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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: My home is 30 years old. I recently pulled paneling off the basement wall and discovered a crack in the wall going from one end of the basement to the other. The crack is no wider than ź " 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 with these types 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 a 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 ž in the 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. Be sure 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 of 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 the basement floor. What are your thoughts on this matter?
Answer: For the ceiling, I would choose a drywall that is l/2 in thick and allows a 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, every time 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 the 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 Visqueen on the ground and extend it to the top of the footings. Bricks and stones can be used to hold the plastic in place.

Sump Pump
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 of feet above the pump so it cannot get wet and afloat activated switch that turns the pump on when the water reaches a certain level.
Submersible: an electric pump installed inground and designed to work underwater. It has the same float activated switch.
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.
Electric pumps:
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 models.

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 frequent choices.

Cast iron, particularly in old-style, clawfoot 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 door.

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 match faucets.

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 bids.

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.

Supply Lines:
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.

Ice Dams:
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 sits in a big puddle 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.