The drainage hole at the base of these steps can’t handle the flow of water during heavy rainstorms. (Reader photo)

Q: During torrential downpours, the outdoor steps leading to my basement become a river of rainwater. The small drainage hole at the bottom of the stairs cannot handle the flow, and water inevitably leaks under the door and into the basement. I recently upgraded my sump pump system to handle the flow during most rain showers. But I would like to eliminate any water getting in. Is there a way to erect a protective enclosure over the stairwell so we can use the stairs but direct the water off to the sides?

Glenn Dale, Md.

A: Yes, it is possible to construct an A-frame awning or roof over the stairs that will deflect water toward the sides of the stairway.

However, the picture you sent shows relatively low windows in the wall above the stairway. There is no way to keep an A-frame with a level ridge from blocking part of the windows and still allow enough headroom at the top of the stairs for people to walk in or out. “The only question is how much of the windows would they be comfortable blocking?” said Darin Costantine, the general sales manager for A. Hoffman Awning in Baltimore (410-685-5687; He suggested an awning with a ridgeline that extends straight out from the house for about five feet and then angles up toward the top of the stairs. That would take advantage of the fact that headroom at the bottom of the stairs is much higher than at the top.

The company supplies aluminum or steel framing, with steel being stronger. The frames have welded joints and are designed to be left out year-round and last for decades. Covers can be cloth or vinyl and typically last eight to 10 years before they need to be replaced, Costantine said. The picture you sent shows a set of double doors at the bottom of the stairway, meaning it is much wider than a typical basement entry. Guessing that a cover for your stairway might need to be 8 feet wide and 12 feet long, Costantine estimated the total cost at $4,000 to $5,000.

Or you could hire a contractor to build a similar structure that’s framed in wood and has any type of roofing you desire. There are also companies that make awning-style structures with aluminum roofs.

If the prospect of changing the view from the windows of your main floor troubles you, check out Cleargress basement doors, made by Hampton Concrete Products in Valencia, Pa. (724-443-7205; Basically, these are like the traditional basement egress doors that consist of two panels that angle down from the house. You can open them up and out from the inside or the outside. The Cleargress version is clear, so it lets daylight into the stairway.

Your stairway is too wide for the standard Cleargress sizes, but a spokeswoman said they could probably make ones that would work, for about $5,000. But she cautioned that a panel would be needed across the front of the threshold. Depending on how often you use the stairs, you’d have to decide whether the inconvenience of stepping over that and needing to open the doors each time someone comes or goes outweighs the benefit of having a clear view out your windows.

Q: I want to send a delicate, handmade ship model to France. It’s big: 45 inches by 32 inches by 16 inches. If we had to put a value on it, we might guess $500, but to us it is priceless because my husband made it. How can I pack it and ship it safely? Or do you recommend using a professional mover? If so, what kind of firm does this?


A: You might want to connect with the Washington Ship Model Society (, which meets monthly, alternating between locations in Virginia and Maryland. The next meeting is at 10 a.m. on March 11 at the Hollin Hall Senior Center, 1500 Shenandoah Rd., Alexandria. Perhaps a club member has tackled something like this before and can share tips on how to do it yourself.

There are a few accounts on the Web about people who have fortified model ships for shipping. One approach that seems particularly good is on the site called Quora ( One person suggested building a wooden box around a model, securely attaching the model to the frame, and then lacing fishing line from one side of the frame to the other at different heights and directions to thoroughly support the rigging.

But given the size and sentimental value of your model, it would certainly make sense to consider hiring a professional. Michael L. Phillips, owner of six UPS stores in Washington and Baltimore, including UPS Store No. 2092 on Capitol Hill (202-543-0850;, said his company could do the packing and would arrange the shipping with a firm that specializes in international air or ocean freight. “It’s too big to go through any of the small package carriers,” such as UPS, FedEx, DHL or the U.S. Postal Service, he said.

Damage during shipping comes from compression, shock or vibration, Phillips said. The first two issues are relatively easy to address by enclosing the model in a double box or a sturdy crate, using soft foam to cradle the ship base and installing braces to support the masts.

“Vibration will be the biggest challenge,” Phillips wrote in an email. “Based on the age of the model and how well model pieces are glued or secured, they still may come loose during transit. Trucks, planes, ships and rail cars all bounce and vibrate.”

To reduce the risk of vibration damage, carefully inspect the model before it is packed and reglue or strengthen any weak connections, Phillips said. If you can remove the masts and rigging and ship them in a separate box, it would reduce the risk of damage and significantly lower the shipping cost, he said. Even with these precautions, some parts might still come apart during transit, so your recipient should be prepared to do some minor repairs after delivery. When customers think repairs would ruin the value of items as delicate as this model, Phillips advises against shipping them.

The store can arrange insurance against damage during shipping, but the protection often doesn’t cover everything. The carrier could deny a claim if there is no visible damage to the exterior packing material, Phillips said. “This will be a sign of vibration or prior damage.”

If the mast and rigging need to stay in place, packing and shipping could cost several thousand dollars. Preparing an accurate estimate would take several days, Phillips said. He’d need the final address because just getting the model to a port or airport in France probably wouldn’t be enough.