Saturday, March 12, 2011

Burst Pipe and Basement Mudslide

I thought I'd post on here for anyone who hasn't heard yet, what's going on at our place.  Yesterday morning I got up and was sitting at the table eating breakfast when I suddenly became aware that I could hear water running somewhere.  Since N was still asleep and R was eating with me, I wondered what the source could possibly be.  Warily, I looked towards the basement door.  When I opened it I heard a sound to send a chill down any homeowner's spine: a waterfall.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, half of the space under our house is crawlspace, with about 3 1/2 ft between the dirt floor and the ceiling joists.  The other half was dug out and made into an unfinished basement sometime after the house was built.  The floor on that half is poured concrete, covered with gravel for drainage.  A small well is drilled in the floor near the middle of the wall opposite the crawlspace, and a sump pump sits in there and sucks up the generous amounts of groundwater that seep through the basement wall this time of year.  There is a wall separating the basement from the crawlspace, but it only runs about half the length of the basement - along the other half there is a "soil wall" where the soil level abruptly drops from that of the crawlspace to that of the basement.  It's not terribly attractive, but presumably it's been that way since at least 1996, when our hot water heater was installed, and probably long before that.  There are tree roots in there that seem to help stabilize it.

When I got downstairs I found a minor but steady trickle of water running over the edge of  the soil wall, and a sizable mudslide that had already taken place as a result.  All I can say is, we were very lucky that I heard the water when I did, and that I had set two window screens against the soil wall sometime last year; when I went over to look at the mudlside up close I realized that the window screens were temporarily preventing the mudslide from taking out the bottom of our hot water heater, and the mud that had crept around them was nearly up to the level of the pilot light.

I probably don't have to tell you we had no idea what to do.  Our basement has always been wet, but no water has ever come in from the crawlspace side before and we knew something was wrong.  There was no visible source for the water: no leaking pipes, no water running down the wall, just a damp section of the foundation wall that seemed to indicate it was coming from outside.  While N rigged up a tube to divert water from the crawlspace to the sump pump - without flowing over the now eroded soil wall - I went upstairs and called the water utility company.  They sent someone out about an hour later, who seemed sympathetic but initially was pretty confident that we were just seeing the effects of Thursday night's rainstorm.  (There was a flash flood advisory.)  Finally I think N convinced him to investigate a little, so he opened the well out by the street where our water metered is house, and they discovered that even with the house's main water valve shut off we seemed to be using about a gallon of water per minute.

That meant that there was a leak somewhere in the pipe leading from the meter to the house, and the only thing the water company will do in such cases is shut off the water at the meter and give you an adjustment on your bill.  Homeowner's insurance rarely covers these events, though they might cover the damage to the basement if it's more than our deductible.  We had a plumber out yesterday who gave us good news and bad.  The good news is, he could probably install a new pipe without taking out our tree or sidewalk.  The bad news is it will cost several thousand dollars and he won't be able to dig the hole(s) until the ground has dried up a bit.  (This time of year in Maryland, that could be several weeks.)

We had him shut off the water at the meter, so at least the basement is no longer filling with water and mud, and we're getting a couple more estimates on the repair today.  The plumber who came by yesterday offered to set up a temporary work-around on Monday to get water into the house.  The sooner the better, since our boiler technically shouldn't be run without a working water supply, and R (who was sick Thursday night) seems to have Strep Throat.  We've been using the boiler as little as possible and running space heaters to keep the house warm.  We've got buckets and pots filled with water, and the bathtub too, though none of it can be considered potable.  Our neighbor's son kindly offered to let us shower at his mom's house.  Basically, the situation is stable for now.  The foundation doesn't seem to have been damaged by all the water running under/through it, and the basement is slowly drying, although it's going to be a heck of a mess to clean it out.

That's about all the good news for today.  I'll try to add some pictures to this post later.


  1. Oh, what a terrible mess. I'm so sorry to hear about it all.

  2. Hope thing have stabilized and can start to dry out.Keep posting - both good and not so good!

  3. Oh no Shaela!! I'm so sorry to hear about this! Please let me know what the final estimate is. I really hope it goes down! And I certainly hope R feels better!