Try inexpensive ways first to stop water from getting into basement

By Gene Austin
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Q: I moved into my older house about five years ago. It had a perfectly dry basement, until we had nine straight days of rain. On the ninth day, the basement flooded with several inches of water. I don't want that to happen again and have had a number of basement pros check it out. They all want to install costly waterproofing systems. Should I do that? I have good rain gutters, but in front, two downspouts simply disappear into the ground, and no one can tell me where that water goes. Also, the clay soil in front of the house slopes slightly toward the house and almost meets the siding, so I can't regrade it. What do you suggest? -- G. O'Brien

A: If your basement has flooded only once, and after nine days of rain, I wouldn't go for any expensive waterproofing systems just yet. There are a couple of other things you should try first. If the sloping front yard appears to be draining water to your foundation, you should be able to correct that with a simple interceptor drain.

This should be much less expensive than, say, an interior perimeter drain (also known as a French drain) with a sump pump. This involves digging a shallow, narrow trench; partially filling it with gravel; placing into the trench a section of flexible, perforated drain pipe; then backfilling it with more gravel.

The trench should run parallel to the front of the house and be as close as possible to it. The ends of the ditch should extend beyond the house sides. Much of the water that flows toward the house should sink into the trench and be carried well away from the foundation.

I also wouldn't trust those two downspouts that disappear into the soil at the front of the house. The downspouts probably once led to some sort of drainage system, but after more than 50 years the downspouts could be leaking water into your basement. I would remove those downspouts, seal the openings in the ground, and install new downspouts with elbows at the bottoms and long extensions or leaders that carry water at least 10 feet away from the foundation. If the extensions interfere with mowing or other activities, buy flexible or telescoping extensions that can be moved out of the way in dry weather. All other downspouts should have extensions at least eight feet long.

Q: I want to paint my bathroom but wonder if ordinary wall paint will stand up to the moisture and heat of showers. What kind of paint do you recommend? --Michelle

A: There are special paints for bathrooms and kitchens and other rooms where a lot of moisture can damage ordinary paint. Most of these paints contain additives to retard the growth of mildew, which is a common problem in bathrooms. One paint that guarantees to hold up without mildew or mold for at least five years is Perma-White, made by Zinsser. Perma-White can be tinted to a variety of colors. There are a number of other excellent paints that will work well. Look for kitchen and bath paints at your home center or paint store.

Q: Dirt daubers are making unsightly marks in our carport. Can we spray their nests with something, and if so, with what? -- J. Goolsby

A: You have an infestation of mud daubers, also known as dirt daubers, mud wasps and several other names. They are wasps that make small mud nests, probably in crevices in the brick walls. These wasps are basically harmless to humans. They are not aggressive and won't sting unless handled. You can spray the infested area, especially any mud nests you see, with an aerosol wasp spray, sold at most garden centers and home centers. Old nests can be dug out with a knife or trowel and flushed away with water from a hose.

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QUICK TIP: Readers Sue and Paul Peifer said they tried one of the leading brands of color-change ceiling paint and were not pleased with the results. These paints go on ceilings with an easily visible color, like purple, but dry white. The idea is to make it easier for painters to see where they have applied ceiling paint. The Peifers said the final results were streaked and unsightly and the paint changed color to white too quickly to be of much help. They repainted the ceiling with regular paint and recommend that ceilings be painted in long, end-to-end strips and small tabs of masking tape stuck on the walls to mark each stripe's outer edge. The tape marks where new paint was applied.

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