FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions & Definitions

 

What are symptoms of poor drainage?

They may include water entry following rain, white powdery substance (efflorescence) on cinder blocks, silt at the cove (where the basement and floor meet), discolored floor molding or a strong, musty smell.

 

Are you licensed and insured?

Yes. Virginia State License: #2705 011343; Fairfax County License #960642769; Arlington County License #45032100.

 

Why is water getting into my basement?

The most common cause is that the grade of the soil around the house slopes toward the exterior basement wall. In most cases, settling of the backfill next to the foundation is the cause of the grade sloping toward the house (see "B"). This area is rarely tamped during final grading and loose compaction results in pockets where surface and subsurface water collects. If the undisturbed soil outside the backfilled area is not permeable and the perimeter exterior drain ("C") isn't working or is non-existent, water can leak into your basement. Adding to this problem are over-flowing gutters and poorly-directed downspouts.

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Why don't you recommend sump pumps?

Sump pumps can cause more harm than good. They only pump out water that already exists in the basement. The foundation and wall may weaken from water traveling through them to get to the pump. Water should be prevented from entering the foundation in the first place. Sump pumps also depend on electricity, but they are often needed during thunderstorms, when electric power is at risk.

 

When are sump pumps a good idea?

Only 1 home in 300 has problems related to natural ground water tables or underground springs, according to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. In these cases a sump pump should be considered. Most drainage problems can be fixed by redirecting surface water away from the home.

 

What's involved in a consultation?

Our goal is to correct the most likely cause of drainage problems in a cost-effective manner. Our experienced consultant will spend about an hour with you assessing the problem as if it were his own property. He will analyze the flow of surface water only. He does not investigate subsurface conditions. Our consultant will give you his honest opinion of the work that is necessary to correct the problem and a cost estimate.

 

Consultations are provided Monday through Thursday at 11:30am and 1:30pm for a fee of $75. This fee is then applied towards the price of any work you have us do.  You may read more about so called "free quotes" here.

To schedule a consultation, call us at 703-321-8565 or email us at drainage@newborg.com.

 

Why do you charge a fee for consultations?

The $75 fee involves about an hour of our consultants' time and includes a detailed solutions report. Note that the fee will be applied towards the price of any work you have us do.  See cautions regarding accepting "free quotes" here.

 

How much does regrading cost?

Most work that we do ranges from $2,000 to $8,000. In some cases, additional work may be required to achieve a dry basement; however, we do not believe that you should have to purchase those services until you know that they are really necessary. If additional work is required, we would be happy to give you a proposal to perform that work at an additional cost.

 

Are you a member of any associations or societies?

We're members of Soil and Water Conservation Society and Associate Members of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Can you recommend any other articles for more information?

An informational article is,  "Wet Basement and Crawl Space Problems, Causes and Remedies -- Tips for Homeowners, and Homebuyers" by Dr. Bruce A Tschantz, P.E., Professor Emeritus, University of Tennessee

Definitions

Aquifer:
An underground layer or lake of water. It is normally underlaid with a "hardpan" or relatively impermeable layer consisting of saturated porous material (gravel, sand, etc.) in which water travels. Aquifers generally conform to the contours of the surface. Well water comes from aquifers.

Capillary Attraction, Action, or Draw:
The physical phenomenon whereby liquid water can rise upward due to its adhesive qualities. A towel over the edge of a tub that gets wet to the top of the edge draws the water up via capillary attraction. This action occurs within very dense soil particles. Frost heaving occurs when moisture rises to the point of freezing. Gravel beds with large areas between materials help to prevent capillary attraction.

Condensation:
The changing of water vapor in the air to liquid on the surface. This usually occurs as the relative humidity of the air (the percentage of moisture it is actually holding as compared to what it can maximally hold at that temperature) reaches one hundred percent. This occurs when warm air meets a colder surface.  Condensation usually forms above grade in the winter and below grade in the summer. In the winter, the walls are cold outside and warmer inside, while in the summer the inside walls are colder and the outside walls are warmer. When warm air outside meets cool basement walls, moisture condenses, allowing mildew and mold to form.

Damp Proofing:
A procedure whereby protective materials are applied to foundation walls to impede the influx of dampness.

Drain Tile:
Terra cotta cylinders or perforated corrugated plastic pipes laid outside, or within the basement foundation walls beneath the slab. Ideally, the pipes are placed along the footings where they collect water and carry it to a dry well or to a "daylight" surface point at a lower elevation than the footing elevation.

Dry Well:
A hole in the ground filled with gravel or other very porous material designed to receive and distribute water into the earth. The base of this type of seepage pit should be built below the basement floor level. Pipes are led into the well from downspouts, basement drains, drain tiles, etc.

