Tag Archives: Basement

Humility, Thy Name is Level

Monday morning started off like most others: I grumbled at the alarm clock while thankful it was a work at home day, padded downstairs, made breakfast, started a load of laundry and settled in with coffee as I flipped through my work email.

An hour later, I remembered the laundry and went down to move it into the dryer. I discovered that everything was soaking wet. The water had drained out, but apparently, the spin cycle hadn’t really spun anything.

I fiddled with it and tried the spin cycle again. Nothing happened. And again. The motor was running fine, but the agitator wasn’t spinning. I started Googling and called my dad. We were able to guess it might be the belt – after all, there had to be a belt that somehow connects the motor to the agitator, right?

In the meantime, I wrung out, by hand, an entire load of mostly pajamas, sweats and other heavy clothes, squeezing nearly five gallons of icy cold water into a bucket.

Wednesday night, I tried to get the screws off the back of the panel to open up the machine and find the belt. I hoped the belt had merely slipped off and could be repositioned, or, barring that, had snapped and could be replaced. A couple of the screws were rusted on and stuck, so I called Dad again. He agreed to stop by today.

My parents came over this morning, tool box in tow. After figuring out the panel situation, we couldn’t find the belt, but upon investigation, we could see it at the bottom, beneath the basin. We tipped the machine back and saw the belt, perfectly intact, perfectly in place, and spinnable.

It looked like the dreaded repairman was in my future. Googling had said it could also be a pulley in the motor, or the sensors, neither of which we were prepared to fix.

But then we decided to do one more test run, just to see what happened. And after putting it back together and re-leveling it, the darn thing worked.

Apparently, all along, the problem was that it was grossly, egregiously out of level.

No floor in this house is level, and the basement is no exception. There’s a pretty good slope in the concrete, in part so that if water does get in, it flows down towards the floor drain. I’ve always adjusted for that with a small shim under one of the washer’s feet, but the shim had slipped and apparently, it was enough that the spin cycle wouldn’t spin.

I felt like an idiot for calling my dad all the way to Elgin to help, so he helped me hang a new spice rack I just finished painting. (It’s hard to judge appropriate height, mark the holes, etc alone.) But as he pointed out, at least I called him before a repairman. Then I really would have felt dumb, shelling out money so someone could tell me my floor’s not level.

Consider it a lesson learned.


A Geyser & A Burn

One night last month, during a heavy storm, I unlocked the back door and heard an unusual sound.

The basement was gurgling.

Rather, the wall in the basement had sprung a leak and water was flowing all the way across the sloped basement floor to the drain, which was fighting to keep up, and failing.

I changed into grubby clothes and set off to plug the leak, which was the size of a pencil eraser, and was acting like a geyser or fountain. It looked a lot like a kid turning their mouth into a water fountain.

Unfortunately, everything I had onhand that might fix the problem was water soluble and couldn’t set up against running water – caulk, spackle, grout, liquid nails. It was too late to go out to a hardware store, so I tried the one thing I thought might actually work.

Duct tape.

I balled up some duct tape and shoved it into the leak, then created a patch over the top. The gushing slowed to a trickled, enough that I was able to squeegee out the basement and survive the storm.

The next weekend, after researching solutions, I bought Drylock Fast Plug as a first step to fix the problem. That entire wall has been seeping for awhile, and in addition to the one geyser, there are several smaller holes not so visible to the naked eye. My research and the shockingly helpful Orange Apron I talked to concurred that patching with Fast Plug, followed by a solid coat of Drylock Waterproofer, should do the trick.

I carefully followed the directions and made sure to ventilate the basement and don a mask, gloves and goggles. I mixed up a small amount to get the texture right, then applied the concrete to the main hole, then several other spots I had noticed and marked. It was kind of fun, almost like finger painting. Emboldened by my success, I mixed up more and patched the entire joint, where floor meets wall. I decided I had done enough for the evening and packed up and went off to take a shower.

An hour later, my face was a red, peeling mess that burned hot to the touch. When Don got home from work, he took one look and asked what had happened.

Despite all my precautions, I had brushed hair off my face with the back of my gloves, likely leaving some Drylock dust on my cheeks. When I hopped in the shower, the water must have activated the powder. A quick Google confirmed my self-diagnosis – I had minor chemical burns all over my cheeks and forehead.

