Frequently Asked Questions
Question: My home is 30 years old. I recently pulled off paneling off the basement wall and discovered a
crack in the wall going from one end of basement to the other. The crack is no wider than ¼ " at its worst point, but
the wall has also buckled in a little. How should I repair this?
Answer: Don't proceed any further until you get some answers from a professional company that deals in these type
of problems. My first question is, where is the crack in the wall. If it is at the junction between the floor and the
foundation, then having a crack the length of the basement might not be a problem. If the crack is horizontal, you may
have a serious problem. If the wall is moving inward or buckled as you say, you will need to hire a structural engineer
to make the necessary repairs.
Question: In renovating my basement, should I put plastic barrier against the concrete wall or after the framing
and install it on the studs?
Answer: Hold the framing away from the walls an inch or so. The vapor barrier is best installed on the outside
of the framing and under the drywall.
Question: I am presently working on a new addition to our present home, however, I am perplexed about how a new
basement can be added to a crawl space foundation.
Answer: There are special considerations in adding such an addition. After you dig down past the existing
foundation, you must pour an interior wall up to the height of the existing footing and then backfill with ¾ in rock to
secure this area. In regard to tying the two foundations together, you will need to drill and pill the existing footing
using l/2 in rebar. Besure there are no underground utilities and you can do this by calling JULIE for a locate. One
last thing, you will need to reroute the drain system for the foundation water.
Question: I'm redoing my basement into a family room and have a couple questions. What do you suggest for ceiling
choice? Ceiling height is low and would like to avoid losing too much space. I'd like to put a toilet in the basement.
I've seen units that pump up to sewer lines without requiring any holes in basement floor. What are your thoughts on
Answer: For the ceiling, I would choose drywall that is l/2 in thick and allows smooth, clean surface. Dark and
uneven surfaces will make a room look smaller. Toilets and all waste systems with sewer injectors work fine. If the
model you are looking at does not require the toilet to sit on a platform, however, everytime I see an elevated toilet,
I cringe. Cutting out concrete is not that expensive and something you could do your self and if this was necessary to
have the toilet at floor level, that would be my recommendation.
Question: We're planning to build a one-story home with a partial basement and crawl space. The soil is clay
and dry and likely to run into rock if we dig very deep. Someone recommends we pour a concrete pad in the crawl space
and spray it with a sealant to prevent future problems. Would it be worth the additional cost?
Answer: I don't see any great advantage in having a pad in the crawl space other than for it to be a little
easier to maneuver and cleaner.
Question: I plan on laying a vapor barrier down on the dirt floor of my crawl space. How far up the sides of the
walls should I go and what kind of adhesive should I use to attach the plastic to the concrete walls.
Answer: Some folks advocate the crawl space vapor barriers cover the side walls. I have found crawl spaces with
wet side walls are going to be wet no matter how the vapor barrier is installed. These crawl spaces require more
drainage work not just a vapor barrier. I would install a 4 to 6 mil. black plastic visquene on the ground and extend it
to the top of the footings. Bricks and stones can be used to hold the plastic in place.
Save your basement treasure and trash from flooding. The problems with basements, they are natural catch alls. Gravity
tends to pull all sorts of unused and obsolete objects into basements. When this clutter is mixed with a few inches of
water brought in after a heavy rain, two things happen. One, all the clutter is ruined and two, the clutter becomes
much more precious than it ever was.
Sump Pumps to Consider:
There are basically three types of sump pumps commonly used - two electric and one water-powered.
Pedestal: an electric pump with a motor a couple feet above the pump so it cannot get wet and a float activated
switch that turns the pump on when the water reaches a certain level.
Submeresible: an electric pump installed inground and designed to work under water. It has the same float
Water-powered: a pump that runs off the water pressure from your home plumbing system with the same
float-activated switch. These pumps handle water at a much slower rate than the electric varieties. But because they
require no electricity to operate, you still have a pumping system.
These have a built-in drawback - if the power goes out, as it often can during severe
weather, they require a battery backup to operate. Battery backups can be expensive.
Shower and Tub Enclosure Trends at a Glance
Etched glass doors are becoming more upscale and elaborate especially when used in conjunction with frameless door
Frameless, heavy glass doors are becoming increasingly popular but are not 100% waterproof, even with the vinyl gasket
(and thus, sometimes conflict with a client's desire for shower towers and steam).
A '40s-style, framed chrome retro look is becoming trendy again, in conjunction with a growing overall design trend
toward Arts and Crafts and other retro looks.
