Answers to Frequently Asked Questions by Our Prospective Customers
These are answers to the most commonly asked questions. Without writing a book, we can only go into so much detail. To answer those questions, which have not been addressed, please feel free to contact us at any time 24/7. However, we believe your home is unique, and ‘cookie cutter’ approaches are not in your best interest. The better and more scientific approach to answering your questions, solving your foundation problems, and giving you the peace of mind you deserve, is to allow one of our Certified, Licensed, and Experienced Inspectors to visit your home, analyze your specific situation, and propose a permanent and guaranteed remedy.
Q:What is the scope of your operation – what services do you offer?
We are a licensed, bonded, insured and certified General Contractor, specializing in foundation and structural repair, but absolutely capable of performing any and every service you could possibly need regarding repair, renovation, and improvement to your home, from securing your foundation, waterproofing your basement, mold remediation, all the way up to giving you a new roof and gutter system, and anything in between. Do you want a newly renovated basement, a new kitchen, bathroom, deck? An addition, egress windows and doors, custom windows, or an extra bedroom? A new garage, walkway, or driveway? A new HVAC system, home generator system, plumbing, siding, landscaping, or swimming pool? A new custom home?
We want to be your preferred contractor so you can spend time doing what you really like doing, as opposed to interviewing companies, getting estimates, and worrying about whether you paid too much or whether the company you hired will do a great job. Give us an opportunity to prove ourselves. You’ll be pleasantly rewarded.
Q:Why do I have moisture in my basement?
According to a report on Building Basements from Iowa State University, “Basements are not designed to be waterproof, only water resistant.” Moisture is either a liquid or a vapor. Most construction materials are porous, including pre-cast and poured concrete, mortar, cinder blocks, and brick. In the Northern parts of the U.S., the foundation of a home must be built below the frost line at least 30″-36″ below grade (ground level).
Although New Construction Building Code requires waterproofing of walls, builders typically skimp on the quality of what is required. They usually waterproof the walls with tar (a cheap material), which becomes totally ineffective as it biodegrades or deteriorates within years. Exterior drain tile or interior drainage systems with drain tile and a sump pump, which are now code in Texas, are usually just thrown into the ground without any concern for quality of installation or longevity. (This is what is commonly referred to as “Builder Grade” – a level of quality, which is very low, usually just good enough to pass code and inspection.)
This becomes a problem when water is allowed to collect against the outside of the foundation. Inadequate or improper drainage, inadequate roof gutters and lack of downspout extensions, and other factors such as high water tables, underground springs, and clay soil around your home, contribute to the ground around your home becoming saturated with water during rains or torrential downpours. Both hydrostatic and lateral pressure (pressure from the side and from underneath the floor) will result.
Water, which will always follow the path of least resistance, will eventually seep through the walls and/or up under the floor. As a result of the porous nature of construction materials, your foundation walls and the floor slab start to act like a sponge, absorbing water and acting as a conduit, allowing it to pass from the outside ground and surface to the inside of your basement and/or crawl space in liquid form or as humidity (vapor).
However, water is water. A mop or quality dehumidifier can remove the water once it enters your home. The real concern is the acid or pH level of the groundwater. Both rainwater and the soil surrounding your home are highly acidic. On the flipside, concrete, mortar, and cinder blocks, are highly alkaline. Acid / Alkaline are natural enemies or opposites. The lime and calcium that is the main ingredient, the bonding agent of cement, the ‘glue’ that binds these products together – the strength of your foundation.
The water acts as the catalyst in this chemical process, allowing the acid to neutralize the lime and calcium, in essence corroding your floors, walls, and foundation footings. Over time, as the water is allowed to sit around your home, under the floor, and in the walls, the structural integrity of your home will deteriorate. It is not a question of if, but when.
Here is a quote from North Dakota State University water quality specialist Bruce Seelig, “Sodium and magnesium sulfates are soluble salts that exist in much of the geological material… These salts are readily dissolved and transported in groundwater. When they are re-deposited on basement walls and floors they often take on a white filamentous or moldy appearance (See next question below). These deposits are easily re-dissolved by water.
Deposits of soluble salts on basement walls and floors are harmless from a human health standpoint. However, groundwater with a high concentration of sulfate (more than 150 parts per million) is corrosive to concrete basements. Sulfate corrodes concrete by degrading the cementing agent and by forming crystals in the pores that eventually expand and physically break down the internal structure of the concrete.
