Sump Pump Keeps Running: Causes and Solutions

Submersible Sump Pump
© oocoskun / Fotolia

Owning a sump pump helps to eliminate the headaches of basement flooding by providing a means to automatically remove water as it enters your home. Despite a fairly simple design, pumps may still malfunction. Failure to shut off can shorten the lifespan of your sump pump and raise your electricity bill. But just what causes a pump to keep running, and how do you fix it?

Understanding How Sump Pumps Work

Before attempting to locate the malfunction, it is important to understand how sump pumps are designed to work. There are two major types of sump pumps. While the overall functionality is the same, there are specific differences, especially in how the pumps are activated.

Sump Pans

The starting point of any sump pump is the sump pan. This is simply a lined pit, tank, or pan which collects water. The pump is placed directly into the tank and activates automatically.

Power Supply

While sump pumps are usually hardwired into your home’s electrical supply, most also have an emergency power supply. In the event a major storm knocks out power, the pump draws power from a large battery, allowing the system to perform its duty.

Pedestal Pumps

This form of pump uses a float, much like the float in your toilet tank. The motor is atop a small pedestal, and a pipe leads to the bottom of the sump tank. A rod connects the float to a power switch. As the water level rises, it lifts the float. Once the float reaches a certain height, it toggles the switch, activating your pump. Water is then drawn upwards through the pipe into another pipe or hose leading to your sewer or septic system. As the water level drops, so does the float, shutting off the motor.

Submersible Pumps

Unlike pedestal pumps, the motor on a submersible pump can be submerged. The bottom contains a filter which protects the pump’s impeller from gravel and other small debris. In many cases, submersible pumps have a hard plastic bubble surrounding their switch which functions the same as a float on pedestal pumps. Water is pulled directly through the impeller to a pipe leading to your waste system.

How Water Leaves Your Home

Once water has been pulled from the pit or sump pan through the impeller, it is forced past a check valve into a vertical pipe. This pipe may hold a gallon of water for every ten feet and is generally one point five inches in diameter. As your sump pump is located below the basement floor, these pipes may often be several feet in length before reaching either the exterior of your home or your sewer or septic system. It is common for as much as two thirds of the pumped water to remain in the pipeline once your sump pump shuts off.

Common Causes and Solutions for Shutoff Failure

Rusted and Broken Sump Pump
© oocoskun / Fotolia

Due to the relatively simple design of sump pumps, they are often inexpensive to repair. There are several possible reasons for your pump to continue running. Failing to address the problem may shorten your pump’s lifespan, requiring you to replace the entire pump.

Damaged or Absent Check Valve

Sump pumps are designed to shut off automatically when they have finished. The check valve is an important component which prevents water from returning to the pan when the pump deactivates. If your pump lacks a working check valve, anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of the pumped water will fall back into the sump pan as soon as the motor deactivates, causing it to reactivate. Common signs of a check valve problem are the visible lack of a valve or frequent stopping and restarting of the motor.

Damaged Impeller

Perhaps the most important component of a sump pump, the impeller creates suction which siphons water from the sump pan. Sand, grit and other debris can wear away the vanes, especially in pedestal pumps. Some models have metal vanes which are prone to corrosion. Due to its importance, a damaged impeller generally means the entire pump must be replaced.

Improperly-Sized Pump and/or Liner

One of the causes of a constantly running or frequently restarting pump is improper sizing. When the pan liner is too small, the pump will often empty the pan faster than it can fill, causing the motor to repeatedly stop and restart. Conversely, if the pump is too small, it will run non-stop, unable to remove the water faster than it enters the pan. In both cases, the best solution is to replace the component with one properly sized for the job.

Pump Switch is Jammed

A jammed switch may happen for a number of reasons such as clogging or tangling. Vibrations from extended use have also been known to make the unit begin to tilt, affecting the switch. In such cases, it is best to seek professional repair.

Water Table Levels

Sometimes natural groundwater may be causing your pump to work nonstop. Generally, sump pumps are placed below the basement floor to prevent flooding. In some cases, it may have been placed low enough to be affected by the local water table. If the water table level is not the temporary result of recent storms, raising the pump to a higher position that will still protect your basement is the primary solution. Adding a backup or temporary pump to your existing one will help if the table is abnormally high due to storms or outside pipeline or sewer damage.

Additional References

Home Advisor estimates the average cost of professional pump repair to be between $287 and $650.

CostHelper gives a similar estimate of $200 to $600 for replacing the basin and pump with a similar model.

How Stuff Works provides a comprehensive online guide to how sump pumps function.

Posted on Categories Plumbing

Foundation Repair Methods and Cost Estimates

Brick Foundation Shifted and Cracked
© Ernest Prim / Fotolia

When asked what the most important part of your home is, the foundation probably isn’t among the answers that first come to mind. Yet the foundation is more than a simple concrete slab or basement. It helps protect against storm damage, provides a barrier against burrowing pests such mice and termites, and bears the uneven weight of your home over a complete surface to reduce the effects of settling. Problems with your foundation could lead to extensive structural and property damage.