Dry Zone:
A non-saturated zone of soil around the house foundation. Since water underground does not move laterally well or quickly, this zone can prevent the buildup of hydrostatic pressure against the foundation walls.

Efflorescence:
A powdery, lime salt-like deposit found on masonry walls as the result of moisture migration through the wall. The moisture dissolves some of the lime within the mortar and deposits it on the wall surface when the moisture evaporates.

Erosion:
The wearing away of the soil on the surface of the land due to passing water. Erosion increases with the speed and volume of water incidental to the surface. (Soil should not be left uncovered around houses or erosion will result.) Straw, grasses, and pachysandra are ground covers that can control erosion.

Filter Fabric:
A felt or similar material used to prevent silting or clogging of a perimeter drain. The filter fabric is usually placed over a layer of gravel that covers the drain.

Final Grade:
This is the elevation and contour of the soil on the surface around a building foundation. Ideally, the grade will slope away from the house at a rate of one to two inches per foot of run and extend four to six feet from the foundation.

Footings:
The solid concrete poured shapes upon which the foundation walls rest. The size and shape of the footings is dependent on the bearing capacity and type of soil.

Foundation:
This refers to the combination of the footings and the underground masonry or stone walls that support the house. It can also refer to the monolithic concrete pours for footing/slab combinations used in houses without basements.

French Drain:
This is an underground drain designed to collect water and deliver it to a collection point, such as a dry well or sump pit.

Ground Water:
Water that comes from underground aquifers.

Ground Cover:
Mulch, grass, straw, pachysandra, etc. Plantings or coverings which protect the soil from the eroding effects of rain and wind.

Gutters and Downspouts:
Rain catchers at the edges of roofs, and the drain pipes that carry water away from the foundation walls.

Grading:
The act of contouring the earth's surface. In the world of wet basements, this means establishing a positive slope away from the house to help create a dry zone.

Hydrostatic Pressure:
The pressure resulting from a saturated soil condition. The pressure is equal to the weight of a vertical column of water within the soil.

Hardpan Layer:
A heavy clay content soil so tightly compacted that water cannot easily percolate through. This type of soil can support an aquifer. See "aquifer."

Metal Coving:
Right angled sheet metal sealed around the perimeter of the floor and wall of the basement to channel incoming water into a sump pit.

Moisture Migration:
The process whereby higher concentrations of moisture seek areas of lesser concentration. This produces efflorescence in masonry surfaces and usually causes paint to peel on wood siding.

Percolation:
The process by which water seeps into the soil. This is usually measured in inches of penetration per hour.

Perimeter Drain:
A circle of drain tiles or corrugated piping (with holes or knife slits) laid around the base of the foundation. It can be inside or outside, along the footings or the wall-footing joint (when footings are not formed, but scooped out). Ideally, the drain will be covered with a foot of gravel and covered with roofing felt.

Runoff:
Rain water that does not percolate into the soil. An estimated ninety to ninety-five percent of rain water becomes runoff water.

Silt:
Soil particles suspended in water. When silt appears in the water that has seeped into basements, it is almost certain that the water is of surface origin. Usually silted water is muddy. Silt can clog basement perimeter drains. Water traveling under basement entrance steps often carries a great deal of silt.

Splash Blocks:
These are concrete pads with recessed troughs placed on the ground beneath downspouts. They are designed to break the fall of water exiting the spouts and guide it away from the foundation.

Spring:
Water coming from an aquifer that breaks the surface. The water usually originates at an aquifer at a high elevation and follows a crack or crevice in the earth's crust. Often, great distances are traveled. Springs are sometimes seasonal as the water table rises and falls with the amount of rainfall.

Strainers:
Spring wire inserts that prevent leaves and tree droppings from clogging downspouts. These are especially necessary when downspouts are extended underground.

Sump Pit:
A hole in the floor of a basement to house a pump. The pit is usually located in a corner with a perforated tile leading around the inside of the foundation, under the slab, and ending at the sump pit.

Surface Water:
Rain, runoff, roof, gutter, and spout water which has not yet percolated into underground aquifers.

Swale:
An earthen ditch, trench, or ripple in the earth's surface contour intended to collect surface runoff water and deliver it safely away from structures.

Vapor Barrier:
These are usually polyethylene plastic sheets (roofing felt was used in the past) which act as impermeable membranes that prevent moisture from migrating from the ground through foundation floors and walls.  Lennon, Michael P. (1993). Basement Water Seepage Diagnostics and Control, Revised Ed. Falls Church VA: HomePro Systems, Inc.



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