Dear PoP – rain/flooding question

Photo from last week’s flood in Bloomingdale

“Dear PoP,

Question for your readers: The deluge of rain lately has caused some minor flooding in our basement for the first time since we moved in a year ago. We don’t know where to start: gutters, the slope of the ground leading up to the house, the structure itself… Any tips? Any contractors or companies to recommend who could take a look?”

I learned the hard way that you always have to check and clean your gutters. Some gutter recommendations were made here.

What else should be done to prevent flooding in your basement?

43 Comment

  • I installed a sump pump by the back door drain. If the drain overflows, the sump pump kicks in and prevents the water level from rising any further and flooding the basement. Also I put in a threshold by the door where there was none before.

    • DL — how hard is this to to for a moderatley handy person with little plumbing experience. I’ve got a typical Petworth rowhouse with two drains at back that too quickly fill or clog and then the water rushes into the basement. Is there an easy retro-fit with a sump pump?

      • I should clarify. I had someone else install the sump pump. It does not look all that difficult, but you need to know what you are doing with plumbing, concrete, etc. Fortunately for me (well, somewhat), my basement flooded while I was having it remodeled, so the contractor working on it did the concrete demo, sump pump install, upgrade on the sewer pipe, and reset of the concrete. I don’t know if they take on small jobs like that – probably run you about $2500 – but you can call him, Gary, at 240-274-2722. Let him know Marc sent you. You’ll have to wait for a few dry days before they can do it anyway. For now, you can get 60 LB bags of sand from Home Depot for about $4 a pop. They worked for me in the interim.

      • I know next to nothing about sump pumps, but I’m thinking that anything involving electricity and water in such close proximity is probably a job better left to someone with experience.

  • Depends on what kind of home you have. If you have one of the attached rowhomes, it’s likely that the drainage pipe from your backyard to the street is inadequate by today’s standards. A good sump system and an additional channel drain may help, as noted above, but I’d start by just hiring a consultant to tell you where your particular problem is. The dry basement companies are interested in the sale and may give you more — or less — than you actually need.

  • Hi, I have a similar problem. I have been getting some water, not a huge amount, in my basement. I am meeting with some contractors (who appear to be very competent) about renovating my basement and mentioned the problem. They took a look around and said that the water was coming from between the stones in my back patio area and also via a cemented area on the patio that was not allowing for runoff (it sloped slightly towards the house and was collecting water). I will also be installing a sump pump when I do the basement renovation. Hope that helps if you have a similar situation.

  • Divert gutter flow, concrete walks around the house, a french drain, dig up and seal the outside foundation wall.

  • lordscarlet

    We have a similar problem. Well, water + basement related. Our basement exterior wall, the one touching another home, is seeping water when it rains real heavy. We have no plumbing in that wall. Our neighbor does not have plumbing in that wall. The drain on that end of the house is working properly. I’m not sure where water could be coming from.

    I think my real question is: who can be contacted to help hunt down the origin of the water?

  • bfinpetworth

    Another flooded basement owner here – I just had a new guttering system in the rear installed that sends rainwater directly out to the back alley. Buuutttt, it’s still flooding. Turns out, the abandoned house next door has nonfunctioning drains and runoff from his yard is overwhelming my drains.

    I have a plumber coming by tomorrow to try to clear out my drains, which are functioning but slow. I’m also going to explore the sump pump solution. I have a portable sump pump that I used this morning but it was insufficient to keep up with the WATERFALL pouring down the outside basement stairwell. Ugh.

    • Neighbors who cause flooding of your house are legion. My next door neighbor declined my offer to run a 15 foot 4 inch PVC line from where his downpipe currently empties–into my yard at the foundation of my house–out further into his yard away from both our houses. My basement did not flood for three years, and has now flooded twice in two weeks.

      • saf

        Our storm drain collapsed about a year after we moved in. Didn’t flood us, but flooded the sweet old lady next door. I felt SO bad about that. We got it fixed.

        Storm drain on the other side collapsed not long after. They weren’t home. We put a plastic pipe thing on it to route it onto the yard. It’s still working.

        That was 1991.

        I hope you get to run pipe too.

  • Grading and gutter work are worthwhile, but with rain like this, basements will often flood due to the uncontrollable level of ground water that comes up under the basement slab (hydrostatic pressure). The only way to manage this is by installing well-placed sump pumps below slab level to pump out the water before it rises to the level that it permeates the basement slab and walls. Get a couple of estimates and let the contractors know you are shopping for a fair price.

  • Can anyone recommend specific companies?

  • Make sure your back and front drains under the porch are not getting clogged with leaves other crap. We actually found that leaving the hose in a loop around the drain worked well for stopping leaves from clogging the drain but still letting the water get to the drain.

