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Keeping Water Out Of Your Basement

2 Jun

I devote a chapter in the book to basements. Why? Basements are the go-to shelter in many storms. If a tornado hits, you’re much safer in a well-constructed basement than you’d be most places.

One topic I didn’t have room to address properly was keeping water out of your basement. This information applies to any structure below ground, bomb shelters and underground homes need to stay dry too!

1) Choose a good location to build on. Is your home near a river that regularly overflows? Look at the surrounding ground. You want your home on higher ground. Water will run naturally down and shed from your home. Don’t select a location where water will pool.

For a new home you can get a CLUE report. CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. It’s like a history of insurance claims against a property. If a home has been flooded multiple times in the past, it will flood in the future.

A controversial topic is the government’s insurance program for flood prone areas. If you live in some areas, your home will be flooded. It’s just a matter of when.

Don’t build on a steep hill. Heavy rains move soil and could damage your home. I feel a bit queasy whenever I see a home precariously perched on a steep slope. Why ever did they build there?

2) Augment the natural flow of water away from your home. This can be done in several ways.

a) For sure, clean your gutters. Purchase extensions and run your gutter pipe at least 8 to 10 feet away from your home.

b) Look at the grade near your house. The ground should slope away from your house. This will help carry rainfall away. If necessary, purchase dirt and bank it up around your home. This is a must do if your grade isn’t acceptable.

c) OK. You’ve got squeaky clean gutters. Your grade is great. Just because of your location and other sources of water pouring into the land your home sits on, you still have issues. There are three common solutions.

You could build a French drain to channel water flow away from your property. You can search Youtube for “French drain” to learn more. Basically, a French drain is a channel which water can take to move away from the area you want to keep dry. It’s like an express lane for water. These are constructed with plastic drain pipe, filter cloth, and stones or pebbles. Don’t build a German drain by accident!

You only need a French drain if you must move substantial amounts of water away from your home.

d) What if you’re in a relatively low location and water in your French drain doesn’t have anywhere to go? It’s time to learn about building a dry well. A dry well is basically a hole in the ground and channels leading to the hole. Water flows from the channels into the hole and from there can seep into the ground. If the reservoir fills too rapidly, there is a pop up where water can come out the top. Rocks around and below the installed well aids in water flow.

You only need a dry well if your French (not German!) drain doesn’t have anywhere to shed water.

e) An alternative to French drains and drywells or a supplement to them is a sump pump. French drains and dry wells are pretty easy to construct. They just take a lot of digging. Once built they do their job without any further effort or expense from you.

Sump pumps require power to pump water away from your basement. This Old House has a nice video on youtube explaining how to install your own sump pump. Most often these are put in the basement in a corner where water collects.

The concrete floor is chiseled out to make room for the pump and then resealed around the pump container.

When the water level gets too close to the floor of the basement, the sump pump automatically turns on and pumps water away from the structure.

If a power outage concerns you, there are battery backup sump pumps.

A sump pump is a great alternative to French drains and dry wells. If you’re an urban prepper with close neighbors and no real lawn to build French drains and dry wells, a sump pump is perfect. A sump pump is a great last line of defense to keep water out of your basement.

3) Seal your basement’s walls against water. This is another one of those things you really should do if the interior walls of your basement are accessible.

If water builds up on the outside of your basement, it will exert tremendous force against the walls. Water will flow in through cracks, loose mortar, and enough pressure will push water right through concrete block.

The solution is simple.

a) Coat the walls with a good waterproofing paint. It’s an easy job. If you go into a hardware store, you’ll find waterproofing paint. Zinsser has a neat little brochure “Guide To Waterproofing” available in many hardware stores.

Go with an oil-based paint like Zinsser’s WaterTite in the red can. It says it can withstand 34 pounds of water pressure. Before applying the paint, clean the surface and seal any cracks. Double coat. As with all painting, how well the job turns out depends on how well you prepare the surface. We don’t care about pretty. We care about waterproof.

Zinsser makes polyurethane sealant for caulking corners and areas where expansion and contraction can occur. You can purchase hydraulic cement for filling in gaps. Hydraulic cement expands to create a watertight seal. Paint can fill in small cracks.

b) If you go to the wall and it crumbles in some areas due to previous water damage, you can fix it with surface bonding cement. Surface bonding cement is a special cement which contains tiny fiberglass fibers which lock the cement together. It’s exceptionally strong.

The theory is that you can just stack up blocks and slap a coat of surface bonding cement across them. It will be as strong as using mortar between the blocks.

Hint: If you’re repairing a wall with mortar, rather than troweling it on, you can pick up a handful and throw it at the wall to get it to adhere. Wear safety glasses!

4) If you’ve followed the advice this far, your basement walls shouldn’t leak. You’ve reduced the water pressure against them by sheding water away from them. The walls have been waterproofed. There’s one more potential source of water.

