The French Drains (I)

Brooke here.  I’ll eventually get back to the bathroom posts, but right now we’re all kinds of furious so you might as well enjoy the ride.

So. Long-time readers will remember we’ve been having nothing but problems with drainage on the west side of the house.  Despite the previous owners’ insistence that they had installed “French drains,” the basement flooded fairly regularly.  Last year we found the culprit: they did not install French drains. Instead, they installed plastic tubes with bags of rocks piled on top of them.  Why didn’t we realize this earlier?  Well, when we bought the house, the west side looked a little like this:

I submitted this to the games section of "Highlights-For Children" with the caption 'Hey kids! See if you can find the house.'
I submitted this to the games section of “Highlights-For Children” with the caption ‘Hey kids! See if you can find the house.’

One of the first chores was to take down the bushes, which gave us some visibility but ended up making the house look barren and sad:

From last summer. Trees and bushes removed.
From last summer. Trees and bushes removed.

At this point, we were so busy fixing the other areas of the property that we still hadn’t gone digging around in the thick mess of ivy carpeting the ground where the bushes once were. Had we done that, we probably wouldn’t have waited two years to tackle the drainage because holy gosh darn the west side had gone to utter ruin. Over the last two weeks, Brown and I have ripped out tons–literal tons–of ivy.  Underneath it, we have found some of the worst kludges and half-an-hour DIY “Honey, it’s done!” bullcrap you can imagine.

Let the fun begin.
Let the fun begin.

First, the drainage issue. The bottom tube comes off of the sump pump, but it isn’t a fixed plastic tube. It’s weeping tile, which is full of little holes to let water pass in and out.  Yes, you are technically supposed to use weeping tile off of your sump outlet.  No, you are not supposed to leave it free-floating in space where all of the water removed from via the sump pump drains right back into the same area of the soil, which then goes down into the ground, only to get sucked out by the sump again.  Think of a septic system eating its own tail.  Or don’t.  Yeah.  Scratch that. Don’t.

These are neither French nor drains.
These are neither French nor drains. Discuss.

Next, the drain itself was chucked on top of the ground.  There was no channel, no path. So there were areas like this:

See that bow in the middle where the tube goes down, and then back up?  That is not how water works.
See that bow in the middle where the tube goes down, and then back up? Guess how water works–NO YOU GUESSED WRONG

When we pulled up the tubes, there were gallons of standing, stinking water resting in the low points. And it was like this the entire length of the house.

People.  Please, people.  People, please.

We got extremely lucky.  We get the property treated for termites each spring, but if the ground story wasn’t brick, we’d be screwed.  The wood window sills on the lowest level are wrecked.  I was using a leaf blower to clean out the last of the leaf litter, and chunks off of the wood sills literally blew away from the force of the air.

Oh, while you’re here at this picture, take a moment to appreciate the exposed dangling wires we found, just hanging off of a junction box, blowing in the breeze.

But the all-time greatest discovery was the air conditioner.  I was digging out the eight-foot pit (more on this later) when Brown says: “Honey?”

Now, when we’re working on a project together, I automatically flinch when I hear him say this. I’ve developed this deeply-conditioned reflex because “Honey?” is usually followed by some version of the phrase, “several hundred dollars”. So I cautiously look towards him, and he says, “I don’t think they bolted down the air conditioner.”

“Why do you say that?” I ask him.

In reply, he picks up the air conditioner.

I was really angry. The sellers told us this was a new unit, and I had actually heard of the brand and priced it out, and I was so happy that we wouldn't have to worry about this unit for twenty years and arglebargle argh phlah!
I was really angry. The sellers told us this was a new unit, and I had actually heard of the brand and priced it out, and it was worth so much money with great reviews, and I was so happy that we wouldn’t have to worry about this unit for twenty years and arglebargle argh phlah!

“And that’s not all,” he says.  “Come take a look at this.”

I did, and Brown shows me how they had leveled the floating A/C platform with a brick.

There's another brick on the other side for, you know, symmetry or something.
There’s another brick on the other side for, you know, symmetry or something.

Now instead of digging a nice little retaining wall system with a real French drain, we first have to remove and level an air conditioner.  Oh, and the previous owners just painted over wood rot.  I lifted up one of the gutters to clean out the ivy, and the gaily-painted green wood dissolved. Just… it was there, and then it wasn’t.  Dust in the leaf blower.

We’re not spending any time in the Weeping Closet, but we’re practically living in the Fury Hole.

16 thoughts on “The French Drains (I)

      1. Ideally you should dig down deep enough to uncover al the brick and expose a few inches of the concrete, and then regrade so it slopes away from the house.

        What is behind the brick – wood framing or more concrete? Water can easily go through brick, especially if there are weep holes that wind up getting buried.

        It is against code in some places for brick to be within 4″ of the ground.

        Sorry for the bad news.

  1. Were these people bron morons or did they become that way? Dear me. What a lot of terrible DIY kludges. You have my utmost sympathy. I hope the bricks don’t biock up too much of the smell…

    1. I’ve seen her house a couple of times (not lately though, and we should totally fix that)… I believe that the previous owners spent many hard working years dedicated to becoming that way. At the rate they’re finding things, at some point I expect to read that they found a 220 line wired to a commode.

  2. Is there any way that the previous owners could be surreptitiously brought back to the house and … “introduced” to the very large snake in the attic? Vengeance + snake chow in one fell swoop?

  3. Eeep! But I love your posts, it makes me feel so much better about my house (which is 100 years younger) and we keep finding similar kludges at – Sympathetic back pats

  4. We’re in the process of remodeling and updating my daughter’s house, built circa 1843, expanded in the early 1920s. Over the past two years we have, as you, discovered many similar violations of good construction techniques… and sanity. We’ve come to refer to the collections of kludgemeisters through the years as The Unhandyman.

  5. This is very much a mistake to read, for me, on the eve of making an offer on a house that ‘needs work’ …

    1. Run while you can and never, ever look back! Alternatively: “Congratulations on destroying your weekends!”

  6. It took us a while to realize that our kitchen drain wasn’t attached to the pipe. I’ve got a cabinet to gut.

    And we made them re-hang the back doors before buying the place and they still got it wrong.

  7. You know, if you’re spending that much time in the Fury Hole, it might be worthwhile to invest in an Angry Dome. They’re much more soundproof.

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