Causes and Warning Signs of Foundation Damage

Older homes often had solid concrete foundation walls. Many homes converted from or incorporating garages use cinderblock walls. Modern homes usually use a reinforced concrete structure for their walls. While the latter is more durable and often better insulated, no foundation is immune to damage.

Basement Flooding

No basement is completely waterproof. However, the common saying “If you have a basement in such-and-such community, you can expect flooding” is often limited to older communities due to poor foundation maintenance or location issues. For example, homes built at the bottom of a hill or bank tend to receive runoff water after storms and are more prone to sewer backups.

In the event your basement is flooding and the house is level with or at a higher elevation than the surrounding property, it is best to check your foundation for erosion damage. Regular flooding or a constantly running sump pump may suggest the local groundwater table is level with or higher than your foundation floor. Check your local records office to learn more about the water table levels.

Shifting and Settling

Especially common among older homes in the more arid southwestern states, the ground under your property isn’t perfectly stationary. Soils which are full of clay or have not been properly compacted prior to construction may compress, expand, or even shift over time. A high water table may also increase shifting. Your foundation shifts or sinks in response to the underlying soil’s movements. A famous example of settling is the Tower of Pisa.

Full foundation settling generally only happens within three years of construction, and has uniform cracking. Partial settling is more common and generally occurs when the fill soil under the foundation was not properly compacted. In the case of uneven settling, your foundation will begin to crack vertically near the sinking corners or even buckle. Doors and windows no longer fit properly, floors may begin to bulge or develop cracks, and additional cracks form in your walls.

There are also visible signs on the exterior of your home, such as a cracked foundation or bricks, moldings becoming displaced, or the home leaning. Gaps might also become apparent around doors, windows, or between walls.

Shifting soil creates similar signs with the added risk of the home moving from its original position. Usually, this shift is not easily visible, although major storms have been known to move houses several feet. An additional sign of shifting is newer additions or sidewalks no longer aligning with the main structure.

Wall Erosion and Pressure Damage

Water is the primary cause of foundation damage. It is a contributing factor in both shifting and settling, and may also lead to erosion damage. Erosion occurs mostly from rainwater, but leaks in the sewer line or groundwater levels may also play a role. Large storms can overwhelm your drainage systems and raise the water table, speeding up the erosion process.

Symptoms of foundation erosion tend to be more limited to your basement walls, unlike the erosion which causes shifting and ground expansion. In the event you are seeing chips or cracks in your exterior basement walls or the visible portion of the foundation outside of your home, you are likely suffering from erosion damage.

Wall erosion leads to basement flooding and provides openings for various pests to enter your home. This form of damage may also contribute to mold which, in turn, will speed up the erosion process. It is therefore best to regularly check your foundation walls for signs of erosion and address them immediately.

Pressure damage is caused from the weight of the soil bearing down on your foundation walls. The most common signs are horizontal cracks and buckling. Cinderblock walls are especially prone to pressure damage, creating cracks along the mortar and sometimes displacing individual blocks or sections of wall.

Other Possible Causes of Foundation Damage

Several other factors may lead to damages in the short or long term. Tree roots may burrow into the foundation, contributing to erosion damage. Earthquakes cause the ground to shift suddenly, as do some major storms such as hurricanes. Poor quality concrete or substandard construction may also lead to a damaged foundation.

Repairing Your Foundation

Crack In Cinder Block Foundation Wall
© zimmytws / Fotolia

Addressing a damaged foundation early on is often the difference between a repair job and having to completely replace the foundation. Depending on the type of damage occurring, it may even be possible to complete repairs yourself. Just as there are different causes of damage, there are varying methods of repair.

Bowed Foundation Walls

There are numerous methods of addressing bowed walls, although these rarely solve the actual cause of damage. One inexpensive method which has proven effective is the use of wall anchors. During this process, a narrow trench is dug around the perimeter of your home. Earth anchor plates are lowered into this trench. Small holes are drilled outward through the foundation and steel connecting rods are inserted into the anchors through the holes. Finally, a wall plate is installed on the inside of the wall. The assembly is then tightened and the trench refilled.

This method has a few distinct advantages over traditional braces and helical wall anchors. They are quick and easy to install. Additionally, periodic tightening over time may actually restore the wall to its original shape. This form of brace also helps prevent future bowing. Lastly the method is unobtrusive and may be completed within a day.

Foundation Crack and Chips

Minor damage such as cracks and chips may be a sign of more extensive damage or aging. However, they are easy to patch. You will need to place a chisel in the freezer for at least half an hour prior to making repairs.

Begin your work by placing the chisel at a small angle within the crack and tap gently. As cracks are only a small sign of larger internal damage, your goal is to chip a hole at least twice as wide as the opening. Remove any dirt or debris using a wire brush and flush the hole out using a cup of warm water. This may take up to a day to dry, during which time you may also scrub down chipped areas.

