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Ground Water/Water Under Slab


StevenT
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I inspected a house yesterday and would like some additional input regarding an existing condition.

The house is built in a notorious low lying area near the beach. In the past twenty years or so, as land values have increased and land availability has decreased, the area is becoming built up. Prior to this time, the area was mostly vacant with some bungalows... usually built well above grade.

In addition to the grade already being low, the house was built in a way that the garage is about 3 feet below grade and the basement is about 2 feet lower than that.

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When I uncovered the house trap, I discovered standing water below the slab, about 12" below the finished floor. The last rain we had was about two or three days prior to taking this photograph. This is the height the sump pump is maintaining.

Additionally, around the perimeter of the basement, there is a space that resembles a French Drain. The reason that I say "resembles" is because it does not drain anywhere, it simply is a void that will allow water to pass to the gravel below the slab.

As you can see in the photo, there is also perforated pipe below the slab. I can't tell how it is laid out below the slab.

Obviously, water was on the mind of whoever built this house from the very beginning of construction.

Notice the holes in the cleanout cap to drain the area as well.

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About 10 feet away from the pit is a sump pit/pump. Access is completely blocked by the boiler, it was all I could do to reach in and get a picture of it. I pity the guy that has to work on it if there is ever a problem. There is about 6" of water in the bottom of the sump pit.

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There is a floor drain in the garage, as I stated above, this area is about 2 feet higher than the basement that is described above.

When I opened the drain cap, I found standing water in the drain pipe about 12" below the finished floor, which is considerably higher than the water level in the basement, including the sump, so obviously the drain is not draining anywhere other than into the gravel below the slab, which is already saturated. Once again, the "swimming pool" effect.

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There are multiple zipper drains on the exterior of the house, I can't tell for sure where they drain to, I suspect they terminate under the slab, possibly to the sump pit/pump, possibly to nowhere.

I have very definite opinions regarding these issues, but I don't want to post them right now. I want additional opinions that are not influenced by anything that I may inject.

This is the 5th home that I've looked at for this client. I joke with him that I can retire and set up a private practice working exclusively for him. There was one house that I inspected for him that I felt was built comparatively well, but as we were leaving the site, we got into a conversation with the next door neighbor and it turns out that there was a drug related homicide in the subject house's backyard 4 days prior to the inspection... (there is an alleged dealer living one house away)

My client likes this house and was asking me questions that made me feel as if he wants me to say that what I found is ok. I think he is getting itchy and wants to buy... "real bad."

The "Zoid" made a comment that I was the first HI that showed up with a ladder (I normally carry a 28 footer), and at one point the term "deal killer" was used. I responded by stating that "I am not a deal killer, but I've inspected some houses that have killed their own deals."

I am a religious man, and as is the "religion" at TIJ, we are loyal to our clients... not to the "Zoids."

If I see something, I call it. If that makes me a "Deal Killer"... then I wear that title with pride. What would you call the other option?

Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent, so I'll stop here.

Please opine.

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I'd tell him this house was built on the "sucker lot".

Most subdivisions around here have that one lot that no builder would touch. The boom made even these sucker lots "desirable".

I'd tell the guy flat out he's got his own private little flood plain, w/all the attendant maintenance issues of keeping it pumped out and dry. I'd explain about pumps failing, and the need for multiple redundancie's in the pumps, backups, and auxiliary power supplies. Clearly, if one of the pumps goes down, he's underwater.

My report would delineate all the consideraitons of this building site, w/an emphasis on the consequences should one of his pumps fail.

If, after explaining the consequences of owning the sucker lot, the guy still wants it, I'd shift gears (out of range of anyone but me and the buyer), about the baggage he's taking on. Even if he doesn't get flooded, what if he wants to sell in a down market, and now he's holding the baggage of the sucker lot?

I'd lead this guy to water in every way imaginable, and I'd hold his head underwater. If he still chooses not to drink, I might have to shoot him.

Since you're a religious man, I'll share something a customer told me years ago; he said;

"You have the best job in the world! All you have to do is tell the truth!"