    Of course, we learned this the hard way when a typical DC deluge happened while we were out at dinner a soon after we bought the house. Came home a few hours later to 1-2 inches of water in the basement. Hasn’t happened again since we started using the hose to block the leaves. And sweeping up more frequently….

  • We had B-Dry come out to our rowhouse to do ours (our stupid contractor insisted we didn’t need a sump pump in DC). It was done in one day and I think it cost about $4K. Well worth the time and cost. They came out the other week to inspect and told us we didn’t need to do anything more for at least 12 months and then we’d have to change the back-up battery.

    • so what did b-dry actually do? just the sump pump, or something more? it’s really hard to tell from their website what their solutions are.

      • Over the years I’ve had a lot of basement issues and estimates – b-dry was always high, and never really comforted me with their knowledge (seemed slicky sales oriented). This was years ago however – but certainly do get LOTS of information and several estimates.

        Sump pumps – at a fair price – are a pretty good investment for any basement.

        Oh jesus – that captcha is 31 letters long and looks like Old Norse!

        • The captcha’s are getting much harder lately! I hope the freakin Library of Congress – or whoever – is almost done getting their books OCR’d by us.

      • I wasn’t home, but this is what I believe they did (my husband was the one at home while they worked). Our basement has a tiled floor. They lifted the tiles where they were going to be working (hallway and bedroom); dug down to lay the drainage pipe; installed the sump in the bedroom closet (only place we could hide it); dug out a new outside drain the width of the step (beneath the step) to outside; rerouted the main house’s drainpipe so the sump’s drainpipe would flow through the same one (imagine a Y – one arm from main house, other arm from basement both flowing through the tail of the Y); repaired the mess they had made; reconcreted; retiled the floor where they’d been working; cleaned up, etc. I’m not trying to push your to use B-Dry, I’m just telling you who we used and we had a good experience. But do get more than one estimate, for sure. If you’re going to get the sump pump done, you want it done properly so you don’t have to worry about water flooding you out again.

  • I had one of those drain that is too close to the house and is connected to the downspouts. I thought all was good. One day when it was raining really hard I decided to look and sure enough, water was gushing out of it. I disconnected it and connected to a drain pipe and away from the house until the said drain can be snaked out. So, test your drains by putting water with your garden house and if it overfills, then you found your problem.

  • Same problem here with our Petworth house. It is coming in from the back door and the side basement door. So we are going to build a wall eliminating the side door and trying to divert the water from the back to a french drain.

    Does anyone know a good place to pick up concrete block, fill dirt, sand and gravel?!?!?!?

    • Newspapers in garbage bags. Buckets full of cans from your pantry in garbage bags. Phone books. Raid the recycling bin and fill the old wine bottles with water – in a garbage bag. The recyling bin might work too. Garbage bags are your friend. good luck.

    • Check the free section on craigslist for fill dirt. There are usually plenty of people doing major landscaping or basement dig outs that are happy to let you haul away excess dirt so they don’t have to.

      For the rest of the stuff, if you need it in quantity look up local landscaping supply companies for delivery and good pricing. If you don’t need that much Home Depot is your friend, but will cost more per cubic ft.

      • Thanks for the help! I did find a place on Connecticut Ave that will load up a pickup truck. It is called TW Perrys. The Craigslist is a good idea.

  • We’ve lived in our Wardman rowhouse for 6.5 years and put a lot of time and energy into the basement flooding issue. My experience with the professional dry basement companies is that 1) they’re overwhelmed after rains like this and will take a while to get back to you; 2) after a very brief assessment, they’re going to go straight to the most expensive problem/solution. 3) three different companies can give you three different answers to the problem, all can be correct and still not solve your problem.

    If you don’t have $3K to drop right now, then commit to addressing the issue in stages that go in the direction of the water because the fix could be at the roofline, at ground level, in the basement or all three. We replaced shoddy gutters and then when we had pavers installed in the back of our house, the landscapers found two drains back there that had been covered and graded the pavement accordingly. That’s been the solution except for extreme rains during which the drain outside the back door can easily get overwhelmed by debris collecting on the cover. I think we need one of those domed cage drain covers and we’re done, but one of the old heads in the neighborhood suggests we get a concrete lip poured in front the door to stop water flow. He says his basement is never flooded.

    • Re debris blocking the drain, wee above re looping your hose around the drain. Not perfect, but we have not had a problem in 6+ years.

  • I changed the slope and built a drain with a long, rectangular inlet at the end. That solved the problem for me. The water now runs down to the end of the patio and into the new drain.