Taking a cue from shiatsu-massage-style whirlpools, shower systems are becoming more elaborate, with programmable and
height-adjustable jets, as well as a growing market for steam.
In the builder market, fiberglass is the main choice for shower stalls, followed by acrylic; in more upscale
applications, marble and other natural stones, larger-size ceramic tile with borders, glass block and solid surface are
Cast iron, particularly in old-style, claw foot tubs, is also making a resurgence for customers who want an authentic
retro look for the tub.
Showers and tubs are increasingly separate entities, sometimes separated by a half wall of opaque glass blocks or a
Pre-plumbed, all-in-one shower enclosures that include a steam generator are an area that many companies are researching
to make the product both easy to install and space efficient.
Exotic finishes like satin nickel, antique bronze and platinum are now available on a shower door and hinge hardware to
Tub liners that can be installed over existing fixtures area fast and economical way to upgrade a bathroom.
Safety concerns for physically challenged or elderly clients have prompted an increasing market for grab bars, anti-scald
devices, non-slip floors, shower seats and barrier-free shower pans.
"Buy it yourself" consumers who pick out their own baths and showers at a home center but have then professionally
installed are the fastest growing portion of the market.
The Ice Dam Cometh
In areas of the nation where Christmases are actually white, the winter season is a bit of a mixed blessing. When the
weather turns frosty, cherished sounds like the crackle of a fire or the snap of a whip on a sleigh are highly anticipated. But the cold weather season can be harmful to a home that's unprepared for winter. In that case, a snapping noise on Christmas Eve could be the unwelcomed sound of a pipe breaking.
Winterization is a bit like insurance, in that is's something to be taken care of well in advance of need. Don't wait
until the first freeze before insulating, caulking or stocking up on salt for the front sidewalk. Besides, prepping for
winter can really pay off in lower utility bills as well as fewer home repairs.
Outside is the obvious place to start, and the most critical concern is anything related to water. Because water expands
when it freezes, freezing can cause damage to sprinkler pipes, the main water service pipe, gutters. Ice can also be a
problem for swimming pools, spas, and related equipment.
Save Your Sprinklers:
Sprinkler systems should incorporate crain valves in areas subject to freezing. Shut down the main sprinkler control
valve (on automatic systems, turn the timer off, too) and open the system drain valve. Sprinkler systems without drains
should be blown free of water using compressed air, a job best left to a pro.
Wrap vacuum breaker valves with plastic sheeting and duct tape; use insulation in severe frost zones. An upside-down
Styrofoam ice chest can be used to insulate sprinkler valves and inexpensive Styrofoam covers are sold for hose
Special Care for Pools:
Pools and spas are expensive capital improvements deserving special care; at the very least, drain water to below the
tile line and top the pool with an insulate dover to guard against free damage. Filters and similar equipment idled for
the winter should also be completely drained and covered. If you're new to pool ownership, turn the job over to a pool
service technician who's experienced with winterization.
The main water supply line feeding the house is probably safely buried below the frost line. Any part that's exposed to
freezing temperatures (such as pipes in unheated crawl spaces or basements) should be covered with insulation.
In severe frost regions, install thermostatically controlled, electric pipe-heating tape along with the insulation.
Depending on local energy costs, these tapes burn about a quarter's worth of juice per day - a lot cheaper than having a
plumber thaw frozen water pipes. If that's not possible, a stop-gap measure is to open an indoor faucet and let water
trickle through the pipes during a hard frost.
Heat tapes area good idea for the roof, too. Low-temperature tapes provide constant heat to break the snowmelt and
freeze cycles. Ice dams form when snow on warm patches of the roof repeatedly melts, flows downhill and freezes over the
cold parts of the roof and gutters. Eventually a large mass of ice forms beneath the shingles of tiles. Snowmelt backs
up behind these dams and sit in a big puddles on the roof, damaging it and causing leaks.
The problem starts with uneven temperatures on the roof caused by heat loss from the building's interior, a problem that
may require extra insulation to solve. Gaps around plumbing vents and electrical wiring act like chimneys, siphoning
heated interior air into the attic. A warm attic heats the roof, melting snow from the top of the roof down. Spray-foam
insulation is a simple and easy way to seal these gaps. Even if there are no gaps visible, additional insulation may be
needed to prevent warm air from rising into the attic.
Specialty heat tapes are available to prevent ice build-up in gutters. If gutters fill with ice, they may start to sag
from the weight and even break loose from their mountings.