That pretty much sums up my approach to the gig. You can't go wrong telling the truth.

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Hi Steven,

I pretty much have to concur with Kurt. Tell the client to ask himself, "What kind of an idiot would build a house with the garage and basement lower than the surrounding terrain when the house is already in a known flood plain?" Hell, his sump pump is going to be keeping the neighborhood pumped out. I bet the neighbors love it.

I'd ask him if he has any running shoes. When he asked why, I'd say, "Because you need to put them on and run as hard as you can away from this house."

OT - OF!!!

M.

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So we are all on the same track. I've also thought about flood insurance. Because of where the house is situated, it may be difficult to obtain.

I felt a bit uneasy because I keep inspecting houses for him that have multiple problems, and don't want to come off like I am making mountains out of mole hills. But they are mountains and I cannot turn them into mole hills.

As far as possible scenerios, if there was a power failure (which is certainly not unusual) and the need for redundancy, during a hurricane/storm, it is physically possible for this house to have 8 - 10 feet of water.

During normal conditions, there will always be water under the slab. So we are talking about mold, infestations, and everything else that comes with the package.

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Steven,

If you are letting Zoids bother you with what you say you may be in the wrong profession.

#1: Zoids have only one agenda and that is to sell. If that means demeaning HIs they will and right to your face. They are under the misapprehension they are in control of the inspection process.

#2: You are working for the buyer and have no responsibility of any kind to the zoib. I have worked with Realtors that were very nice and courteous and some that were a total pain in the @$$.

Had a home as you describe a few years back. I had a 4 foot steel rod and could push it completely into the front yard. There was an inspection hole in one of the bedrooms, same thing with rod. There was mold on base boards and walls. There was a creek in back yard and lot sloped that way so we figured there may be an under ground spring under the house. Brand new home and buyer could not occupy. Sad, big upset, builder running.

RECOMMENDATION:

Call a licensed engineer that understands and works with underground water problems for repairs as needed.

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Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

Hell, Fallingwater's almost 70 years old. Throw enough money at engineering, and almost anything's possible.

WJ

Funny you should mention Fallingwater. It is a good example of of how throwing a lot of money @ engineering doesn't necessarily take you anyplace.

The $50 million spent back in the 90's to "fix" the problems didn't address the underlying structual inadequacies of the original design. The repairs completed in 2002 turned into dozens of more problems.

The original design would not have supported itself; the subsequent reinforcements have only offered a temporary solution. The house has continuing major mold problems; it's alleged the original owner (Kaufman) called the house Rising Mildew, although that has been disputed.

The building, which has been called one that is "in harmony w/nature", is anything but. It is a monument to ego, and the idea that man can overcome nature.

While I personally find the building beautiful beyond description, it is nothing but a mess and an eyesore if modern structural engineering principles and environmental awareness are used as a gauge of beauty.

It is a testament to how poor design can be construed as otherwise if one is nearsighted enough to imagine they can outsmart mother nature. Water wins every time.

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Originally posted by StevenT

. . . There is a floor drain in the garage, as I stated above, this area is about 2 feet higher than the basement that is described above.

When I opened the drain cap, I found standing water in the drain pipe about 12" below the finished floor, which is considerably higher than the water level in the basement, including the sump, so obviously the drain is not draining anywhere other than into the gravel below the slab, which is already saturated. Once again, the "swimming pool" effect.

I think that the garage drain is trapped. That's what you're seeing there. It would be an amazing feat to have that much water that close to the garage floor and not ooze out into the adjacent basement.

My client likes this house and was asking me questions that made me feel as if he wants me to say that what I found is ok. I think he is getting itchy and wants to buy... "real bad."

I've found that the customers with 4 or 5 fail sales are, invariably, seeking a too-good-to-be-true value. They're really good at searching through housing stock and picking the one that seem undervalued. Of course, they hire me to find out why and then they pass on it and move on hoping to find a true steal. It's a huge pain in the neck for their realtor.

