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posted: 8/4/2013 12:41 AM

Try an easier option to stop leak before digging up yard

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Q. I need your opinion please. Last fall, we had a tornado sighting in Palatine. My finished basement had water coming in due to the heavy downpour. We called a large, well-known waterproofing company we had used before to fix three leaks in the foundation. It looks like the water is now coming from the window where it once did before.

The serviceman said we would need to build an underground extension from the two gutter drainpipes, out 10 feet, costing $775. At the end of 10 feet from my house is a sidewalk easement that students use to go to two schools, parks, walk dogs, etc., so I'm not sure the village would allow this. My husband is handicapped and uses a walker and wheelchair; we are both in our mid-80s with no one to ask advice. We would have to borrow the money. Currently, I go down and use our wet vac, but because of my age, I can only do a little at a time. Of course, if this would solve our problems, we would have to do it. Could we just have plastic tubes on top of the lawn?

A. I am assuming the window you mention is a basement window in a window well; a window above grade would not take in water the way you describe.

The first thing you should do is to check the grade around your entire foundation, looking for flat or low spots that would collect water and allow it to percolate down along the foundation wall. Pay particular attention to the area next to the basement window as, often, the soil will settle next to the window well.

If there are flat, low or sunken places anywhere, add soil and tamp it down, making sure that it slopes away from the foundation. Plant grass to hold the soil and draw moisture from the ground. Avoid mulch, flower beds and bushes.

The next thing to do would be to add a plastic window well cover.

These steps should take care of the problem without having to spend a lot of money to do something that may not be needed.

Q. We downsized to a small ranch last year with a very cold basement. What info can I give you to hopefully help us to resolve our problem? I enjoy your articles in the Sunday Daily Herald.

A. If your small ranch is heated with warm air ducts or hot water baseboards, you should investigate adding heat ducts discharging at the floor or baseboard radiation.

If that is not feasible, choices are electric baseboards, a separate portable infrared heater or, if you have gas, a Rinnai gas-fired heater vented through the wall.

If you can ascertain what the backfill is against the foundation, you can also consider insulating the basement from inside. If the backfill was done with coarse material, the grade slopes away from the foundation and there is a working foundation drain, you can insulate from floor to ceiling with rigid insulation. But if you are not sure, it is best to insulate to three feet below grade only in order to avoid any frost pressure that could crack the walls.

From a reader: I saw your response to a person who wrote regarding rotten-egg-smelling water from an electric water heater. You suggested removing the magnesium anode rod, and while that might help the smell, it will also shorten the life of the heater. I live in an area where all homes are on private wells and had the same odor problem with the water. We were told to try replacing the magnesium anode with an aluminum anode and it worked!

The heater will have to be drained, disconnected and tilted forward to allow for installation of the aluminum rod. The mag rod can be bent to extract it if desired, but the aluminum rod is not pliable at all, thus necessitating disconnecting everything.

I also drain five gallons or so of hot water from the hose outlet at the bottom of the tank on a monthly basis. This helps to remove any particulate deposits that the deteriorating anode leaves in the tank to smell up the water supply.

Hope this might be helpful.

A. Here is a reprint of my answer to a similar question from a reader a few months ago:

Aluminum sacrificial anodes are one way to eliminate the odor problem, which magnesium anodes can generate as they are "eaten away" by corrosion while protecting the steel parts of the water heater. But they do have a number of shortcomings, which must be considered when choosing to make the change.

An aluminum anode produces a lot more corrosion byproducts, which end up as additional sediment at the bottom of the tank, requiring more frequent draining; these byproducts can also float to the top of the tank as a thick cream and end up clogging aerators and dishwasher filters. They are negatively affected by water softened with salt. They can swell and make it impossible to pull out to replace them.

And if you have single-handle faucets, aluminum may be present in the water you draw from the cold-water faucet to drink or cook with because of the intermingling of hot and cold with these types of faucets; you should run the cold-water faucet for a minute or so until the water is as cold as it can get. These are only a few of the drawbacks of aluminum rods.

A better solution is a power rod, which is connected to an electrical outlet, draws minimal current and never needs replacing.

Q. My question is to ask about a problem with our exposed basement concrete floor that is 27 years old. It has started to chalk (turn white), but only in some spots. Moisture does not seem to be a problem. Is there a product that might remove this that is safe to use inside the basement? I have scrubbed with vinegar and only managed to move the chalky look around to other places.

A. It sounds very much as if it is a moisture problem, but a subtle one without actual water on the floor. Why the discoloration just started now after all these years may be hard to explain.

The fact that you used the word chalk tells me that there must be very fine white deposits that are left on the surface after the moisture -- which had dissolved the salts in the concrete and brought them to the surface -- evaporated and left them behind. This is known as efflorescence, and it is easily wiped or brushed off. It will recur as the moisture keeps working its way from the subsoil to the top of the slab. Moisture can also be working its way through the slab by capillary attraction without carrying any dissolved salts; this would result in lighter patches but without any fine, removable residue.

No treatment will prevent these processes.

Q. My husband would like to place rocks for drainage all around the drip edge of our house. There are no gutters and the rain creates a bit of a trench in the lawn around the house. He would like to dig down about 4 inches and place river washed -inch stone around the foundation. Does this seem like a good idea? Is 4 inches the right depth?

A. Sorry, but that's the wrong thing to do. Leaving the little trench in allows roof water to fill the "moat" with only one way to go: down along the foundation, where it can eventually cause leakage or other problems, such as frost-induced cracking.

Not only should the trench be filled, but the soil close to the foundation should be sloping gently to move water away from it.

Since you have no gutters, to prevent the formation of another trench at the roof's drip line, you should lay solid masonry units flush with the grade. These can be prefab concrete patio blocks, flagstones, paver bricks or whatever you choose -- but not stones -- as long as they are installed tight to each other and with a slight slant away from the foundation walls following the new grade. As the water from the roof hits them, it splashes mostly away from the house and runs down the slope.

Be sure to plant a healthy stand of grass between the foundation and the row of masonry units and on its opposite side as well. Flower beds, mulch and bushes are best avoided.

An interesting solution: "I thought the reader's comment about leaving the shower door open to reduce mold in the shower was interesting.

"My little shower stall's door, a six-panel accordion door, always stands open as it does not close easily from outside. But, nonetheless, about five years ago, a significant amount of black mold/mildew had built up on the walls, particularly down in the lower corners, and on the door, particularly in the hinges.

"A commercial spray mildew cleaner took care of the immediate problem, but, to prevent recurrence, I thought that I would try rinsing down the interior of the stall after each use with the hottest water the tap supplies -- about 130 degrees (a bit hotter than recommended, which is 120, but as I am the only one in the house now, I don't worry about it) -- which is easily done as the showerhead is attached to a hose. Since that day, I have never had to repeat cleaning the shower except other than by this hot water rinse."

A. What a simple idea! Thanks for sharing it.

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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