Flooding (Continued)

11 January 2006 · 17 comments

Oops. How embarrassing. All those rainfall numbers I cited on Monday? Those are for Astoria. Let’s redo the body of that entry but with the correct numbers for Portland, shall we?

Since January first, Portland has had 4.34 inches of rain, which is 1.70 inches above the norm of 2.64 inches. Over the same period last year, we received only 0.56 inches of rain. (And, remember, between February 15th and March 15th, we had no rain and record warmth.)

Over the past twenty-three days (since the cold spell ended on December 18th) we’ve had 10.77 inches of rain, which is 6.78 inches above the norm of 3.99 inches. During the same period last year, we received only 1.94 inches of rain.

All my babbling about this being a heavy water year is nonsense. We are above average, and have had a great deal of rainfall in the past three weeks, but our annual numbers are not as off-the-chart as I thought we were.

I apologize for the previous misinformation. It’s really quite embarrassing to have posted it.

Regardless of how much rain we’ve had, it’s still too much. Our poor house is being battered by the storm. The leak in the roof seems mostly contained, but I still suspect water is getting in somewhere. (I have no idea where, though — I went over that area of the roof in minute detail when I patched it at the end of December. I obviously missed something somewhere.

The roof worries me most in the long run. In the short run, the water in the basement is a significant headache. I may need to get in touch with the previous owner to get some tips on how to cope with it. (Of course, we could just move everything out of the basement, but that seems like an extreme measure.)

Last night we became well-acquainted with our sump pump.

When I got home, there entire basement was flooded, and the deeper spots had about an inch of water. I drained the area with the sump pump and went upstairs. When Kris got home an hour later, she went down to check things out. She came up angry. “Why haven’t you drained the basement?” she demanded.

“I did!” I said.

I went down to look. The water was even deeper than before. Throughout the evening, we took turns draining the basement every hour or so. We even set up shifts during the night. I drained the basement at 11:30, 2:30, and 5:30; Kris drained it at 1:00 and 4:00.

We have lots of questions, some of which have possible answers with severe negative consequences. For example:

Ought we just let the cellar fill with water? What would happen if we didn’t pump it? Obviously, we can’t be at the house 24 hours a day. How deep will the water get if we’re not there to pump it every ninety minutes? Is there a typical maximum depth the water reaches? Would it just rise to a certain level and stop? Or does it just keep rising indefinitely? Today before we left for work, we pulled up the sump pump and set it in a corner. (It’s not a submersible type, and the plunger thingie doesn’t work — it rises, but it does not fall.) What would happen if we just left the sump pump in the deepening water? If it became submerged, would it be dangerous to enter the water? Would it be dangerous to turn it on? Would it be dangerous to plug or unplug the pump if it were under water? Is there a way to treat the eventual mold growth? (I’ll bet there’s some liquid a person can spray that will kill molds. Am I right?) What can we do to prevent future flooding? (Or at least to minimize it.) We’ll re-evaluate the gutter system very soon, making sure everything is clear and functioning properly. We’ll also get tubing to drain all of the downspouts further away from the house. Aside from this, what else can we do? Dave has suggested digging some gravel-filled sump pits and trenches outside the house, and I think this is a keen (but daunting) idea. What’s the best method to do this? How many do I need? Where do I place them? How deep must they be? Would it help to run the well outside? (By which I mean: turn on the faucet attached to the well, activate the pump, and drain water through a hose to a spot near the road.)

These aren’t questions I’ve ever had to worry about before. They’re a little overwhelming. I’m sure we’ll be fine. This house has stood for over one hundred years, and for most of that time it did not have the sump pump. (It appears to have been set in place during the early eighties based on dates on the cord and the pump itself.)

1 trevor January 11, 2006 at 08:15

I’d invest in a pump with a working automatic float or pressure switch. The horse power should match the one you currently have and it should be optimized for the diameter of your pit. It will cost 100 to 150 dollars, but you will be able to sleep (or at least stay in bed) through the night.

Even periodic flooding can cause significant mold and dry rot problems.

2 Janet Eder January 11, 2006 at 08:21

Protect your stuff in the basement by putting it all up on wooden pallets….as many stacked on top of each other as you think you will need. Maybe you need a new sump pump that can handle the amount of water that you are now having. I lived all my pre West coast life with a sump pump in the basement, and though we came close, we never lost anything. Keep bailing!

3 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 08:35

I think Trevor has the right idea: a new sump pump might be a good idea. The current one seems perfectly serviceable except that the float doesn’t work. (I wonder if the diameter of the pit is just too small.) I’ll fiddle with it more later today. The real problem is that the pit fills in about thirty seconds. Essentially, the pump would be cycling on-and-off constantly. This seems to me a Bad Thing. (Of course, I have no real basis for believing this is a Bad Thing. It’s just a feeling.) Does anyone have experience with a pump that has to cycle a thousand times per day? How much elecricity would this draw? Would it burn out the pump?