In some cities, when it floods badly, sewers backup. In general, backups are good. Carry a backup gun. Backup your computer. Sewer backups are bad. In heavy rains, if a sewer has no where to take the water, it can follow the path to your tub drain or your toilet. Water will pour out of your toilet. Icky. I know.

In other cities this doesn’t happen. Ask around if this is an issue if you move to a new home. In some areas, the sewers were sized to carry away not only sewage, but the gutters of yore drained into the sewer system.

If this is an issue in your area, you can install a one-way valve, which prevents sewage from backing up into your home. This link (to youtube) will show you a three part series about installing a Mainline Fullport Backwater Valve.

5) In the book, I began the chapter on basements with a discussion about the construction of boats. In yet another way basements are like small ocean going boats: You really don’t want water inside them, but you should plan for water getting in anyway! Despite your best plans and efforts, always assume water will win in the end. Keep this in mind if you remodel your basement.

Avoid things like carpet which will sop up water like a sponge. Don’t use regular paper faced sheetrock which can harbor mold. Pay a bit more for the fiberglass faced stuff.

If water does get in your basement, have a dehumidifier and extension cord handy to quickly dry it out. Powerful blower motors or fans help speed up drying out.

Charlie Palmer -author The Prepper Next Door


The Prepper’s Basement (& Tornado Safety)

29 Apr

I was looking at a photo of the tornado damage in Vilonia, Arkansas. Two lines of homes. One largely intact. Garage doors mangled, but standing. Across the street, the homes completely flattened. No matter how well you prep, you’ll always face chance or luck. The people with the fully intact homes were lucky. Across the street, not as lucky.

Many residents were able to find safety in community shelters. In a tornado you should seek the lowest shelter you can find. If you’re on the side of a road, find a ditch. In a building, move to the basement level. If you don’t have a basement, know where the closest shelters to your home are.

If you live in a tornado prone area, you should have a basement. When tornado strength winds hit, they can level a home. They pass right over basements. You basement is your go-to shelter.

I wrote extensively about basements in the book and this post is a summary of parts of that. What should a prepper’s basement look like?

If a lot of debris (i.e., the rest of your home and the neighbor’s home too!) falls on top of your basement, it should remain structurally intact. It shouldn’t collapse. Basements are held up by beams and posts.

Inspect your posts or columns. Posts run vertically and hold up large beams. Look for signs of rot on the lower part of the posts. Rot is caused by chronic water damage. Rotted posts should be replaced. You can purchase metal columns which can also hold up the beams of your basement. You can add one or two of those for extra reinforcement.

Inspect your beams. Beams run horizontally holding up the center of the basement. If cracked, a structural engineer can help you decide what course of action is best. They can be repaired or replaced. If your beams and posts are solid, your basement is likely very safe in a tornado or maybe even in a nuclear blast. Your house can vanish, the basement endures.

Running from the exterior walls of your home to the center beams are floor joists. They’ll be a lot of them. The closer spaced the stronger. These boards hold up the floor above the basement. One end sits on the concrete block of the exterior basement wall. The other end sits on the beam. There should be bracing between the joists.

Most joists should be fine. The biggest threat to them are plumbers and electricians who like to drill holes through them and run pipe or wire in the holes. Smaller holes are OK and should be drilled to code.

If a floor joist has been weakened, you can sister another section of board next to it to reinforce it. Some use long bolts and sandwich the compromised joist between two long boards of the same dimension as the joist.

In your basement, the safest spot is usually a corner. If a semi truck lands on top of your home, even if everything else gives way, there’s a chance the concrete blocks of a corner will hold up some of the floor above it. You have a pocket of safety.

With the structure now strong, inspect your basement windows. Blowing glass is a threat. If you have older non-safety glass windows, you could replace them. Another option would be to fabricate some sort of wooden cover over the windows that threaten your go-to corner.

Following these simple steps will help assure a structurally sound and safe basement shelter from a storm.

Charlie Palmer, author – The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning.

Home Hardening Revisited & A Rant About Criminals

8 Oct

In some areas today, it violates building code to install double cylinder deadbolt locks. These are deadbolts which need a key from each side. I understand the concern for fire safety. It would be horrible to be locked in during a fire. If you have windows near your door or if somebody could smash a pane and reach in and work your lock, a double-keyed deadbolt is nice. Homeowners should have that option. I don’t think state or local governments should dictate whether we put fire safety ahead of burglary and home invasion protection. That should be a personal decision.

If you have double keyed locks, you could have a spare key made and store it just inside the doorway. If you can’t open a locked door from the inside, don’t forget the hinge pins. On most doors these are easily popped up and out with a screwdriver or a pliers. Then pry the door away from the frame from the hinge side. The best locks in the world won’t stop your exit.

