…and they have cascaded together down the years.
The house needed new gutters.
We hired a guy to install new gutters.
That guy noticed that there were drainpipes coming up out of the ground at each corner where you’d naturally put a downspout. They were capped off, and the downspouts were draining onto the ground—like they do—and that was causing some minor efflorescence of the bricks in the basement at those corners. Which is concerning because it means the rainwater is not being escorted away from the house as it should. But isn’t a huge deal. But anyway he suggested we just run the downspouts into these drainpipes….
A couple two three years later, we were having a recurring flooding problem in the basement. Every time there was a really heavy rain, the basement drains would back up, the toilet down there would overflow…it was not great. (Writing this next to the thing about the downspouts makes it all obvious. But we didn’t realize what was happening until much later.)
So one day a person came around offering a solution to our basement flooding woes. His company installed a French Drain around the perimeter of our basement. Basically they dug a trench through the basement floor all around the edge, put perforated drain pipe in the bottom of it, filled the trench back up with gravel, and patched the concrete back up leaving about a 2″ gap. There’s a sump that the drain pipe drains to, and a pump to drain the sump out into the back yard. They guaranteed we would never have standing water in the basement again.
Note that they didn’t guarantee no flooding. Just no standing water.
The drains still backed up; the water just ran quickly into the french drain and away. The basement still flooded and things in the basement got wet when it rained; the water just didn’t stand around. So not much actually improved. In fact, where before the basement had been generally arid when it wasn’t flooding, now it is always a little dank as humid air is constantly infiltrating up through the 2″ crack they installed around the entire perimeter of the basement.
A few more years went by, and we needed a new roof, which meant replacing the gutters again. We hired a roofer guy. That guy took one look at the downspouts going into the drainpipes and told us that he would not do that for us, because it was illegal in our town.
So that explained why they’d been capped off.
We still didn’t catch on about the flooding and the drainpipes, though. It was a few years later when that realization dawned on me. Because it had been a few years since the drains had backed up….It turns out the reason the downspout-into-drain thing is illegal is because of issues like this on a city-wide scale. They used to do it that way (with combined storm and sanitary sewers), and now at great expense they’ve been separated so our basement (the collective, city-wide “our”) doesn’t flood when it rains.
So now my drains don’t back up when it rains, because I’m not overloading them with thousands of gallons of rainwater. But the french drain is still there, making my basement extra humid. And also…there’s the rat issue.
Several weeks ago, I noticed that it looked like some mice had been at some of my stored pasta. As I’ve mentioned, most of my food is stored in glass or steel or at the very least sealed plastic buckets, for exactly this reason. Maybe 90%. Except for the pasta, basically.
I threw away all the ruined pasta I found, and bought more buckets, and now the new packages of long pasta are in a 5 gallon bucket, and the packages of curly egg noodles are in a second 5 gallon bucket, and the ramen is in plastic tubs.
But last week, I discovered that a: the boxed mac-n-cheese which I thought was too high off the ground to get got by mice was in fact nibbled. And b: what I found was not mouse droppings, but rat droppings. Some more investigation revealed a prodigious pile of dirt behind/under one of the shelving units. Right next to the french drain, which had a spot quite clear of dirt. Suspiciously clear of dirt, for being next to this big pile of dirt.
So now I’ve put out some rat traps. And I put the remaining mac-n-cheese in steel ammo cans. It probably won’t stay there; I have a good eye for sizes so I ran out and bought the cans, and I was pretty damn close to perfect. But it turns out that while twelve boxes of mac-n-cheese fit perfectly in a 50cal ammo can in three rows of four, they’re maybe 6mm too tall. So the lid is almost impossible to close. The mac-n-cheese will probably end up in another bucket. And probably the ramen; the plastic bins I got at the dollar store are just the right size, but while I am confident they’ll keep out mice, I am not confident they’ll keep out rats.
And speaking of keeping out the rats, I also need to figure out how to exclude rats from my basement when they have this 150-foot-long point of entry available to them….
What with the damp and the rodentia, the french drain is clearly not doing me good. Especially now that the sewer doesn’t back up on the regular. But figuring out how to seal it up is something I’m still pondering. In normal construction, when you have a gap you need to fill and still allow to expand and contract, you use caulk. If you have a “wide” gap you need to fill, you stuff a foam rod in the crack and caulk it over. But that’s not really a thing for gaps this wide. The foam rod would be more like a pool noodle and I’d go broke buying a thousand tubes of caulk. (I don’t actually know if it needs to expand and contract. It was all one piece until the french drain guys separated the floor from the foundation walls. I think it’s better to not fill it back in with concrete. I don’t want to cause more trouble; I don’t know if the concrete they used has the same expansion characteristics as the concrete the rest of the floor is made of, and likewise for any concrete I would use.) But I need to fill and seal it up with something. And whatever it is has to ideally be rodent-resistant and moisture-proof.
I’m still working on that in my head. With the food locked up and traps out, I hope to be rid of the current rat or rats pretty soon. But I’m likely to get more invaders if I don’t close the border.