Improving Yard Drainage To Correct A Damp Basement Problem
To correct my damp basement problem, improving yard drainage was the most obvious solution. I had a great advantage in this: earthworks are inexpensive around here -- it seems every second neighbour has a piece of earthmoving machinery, and lots of spare time -- so why not grab the opportunity?
PREPARING FOR THE "BURIAL"
In anticipation of the earthworks to come for improving yard drainage, the builder and I did a lot of planning.
First, we applied two coats of black waterproofing compound, then we stapled and glued a strip of black plastic 12 inches wide overlapping both the house wrap and the foundation, before applying the siding; it got further fastened by the wood trim at the bottom. This black plastic is of a type designed for applying on the foundations of minihomes around here, and it's quite expensive, but I had some around that we had removed from the sunroom/office reconstruction project.
As you can see from this other picture, I had another problem: creating a patio outside those new patio doors. Decks are very popular (even in this climate where no one uses them!); they are also awfully expensive and not very green, what with all the wood being used (toxic, treated wood, for the most part -- "certified" wood does exist but not in these parts, where the main industry is... forestry!)
Besides, when I bought that house I always imagined it with a nice terrace at the back, paved with flagstones that had fragrant thyme growing between them. Well, it just so happens that there's a fabulous natural slate quarry just five minutes away, owned by the one of my neigbors. Talk about green! A minimum of transport, a 100% natural material requiring no energy whatsoever to process.
I consulted with a local landscaping contractor, who immediately vetoed my suggestion of creating this terrace with dirt. "What happens with soil", he said, "is that it swells with water, which expands when the temperatures drop, and this will push against your foundation." What I wanted, he said, to improve yard drainage, was good old sand.
Sand! Not only that, but the sand pit was a mere 500 feet away, as the crow flies; it's located directly behind my property, on the other side of a small woods. Being green was never this easy.
Here is the sand pit in question.
A SMALL DIY SOLUTION FOR IMPROVING YARD DRAINAGE
All around the perimeter of this house, the soil had settled, to the point that it now drained towards the foundation instead of away from it. It was imperative to take advantage of these earthworks to correct that situation.
Earlier in the year, after my neighbors disturbed the soil by drilling a new well, during heavy rainfalls my basement would get wet. To correct this, I had my helper slope the dirt up against the house, creating a small ditch and improving yard drainage. I also added a window well with a clear plastic cover to keep the water away from the well. He also created a small dam with stones.
This cleared up the problem. I have a dry basement again, but until the grass grows back where the digging took place, there will be the danger of the dam breaking and I could get some seepage again. (Vegetation absorbs the rain and prevents erosion.) To be safe, as soon as I get a chance, I will put a row of flat rocks or pavers against the house, to anchor that dirt, and when I have access to the shale quarry I will strenghthen the other side of the little ditch with a few flat stones stacked horizontally.
Now the time had come to create that terrace. I should have been a boy, I get such a kick out of bulldozers! First the sand was dumped from the "Big Old Truck" – two loads at a time, for a total of eight loads.
Before moving the sand, the rainwater downspout had to be adjusted, as the ground level would be raised by a couple of feet.
The downspout was disconnected, and the pipe (which takes the rainwater underground across the yard to a dry well) was covered with a can, to keep the sand out. A second downspout just had to have the bottom elbow removed.
Then I watched as the big machine (spewing quite a bit of diesel smoke, alas!) pushed the sand against the house ever so delicately, and adjusted the grade little by little. Murray, the machine's owner, has been at this for fifty years or so, so it's not surprising how precisely he manages that noisy monster.
A bit of shoveling here and there, a final adjustment to the downspouts, and it was time to put some gravel over the sand on the east side, where the driveway is located, and slope that down and away from the foundation. (Sand is too slippery to drive on and this gravel creates a good base for other driveway finishes.)
As you can see from the photos, there is a very progressive grade sloping away from the house.
Enough to keep the rain running away from the house in all directions, Murray said, but come spring, I may have to adjust the slope and will do it by following the very clear and simple directions for slope design that I found in this About.com article entitled How Much Slope Is Needed In Land Grading Near Foundations.
NEXT STEP: LANDSCAPING FOR BEAUTY AND FOR FOOD
Winter is upon us; the final design and landscaping of my terrace will have to wait till spring. Sand is very light and easy to shift and I'll be able to do it myself.
To Be Continued...
I'll find out over time whether these strategies accomplish their purpose or not and I'll report everything in these pages.
Do keep coming back!
I'm particularly happy that this project allowed me to live by one of my principles, that of using local resources as much as possible.
I push that to the point of always checking the village hardware store first when I need something, even if it means paying a bit more.
The fact that the sand, gravel and stone are not only from my area, they are from my neighborhood, will continue to bring joy to my life every time I look at them, and make me forget how sometimes I've had to compromise on those principles because of money or practical issues beyond my control.
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PILE ON THE INSULATION Looking for ways to save energy? Home insulation should be high on your list of priorities. Get the facts.
ANOTHER STAIR STORY We took out the stairs to the second floor, so now how do we get up there? A folding attic ladder supplies the answer.
TAP THE EARTH FOR WATER We prospect for water by ancient means and lo! water appears. See it happening, step-by-step.
DOWNSIZE YOUR LIFE Are you serious about reducing your impact on the environment? Start by downsizing your home! See how I did it -- and why.
LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY If you thought solar energy was only about solar panels, think again... and read this article by solar energy expert Michael Martinez.
...I clicked to your site and found a great wealth of information. I'm about the least tool oriented person there is around, but I'm passionate about many of the topics you write about. And I find the writing to be very well done and informative even for a non-handy person like me. Well done.
Dean Prague, Czech Republic
I would just like to thank you for maintaining this resource. It's essential that information about environmental issues are easily and broadly accessible.
Steve United States
Thank you so much for sharing your exquisitely well-told stories! I have spent the last 2 hours reading the whole saga, and I appreciate all of the detail that went into your decision making. I hope you are enjoying your green home with cozy surroundings and energy efficiency.
Candice Unites States
Thank you for taking the time to write down your experiences. It is truly a valuable service.
Rajiv United States
Thanks for all the info on this site, it is very thorough.
Marie United States
Very well documented and I appreciate the work and the effort you have put into this.
Hey! Just wanted to compliment you on your site! I'm a new, first time homeowner, with a dirt crawlspace and have searched for hours on how to set it up.
Living here in Montreal, and the conditions aren't easy on a house and this site sure helped to answer some questions.
Thank you for displaying your work and experience!
Have to say I absolutely love your site. Really complete, well thought out, and has me clicking from page to page...
A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.
It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.