  • I had a problem with water coming up through one corner of my basement after really heavy rains. Discovered it a few years ago when one of the hurricanes blew through this area. Got a couple of estimates and ended up going with B-Dry. They dug a channel along the back wall of the basement and about 6 feet along the side walls and put a drain in it to carry water to a sump pump in one of the back corners. They also put a drain in the ground outside the door to my basement No problems ever since – knock on wood. I found B-Dry to be professional and easy to work with. They recommended a smaller scope of work than the first company I called – Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing – who wanted to put a channel along all four sides of the basement and install two sump pumps, even though the water was just coming in from the back corner. Also, B-Dry used a metal channel, as opposed to a PVC channel that can become clogged with dirt.
    From the research that I did, the drain and sump pump solution is pretty standard for the problem I had.
    You should have more than one company give an opinion on your specific problem and how to fix it. Make sure to check the Better Business Bureau and other resources for consumer complaints to see what kind of reputation the companies have. There are a lot of shady people operating in the waterproofing business.

    • Also, if you have a drain outside your house that leads to the sewage system, make sure to check it periodically to make sure it is not clogged with leaves or other debris. And I’m not talking about snaking the drain, I’m talking about sweeping away the stuff that collects on top of the drain cover. On a number of occasions I have removed standing water outside my basement door by just cleaning the drain cover.

    • Yes – sad to say – for the shady people.

      I did ultimately go with Mid-Atlantic – for extensive french drains and sump pumps. But later discovered that the real problem was actually a constant, small leaky pipe from an apartment above, saturating the ground beneath my basement apt.

      So the basic rule of leaky basements is – unfortunately – address all the obvious issues – and after that no one really knows sh**t.

  • So, I’ve also been dealing with flooding with these rains, but for a different reason. Either the city sewer system is overloaded or it is just too full to let the waste from the condos in my building out. Either way, it is causing sewage to backup and fill / overflow my bathtubs and toilets, causing flooding in my bathrooms. I had two plumbers come and was told there is nothing that could really be done. Since I’m in a small condo building, a sump pump isn’t possible. They could put a backflow preventer by the city mainline, but even if that gets activated, we will still flood with the apartments above us using water and flushing toilets. Anyone had any similar problems? I don’t know what else to do.

    • bfinpetworth

      Can you get a backflow preventer installed at the point where your sewage lines connect with the main building line?

  • You really can not waterproof a basement…it is a hole in the ground and, as a home builder once told me, the most important question is what to do when the water eventually gets in. we used to often have a water get in up through the floor, hydrostatic pressure. And no french drain or waterproof paint on walls or floors is gonna stop that. It is when the water table under your foundation gets too high and comes up through cracks in the floor – water is incredibly powerful stuff, especially under pressure. These floor are 100 years old and settled, cracked and slanted – and water will find a way to get through. Sure you can crack them up and dig them up and redo it but that will not stop the water from building up and coming up through cracks in the footers to the foundation. The best thing to do is install a sump pump, or two below the floor and relieve the building water pressure. You can run drainage pipes under the floor that run water to the sumps as well, this is what we did March 2009, and after all that rain in May 2009 and all the snow this year, no water in the basement. You could hear it running into the sump and then the pump being activated, but no water in the basement. The water is pumped out the front wall into the yard or (I have a diverter I fashioned) into the gutter downspout. So I highly recommend a sump pump. Also keep your outside drains clear and cleaned out, either with a Curb Plunger to clear out the U bend before it goes into the main sewer line or just man in it up and get it snaked out once every couple of years to make sure it flows well. You are responsible for all the sewer lines out of your house until it gets to the street, than it is WASA’s responsibility. And also, those downspout gutter lines in the front and back of your house and all the toilets and sinks in your place are all running into the same line, so keep that in mind when you consider what will happen if that gets bunged up – it will all flow out of your toilets and drains. We had the whole house snaked out after we had the sump installed because the house, the entire house, was clogged. It was not cheap, but when the guy got the snake (it was the big one, 4 inch pipe one) the whole house “flushed” – really! It was amazing – Kaaa WOOOSH!

    But more importantly, have a contingency plan for water in the basement and plan for it…meaning, no carpet down there – consider tile with area rugs. Keep stuff that can get damaged off of the floor. Store stuff in plastic storage bins. If you have electronics down there (TVs, Stereos, recording equipment, etc.) have a way to pack it all up quick and get it out of there.

  • One last thing – if your power goes out, your sump pump goes out too. Unless, you get a battery back up pump or have it work by the city water pressure (a really amazing thing but powerfully expensive). You can get a portable generator and plug the pump into that but of course you have got to be home to do that, right?
    As for now, I do not have a backup power supply and thankfully, or power rarely goes off (knock on wood), but it is something to think about.

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