(EDITORS: Henri de Marne is on vacation this week. This column was originally published on May 4, 2007.)
Q. We have a patio in the back of our house. Part of it is starting to slope toward the house (there is landscaping between the concrete and the house), and we need to replace a piece that was taken out last fall to install a type of piping that leads from the gutter and downspouts underground. We did this because one of the downspouts would overflow and come up over the spout and spill toward the house in huge puddles. We assumed there was a clog in the previously installed flexible-drain tile installed.
Now we have asked two concrete companies to come out and give us a quote on replacing the piece that was already removed and the piece that slopes inward toward the house. One guy tells us not to concrete the complete patio to the foundation, especially if we worry about water getting in to our finished basement. The other guy tells us we should concrete all the way to the house, including affixing it with pins to the foundation but using something to allow it to rise and fall with the weather. Which one is right? Should we leave the landscaping around the house as a buffer or concrete all the way up to the house?
A. The reason part of the patio is sloping toward the house is most likely due to the fact that, over time, the water that gushed over the gutter from the clogged downspout saturated the soil close to the house and caused it to settle. As it sank, the concrete went with it. If the work you did to correct the clogged-gutter problem has solved it, you should have the soil in the affected area compacted (you can rent a compactor and do it yourselves).
Add more soil as needed to re-establish a positive grade away from the foundation. If the section of concrete that has tilted is in good shape, it may be able to be lifted, soil compacted underneath, and lowered back. Or it may be best to replace it. Not knowing the entire history of any seasonal movement of your patio, and the composition of the soil underneath it, I think it is best not to take the concrete all the way to the house. This way, you won't have to worry about the effect the seasons will have on the attachment to the house.
Q: We live in Pittsburgh, Pa., in the Pleasant Hills area, and I was wondering how we could go about getting a copy of the blueprints or building plans for our house, which was built in the late '40s. I don't know who the builder was and I've called the township, my mortgage company and the library, to no avail.
One of the previous owners "remodeled" the upstairs (the door hits the sink, and a wall was built across the attic access door.) We don't know how it is supposed to look.
A. It is very unlikely that there are plans available dating that far back, unless the various owners -- if there were plans at all -- had saved them and passed them on to subsequent owners. You can have plans made, if you need to, by having an architect (or student architect in a local tech school) take all the necessary measurements and produce a CAD set of plans. Do you need plans to make some changes or simply to understand what was done? If so, an experienced contractor or an architect can look at your house and answer your questions.
Q. I have water coming in my basement from one side of the house when it rains hard or steady for a day. I want to dig it up this summer to see if there is a crack or a hole in the wall or if the French drain is clogged. What is the best way to plug the hole or the crack? Should I put cement in first and then some patch over it?
A. In my 50 years experience dealing with these problems, almost all are corrected with grade changes. Even if the French drain is clogged, you may not need to do anything about it, unless it was installed to control subsurface water. If there is a crack or hole in your foundation, you should see some sign of it from inside, since masonry is not flexible or forgiving.
Q. Our house is 22 years old with the original roof and horizontal siding. Two parts of the roof meet and a lot of snow piles up there. After the Valentine's Day storm, and after the sun started to melt some of the snow, we noticed icicles hanging out from between some of the horizontal siding on the house. We never saw that before. The outside stain on the siding looks like it will peel, and it has already done so in one small spot. Did water seep through the roof and behind the siding? Do you think the 2-by-4s are wet? Do you think we have rot? Would this attract bugs?
A. Yes, snow melting behind an ice dam got under the shingles and penetrated the house walls. It is not possible to determine the extent of the water penetration within the walls, but the 2-inch-by-4-inch studs are not the concern; if wet, they will dry over the summer.
Of greater concern is the potential wetting of the insulation in the walls. However, it may simply be a small case of a water penetration that only got between the sheathing and the siding, which came out at the joints of the siding boards. If this is the first time you have seen this, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Summer's heat should dry things up pretty well, but you may see more peeling paint.
Carpenter ants are always on the lookout for new nests, and they seek wood affected by moisture; just keep an eye on any signs of activity. If you see any, call a local, family-owned pest-management professional.
A 22-year-old roof (assuming it's asphalt or fiberglass shingles) has lived a long life and may need to be replaced soon. When you do so, be sure that Grace Ice & Water Shield (or equivalent) is put down on all eaves, around any skylight, chimney and any other roof penetration. That will be your assurance that melting snow will no longer penetrate the house.
OF INTEREST: A reader from Munhall, Pa., who read that a Pittsburgh-area reader could not find Sikaflex caulking locally, has written to tell me that a company called A.R. Chambers in the city sells Sikaflex products. Thank you for the information.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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