Washington area homeowners plagued by basement water problems -- particularly now that spring rains have arrived -- often spend thousands of dollars for unnecessary waterproofing work, according to the largest issue of the Washington Consumers' Checkbook.
The magazine, a nonprofit consumer publication, said that home owners may be able to cure the problem themselves with simple, inexpensive measures. Raising the grade of the ground around the foundation, for example, may cost $200 or less and can end flooding in many cases, the Checkbook article said.
"Unfortunately, if you turn for help only to waterproof contractors, you may never hear about the easy [and less expensive] options," the magazine said.
One example cited by the magazine involved an Alexandria hose with a carpeted basement bedroom that flooded during heavy rain. After inspecting the basement, Checkbook editors concluded that the problem could be solved for less than $300 by grading the dirt and extending the downspouts to direct rainfall away from the house.
An independent building inspector agreed with that assessment, the magazine said.
When the home owner asked 10 of the larger waterproofing contractors listed in the Yellow Pages to recommend their solutions for his flooding mend their solutions for his flooding problem, eight of them proposed installing expensive equipment, such as sump pumps.
Bids to do the job ranged from $1,175 to $2,065, the magazine said.
A ninth firm recommended regrading the dirt around the home's foundation, but its price for that and the other work, such as trimming trees near one gutter and extending downspouts, was $1,495.
The 10th bidder also suggested regrading but said the job could be done for as little as $200 and was too small for his company. He recommended a laborer who could do the regrading.
According to Checkbook, the home owner's flooding problem ultimately was solved for $283.84. That included one truckload of topsoil, seven galvanized windows wells and downspouting material.
Work was completed a few days before Christmas and testing done with water from two hoses. No water appeared in the basement, except for a drip from a pipe in a utility closet that was unrelated to the original flooding. Further patch work around the pipe eliminated that leak, too.
Since then, the magazined said, the home owner's basement has remained dry even during prolonged heavy rainstorms.
The article on waterproofing basements explains how basement leaks occur, how home owners can repair leaks themselves by grading and downspouting and what hard-sell tactics to expect when contacting waterproofing businesses.
The magazine singled out the use of pressure-injected waterproofing as the most questionable of all the techniques sold by contractors.
The pressure-injected waterproofing depends on a substance that is supposed to be injected into the soil outsides the house to form a barrier around the foundation. Such waterproofing systems have judged unacceptable by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for properties under consideration for FHA loan guarantees.
The magazine urged consumers to choose reliable, established firms for waterproofing work. "Of the 17 firms withe display ads in the 1975 District of Columbia Yellow Pages, only 11 were listed in the Yellow Pages four years later," Checkbook said.
Robert Krughoff, Checkbook's publisher, said that overselling of all kinds of waterproofing equipment, systems and techniques is "all too common."
"In many cases, waterproofing contractors do work competently and the customers feels satisfied, but the work is unnecessary," he said.