The "Zoid" made a comment that I was the first HI that showed up with a ladder (I normally carry a 28 footer),

The real estate agent just gave you a gift. From that point forward, whatever the agent says, you can reply with, "Ha, ha. Of course you thought that home inspectors didn't carry ladders. Ha, ha."

and at one point the term "deal killer" was used. I responded by stating that "I am not a deal killer, but I've inspected some houses that have killed their own deals."

Norm Sage's line has a nicer ring to it, "I've never killed a deal, but I've seen lots of deals commit suicide before my eyes."

The term "deal killer" is name calling and using it is usually a feeble attempt at intimidation. I prefer to not react to it.

. . . I am a religious man, and as is the "religion" at TIJ, we are loyal to our clients... not to the "Zoids."

If I see something, I call it. If that makes me a "Deal Killer"... then I wear that title with pride. What would you call the other option?

I would never call myself a deal killer. I think it would cheapen me.

As for religion, when I was a kid and something didn't work out for me, my mom always used to say, "God keeps away that which is bad for you and brings near that which is good for you." If you subscribe to the whole God thing, there's some comfort in that (in a strange, deterministic sort of way) and it relates both to your client's situation and that realtor's situation. On the other hand, I used to point out to my mom that Job probably would have had a different opinion. (That really pissed her off.)

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

I think that the garage drain is trapped. That's what you're seeing there. It would be an amazing feat to have that much water that close to the garage floor and not ooze out into the adjacent basement.

Thanks for saying that. I was thinking the same thing; forgot to mention it.

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Jim,

You might be right about the drain being trapped, it would certainly make sense. I also found it very odd that the water level in that area was so much higher than the adjacent basement.

But,

If you look at the drain cap on the clean out, you will notice that there are weep holes in it. The water level is at the maximum height that the weep holes will allow. Something is still "feeding" water into the area...

At this point my client is still very interested in the property and is willing to take drastic measures to control the water. Why he is willing to go to the measures is beyond me... I let him know that too.

He grew up on Long Island, in an area that is also a know flood zone and says he understands the risk... and is willing to take it. He has investigated flood insurance and have done research as to the elevation above sea level of the property.

He is going to speak to the builder and is going to ask to an allowance in the price to cover the cost of back up measures. By the way, the amount that he has in mind is not unreasonable. He made it clear that if the builder does not give him the allowance, he will walk.

As far as looking for a deal that is too good to be true, I agree that if something sounds too good to be true... it usually is. In this situation, although I agree that he is looking for a very good deal... and I don't blame him, the price range that he is looking at is not necessarily in the "too good to be true" range.

A friend of mine... a very seasoned, very successful RE investor once told me, "anybody can buy a house, the trick is to steal it." Once you get past the water problem of this house, I don't feel that it is a "steal"... maybe a good price, but certainly not a "steal."

I love Norm's quote, I shall use it as my own and I agree that the name calling is an attempt to intimidate an inspector to prove he is not a DK.

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I personally do not think the water problem I posted above can be fixed except by removing the home and installing a flower garden on the vacant lot. However since the buyer had already closed on the new home she will need some cannon fodder for her lawsuit against the builder. I would rather have an engineer than a landscape company testify for me in court. Maybe I should have recommended a bull dozer company for repairs as needed. [:-snorkel

Paul B.

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Very good Paul,

But the buyer has not yet closed on the deal and since the house has been inspected and the buyer has been notified of the conditions prior to the purchase, I wonder if they would have a leg to stand on in court.

Invest in sponges and shopvacs.

One of my quotes to my client was "remember, it's a house, not a boat.

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Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

And I know: all Wright's roofs leak.

But they look bitchin.'

WJid="blue">

Ain't it the truth. As much as Fallingwater violates every intelligent design principle I hold dear, I still find it to be the one of the most beautiful works of man ever created.

We're just typical male response patterns; tyrannized by good looks concealing underlying self-destructive tendencies.

That's a musicians most common weakness, although the lovely Brenda tends to belie that assessment. (For them that don't know, WJ is the funkiest white guy guitarist going, and the fair Brenda is his endlessly charming bride.)

Me? I'm just a dumbsh--

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