After some burning, itching and a very uncomfortable night, they started to disappear about twenty-four hours later. But next time, I’ll use a hair tie.

Centralizing the Chaos

One of the reasons I love my house is its vast amounts of storage space. Coming from a one bedroom apartment to an entire house, complete with walk-in closets, a garage, and a full basement meant I had plenty of room to spread out!

I’ve spent nearly three years storing things willy-nilly, incorporating Don’s things with my own with no rhyme or reason. And now we’re in quite a pickle.

As I’ve accumulated tools and household items, they’ve dispersed. Extra nails? In the garage. Leftover plastic sheeting? Back hall closet. Tubes of caulk? Two in the hall closet, one in the garage and one in the basement. Leftover paint? It’s all centralized in the coal room in the basement, but the paintbrushes? Those would be in the garage. This means the simple search for, say, a flat-head screwdriver can pose maddening as I try to remember where I used it last. And in winter, the prospect of venturing into the cold, across the icy driveway and into the dark garage is never inviting.

So I’ve embarked on a mission to organize. For Christmas, my parents got me a huge, heavy duty utility cabinet for the basement. Getting the cabinet to my house in the first place was interesting, as I had to wait until my sister (and her truck) was available to bring it over. Then, we struggled to even get the monster in the house in the first place, so it sat on the back stairs for two weeks until a friend of Don’s came over and helped out. I started building the cabinet (comprised of approximately 792 pieces) on Super Bowl Sunday and made pretty good headway, overcoming the non-verbal, pictorial directions and identical-looking parts labeled W and BB and GF. But then, I got to the point where I needed a second set of hands, and the Super Bowl was about to start, so I put the project on hold. And it sat for another week and a half, during which I was worried the snow melt would flood into the basement.

But it didn’t, and Don and I finished assembling the cabinet one evening. We had a bit of a problem when we discovered that the cabinet – at 75 inches tall – is too tall for much of the basement. We found one place where it would fit, but it took some wrangling to get it around the ductwork. And now as I roam the house and find random home repair/maintenance/improvement materials, they’re beginning to migrate to a single point. No longer will my medicine cabinet boast a putty knife all its own, and the pliers in the kitchen drawer have given notice.

Heck, we may even put a pegboard in the basement to further organize things!

Basement Gaps

Collette LOVES the gaps in my basement walls. I’m always afraid she’s going to get trapped some day! I’ve sealed up some of the worst offenders, but every now and then, when coming downstairs, I’ll suddenly see eyes peering at me from the ceiling.

Midwestern Luck

I spent part of Saturday with squeegee in hand, pushing basement water into the floor drain. It had been quite awhile since we’d had to do that – sealing the tiny, seemingly insignificant hairline foundation crack appears to have helped. Plus, we haven’t had a heavy rain in several weeks.

Friday afternoon on through Sunday, our lovely town got between 8 and 12 inches of rain, depending on which weather report you believe. One broadcaster said that if our deluge had been snow, it could have been up to six feet! That sounds a bit sensationalist, but regardless, we had a ton of rain, and the ground couldn’t absorb it as quickly as it was falling. We awoke to standing water in the yard, and dared each other to check out the basement

But you know what? We’re pretty lucky. Even though we had a bit of basement flooding to clean up, it was nothing compared to other areas downhill, closer to the river, where people had to evacuate and lost possessions or entire rooms or homes. On the northwest side of Chicago, the Chicago River overflowed its banks, sending entire blocks of people scrambling in boats, like Venice or Amsterdam.

And even worse, this same weekend, thousands of Houston and Galveston residents lost everything. Not just some flecks of floor paint or a couple empty cardboard boxes – these people lost their homes, their things, and their peace of mind.

The coastal areas have hurricanes, which, though with some warning, can be absolutely devastating and annihilate entire cities. California has earthquakes, which come with no warning but accomplish the same end. The Midwest really has no equivalent. Sure, in theory an earthquake could strike – and we’ve had a couple very minor ones, centered far enough away as to not cause much shaking. Tornadoes hit with very little warning, but their path is relatively limited, capable of flattening small towns, but never on the scale of New Orleans or Galveston. We get snow storms, but they don’t typically cause much damage, either, and you can stay home for a day or two while the roads are cleared.

Our cleanup only took ab0ut 20 minutes, plus hanging the rug out to dry once the rain finally stopped and opening the window to air things out. I consider myself pretty lucky to live where I do.

