Slow basement seepage towards boilers, solutions?
December 23, 2013 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Aaahhh, the Northeast. With melting snow and rainfall, our basement has a slow leak, maybe two to three inches deep at the worst. It has reached under one of the boilers, barely a half inch at that point, and we are trying to figure out if/when to panic.

The water is only on the boiler supports -- the boiler itself is raised about two inches off the floor. We will consult and HVAC professional and have the damn basement resealed as sooner as we can, but in the meantime (a) will a shop vac be enough for two inches of water over an area of about 12 x 12 feet? And (b) will even a small amont of water ruin a boiler? Seems like half the basements in the Northeast routinely take on water, so how fragile are boilers?
posted by lillygog to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Is there not a lowered area for water to collect in to be pumped out by a sump pump? I'm not sure if such a feature can be retrofitted.

Wolfram alpha suggest 12 x 12 x 2 is 180 gallons which would be tedious with a ~12 gallon shop vac.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:10 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a perfect case for the type of utility pump available at a hardware store. These can pump down to 1/8" and don't require you to stand there. You can shop-vac the rest.
posted by mkb at 8:22 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should have mentioned: a sump pump is a future possibility, but we're wondering if a shop vac will do as a quick/emergency measure until the condo association can figure out a more permanent solution. Right now we're just letting it all air dry.
posted by lillygog at 8:22 PM on December 23, 2013

The shop vac will work, but they don't hold a lot of water. You can only fill the vacuum up to the bottom of the filter, which is only a couple of gallons even on a fairly large model. You'll be carrying it outside pretty often. My "5 gallon" shop vac only holds about 1-2 gallons of water before I have to empty it, for instance.

They make some models of shop vac with built-in pumps for exactly this reason (they'll self-empty), but I've never used one so I can't vouch for them. Maybe you could ask around and borrow or rent one, perhaps at the same time that someone else is using the one you have to get a head start on the water.

You might also want to consider sandbags or some other barrier to keep the water away from your boiler. Water in the basement is unpleasant but having it knock out your heat would be a whole additional level of badness. Some type of barrier would at least make that less likely while you're waiting on fixing the leak (which, as someone who had basement water-entry problems, might not be fixable until the spring since it could require excavation outside the foundation).
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:15 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You've gotten excellent advice here and I have nothing add except that you might want to look into renting a pump instead of buying, depends on the price of the units you are looking at.

Or maybe try Craigslist and test before buying?

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:06 AM on December 24, 2013

we are trying to figure out if/when to panic.

Honestly? Now. You've got standing water in your basement. This is a recipe for the development of serious mold contamination. You can afford to let things air dry if there's a spill that's been cleaned up, but standing water doesn't work that way. The water will continue to damage the surfaces it's touching and keep humidity levels in the entire house way above where they ought to be. Water is basically the single nastiest substance you have to worry about when you're building houses. You need to get rid of that stuff now.

The shop vac will work, but they don't hold a lot of water.

A shop vac may work. They're really not designed to act as full-time water pumps, and you may find that the motor simply doesn't have the power you need. They're great for cleaning up the occasional spill, but not so good for moving the aforementioned 180 gallons. Heck, given the likely size of the shop vac's tank, you might not even be able to stay ahead of the water coming in. Sounds downright Sisyphean.

you might want to look into renting a pump instead of buying, depends on the price of the units you are looking at.

Nah. You can pick up a sump at Home Depot for like $100. One that is specifically designed to move large volumes of water very quickly. Even a 1/2 HP model will move 2500 gallons an hour, and will keep doing that without burning out or the need to empty a tank. That'd move the described volume in about five minutes. Just run the hose outside and into the nearest storm drain. Ideally, you can then use the sump in a more permanent installation once spring comes.
posted by valkyryn at 1:58 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did this just start happening? Are your gutters clogged, and/or are they throwing water far enough away from the house via conduits or whatever?

When this happened to us - less water, but also near the boiler - it turned out that the vertical part of the gutter near there was clogged in the bottom corner, and there was basically a waterfall by the side of the house because the water wasn't being routed away. This hasn't happened since we got that fixed, even though we didn't fix the crack yet, and we're in the northeast also and saw a crazy amount of rain and melting snow over the past day or so.

So in addition to the rest, can you get your friendly gutter people over to look? (Angie's List is surprisingly useful for this.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:13 AM on December 24, 2013

I just came in to say what Valkyrin said. If you have leakage and your floor gets wet when it rains, that's one thing, but standing water? That's bad because it increases the humidity in your house, which can condense inside your walls causing rot, mold and all matter of things you don't want. There should be some kind of drain or sump pump down there. Why isn't it working? This isn't an OMG panic thing, but this is a think that needs to be addressed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:44 AM on December 24, 2013

Shop vac? Great, but who's carrying it up the stairs every five minutes? I've dealt with that and the carrying, dumping, and getting back is 90% of the work. Small spills only.

Yeah, get a pump, they're useful to have around, especially if you have an older home without a built-in sump pump. Yes, they can be retrofitted, but it's gonna cost ya. (Cut a hole in the lowest part of the basement, build a concrete well there, install electrical connection for pump, install outflow, etc.) Still, you may want to do this if you have a continuous problem (and it's cheaper than the general repairs you may end up needing to do)

But there's the issue. Why is this happening? Best thing to do about water infiltration is to stop it in the first place. If it's just collecting next to the foundation no amount of sealing is going to save you; you'll have erosion and sinkhole types of issues next. So take a careful look to see where the water's coming in and then go outside and take a careful look at why water might be collecting there and finding a way into the house. Gutters, yes, downspouts, far away from the house, general slope away from the house, etc. In extreme cases you may want a dry well outside or even french drains around the foundation, but look where the water is coming from first of all. Maybe a driveway was altered and now the meltwater is coming in a different direction, for instance. Maybe (yikes!) there's a leaky water main, or (yuck!) sewer. And so on. Prevention should be your very first priority. Unless you're in a flood plain, houses don't just start flooding for no reason.
posted by dhartung at 5:17 PM on December 25, 2013

Response by poster: You were all super helpful! As it turns out, I suck at estimating water size and depth. We did buy a shop vac for temporary use, and have picked up generally 5-20 gallons at the most, so nowhere near the 150-200 I had described. (Now I know what 15-ish gallons of water looks like, though!) The slope on the side of the house definitely needs to be addressed, and we hadn't thought of gutters so mentioned that to our condo association, too. And everyone's on the same page about addressing it in Spring, ASAP, which is a relief. You all convinced me to really make this an issue, so thank you!
posted by lillygog at 9:23 AM on January 24, 2014

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