4 Amy Jo January 11, 2006 at 08:59

Sump pumps in basements that drained automatically when filled (and that had back up battery packs–power outages were too common to risk not having a generator) were standard issue in Alexandria. We eventually coughed up the many thousands of dollars to have our floor cut up, drainage trenches installed along the foundation walls (on the inside of the house) that drained into a sump pump, and then the floor patched. All because we had seepage issues that couldn’t be resolved by directing water away from the house. During periods of heavy rain, the groundwater level was just too high. We did this only a few months before selling the house, in order to refinish the “finished” basement that had been damaged by periodic flooding (up to six inches a few times, but usually on an inch or two at a time). It was pretty dry when we did this and the darn thing still ran a half dozen times a day and spat out water to our storm drains on a regular basis. I suspect in times of heavy rain it would have run nearly non-stop.

5 Lane January 11, 2006 at 09:18

I have absolutely no expertise in this, but my questions are: where is the pump sending the water? Is the water reaching its intended destination? If not, could there be a blockage in the route? If there is a blockage, is the water just going back to where it came from (the basement)? Good luck.

6 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 09:27

Good question, Lane.

Initially the pump was simply jetting the water out the side of the house onto the boxwood hedge near the sidewalk. It quickly became apparent that this water was then sinking back into the ground and visibly gushing from a slot that has been cut into the cinder block wall near the pump. This was quickly remedied by taking the sewer tubing that we’d bought to extend downspout drainage (and which did nothing to help our problem) and moving it to the sump-pump exit pipe. Now the water is draining ten feet from the house, onto the lawn, several feet downslope.

Actually, I think it would be a rather keen investment for us to purchase a few more lengths of this tubing. They only cost a few bucks each, and the potential benefit seems enormous. By attaching them to every downspout, and by extending the sump pump drainage further from the house (to the garden, say), it may be possible at least reduce some of the seepage.

Thanks to Janet and AmyJo, by the way, for sharing their experiences. I find this comforting and helpful. Believe me: I will be contacting you if I have questions. :)

7 Peter Stathakos January 11, 2006 at 10:30


Although we never had to face the amount of water you’re talking about the sump pump in our old house had an automatic float and it was a life saver. When the pump was running well it would drain the pit in under a minute. I highly recommend spending the money to get a good pump that will turn on on it’s own. Even if it’s working 50% of the time (during heavy inundation) that should keep you dry.

Besides that, diverting as much of the water away from the foundation of the house as possible using tubing is totally recommended. The more water you can prevent from soaking into the ground the more you prevent from getting into the basement in the first place.

8 Lee January 11, 2006 at 10:32

Is it possible to extend the tubing so that the water drains into the city’s storm drains (assuming you live in an area where there is an installed drainage system)?

I used to live in a house with similar flooding issues (but idiot absentee landlady was too cheap to spring for a sump pump. We had to drain several inches of water using a wet-dry vac. We tenants bought a sump pump after bailing out the water three times in two days). The basement kept flooding even though we pumped the water onto the lawn far away and downhill from the house. The only way we could keep the water out of the basement was to run the hose directly to the street’s gutter. If the ground around your house is saturated, then the water may still seep the basement. Surface water runs downhill. Groundwater may not.

Sump pumps are great. Get an automatic one (pumps only when the water reaches a certain height and then will shut off when the water level drops).

Good luck.

9 John January 11, 2006 at 11:40


Everybody else has given you good advice about sump pumps, so I’ll touch on something else.

The leak in the roof seems mostly contained, but I still suspect water is getting in somewhere. (I have no idea where, though — I went over that area of the roof in minute detail when I patched it at the end of December. I obviously missed something somewhere.

In my experience, it’s rare that the roof leaks directly above the ceiling’s water spots. That would be too easy! :)

When I had water damage start showing in the bedroom, I had to actually go up into the attic during a rainstorm with my high-powered flashlight and backtrack the water to the leak’s source. It had started on a corner peak, then ran down a rafter until it hit a knot – and then dripped straight down. Onto a ceiling joist – and it moved another foot or two before it dove over the side, down through the insulation, and down to the drywall.

If I hadn’t gone up there during the storm and seen the drip, I’d probably still be be trying to find it. FWIW, it was caused by a raised roofing nail. Just cross your fingers that lightning doesn’t choose that time in the attic to turn you into a statistic.

Also, please realize that when you do find the hole, you need to patch it on the outside. Pasting tar over the hole from the inside means you still have a hole for water to collect in from the outside, and it’ll eventually find its way into your attic. In my case, I hammered the nail back down and smeared roofing tar liberally over the top of it.