As one might expect, as the amount of sulfate in the groundwater increases and the longer the concrete basement is in contact with groundwater, the greater the damage from corrosion. Solutions to this problem include a proper tile drainage system around the basement foundation and floor that quickly removes water from the immediate area of the basement,” Seelig explains.
Only a detailed inspection by someone experienced in foundations and structural repair can determine the level or stage your home is in how long this process will take – 2 years, 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years. According to the WSSC (the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission), most homes will experience a basement water problem in the first 25 years of life. How old is your house?
Q:What is the white powder I see on the walls?
Efflorescence, which is the residue of the chemical process explained in the previous answer. A white or grayish crystalline substance sometimes formed on the surface of cement, cinder block (CMU), masonry, or stone, often as calcium sulfate. It is caused by the leeching-out of soluble chemical salts from the cement, mortar, stone, brick, or mortar joints through the forces of capillary action and evaporation. It is a sign of deterioration of your foundation.
Q:My home is 25 years old. Why is it starting to leak now as opposed to earlier or later?
The quality of the construction of your home can be a determining factor. What used to be a quality industry has eroded over time and builders do not build with the same quality or work ethic as they did 50 years ago. In our experience, water can enter a home, which is 2 years old, and can sometimes wait for 50 years, but water is only a symptom.
It is usually the water you do not see that is the biggest problem. Water may have been deteriorating your home for years, but you may have just noticed it. Just like anything, as homes get older, they need maintenance and repairs. Most roofs need replacing after 20 years, hot water heaters after 15. The wood and paint in your home is constantly replaced and appliances wear out over time.
Foundation walls and floors are no different. If you had perimeter drain tiles (exterior and/or interior) when the house was built, even if they were installed properly, they can clog. If your walls were parged with mortar and waterproofed with tar, they have cracked over time and the tar is non-existent. Tar has a shelf life of 5-7 years, in the ground it does not last any longer than that.
Then, over time, your house begins to settle as the soil underneath it continues to compact. Cracks, which may have been minor, are now spreading open, allowing water to flow in. The floor may have cracked. Your stairwell drain may have failed. Tree roots can destroy stairwell drains, perimeter foundation drains, or even grow right through your walls. New construction in your area could have diverted a natural spring or changed the soil conditions in your neighborhood.
Foundation and structural repair is something every residence and commercial building will undergo. It is just a matter of time… and water! The maintenance and repair is also a matter of time… and money. The sooner you fix something, the less comprehensive and costly it can be. The longer you wait, what may have been simple maintenance, may now be a complete overhaul or retrofit. Think about this – what costs more, a transmission repair or a complete replacement? Remember this – water is a symptom, not the problem. The problem started when the house was built. The water is indicating that the problem has become serious.
Q:Is a wet basement an indication of poor construction?
Maybe! As stated above, the quality of the construction of your home can be a determining factor. Home building used to be a quality industry, where everyone personally knew the builder, until the large corporations took over and the quality has all but disappeared over time. Builders do not build with the same quality or work ethic as they did 50 years ago. After all, by Federal Law, they only have to give you a one-year Guarantee on your home.
We find water problems in newer homes just as frequently as older homes. Here is a real quote which can be referenced and verified – “Of the hundreds of old building problems tackled over the last 20 years by our building doctors, one has been by far the most prevalent – wet basements. At one time or another nearly every old building will experience a wet basement.” Judith L. Kitchen, holds degrees in Architecture & Architectural History. Notice that she states 20 years and nearly every building.
We believe that if she is around in her professional capacity for another 20 years she will notice that every building will experience a wet basement. In conclusion, whether your home is old or new, well or poorly built, it will eventually experience water, and the corrosive and deteriorating effect that water has on all structures. Water may be our most precious commodity second only to air, but with an acid rich content, it is definitely the worst enemy to a home.
Q:I only see water after a heavy rain or torrential downpour – do I have a problem?
Even if water only enters your basement during heavy rains, or once or twice every few years, it is a symptom that water is now finding its way into your home and water is definitely the cause of mold, mildew, insects and other organisms, which are a health risk for you and your family. Water over time will corrode concrete just like acid rain water corrodes the paint on your car. If you had a small leak in your roof, would you wait until your roof collapses? The foundation of your home is the most important component of your home. Don’t wait until the problem worsens and the repair costs become prohibitive. Contact us today for a comprehensive Foundation Inspection.
Q:How do you prevent water from entering my basement?