Once the area has completely dried, mix some patching compound in a bucket according to the package instructions. Use a putty knife to grab an amount roughly the size of a golf ball and push it into the cavity until it is over-filled, then scrape even with the wall’s surface.

Your final step is to cure the patch by sealing the portion of wall airtight with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Carefully open the top and add water using a spray bottle. Seal the area again and repeat this step every 24 hours for five days to ensure the patches are properly cured.

Piering

Considered the more stable, yet more costly solution for settling, piering (also known as piling) requires your contractor to excavate below the sinking portion of foundation. The three foot by four foot excavation does not require heavy equipment and extends approximately ten feet below the grade beam. Next, the contractor will scrape away any dirt and chip away at the bottom of the foundation so that the support bracket fits properly. Then, the pier is installed.

There are two common forms of piering, both of which require a long steel shaft to be driven through the ground beneath your home into a more stable layer.

  • Helical piers are screwed into the ground using a hydraulic torque motor.
  • Push piers are nailed into the ground using a hydraulic ram.

Once the pier is embedded, it is tested to ensure it can bear pressures many time greater than the structure it will be supporting. A metal head assembly is used to attach the pier to the foundation, and a hydraulic jack raises the foundation to its original level. Once at the correct elevation, the piers are permanently affixed to wall brackets through either welding or bolting. Some repairs may require more than one pier, in which case the process is simply repeated for each individual pier.

There are several advantages to piering. The process itself is largely non-disruptive and may be performed without evacuating the home. While the most expensive form of repair, it costs as little as ten percent of the cost for foundation replacement. Finally, piering is considered a permanent solution to settling.

Slabjacking

Used for slab foundations, slabjacking is a means to repair the sunken portions of foundation without replacing the entire slab. Several holes measuring between one point five and two inches are drilled into the affected slab. These holes are evenly spaced, usually between three and eight feet apart, depending upon the slab’s thickness. No holes are drilled within a one foot perimeter of the slab’s edge.

Next, the holes are injected with a special mixture of sand; water; and either Portland cement, Bentonite clay, or stronger fly ash cement. This grout mixture usually has additives to prevent shrinkage. Pumping begins at the slab’s lowest point, and moves to another hole when the slab has raised approximately one inch. In some cases, smaller intermediary holes must be drilled and filled with a less dense mixture.

As the cavity becomes filled, the grout pressurizes and lifts the slab to its proper height. Excess grout is removed from the holes which are then filled with a stiff mortar and smoothed over. Some contractors may offer to core the slab instead of drilling, which is slower and more expensive but less visible. In the event only a portion of the slab sank, any cracks are filled and smoothed over as a finishing touch.

A newer alternative to the traditional grout mixture is a two part polyurethane foam. The components are delivered via hose and do not mix until they reach the nozzle. Within 15 seconds, the foam expands 20 to 25 times in volume and achieves its full strength within 15 minutes of setting. Cheaper, quicker, and less labor intensive, this alternative is suitable for a wide variety of projects beyond home foundations, from sidewalks to highways but may not yet be available in your area.

Cost of Foundation Repair

Repairing your damaged foundation can be relatively inexpensive or very costly, depending upon the type of repair needed. Properly determining the source and extent of damage is therefore a vital part of your final expenses.

Obtaining a Report

Before contacting a contractor, you should invest in an inspection by a structural engineer. The inspection and report will cost between $300 and $800. This is a necessary step, as contractors may recommend a repair method based upon profit margins. In some rare cases, you may also wish to have a soil report from a geotechnical engineer, which ranges between $500 and $2000.

Average Repair Costs

Minor cracks or chips can be removed as a DIY project. This type of repair to a poured concrete wall will run between $400 and $800. Replacing the floor costs approximately 50 percent extra. At the other end of the spectrum, piering runs an average of $1,000 to $3,000 per pier.

Additional References

The Basement Health Association is a non-profit organization which offers a free locator form for certified basement repair specialists on their secondary website.

Posted on Categories Structural

Homeowner’s Guide to a Leaking Water Heater

Electric Water Heater
© EuToch / Fotolia

Your water heater is an important part of daily life. It provides hot water for sinks and baths, and can sometimes help reduce the risk of freezing pipes. While modern water heaters are durable, they are not immune to developing leaks. These leaks may cause property damage, lead to mold, or even cause the heater to fail completely. Thankfully, it is often possible to diagnose and repair heater leaks by yourself.

Determining the Source

While it may at first seem as though your water heater is leaking, there may be other causes for puddles and moisture accumulating around the heater. By determining the source, it is possible to save both time and money as you can fix the actual cause. Be careful coming into contact with water radiating heat, as there is a risk of serious burns. The following are a few common causes of water accumulation that may be mistaken for a heater leak.

Condensation

Perhaps the most common source of water, condensation is common in basements and especially frequent during damp weather. Condensed moisture may come from the heater as well as nearby pipes and appliances. You may not see the water droplets, in which case the paper towel method is a convenient test.

Simply take a paper towel and slowly wipe it along the outer surfaces of all appliances and pipes in the vicinity being careful not to burn yourself on hot water pipes. If the paper towel becomes damp gradually as you cover a particular surface, condensation is your most likely source. Installing a dehumidifier in your basement will usually remedy the situation without any further measures.

Leaky Pipes

Another common cause of puddles, you may sometimes be able to observe the droplets forming at joints. Paper towels are again useful in determining the source. Dry the floor and place a paper towel under suspect joints. Then wipe the pipes to ensure the problem is not condensation. Come back after a few hours and check the paper towels for signs of a drip. If the towel is soaking water from the edge, then your source is elsewhere. Another sign of a leak is your paper towel suddenly becoming damper at a pipe joint instead of even dampening over a larger area.

Leaks from Other Appliances

Basement floors, especially older ones, are often slightly uneven. This leads to minor depressions where moisture pools. Basements that have a drain usually gently slope downwards to prevent flooding while maintaining the illusion of a level floor. Unfortunately, uneven floors may lead to pooling.

Place some paper towels around your heater where the puddles are forming after drying the area thoroughly. Check the towels occasionally for signs of moisture. In the event the paper towel is absorbing water from the edge and not the center, you will know the water is running along the floor from elsewhere. Lay paper towels one at a time starting near the wet edge to trace the path of water to its source.

Nearby appliances, such as a washer, may be the source of leaking water. Other times, the source could be a leaky overhead pipe where the water is following a slight depression in the floor. In the former case, your trail will end at the appliance, while in the latter; it will stop underneath the leak.

Repairing a Water Heater Leak

Man Repairing a Water Heater
© Alexey Stiop / Fotolia

Once you have determined you heater is the source of the leak, there are a few steps which you must follow before starting repairs. These steps should be followed in order and with caution, as you are working with an appliance capable of causing first degree burns from direct and even possibly indirect contact with the water if the settings are on maximum.

Shutting off Power

Modern water heaters are generally gas or electric. The methods for shutting off power differ between the two.

  • Electric water heaters are connected directly to the circuit breaker. Simply find the breaker associated with the heater and shut it off.
  • Gas water heaters have a power switch or dial. Make sure it has been set to the off position, being careful not to close the gas shut-off valve.

Shutting off the Water Supply

Regulation requires that a shut-off be located above the water heater. This may be a pull-down switch or a gate valve. In the event you cannot reach it without coming into contact with hot water, you will need to access your home’s main water shut-off and cut the supply from there.

Addressing Leaks from the Top of the Heater

Leaks emanating from the upper portion of the water heater are usually minor and can be fixed without calling a professional.

Loose Pipe Fittings

Easily identified by a small pool of water atop the heater, the loose fitting may be either the inlet or outlet pipe. The problem may be either where the pipe connects to the heater or to other fittings. If there is no sign of corrosion or serious damage to the pipe, simply tighten with a pipe wrench.

Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

Commonly referred to as the T&P valve, this fitting is located on the side of your tank and should be watertight. Water running down the side of the heater may be caused by a leaking T&P valve. Examine the threads at the base of the valve for signs of leakage or use your trusty paper towels to check for moisture. In the event the leak is coming from the threads, you will need to remove the valve to find the underlying source.

Locate a nearby hot water tap and turn it on. This will not only drain out some of the hot water, but also provide a means for air to enter the tank as you drain it. Next, run a garden hose from the drain valve near the bottom of your heater to your basement drain or sump pump. Make sure that the hose is not elevated or the tank will not drain properly. Now open the valve. You may need to use a screwdriver if there is no wheel.

Once the water has drained below the valve level, remove the latter with a pair of channel locks. There should be no corrosion or rust inside the opening, which is a sign that the heater must be replaced. Wrap the valve’s threads with some Teflon tape and reattach for a tighter fit.

Addressing Leaks from the Bottom of the Heater

It is more common for leaks to occur from the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately, these leaks are also more serious and usually require professional repair or even replacement of the entire tank. There are three major causes of lower tank leaks.

Drain Valve

Used for regular maintenance, the drain valve at the bottom of your tank may develop a leak. Moisture may form around the edges if the valve is no longer water-tight. It is also possible that the valve is faulty. In both cases, you can replace the drain valve yourself by following the instructions included with the new drain valve.

Tank Leak

The most frequent cause of a leak is damage to the tank itself. If not properly maintained, sediment can build up, causing the tank to crack or rust. In some cases, an internal component is leaking. Replacing the tank is necessary in both cases.

T&P Discharge Tube

The purpose of the temperature and pressure relief valve is to reduce internal pressure and vent if the water becomes too hot. A discharge tube runs from the valve to the floor for safety. Puddles beneath the tube may be a sign of a pressure issue. Roll up your paper towel and check the inside of the tube to make sure it is dry. Moisture in the tube suggests either a pressure problem or faulty valve. You can replace the valve yourself, but will need to contact a professional to fix a pressure issue.

Maintaining Your Hot Water Tank

Plumber Performing Water Heater Maintenance
© Minerva Studio / Fotolia

While your water heater requires very little maintenance, giving it some attention will help prevent leaks and extend its lifespan. These checks are relatively quick and may even identify a problem in its early stages. In addition to the following maintenance routines, be sure to follow any manufacturer recommendations.

60-Day Checks

Every two months, give your tank a physical to ensure it is in perfect working order. Examine all pipes and fittings for signs of leakage or corrosion. Pay attention for traces of gas in the air if you have a gas heater. Run a nearby hot water tap and listen for unusual noises, which may suggest a serious problem with your heater. Finally, make sure the T&P valve opens and closes without any issues.

Six Month Flushing

Every six months, shut off the power and water to your tank, using up hot water to cool the tank’s contents. Turn on a nearby hot water tap and run a garden hose from the drain valve to your sump pump or basement floor drain. Open the valve and allow several gallons to empty from the tank.

Next use a bucket or sieve to check some of the water for sediment. A moderate to large amount means you must repeat the process.  Once there is little or no sediment present, allow a few more gallons to drain before closing the valve and turning the water supply back on. You will know the tank has filled when the open hot water tap is releasing water at full pressure. At this point, you may turn the power supply back on.

Annual Checks

Once your tank is approximately three years old, you will need to perform an annual check of the anode rod. This rod is generally located near the cold water inlet at the top of the heater, and has an average lifespan of four to six years. Simply remove the rod and check for significant pitting or chipping. Minor corrosion or pits are normal, but more extensive damage indicates you should replace the rod.

When is a Professional Necessary?

Many sources of leakage are easily repaired, but some require professional attention. Signs of corrosion, rust, or an internal leak are sure signs that the tank needs replaced. You may also need to contact a professional if you are unable to locate the cause of the leak or your tank continues to leak after you have attempted to repair the problem.

Additional Resources

As of April 16, 2015, all water heater manufacturers must follow NAECA (National Appliance Energy Conservation Act) standards as amended in the Department of Energy’s 2010 ruling. The Appliance Standards Awareness Project offers information and related documents on this ruling and how it affects new water heaters.

The Department of Energy offers a detailed guide on selecting a new water heater, including solar and geothermal tanks.

In the event you need to replace your tank, CostHelper provides cost averages for various types of water heater and professional installation fees.

This Old House provides a video guide illustrating how to properly install a new water heater.

Posted on Categories Plumbing

Are Gutters Necessary for Your Home?

Home Gutters
© derevo30 / Fotolia

If you are like many homeowners, you have probably wondered whether gutters are even necessary. After all, they are prone to clogging, attract nesting birds, can only handle a limited volume of water, and can eventually pull away from your roof or tilt. Some roofers even advise against them.

Rain gutters are the most controversial type of gutter. They are generally not required by law on a sloping roof, and many modern homes omit them, even in instances where they are beneficial. In order to decide for yourself whether rain gutters are necessary for your home, it is best to first weigh the facts.

Understanding Rain Gutters

The basic function of a gutter is to provide a channel for redirecting water. They are designed specifically to reduce erosion by guiding water to a drain or safe area. Gutters have a limited capacity and may overflow, although they still effectively remove a large volume of water. Rain gutters are affixed to your roof and are usually made of aluminum, copper, or plastic.

How They Work

The gutters along your roof catch rainwater as it washes down the side of the roof. This water is channeled through downspouts where it exits away from your home. By redirecting rainwater, the gutter reduces erosion of the ground against your home and may greatly decrease the risk of basement flooding and foundation damage. In some circumstances, the downspout empties into a tank or barrel for garden use during dry weather.

When Are They Necessary?

There are many times when a gutter system is necessary to protect your foundation. Some of these instances are:

  1. Red clay – Ground rich in clay can be very difficult to work with, and once water makes its way to your foundation, the clay will serve as a pipeline to continue delivering water to the same spot. By using gutters with a drainpipe and ground-based gutter line, you can direct the water a safe distance from your home.
  2. The surrounding landscape slopes upwards – When your home is at the bottom of a slope on at least one side, water will pool along the foundation both above and below ground. Using gutters on that side of the home will allow you to redirect the water towards a downward sloping side. A small gutter along the ground will assist with any runoff from the landscaping.
  3. Little or no overhang – Roofs which fit close to the home allow water to pour from the roof to within a foot of the foundation, creating numerous problems. Frequent rains will cause trenches to form where the water forms. Rainwater remains close to the foundation once absorbed by the ground, causing extensive damage over time. You may also have to pass through a waterfall when entering or exiting your home during a storm.

When Are They Optional?

Sometimes, your property already performs the functions of rain gutters, rendering them obsolete. In such cases, having gutters adds maintenance costs with no benefits. Your home does not require gutters if:

  • the landscaping around your home slopes downwards, especially when other factors are present.
  • your home is surrounded by concrete, be it sidewalks, driveway, or patio. In this case, the concrete already provides your foundation with a protective barrier from water.
  • you live in an arid location where there is little annual rainfall.
  • your roof has an extension or long overhang which allows water to run off a safe distance from the foundation.

Why Do Some Roofers Advise Against Gutters?

When a roofer advises against installing a gutter, you should ask for specific reasons. Many roofers claim that having a gutter will ruin the facial boards of your roof. These boards are one by six inches and support the roof’s overhang. Improperly installed gutters may splash these boards during rainstorms, causing them to rot. However, facial boards are relatively inexpensive to replace, unlike having to lift or replace foundation, and will not be damaged if the gutters are properly installed, making this another invalid argument.

As gutters provide a lot of extra work, some roofers will simply wish to avoid the labor. Legitimate reasons to omit gutters have been given above, and a good roofer will point these out when telling you not to replace or add gutters. In a few cases, the roofer may suggest extending the roof instead of adding a gutter. This is especially true of older homes where the roof seam for a first floor expansion has begun to leak.

Two Common Complaints and Solutions

Cleaning a Gutter Clogged with Leaves
© rekemp / Fotolia

There are a few common excuses homeowners give for wanting to remove their gutters. In both instances, the problem is solvable.

Gutter Clogs

This is perhaps the single most common complaint about gutters, especially on properties with several trees. The issue may be solved by adding gutter covers, which are inexpensive. Some covers have small diamond-shaped openings which allow tiny debris to enter but block leaves. What debris enters is easily flushed during rain, and leaves may simply be swept or blown over the gutter’s surface. Gutter covers also prevent birds from nesting within the gutter.

Ice Dams

It is a common misconception that gutters create ice dams during winter weather. Unfortunately, the presence of ice dams is evidence of a problem with your attic or crawl space. This is usually a matter of poor ventilation or insulation, and you are at risk of damage to your roof regardless of whether a gutter is installed or not. You should contact a professional to check your attic and remedy the underlying issue.

Additional Resources

CostHelper provides cost estimates for installing or replacing gutters. They also offer cost estimates for having your gutter professionally cleaned.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) offers guidelines for the inspection and maintenance of gutters. While primarily aimed at historical buildings with built-in gutters, the guidelines are useful for maintaining your own home’s gutter system.

Posted on Categories Exterior

How to Repair Ceiling Water Damage

Ceiling Damaged by a Water Leak
© avtk / Fotolia

What may at first appear to be a small water stain on your ceiling could be just the tip of a costly iceberg. Most damage occurs on the side you can’t see, and by the time you have a visible leak, it is often too late. Even worse, your damaged ceiling is a perfect breeding ground for mold, which can pose a serious health risk. Addressing water damage to your ceiling should thus be a priority.

Is Ceiling Water Damage Covered by Insurance?

Depending upon your insurer, water damage may be covered. Insurance agencies differentiate between flood and water damage based upon whether the water hits your home before touching the ground outside. Water damage may include roof or plumbing leaks, depending upon your policy. In some cases, mold damage is also covered.

Due to the similarities between flooding and water damage, it is best to discuss any damage with your agent as soon as possible and to carefully document the damage. In some cases, a claim may be turned down if not filed properly. If you are unsure about whether your insurance policy covers water damage, it is best to consult with your insurance provider before attempting any repairs.

Repairing a Drywall Ceiling Yourself

As with many other home repair projects, you can often fix a damaged ceiling yourself. This is especially true of a drywall ceiling. Thankfully, you will rarely have to replace the entire ceiling.

Repair Options for Drywall Ceilings

There are a few choices available for fixing drywall although not all are advisable for use in ceilings. The three most common methods are:

  • Self-adhesive drywall mesh – This metal mesh is useful for patching holes in drywall and provides a means to support your spackle. Unfortunately, mesh repairs tend to sag when used on ceilings and are thus not a good choice.
  • Drywall access panels – One option that has seen some popularity growth is the installation of a drywall access hatch when repairing a section of damaged ceiling. Not only does the hatch installation replace the damaged portion of drywall ceiling, it also provides a means to inspect periodically for further damage. Hatches are especially useful when installed under plumbing that is known develop leaks.
  • Replacing an individual section – Perhaps the most popular method is to simply cut out the damaged section of drywall and put a new panel in its place. This works best in smaller areas, although high ceilings may be more difficult to work on.

Gathering Supplies

Before attempting repairs, it is best to gather the necessary supplies. You will also want to keep pets and small children out of the room until all repairs are finished. To effectively repair the ceiling, you will need:

  • pencil and combination square
  • drywall joint compound
  • four or six inch putty knife or drywall blade
  • 12 inch drywall blade
  • cordless drill
  • drywall repair panel (measuring two by two by one-half inches)
  • one and one-fourth inch drywall screws (course threaded)
  • drywall screw setters
  • tape measure
  • utility knife
  • self-stick fiberglass drywall tape
  • six inch and twelve inch drywall taping blades
  • drywall jab saw
  • drywall sanding sponge
  • nine by four by one-half inch plywood board to use as a brace (note that SHEETROCK drywall repair clips may be used instead)
  • drop cloth

The cost of one panel, a gallon of compound, a four-pack of screw setters, and a roll of tape will generally run about $23 at places such as Home Depot, making this a relatively inexpensive project if you have access to the tools.

Step 1: Removing the Damaged Section

There may be wires or other delicate items located above the damaged portion of your ceiling. If you cannot access the space to check the area, carefully cut a small hole using your utility knife. Use a flashlight and small mirror to check the area for potential problems before attempting to cut out the section.

Once you have determined where to cut, use your jab saw to cut a rough square around the hole. Do not worry about straight edges yet. If the leak is near a metal drywall ceiling support, your cuts will be restricted to this area for now. Be sure to cut some distance from the damaged portion. You may also wish to use some homemade mold spray around the area before proceeding to kill any mold spores which have taken root.

Step 2: Completing the Cuts

Using your square, pencil out the edges around your repair area. Be sure to make your lines partially overlap any metal drywall runners for better anchoring. Gently score the covering paper along the lines with your utility knife, then insert and rock the blade back and forth along the scored lines, making several passes. Finally, finish with a longer deep pass. Do this process for all four edges.

Step 3: Bracing the Drywall

Take the plywood board and place it inside your opening along an edge opposite a drywall runner. Use your drywall screws and screw setters to attach the plywood brace to the inside of the existing drywall, leaving a two inch clearance. One screw per side is sufficient, and you do not need to screw a side which connects to a runner. The braces and runners will provide a sturdy flange on which to mount the replacement drywall piece.

Step 4: Cutting the Replacement Panel

Measure and mark the dimensions for the replacement panel using your square and paper. Be sure to make your new panel between one-eighths and three-sixteenths of an inch smaller than the opening you are filling. This will keep the panel from binding.

Step 5: Installing the New Panel

Carefully cut the board, then trim to fit with your utility knife. Use four drywall screws to fasten the panel to the backer board and metal runners. Apply the self-adhesive fiberglass drywall tape along the joints to create a seal.

Next, apply a thin coat of joint compound over the tape with the smaller putty knife. Immediately after coating the tape, spread a thin coating of compound with your 12-inch blade, feathering the edges as you go. It is important to work quickly, as the compound does not take long to dry. Only a thin layer is needed, as you will need to sand off the excess. Allow the patch to dry overnight.

Step 6: Finishing

Take a wet sanding sponge and gently smooth out any high spots and feather the edges to help the patch blend in. Be sure to wring out any excess water and rinse the sponge when necessary to prevent any clogging from compound debris. Allow to dry. You may wish to add a second layer of compound and repeat the drying and sanding process.

As a final step, paint the area over. You may wish to take a piece of the removed drywall for color matching if your ceiling is a particular shade or the patch is otherwise visible.

Hiding an Old Stain

There are a few circumstances in which you may choose not to replace the damaged ceiling. This may include water marks from a previous roof leak or marks from a major storm where water soaked through. The repair is cheaper, but not advised if there is extensive damage on the hidden side of the ceiling.

Use some homemade mold spray and make sure the area is dry before proceeding. Use hairspray to seal the stained area. Then, apply a coat of primer with stain blocker to further seal the area and hide the stain. You may wish to paint over the area as a finishing touch.

Dealing with Mold

Leaking Ceiling with Mold
© askthegeek / Fotolia

Mold thrives in damp areas and can not only damage your ceiling further; it is also a serious health risk. Mold can contribute to asthma and other respiratory issues. In some cases, it can even prove fatal with prolonged exposure.

Supplies Needed

  • bucket
  • bleach
  • sponge
  • goggles or other protective eyewear
  • breathing mask
  • gloves
  • spray bottle with mild detergent
  • hard-bristled brush
  • clean cloth
  • protective plastic to cover the floor from bleach drips

Preparing the Area

Remove any nearby furniture and lay plastic on the floor to reduce the risk of bleach damage. Next, spray the area liberally and scrub it with your sponge. In order for the next steps to work more efficiently, you will need to make sure to remove all traces of dirt. Open any doors or windows for ventilation.

Destroying the Mold

Add a concentrated blend of equal parts warm water and bleach to the bucket. Take your brush, dip it in the bleach, and scrub the moldy area. Be careful of splashing, as the bleach may discolor nearby walls or furnishings. The removal process is rarely quick, so take breaks as needed.

When there are no traces of mold left, apply more bleach solution and let it soak for 15 to 20 minutes. This will destroy any remaining microbes. Finish up by drying the area thoroughly with a clean cloth.

Using a Homemade Mold Spray

Even if you don’t notice mold around the damaged area, you may wish to use a spray to kill any spores which are present. Take an empty bottle and fill it with a solution of one part bleach to two parts water. Spray the area thoroughly, being careful not to get it in your eyes. Make sure there is proper ventilation and allow the area to dry completely before attempting any further repairs.

Professional Repair

Depending upon the amount of damage or your confidence in handling the work yourself, you may opt to hire a professional to repair or replaced the damaged ceiling. According to CostHelper, professional repair of a water-damaged ceiling will run between $100 and $300. Inspection of the damaged area is often provided free of charge.

Additional References

Esurance provides a short guide on what may be covered by your insurance and how to spot mold.

HomeAdvisor offers a free searchable database of ceiling repair contractors.

Posted on Categories Interior

What Does Hydroseeding Cost?

Perfect Lawn
© Kurhan / Fotolia

Hydroseeding, also known as hydromulching, is a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional sod. However, the exact price varies based upon a variety of factors. While the price per foot averages between seven and sixteen cents, the average cost tends to be thirteen cents. This sounds like very little difference until you consider the space you are filling.

A property with 2,000 square feet of land to cover will cost between $140 and $320. Smaller lawns will show less variation while larger lawns will show an increasingly large cost difference. It is therefore good to consider the factors which affect cost and shop around for the best price for your goals.

Making a Personal Estimate

Blackboard Math Calculations
© allvision / Fotolia

Prior to shopping around, it is a good idea to come up with a rough personal estimate. While not an exact science, you will have some idea of what the final cost may be. Beyond any additional costs from the supplier, hydroseeding cost calculations may be broken down into four major categories.

1. Planting Area

The first factor you should consider is the size of your project area. Perhaps you are merely working on your front lawn, or you may be seeding the lawn spaces over your entire property. Measure out the spaces in order to estimate the number of square feet that requires seeding. Note that larger projects generally cost less per square foot than smaller ones, and there is little difference in cost between residential and commercial projects. Therefore, the base cost should be similar between a single family home and an apartment building per foot.

There are three basic shapes to consider when estimating how many square feet to cover:

  1. Rectangle – multiply the length by the width.
  2. Circle – measure across the middle (diameter) and divide that number by two (radius). To discover the area, the formula is radius times radius times pi (3.14). For example, a circle measuring 40 inches across would be calculated as: 20 x 20 = 400, or roughly 33 1/3 feet. 33.4 x 3.14 = 104.876, or roughly 104 3/4 square feet.
  3. Triangle – the formula for this is one half of the base times the height. For example, a triangle that is 12 feet at the base and five feet high would be calculated as: 12/2 = 6 x 5 = 30 square feet.

2. Seed Type

The next factor to consider is what type of seed you intend to use. The U.S. consists of 12 planting zones, each with a range of grasses suitable for the climate. Depending upon your location, you may be restricted to certain seed types. Each of these seed types has their own price, with bluegrass varieties generally cheaper, Perennial Ryegrass around ten cents per square foot, and heartier types capable of withstanding heavy traffic at the expensive end of the cost spectrum.

When making this estimation, consider how much punishment your lawn will receive. Is it mainly decorative? Or do your children frequently use it for sports? Your seed choice should be based largely on the amount of abuse your lawn will have to suffer. This factor will also come into play when you begin calling around for cost estimates.

3. Seed Density

The third major factor to consider is how dense the hydroseed needs to be. Poor soil may require a thicker blend of fertilizers, tackifiers to hold the hydroseed together, and other components. The amount of use may also contribute to a need for higher density. The more material you need per square foot, the more you can expect to pay.

4. Preparation and Landscaping

The fourth and final consideration is how much preparation will be required before the ground is ready for seeding. Expect to pay more if the ground requires additional topsoil or grading before it can be seeded.

An Example of Cost Calculation

Making a bare-bones estimate can be as involved as you choose, but a simple response to each factor is enough to get a baseline estimate. Simply take each step and write your answer. Then do the math. For example:

1. You are filling 2,500 square feet.

2. You need only moderate durability, and have decided to aim for a variety costing around 10 cents per square foot.

3. Due to the topsoil quality of the area, you will require double density.

4. There are no major landscaping issues.

The formula is #1 times the product of #2 and #3. #4 is then added to the total.

Thus in this example, the formula is: 2500 (.10 x 2) = $500.00 + $0 = $500

While the professional estimate may be notably different from $500, this baseline estimate gives you a rough idea of what to expect when shopping around.

Possible Additional Fees

Once you have your personal estimate, you will have an idea of what to expect to pay. Note that some companies may charge additional service fees. For example, many companies charge a $35 fee for consultation and inspection of the property, while others may be willing to provide a free consultation. Other companies have a specified service range and may typically charge $2.00 per mile beyond that range to transport materials. Some companies may also charge an additional fee for spreading the soil.

Another consideration is moisture. Some seed types may require watering several times per day over the first month. While temporary, this additional cost should be taken into consideration if you are not using an on-site water source such as a home well or rainwater tank.

Additional Resources

Eco-Turf Hydroseeding offers a short video illustrating how to measure your project area.

Posted on Categories Yard