If a little burglar crawls through a window (or shimmies down your chimney!), he can let his fat buddy into the house by opening the door from the inside. If he encounters a double cylinder deadbolt, he’ll be stuck. Some say there are two aspects to protecting your home from intruders: Be sure they can’t get in. Be sure they can’t get out with your stuff.

There are security hinges made with a little pin that prevents the hinge from being removed. The pin is only accessible when the door is open. Another option occurred to me for those with a lathe.

This isn’t completely secure, but you could try this: Chuck up a hinge pin in your lathe and drill a smaller hole down the center. Thread this hole for a small bolt. The idea would be to have the small bolt hold in a cap to prevent the hinge pin from being removed. You might need to modify your hinge, in addition to the hinge pin.

To remove the hinge would demand the intruder realize the two halves must be unscrewed. The most secure bolt would have a head that can’t be grabbed with a pliers. It could be a security fastener like a star pattern. It’s unlikely the burglar would have a star drive screwdriver! The star would look like a decoration on the end. Many people wouldn’t realize it was a bolt head.

You could recess the bolt head in the cap you make on a lathe to make use of a pliers impossible. This is the same concept as a deadbolt with a rotating ring on the outside: If a burglar tries to grab the lock with a pipe wrench to twist it off, the outer ring spins and the lock remains fully intact.

I recommend all DIY homeowners look inside the strike-box hole for their deadbolts. You’ll notice a slight gap between the door frame (jamb) and the wood used to frame the door opening. This is common. If that gap is much larger than 1/4,” I suggest carefully removing the trim and installing some wooden strips to bridge the gap. That will make the screws holding the strike box more secure. It has the added benefit that it’s more difficult to jimmy open the door. Theoretically, if you have a one-inch throw deadbolt and even if the gap is 1/2″ the door should be secure. But why not make it even more secure?

I re-read Cobb’s book, Prepper’s Home Defense, and he wrote about how some modern houses can be breached by cutting a hole through the wall! This applies to homes with siding. I’ve never heard of this happening in our area, but I’ve been told in some parts of the country burglars actually do this. Cut a damn hole in your wall.

A hole in an exterior wall would really suck. It would be no small repair job. This is the reason I hate criminals. They don’t care about the costs to other people. They only care about themselves and what they can get. If they leave behind thousands of dollars in repair costs, they don’t care. If they steal money somebody needs to feed their family, they don’t care.

I know people make mistakes. I know people get desperate. I know I should be forgiving and understanding and compassionate, but then a read something like this.  Shavelle Chavez-Nelson was a criminal given chance after chance after chance to straighten out his life.

Charged for drugs. He was released. OK.

He drives a getaway car for an accomplice who snatches a purse. He doesn’t receive prison time. He’s released. These things happen.

He points a gun at a neighbor’s head, steals his car, and threatens, “If you call the police, I know where you live…I’ll kill you.” Prison? Nope. Sentence stayed. He’s put back on the street. What happens next?

One day at a bus stop Shavelle Chavez-Nelson meets a beautiful, intelligent young lady, a honors student in college. Somebody who believes in the good in people. He tells her he’s a stockbroker. They date. He borrows thousands of dollars from her. He has another girlfriend. A guy talks to his other girlfriend. Shavelle Chavez-Nelson murders the guy for talking to his girlfriend. The poor college student who probably witnessed this and got involved with this piece of s***? You know the outcome.

People shouldn’t be frightened of new people. But if you have a daughter who meets a guy who is questionable, give some thought to running a background check on him. You’ll only need his name and address. Look for clues. Outside of New York, how many stockbrokers take busses? How many borrow money from their date?

If you’re in a relationship with somebody new, don’t lend them money. Don’t borrow money from them. If you find out they’re a criminal and they have “borrowed” money from you, you’ll  never get your money back anyway. At that point, I’d write it off and cease any contact with such a person. If they persist, call the police. Despite the goodness in your heart, if somebody lies to you about a criminal history and misrepresents their job, you won’t be able to help them “get their life back on track.”

Charlie Palmer -author, The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning (link to book on Amazon)


Correction to last article. I wrote that no police officers were present when a SUV driver was assaulted by several bikers. I was wrong. There was at least one police officer riding with the bikers who witnessed the attack. He didn’t intervene. Other reports say anywhere from three to five off-duty police officers witnessed the attack but didn’t intervene! Somehow this is less reassuring to me than not having police present.

Tornado storm shelter video

22 May

As tornadoes have ravaged much of the country, it’s a good time to encourage those in high tornado areas to contemplate how they’d ride out a tornado.

If you lack a full basement, CNN has a nice video about personal tornado storm shelters. Good point about the nature of the door. You’re more likely to be able to slide open a door then lift it up if rubble is piled on top of it.