A simple question. A good question. Just not an easy answer. The true answer is we won’t know until we inspect your home, determine what the cause is and the appropriate solution, which also includes financial considerations. Not only is your home unique, but you are unique, and your financial situation can sometimes play a critical role, unless there is only one solution and you have no choice or option. With that said, there is always the option of doing nothing and letting the value of your home diminish. Sometimes this is our only option. We meet many homeowners who are forced to sell their home ‘as is’ knowing that they’ll receive much less (up to 25%) value.
But back to the question, How do we prevent water from entering your basement? Some companies will state from the exterior, some will state from the interior. Regardless, the answer is truly dependent on your problem. There are many approaches, solutions, and options. For example, a wall crack. How do you fix a wall crack? There are easily six different options, depending on the following – First, is your foundation poured or pre-cast concrete? Is it block or brick or stone or terra cotta block? Is the crack wider than an inch? Is the wall displaced? We have even encountered wood foundation walls, and homes without a footing. For someone to give a general or ‘cookie-cutter’ answer is a disservice to you. The answer can only be determined once a legitimate foundation inspector analyzes the situation.
Q:Some companies recommend outside excavation and some recommend interior drain systems – which approach is correct or the right approach?
As there are usually two sides to every story, there are certainly two or more approaches to every water issue, although some can be labeled correct or incorrect. When your home was originally built, they waterproofed it from the outside, not the inside. Outside waterproofing, not inside, is code, not a choice.
But back to the question – if you have water entering through the wall, an advanced drainage system incorporating drain tile, weep holes, wall drainage mats, and gravel can certainly alleviate hydrostatic pressure and the amount of water surrounding the home, the water seeping in through the cove area (where the wall meets the floor), and the water building up in the hollow cores of a cinder block or concrete masonry unit wall. However, it is not addressing the problem – water is coming through your wall! The water has to be stopped or managed. And although managing the water could be construed as allowing the problem to continue, it may be the only solution, especially if you cannot excavate outside or cannot afford the cost.
Another important fact – no two companies in this industry are the same. If a company does not excavate or does not use exterior approaches and solutions, they should not call themselves waterproofers, as this is part of what we do. Nonetheless, some companies do not work from the exterior, do not excavate. This is because they are probably a franchise or licensed operation without the experience or know how, using a ‘Patented’ gimmick system, or some cookie cutter approach – a ‘one solution meets all needs.’ This actually borders on the ridiculous!
We are Foundation and Structural Repair Contractors, sometimes labeled waterproofers. Those who do not excavate do not understand the science of Foundation Engineering and Structural Repair; or maybe they do and are possibly just trying to take your money without fixing the problem correctly or adequately. A few companies readily come to mind.
Although we all may have Class ‘A’ Contractor Licenses, this means we are licensed to run a general contracting business. In reality it has nothing to do with depth of experience in foundations and structural repair, engineering, soils, concrete, drainage and other areas where experience is critical; having a Class ‘A’ License has nothing to do with competency in waterproofing and applications of waterproofing science or water management systems. To be and operate a business as an electrician, plumber, or hairdresser, you need a license. To be a waterproofer, you do not! Which is why you will find over 130 waterproofers in the DC Metro area, and you will find some of these waterproofers have over 130 complaints!
Q:Same Question, Different Answer!
Normally, there are two basic approaches to preventing water from entering your home (and possibly destroying your foundation), assuming that your problem is not yet structural, and sometimes the solution is a combination of these two approaches:
1. Exterior or Positive side applications – Waterproofing materials like epoxy, polyurethanes, waterproofing cement, tar, rubber, pre-molded membranes, drainage mats, etc., are used to waterproof and vapor seal the walls before water can penetrate through to the inside. Your builder actually had to do this to pass inspection to sell the home. Installing perimeter drain tiles next to the footing on the outside. Exterior / Positive Side methods require excavation, sometimes down to the bottom or next to the foundation or footing (often called footer).
Exterior methods of waterproofing can be very effective but are usually more expensive, sometimes prohibitive depending on the application, the company, and other factors. However, sometimes you have no choice. When structural issues are in evidence, outside excavation and repair may be the only solution recommended by an engineer (engineer’s report), necessary for and to be approved by a city, county, or municipal inspector.
