice and Water) below the surface to prevent water from seeping into the ground. (Rubber roof membrane would also work.)
    The URL for the blog is as follows: