Our family had been emailing around about the wind and rain from a recent storm, the power outages, and water in our basement, and a couple questions came up, and I thought I would post them here, that perhaps other people are interested in the goings on at our new house.

40% (18,000) of our electric company's customers lost power for a couple days, and I see that 15,000 have still not regained power.  In an area where lots of people have wells, power outages are more interesting, since you lose your water as well.

Email sent yesterday:

Linda said shortly after the power went out this morning that she had *said* she wasn't counting on the power staying on, but after it went out, realized that she had been counting on them staying on.

I called the power company to let them know the power had gone out, and they said power would be restored to all customers by 6PM.  However, when I was repeating the story to the Weavers (where I am staying today to do some work) I realized that they had said 6PM on September 19th!  That seems like an awfully long time, so perhaps that really does mean "all customers", and those of us that aren't as far out will have it restored sooner.

The Weavers did offer freezer space, and if it going to be out that long, we will probably need to take advantage of that.  But, for now, Heather and Linda and (hrm - I was going to say "the boys") the kids are blissfully unaware that I heard the day wrong, and are in Pittsburgh for the morning.

Q.  How do your servers handle power outages?

A.  My servers aren't in my house, so unrelated to our current issues. They live in the city, and have gigantic UPSes that can cover the servers (there are probably more than a thousand servers in the room, so these UPSes have to be able to handle amazing amounts of power, I think) for 5 or 10 minutes while the diesel generators fire up.  They supposedly have enough gas in the basement for a couple days, and have a contract with a gas supplier to guarantee gas delivery during that time, no matter what happens - ie. they will send people with small buckets if they can't get their truck there due to some crazy earthquake or something, though I figure, if the truck can't make it to the building, I am probably not going to be thinking about whether my servers have power, but rather which country should I move to....

Q. Well, if the truck can't make it to deliver gas, moving out of the country could prove a challenge... wheelbarrows to Canada, anyone?  ;-)  Let's trust that never happens.  I somehow didn't catch which storm did what to your house.  Linda said Ike, which unless it's larger than half the US is bewildering to me.

A. It was Ike, as it moved north.  Didn't really hardly hit us, I think, but just some wind.  We had a shingle or two knocked off, and a couple blown back - I suspect they are older than the home inspector thought, so we might need to replace those sooner rather than later.  And then a bunch of rain, which is the first serious rain we have gotten since we moved in, and there was water in the basement, which we had been expecting, but hoping that maybe we had fixed it with redoing some downspouts.  I haven't looked at a satellite picture - we weren't supposed to get Ike until tomorrow, but the pictures I saw on Sunday showed that it really did stretch all the way from Texas to Chicago.  And oh - we do currently have power - so not sure if it will go out again.  Having it come on and off again is actually not that bad, since the freezer and refrigerator get a chance to get cold again, and we can charge up the laptops and cell phones, etc.

Q. I suppose as long as you don't have to open the fridge and freezer too often and can get by with gallon jugs of water you're in a position to deal with intermittent power supply quite well.  I'm tempted to ask all the questions bouncing around an engineering mind regarding the basement, but I have to remind myself that (a) I know nothing of your setup (b) it's hard to describe a three-dimensional structure via e-mail and (c) even if I could visualize your house and its pipes I couldn't really contribute any experience or empirically gained knowledge.  So instead I'd like to pre-book a tour so I can learn from what y'all have done next time I visit.

A. For potable water, we fill up a 5 gallon bucket for washing, etc. Linda also filled up a cooler that is cleaner than my bucket.  And our neighbor offered his pool water for flushing the toilet.

As to the basement, the backyard is pretty flat, with a bit of an uphill at the back edge of the yard.  The ground is mostly a clay substance, and so doesn't soak up water very well.  When we moved into the house, there was a large, shallow puddle in the basement, and the well room was submerged with an inch of water.  It turns out that the air conditioner's drain poured into the well room, and there isn't a drain there.  I added a pump to lift the water from the air conditioner across the ceiling and dump it in the sink.

We have a dehumidifier that runs pretty much 24 hours a day, and removes 4 gallons of water a day from the air, keeping it at 60-65% humidity.  With the heavy rain recently, it hasn't been able to keep up, and the humidity has been more like 65-70%, even when running on high (I had turned it down to low, since it seemed like it couldn't get below 60% no matter what speed it ran at, and on low it costs a $1/day versus $2/day on high.

A number of the downspouts were either missing or go straight into the ground, and stop, either due to being clogged, or due to being designed that way - a hole had been dug about 8-12 inches deep, and that was it.  So, the effect was probably worse than not having gutters, since it concentrated all of the water at the corners of the house.

We rented a "ditch witch", which Porter had heard of before, but never used.  It was a pretty big piece of machinery (came with its own trailer) and at some angles, was too heavy for me to turn - I was hanging on the handlebars with my feet off of the ground, and it wouldn't budge; I needed Porter to come lean on it as well to get the front wheel off of the ground to turn it around.

It can dig a 6" trench up to 2 feet deep in one pass.  It is sort of like a large chain saw and rototiller put together.  We dug a 16 foot long trench that was 2 feet deep in the backyard, and then made sort of a cross at the end, and filled the end with gravel, and ran a pipe from the downspout out to the gravel.  I think that part is working very well.

In the front, a neighbor came over with some advice, that he thought we were digging too deep, but I am pretty sure (in hindsight) that he was wrong, as the front doesn't do as well as the back.  The front yard goes downhill starting 6 feet from the house or so, so I ran a couple pipes from a couple downspouts away from the house, and then the pipe surfaces.  It is washing away some of the topsoil, so I need to work on the end of the pipe a little - I am thinking about digging a hole (with a shovel, so I have been procrastinating, since the ground is awfully hard to dig) and filling it with gravel and then put a right angle on the pipe, and stuff it into the gravel, so hopefully the water will percolate to the surface, rather than gush out.

The last place where water looks like an issue is on the side yard (about 4-5 feet wide) it is flat going away from the house, and then a reasonably sharp uphill into the neighbors yard.  Water collects there, and I suspect that is the cause of the water entering that side of the house.  I am not sure where to bring that water, as the land is flat all around.  I was wondering about getting a larger ditch witch (I know there is a bigger size, but I don't know how big it is) and simply digging a large trench to try to get the water below the foundation. I see that this one can dig a 4 foot hole, so that might work.

The other place where water is entering the basement seems to be from underneath the well room, and I don't know if there is a way to solve that, other than a sump pump in the basement.

I am still hoping to avoid doing a large excavation project around the entire house, where we would dig 4 feet around the house, down to the bottom of the foundation, cover the walls with a rubber sheeting material, put in a pipe to redirect all of the water to somewhere (a big gravel pit in the driveway?) and then fill it all in with gravel.  A lot of work, and/or a lot of money, so I am not looking forward to that.  Uncle Jay has volunteered to come down next month, so we might think about that then.  Probably it is more likely that we will continue to avoid that project, but get his advice on it, and then do it next summer if we need to.

Posted by Jon Daley on September 17, 2008, 9:03 am | Read 7477 times
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