From the Forum – recs to fix basement flooding during rain and leaky porch roof?

Photo by PoPville flickr user djdc in petworth

recs to fix basement flooding during rain and leaky porch roof?:

“Today’s heavy rains brought to light two unrelated issues in my Mt. Pleasant rowhouse. I’d love suggestions for people/companies to contact to fix either or both problems!

1. The basement is underground and has a door that opens to an outdoor stairwell that leads you to ground level. At the bottom of the outdoor stairwell is a drain. On days with heavy rain, the drain can’t keep up with the amount of water pooling at the bottom of the stairwell and it flows under the basement door and into the basement.

We’ve had the drain snaked and have sand bags against the door, but water still gets through during a prolonged heavy rain.

I’m not sure whether I need (1) a plumber to do something to the drain, or (2) a contractor to replace or otherwise better seal the bottom of the door, or (3) both, or (4) some other solution entirely. Thoughts/suggestions very appreciated!

2. I noticed today that the roof of our front porch is leaking in several places. I don’t see any obvious holes in the tar on the top of the roof, but they must be there! Suggestions for someone who can repair the porch roof, which has wood slats on the underside that need to be preserved?

Thank you!”

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26 Comment

  • For the drain issue, you need to have your gutter connected to the drain itself underground so the water flows directly into it, and doesn’t overwhelm the drain from above ground (or, more likely, you don’t have your basement flood because there are a few leaves blocking the drain which also happens.) An alternative is to get a gutter downspout extender and have the water flow into your yard/the street and not directly into the drain. Hope that helps!

  • We had the basement leak problem for years and, after thousands of $$ spent on roof, gutters and drains, didn’t find resolution until we had the back yard dug up to put down pavers. The landscapers found two additional drains back there that had been covered, probably for decades. Haven’t had a drop of water under the basement door since then.

  • Was that photo taken down in Foggy Bottom – the current location of the Kennedy Center? I believe that statue in the background is the Titanic Memorial, which was moved to it current location in SW to make room for the Kennedy Center. In any case, cool picture.

  • We used Harmony Remodeling for a number of projects, including a partial rebuild of our leaky porch roof. Turns out that previous owners tried to “fix” the leaky roof by resealing it over and over again, which was the less expensive route for them, but ended up creating more damage over time. We’ve been happy with all of Harmony’s work. Call Glen: (202) 365-4147. He may also have some thoughts on your drain too. Maybe the stairwell could be covered by a little awning or something so that less rain is getting down to the drain?

    • I was considering getting an estimate form him to do my porch. Is he expensive? Thanks.

      • He’s not the cheapest around, but he does good work and will guarantee what he does. Best to email him harmonyremodeling (at)

    • Second the recommendation for Harmony Remodeling – they’ve done two major projects for me and a few minor ones. They do good work, and I trust them.

  • 1. Your drain is most likely blocked and should be unclogged. Either try snaking it again yourself or have a professional do it. Use a garden house to test the train once you or a professional has attempted to clear the blockage. Sealing the bottom of the door will only be a temporary fix and standing water during heavy rain will eventually find its way in unless properly drained.

    2. For your porch roof, re-tar the surface. I’m assuming the roof is covered with asphalt roll roofing, which does deteriorate over time. At any home improvement store, you can buy gallon cans (made by Henry’s) for the specific purpose of resealing roll roofing. Coat the whole roof and be generous when coating.

    • Agreed, the drain should be able to keep up easily. There must be a partial blockage somewhere that is restricting flow. I’d recommend snaking this with a heavy-duty drain auger that is at least a half inch in diameter and at least 50 feet long (i.e., not something any sane person would use for a sink or a toilet). It will be kind of cumbersome, but I have found blockages probably 40+ feet downstream of mine before – wouldn’t find that with a 25-footer. Either that or have a pro do it. And yes, by all means, test it with a hose to make darn sure it really isn’t blocked.

  • Holy smokes- is that SW with the Titanic Memorial in the background?

  • OK, two things:

    1) Focus on the drain, that is your problem. You had somebody out to snake it, good. How far did they go? Did they actually pull out any debris or hit clogs? If the line eventually connects to the public sewer you need to go at least that far to ensure the problem isn’t on your property. Have somebody come out and video the line all the way to the sewer connection. For good measure they can water jet the line to remove any debris. or build up. If that has all been done and the drain still can’t keep up with rainfall then you have a bigger problem and will need to address it with water diversion away from that basin. Most drain lines should have ample capacity to remove water if they are clean and clear.

