Thursday, February 2, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere!

Water is the lifeblood of a healthy farm. It also destroys things when left unchecked. When the rains started this fall, we found out that the old stone house was not totally impervious. Even the slightest drizzle brought torrents of water into the basement. In not just one, but several locations. What gives?! We had to find some DIY solutions quickly.

Water problem #1: It turns out that, over the years, rainwater runoff had deposited layers upon layers of dirt near the back of the house. Eventually, the ground began to slope toward the basement door, driving water inside. Aerial photos from the 1950s revealed that a small road used to run from that door straight out to the orchards. If we could just find that road surface again, we could use it to channel water away from the house. So, with our trusty Kubota front-loader, we scraped away decades of dirt until we hit gravel. The old road was still there – buried under almost a foot of soil. We cleared nearly 30 feet of the old road, leaving an even slope away from the door and a nice stone berm alongside. Water problem #1 was solved.

Water problem #2 was trickier. Stagnant pools of water would form in the far side of the basement after every major storm. The sump pump had little effect. Luckily, the culprits were easy to spot. First, all the water exiting the outside drainpipe on that side of the house ran back towards the foundation. Second, the sump pump did not have a check valve installed (a valve that allows water to flow out, but not back in). Water was being pumped up, but then gravity pulled it back down into the basin. This caused the sump pump to work non-stop pumping the same water over and over again.

Installing the check valve and cleaning the sump basin was a nasty job, but, it was straight-forward thanks to a shop-vac, respirator and rubber gloves. Stopping the rainwater seepage in the first place was another can of worms. What we needed was a French drain – a system to draw the water away from the house, and then disperse it underground. This required me to dig a 20-foot long, downward sloping trench, gravel it, and then lay waterproof tubing for the first ten feet and then slotted tubing for the remaining distance. It took me a full day, mainly due to hitting a stone walkway, the remnants of a long-buried fieldstone wall and a wrought-iron fence while digging the trench. Oh, and the first snowfall of the year. I am happy to say that, after two months and several rainstorms, that corner of the basement is still dry.

These little problems are so easy to ignore. (“Eh, it’s not that much water.) But, from what I’ve seen around the farm outbuildings, if they’re allowed to persist, they can cause a sea of problems. So, I’m taking advantage of our down-time and this mild winter to fix as many of them as possible.


  1. I agree that having a good drainage system is important in every household. Having a good water jetter would also help cleaning and gardening a lot easier.

  2. Well written article. Thanks for sharing this article. Keep it up. Sump Pump Guides