Time to retire and write that book I've been thinking about

Dear readers: Two years ago, in late September 2016, I said my goodbyes due to the termination of the national syndication of my column forced by the increasing loss of printed newspapers.

At that time, it was so rewarding to get your many emails expressing your best wishes for whatever I would be doing and your thanks for the help I had provided to the best of my ability.

Then your Daily Herald Niche editor and several other newspapers contacted me and asked if I could work with them directly, which I was very glad to do in order to reconnect with all of you.

But I just turned 93 and after 61 years in the construction industry and 45 years writing this column, it's time for me to concentrate on remaining healthy and on more personal matters.

I have led a most unusual life, growing up in France, fleeing the German invasion and living under the German occupation for four years. During that time, starting at age 15, I was not only involved in the French Red Cross emergency services helping civil defense authorities in bombed-out cities retrieve the dead and wounded under constant bombardment (similar to what the "White Helmets" are now doing in the Middle East), but also as a member of an underground resistance group in my birth city of Paris. There was nothing unusual about this; these activities were common among my generation as young people rallied to help the fractured and badly wounded land of our birth.

At the liberation of Paris in 1944, a number of us joined a French division attached to Gen. Patton's army and, while in Germany, had the horrendous experience of seeing the results of the atrocities the Nazis committed, known as the Holocaust.

The following year, as I feared France was in danger of being overtaken by the communists, I emigrated to this blessed land and have never regretted it.

I have been urged by family and friends to write my memories of these anxious times before I forget them, and that is what I will attempt to do now.

Thank you, dear readers, for your letters over the years, which I so enjoyed receiving and responding to as best as I could. I will miss our interaction, but time moves on.

However, the blog my editor has been taking care of, although it will stop being active, will remain as a resource for anyone seeking answers to all the questions you may have that have been answered in my column over the years. The link to it is My book: "About the House with Henri de Marne" is still available at, as well as in bookstores and Amazon. There is also an e-book edition, which is far larger than the printed book and has many illustrations; it has been kept current until now and is available through the usual channels.

Farewell and best wishes to all of you for the holidays and beyond.

Q. I have a question about basement sump pumps. Our house is at the bottom of a street with a slight incline that runs toward a lake. Generally, we don't have a significant water leakage problem and we don't have a sump pump. However, when our yard becomes super saturated, water comes into the basement through one wall and via the basement floor, causing significant damage to our Sheetrock walls. Interestingly, during tropical storm Irene, the basement stayed dry.

Would it be wise to install a sump pump and an outside drainage system in case super saturated conditions return? Or will a sump pump create more problems than it would solve?

A. The first thing to check and address, if applicable, is the grade on the opposite side of the house to the lake, assuming that it is where the yard slopes toward the house.

Most of the time, raising the grade against the foundation (if there is space to do so and remain 6- to 8-inches below the siding) is the simplest and most effective way to keep surface water away from the foundation wall. If this is shaped to divert running water to each side of the house, it should help reduce the risk of leakage.

A sump pump can be very helpful to catch water below the floor, but it may not be enough to catch water leaking through a wall. This may require some form of control at the base of the walls that leads water to the sump.

Q. I would like to get your advice on a problem we are having with our basement walls. The walls are all below grade (no outside access except through window wells. The inside walls are glazed tile. The wall on the west side has a problem. It gets a powder-like formation on it that is white in color and rough to the touch. There doesn't appear to be any structural damage but it sure is unsightly.

Do you have any idea what could be causing this and what can we do to correct the problem?

A. This white powder is efflorescence, the result of salts (an inherent part of all masonry) dissolved by moisture, which in turn evaporates and leaves the salts stranded on the surface.

Efflorescence is easy to remove; simply brush it off, but this will not solve the problem - it will likely form again until the moisture is eliminated.

This is often an outside grading problem. Altering the grade to keep or direct surface water away from the foundation. This is usually quite successful.

From a reader: "Saw the letter in today's Daily Herald from the reader who complained about sewer gas smell coming from his furnace. Perhaps this is not sewer gas he's smelling, but the decaying remains from a dead critter that got caught in his furnace chimney. This happened to us one year; not a fun job for the HVAC guy to get rid of what was left of the body!"

A. Good point. I remember once inspecting a house and, upon getting in the basement to inspect the furnace, hearing a strange noise and then noticing a squirrel hanging half way through the chimney's air pressure equalizer, trapped by the baffle that would not let him get out of its predicament. It was winter, and every time the furnace would come on, its rear end would get singed. Obviously, it had not been there very long, and the Realtor and I arrived just in time to save its life. Freeing it was a very interesting challenge in order to not get bitten or scratched. When we succeeded, it ran wild throughout the basement; its tail hairs had been burned off. Birds and other wild creatures have suffered a worse fate.

• Henri de Marne, a former remodeling contractor turned columnist and consultant, is the author of "About the House with Henri de Marne" (Upper Access Publishing). Past columns can be found on his website, Email him at

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