The next storm, I climbed up into the attic again to check my work – no leak. (and there was much rejoicing)


10 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 11:54

Everybody else has given you good advice about sump pumps, so I’ll touch on something else.

Excellent. As I said, the roof actually give us the most concern.

In my experience, it’s rare that the roof leaks directly above the ceiling’s water spots.


For the main leak, the one that instigate my roof-bound escapades in the first place, the source was obvious: a poorly installed vent on a flat roof. On flat roofs (which are not exactly flat, obviously), the water tends to drain more directly downward. That one was easy. This secondary leak is not.

When I had water damage start showing in the bedroom, I had to actually go up into the attic during a rainstorm with my high-powered flashlight and backtrack the water to the leak’s source.

The real problem we have is that there isn’t any attic access. To get into the attic, I’ll need to cut into the ceiling. Then, add to that the fact that we’ve still got some knob-and-tube wiring up there, and that the drywall used for the ceiling is the same thin stuff that was used downstairs (and thus won’t support a lot of weight, as evidenced by the contractor who fell through the ceiling), and you’ve got a headache. Still: it is likely that in the next few days I’ll have to cut a whole in my ceiling and take a peek at the underside of the roof.

Just cross your fingers that lightning doesn’t choose that time in the attic to turn you into a statistic.

Fortunately Oregon rainstorms almost never have lightning. Lightning is a once or twice a year occurrence. Rain happens more often! :)

Thanks for the advice, John. I appreciate it.

11 john January 11, 2006 at 13:50

By attaching them to every downspout

Holy smokes, man!
How many downspouts don’t have that tubing and if any do, how far away does it run?

I used to live in a place in north Portland and the basement would always get leaks (although not as bad as what you are experiencing). We fitted all the downspouts with some of that 10 foot flat tubing that is rolled up and will unroll when the pipe fills with water. Once we did that, we never even saw a leak again.
It was a pretty amazing change.

12 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 15:22

Kris called me at about one o’clock this afternoon. She’d come home briefly to check on the basement. “It’s worse than ever,” she said. “But it’s not as bad as it could be. It’s up to my ankles.”

She couldn’t get the sump pump to work, though. Would I come home and take care of things? I would.

When I reached the house, there were five inches of water at the far end of the basement. (Again, only about an inch at the near end, and only trace amounts at the foot of the stairs.)

Though I was very afraid of electrocuting myself (I don’t know how self-contained these pumps are), I unplugged the pump, set it in place, turned on the switch, stood on a milk crate, and then plugged it in. It flung water hither and yon like a giant water fan, and it didn’t seem to be doing anything. I couldn’t hear it draining from inside. Nothing sparky had happened, so I tested the water and did not die, so I went outside to check. Sure enough: we had drainage. It took about twenty minutes to drain the basement (as opposed to ten minutes per attempt last night).

That mission accomplished, I rummaged in the workshop and found a variety of rubber washers, several of which happen to fit snugly on the end of the sump pump plunger. I’ve managed to rig things so that the damn things work AUTOMATICALLY. After I got it working, I timed ten cycles. They lasted 49, 50, 50, 51, 51, 52, 52, 53, 53, and 53 seconds, respectively. Detect a pattern? We can put off buying a new sump pump, at least for a day.

Still, we’re going to make a trip to the hardware store to stock up on several lengths of tubing to draw the water far, far away from the base of the house.

(A quick trip downstairs to check the current length of a sump pump cycle: sixty seconds!)

13 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 19:14

Two minutes, seven seconds.

We spent some time this evening at the hardware store, pricing sump pumps ($67, our hole isn’t big enough for a submersible model), looking at gutter-drainage options (we need to take some measurements), and also looking at gutter screens (we don’t have a huge problem, but if they’re cheap and easy, I’ll consider installing them).

With luck, this will become a weblog about comic books and computer games again soon.

14 J.D. January 11, 2006 at 23:02

Two minues, fifty-four seconds.

15 J.D. January 12, 2006 at 06:22

Three minutes, fifty-five seconds. But, of course, no rain in the past sixteen hours.

16 Amanda January 12, 2006 at 06:38

What a laugh I just had! I saw your Battlestar Galactica link under “On this day at foldedspace.org” and thought I would check it out. Much to my amusement I saw that I posted a disparaging comment about the show. Wouldn’t you know, it’s now my favorite show. I just love it.

Funny how you can change your mind about things. :>

17 Lisa January 13, 2006 at 08:22

Well! I, for one, have been obliviously quoting your figures to many people. Reality–so much less impressive. Then again, perhaps the moral of the tale is… Never move to Astoria.

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