2. Interior or negative side applications – Here, we are allowing the water to penetrate to a certain extent and managing its direction or flow. Water which enters at the cove can be diverted to a sub-floor drainage system, which is New Residential Code in Texas. SEE SOLUTIONS! At the end of this drainage system is a sump pump or two, which discharges the water outside and away from the home. However, if water is coming through the wall, the fix is not so simple – a wall system has to be devised to manage that specific flow. When properly installed, the sub-floor, interior system may be just as effective or more so than exterior drain systems, often at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes not!
If you have structural issues, our first approach is to have an independent unbiased Professional Engineer (third party) inspect your property and generate an Engineer’s Report which will determine what needs to be done and the scope of the work.
Q:Can I use Dry Loc to fix my interior water problem as they suggest on bobvila.com or This Old House?
Sure! But you shouldn’t. Waterproofing from the inside or negative side with Dry Loc or Paint is like putting on a blinder and then stating, “Hey, I can’t see the water, it must have stopped!” It hasn’t stopped – it is still infiltrating the wall – it just is not evaporating into the air as quickly as it used to. In addition, this is just a temporary patch, which over time, water, the most powerful element on earth, will certainly destroy. A cinder block wall that is Dry Loc-ed will eventually start to blister and peel, and be destroyed by that very product and much quicker than if left alone. It is OLD and obsolete technology which never lived up to its claims.
Q:What about other products for interior / inside solutions?
It is the 21st Century and we are rapidly advancing in all areas of construction and repair. It truly depends on what your specific problem is. There are plenty of quality products on the market that are new and innovative which apparently work – only time will tell. Epoxies, polyurethanes, liquid rubbers, polymers – products that infiltrate and bond molecularly to the concrete or concrete block, providing an effective seal against water, vapor, and radon. Some have been around for 5-15 years. We use a broad variety of effective negative side sealants, depending on your specific situation and the material of which your wall or floor is constructed. Just stating concrete or block is not enough information. Often times we will experiment on the job to see which product bonds better, fills a crack, does the job we are guaranteeing. Please call for an inspection – your solution is only a phone call away.
Q:I was told the only correct way to seal a crack was outside excavation – that epoxies and other types of sealants don’t work. Is this true?
One correct way to seal a crack is from the outside. To excavate, clean the wall of debris, seal the wall using waterproofing cement or epoxy, then applying a liquid, rubber elastomeric waterproofing membrane on that, then applying a premolded membrane to protect the rubber. Then we would backfill. Excellent method, but not the only correct method.
Yes, applied improperly, any solution will fail, especially a sealant like epoxy or polyurethane. These solutions need an experienced crew to first determine what product will work, and then to apply the fix.
Q:What types of basement waterproofing systems are sold which don’t work and why don’t they work?
The materials commonly used by new homebuilders are tar or clay based substances or other poor quality liquid coatings that age quickly and become rigid and brittle – materials that quickly break down and fail to stop water from infiltrating through the wall on the exterior side. Tar and clay are inexpensive by-products and quite profitable for new homebuilders who only want to pass inspection of old building codes which do not protect the homeowner. After all, they only have to last for a year, due to the federally mandated one-year warranty on new homes.
Another common and outdated method of ‘waterproofing’ basements is to install plastic panels around the inside of the basement walls to channel the water dripping down the walls into a sub-floor drain system. With this system, it is impossible to get rid of basement humidity and mold will continue to proliferate.
Q:What the difference between Carbon Fiber / Kevlar or I-Beams? What other products are there to seal cracks?
The first determination should be whether the crack in question is structural or not. The difference is usually a measurement of an inch. For example, if you take a plumb bob or 4′ level on a bowed wall, and the displacement from the crack to the floor is an inch; or if one side of the wall is in or out an inch, or if the crack is one inch or wider in width, than you probably have a structural issue, and upon that determination, we would request the services of a PE – Professional Engineer.
Regardless, Wall cracks, cement cracks, block cracks, and mortar cracks can be sealed effectively with the right product, if applied properly. Combinations of structural I-Beams, angle irons, waterproof and hydraulic cements, epoxies, urethanes, polyurethanes, and other products have been used for decades to fix structural cracks from the inside. However, it takes experience, and knowing which product to apply to your specific foundation material and situation. One concrete wall is not necessarily identical in chemical properties as another. One concrete crack is certainly different from another. Carbon Fiber and other fixes have been applied to bridges, parking structures for decades, and for the last few years, to the residential market with tremendous success. We have carbon fiber products, and carbon fiber reinforced with Kevlar. We have carbon fiber stitches and staples to stitch and staple a wall or floor together, if we determine this is the correct approach and application.