    2) Your porch roof is leaking because it gets standing water during rainfall. You can probably see this by looking at the roof when it rains. Anything not getting diverted to the gutter or downspout will eventually create depressions where more water collects, and so on. That water will eventually make it ways through the old membrane. It if has been patched repeatedly they are just covering up the problem which is that the roof isn’t sloped properly (and the patching material just wears out faster because it doesn’t have a good surface under it). Do you have actual water damage underneath coming through the wood slats? if so, unfortunately that wood is probably rotting out where you can’t see and needs to be replaced. If you are just getting leaks around the perimeter framing somebody may be able to save the ceiling, but it will probably be actually more expensive than to just tear it out and replace. You should be able to get a full DC rowhome porch roof replaced competently for around $12-14K. You will get estimates probably double that, but shop around and get references.

  • I had a similar problem to OP’s issue with so much water and debris running down the steps and clogging the drain, that the water seeped into the basement door. We had to snake the drain all the way to the street (90 ft), and that seems to have cleared out the drain. Also make sure any leaves get picked up, during yesterdays rainstorm, I had to manually clean the leaves that were blocking the drain.

    I am also considering putting some kind of barrier so no water gets down the steps at all during storms.
    There seem to be some companies that sell some types of inflatable barriers, but these are just stop gap measures. You should see what is blocking the drain and go from there.

    • Agreed, you need to snake all the way to the city sewer connection (which probably connects from your house’s main line to the city sewer line under the sidewalk or street). I just dealt with this, it was gross. All the dirty water used in my house (toilets, shower, sink, laundry, etc) was coming up in our stairwell drain. The guys snaked it but didn’t go all the way to the street. They had to come back again the next day with a 90 foot snake and found a huge clog of debris in our line, right before it connected with the city sewer.
      Definitely bring out the heavy duty auger snake or a snake that attaches to a powerful drill.

    • This is the best short term/non-invasive measure– it’s often the debris flow that blocks up a drain and causes flooding, not the volume of water. Years ago a plumber told me to just put a perimeter of bricks around my stairwell to stop the debris flow. I did and haven’t had a problem with flooding since.

  • I’ll reiterate what I said in today’s RRRR:
    “Suggestions for someone who can repair the porch roof, which has wood slats on the underside that need to be preserved?”
    I would recommend NOT using Keith Roofing. I had a porch roof — the kind with tar paper (I thinK) and gravel — that needed to be replaced. They replaced it with the kind of roof that has sheets of that heavy-duty black stuff (itself not really a problem), and in the process 1) drove really long nails through the roof that pierced the wood slats on the ceiling underneath, and 2) dumped a lot of the gravel in my drainpipe.

  • If snaking didn’t do the trick, try getting cam in there to see what’s obstructing flow. The interior of cast iron corrodes overtime and this maybe your issue to which you would have to replace the line ($$$$) an alternative would be to add a sump in that stairwell and divert run off from the area as much as possible.

    As far as the roof goes, take a look at the flashing where the porch roof meets the building siding. Poor flashing is usually the culprit for a leaky roof. If your roof is sagging, these low points collecting water become problematic.

  • Anyone have recommendations for a plumber for drain snaking?

  • Problem with the drain may be were connects to the public drain. DC Water will snake it on the road side for free

  • After experiencing it myself, I eventually learned from a couple of plumbers and some Mt. Pleasant neighbors that the multiple drains behind a house convey into a single large subterranean concrete box below the large drain in the driveway. This box then drains by a line into the sewer. The typical problem results when accumulated debris in the concrete box begins to obstruct the line to the sewer. Neighbors say that they have had to snake that line and then — every few years — dig out the debris which gets quite compacted inside the box.

  • I’m current having my porch mostly rebuilt due to rot and mortar erosion from a leak. Cheapest of five estimates was $10k. Hoping that you’ve nipped your problem in the bud.

  • PDleftMtP

    I used to have the same problem with leaves blocking the drains in the front and back stairwells, but I found a very simple fix. I laid one of these recycled tire door mats over each drain: They worked to stop the debris from clogging the drain while still letting the water flow through. We haven’t had a flood since.

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