Gutters Rain gutter with downspout

Published on June 17th, 2017 | by Henri

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Gutters can help basement water problems

Q. Recently you advised a reader with basement water problems to install gutters if necessary and lead the water away from the house. I’d like to contribute my experience with this measure.

When my wife and I moved into our house in 1991, the sump pump ran every few minutes, year round. Our house is about .8 miles to the east of a lake and 100 feet higher, built on sand and gravel. I call the area a Pleistocene beach. Because the land is so level, there is very little surface drainage. Our property drains down a few feet to a storm drain under the next street to the north, through a series of seasonal puddles.

I didn’t think about the lack of gutters when we bought the house in 1991, but hearing the sump pump run all the time, I immediately installed gutters. Under each downspout I put a gutter section to take the water 10 feet or more from the foundation.

Over the next years the ground around the house gradually dried out. By the time of the great ice storm and power outage in 1998, we were able to keep up with dipping from the sump by hand and dumping the pail in the sink. Now, a quarter century after the installation of the gutters, the pump runs only rarely and we can see that the ground has settled a few inches around the house from being dried out.

I take care to clear the drainage ditches to the storm sewer.

In comparison, our friend across the street has gutters, but the downspouts simply drain into the ground next to the foundation. Her sump pumps run every few minutes the year around like ours used to.

A. Although you have taken care of the problem very well and do not need advice, I can’t help but add my two cents worth.

I have recommended for decades raising the grade, if at all possible, to end up with a gentle slope from the house foundation to as far as is practical to drain water away from the house. I have discouraged homeowners from planting bushes and flowers close to the foundation, as they often trap water instead of allowing it to drain. It is best to plant a healthy stand of grass.

A few years ago, a friend, with the same situation you had, asked me for advice. Helpful friends came over one weekend and did “raise the grade” as they understood it. I went back to see what they had done and was horrified. They had dumped loads of soil against the foundation, burying bushes and covering some of the wood siding. What a disaster! So much for benevolent friends who are not familiar with the proper procedure.

Installing gutters to capture roof water and leading it to the best disposal side of the property is generally the best approach.

If the grade is sloping gently away from the foundation, splashblocks under the downspouts’ shoes are sufficient to keep the soil around the house dry, but sometimes, larger extensions are needed.

There are times when gutters are not practical in very cold regions and with not well insulated buildings. Roof water can be dealt with by laying paver blocks set flush in a gently sloping grade in order to break the fall of the water, eliminate erosion and direct the water down slope.

I assume that, as your soil dried and settled, you added more soil to repair the developing negative grade. However, I am puzzled as to why you need to dip in the sump and dump water in a sink. Isn’t your sump pump able to take care of it?

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