I spent a couple of nights away from home last week. When I came home, there were streams in our basement we had not seen before. (And with the usual three rivers in our basement, our basement is already the Pittsburgh of basements.) It is not just we who are wet: Recently, two customers told me of new wetness in their basements. So I assume many of my readers also might be concerned about water problems. But before you call the excavator, may I offer some suggestions?
My first suggestion is simple: Put the new wetness into perspective. National Weather Service data show that rainfall for July this year was nearly double the normal amount and nearly 3.5 times as much as last July. And, for the first seven months of this year, we are running nearly 15 inches above normal. To put this into perspective, the extra water in these seven months is like taking the normal January through July and then adding nearly two more normal Junes and two more normal Julys. So this year, we should be seeing water where we usually don’t.
My second suggestion is also simple: If you choose to take steps to fix the problem, stay away from “French drains.”
But before you move a single teaspoon of soil, consider moving plastic and aluminum. Yes, check all of your gutters and all of your neighbors’ gutters. The roofs in your neighborhood are like big water collection systems — make that cisterns. A rain-barrel here or there is not going to handle the inground-pool amounts of water that the local downspouts are depositing on, and uphill from, your property. You may discover that you have to make that dreaded visit to your neighbor’s front door. Take a plate of freshly baked cookies with you when you go to present your discovery, and offer to pay for the necessary reconfiguration. It will be much cheaper and more effective than buying French drains.
While you investigate runoff above ground, check the runoff on the ground. Is street, driveway or patio water being directed at your foundation? Like a roof, these impervious surfaces collect and concentrate water. Make sure that concentrated water is not aimed in a direction where it can do expensive damage.
Finally, if the source of your water is above ground, treat it above the ground. French drains treat water below the surface. It is only logical that for French drains to work, rainwater must pass through the ground to enter them. Aside from other issues, this is too slow to stop fast moving surface water. If you feel that it is necessary to use pipes to move rainwater, use grading, catch basins and channel drains to capture this water. Then move the captured water through solid piping that passes underground. Dig as little as possible.
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Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.