The thaw

Spring has been teasing us the last couple days. With Daylight Savings last weekend, it’s fully light out when I get home. The air, while still brisk, allows a bit of lingering outside – in the lighter coat, to boot! With 50 degrees today and tomorrow, I expected my household hazards to be centered around the basement.

Luckily, my basement is still bone-dry, despite the melting. Perhaps my basement leakage isn’t as bad as I’ve feared! Maybe I can handle the thaw, and any fixes I make are just icing on the cake!

However, the hint of warmer weather brings another threat. Yes, that’s right – the pink bodega drug house is back in business, with a new dealer leading the charge!

I spent my first summer in this house vaguely aware that something wasn’t quite right with the pink candy shop across the street. It held its grand opening the day I closed on my house. Sure, there were lots of kids around at first, but as the summer wore on, the kids seemed to be replaced by an older crowd. A couple minor burglaries showed up in the police blotter. And it was just plain suspicious. But I was naive, and enjoying my first summer in my house, turned my attentions to other tasks, like destroying all the crabgrass.

Last spring, as soon as it started to warm up, things got bad. It was impossible to deny that active drug deals were happening, and the police knew it, too, and kept an eye on things. One very late night, a car drove by and randomly fired a couple shots two doors down. Finally, on my birthday, a bust at the apartment building next door resulted in five arrests. The rest of the summer was pretty quiet. Winter is never an issue, as the shop lacks proper heat and keeps pretty minimal hours, not opening at all on the coldest days.

But now, some of the original troublemakers have drifted back into the neighborhood and appear ready to resume their apparently lucrative business with a new leader. I can only hope that we can nip this in the bud before it grows.

Now my crocuses, on the other hand – those should be appearing any day now, once the snow finishes melting.

Water, water everywhere

Another warm Sunday spent periodically squeegeeing the basement. I think I’ve finally isolated the problem, though. After researching the common indicators of basement problems, I’ve tested the walls and window wells to verify that they are indeed dry, and the problem appears to be on the north wall, where the wall meets the floor. There, hydrostatic pressure is pushing water from the saturated ground through tiny cracks I can’t see – cracks that, from my research, I’ve found are relatively common in the joint between wall and floor – explaining why there’s no dampness on the walls.

Thoughts of expensive sub-pumps and foundation excavations terrify me. But before I venture down that route, I’m going to try a couple less invasive, cheaper methods.

Since it was warmer today (over 50 degrees!), the melting snow coupled with the rain shower further saturated the ground, forcing more water into the basement. I’ve noticed the past couple weeks that warmer days, I have water as the snow melts, but bitterly cold days, the ground is frozen nice and solid. I ventured out into the yard to the north side of the house, where the problem is. There’s a downspout coming from the roof and gutter, shoved into the ground. It’s only about eighteen inches from the house, and the ground surrounding the spout was rock-hard, solid ice, with puddles all around. My theory is that this spout is too close to the foundation. So once the ground thaws a bit more (and I deal with more mild flooding), I’m going to excavate the downspout and move it another 4-5 feet from the house. Hopefully, this, coupled with a bit of fresh sealant, will solve the problem. If it only floods a couple times a year – during ultra-heavy freak rains (like the 5 inches in 24 hours last August) and once during the spring thaw, I can deal. It’s the nightly post-work cleanup that’s grating on me. Fortunately, if I stay on top of it, it doesn’t venture much beyond the wall.

On the bright side, the constant water near the furnace seems to have helped humidify the house just a bit. Lemonade – made with dirty gray water.

Squeegee Sunday!

Well, what falls as snow has to get into the ground somehow.

I woke up this morning to lots of rain – and melting snow. The heaps and piles of snow have been diminished to sad dirty shadows of their former glory. The neighbors’ snowman’s head sunk into his body. And my basement welcomed a good inch of standing water.

I suppose it makes sense. In the nearly two years I’ve been in this house, I’ve had water in the basement on three occasions. The first two times were after days of steady rain – one week last summer, we got nearly 5 inches of rain. The ground can only hold so much before it seeps into the basement. And today, when an accumulated 16 or so inches of snow begins to melt – while it’s raining – it has to go somewhere. Don and I did the best we could, pushing the water towards the floor drain. I made a Target run and bought a new squeegee mop to get the rest.

So now the basement dries out… until next time.