Epoxies, elastomeric sealants, polyurethanes, and a few other brand name products have proven to be effective, when applied properly. We have also seen our share of failures when other companies haphazardly apply these materials. There are a variety of systems which may be applicable in certain situations, although proper and adequate drainage, in our opinion (and those of most engineers), may be a critical component of any solution.
Polyurethane foams, and waterproofing sealants that are elastomeric have some give as opposed to the rigidity but structural adhesion experienced with epoxy. Each is designed to seal walls to prevent moisture from passing through.
You either have to stop the water by waterproofing the wall, which truly means outside excavation, and depending on our analysis, maybe exterior drain tile to lower the hydrostatic pressure. We may only need to install an interior wall and floor management system, allowing the water to flow; this can sometimes be done by installing modern microbial vapor seal wall systems and directing it to a sub-floor drain tile system, and maybe using a dehumidifier or other types of systems which extract the moisture from the air, which we always recommend for basements.
In the end, it is price; what you can afford and which solutions are appropriate and feasible. The solutions are many, some good, some great, some horrible, depending on the company (in our opinion). Also, the application. We can propose a solution or option for any situation and we are not only capable of the application, but would do so with excellence. I have seen, first hand, the flip-side of the coin – a builder, or sub-contractor for other companies, install systems with no regard to whether it would work in 5-10 years, since they won’t be around.
Since all homes are different, and each problem is unique, often we propose a combination of materials and solutions, for example: to properly waterproof a wall we might suggest drain tile system, pump, epoxy with carbon fiber, or polyurethane. On another, a simple dig and seal from the outside. On another, an entire wall system (we have many) with a sub-floor drain system. On another, just a drain tile system, with a wall management system. Only a proper inspection can determine which solution works best for you.
Q:When fixing a crack, what is the difference between an epoxy application and a polyurethane application? Can you be more specific – when would you apply one or the other?
The answer is not as simple as the question. Either material may achieve the desired result with some cracks, and with others, it is definitely one or the other. Some companies doing the application may simply choose the material they have the most experience with. If a specific crack needs to be repaired only to prevent water seepage, or water is actively seeping through the crack, we usually will apply polyurethane foam as we feel this is the best choice. Here is a breakdown of when we might use epoxy or polyurethane:
Epoxy is available in a wide range of viscosity, from ultra-thin to paste-like, which can accommodate cracks of different widths. We use whatever viscosity is necessary to inject a given crack at pressures less than 40 psi. The width of the crack will determine the viscosity. A wider crack requires thicker material.
The main advantage to using epoxy is the amazing compressive strength, which at 12,000 psi or greater exceeds that of most concrete. This is why epoxy is the better choice for repairing structural cracks. However, epoxy can cure very slowly, usually taking hours to harden and cure. This can be advantageous since it allows time for the epoxy to flow into even the smallest crevices.
On the flip-side, if the backfill outside the wall has separated from the foundation, creating a void, the epoxy may flow out of the backside (outside) of the crack before it has properly cured or hardened. This can happen as a result of settlement, poor compaction during construction, materials thrown into the backfill instead of soils, and erosion do to the water. This may be why the crack is leaking water in the first place – it is the path of least resistance!
IF we have a concern about material leaking out the back of a crack, if we determine during our material testing and application process that epoxy is indeed flowing out the back, we then turn to polyurethane foams. These elastomeric, fast-setting foams are effective alternatives for applications involving only crack sealing (waterproofing) and not structural repair.
Because of their elastomeric nature, they are able to accommodate slight concrete movement so the seal stays intact. They also begin to harden and foam within minutes of injection. This reduces the chances of the material flowing out of an injected crack while still in liquid form, and even if some does leak out, the foam will fill the void. Although they do not add any compressive strength, you usually do not need any.
Q:I have cinder block walls which seem to have mold all over them, discoloration, and just don’t look very good – do you have a solution or product which you can apply which can fix the problem from the inside without costly excavation?
Yes! Although we believe the positive side, exterior excavation is the right side, this isn’t always feasible, either financially, or because your outside wall cannot be excavated. We have multiple manufacturers and suppliers we use who have products that can fix just about any moisture problem, again when diagnosed properly and then applied properly.
Q:I have water and / or dampness in my crawlspace – should I be concerned?
Yes! This is also your home’s foundation. Although a crawl space is not as deep as a basement, crawlspaces leak, which in turn attracts mold, insects, rodents, and the problems in a crawl space are no different from those found in a basement. In addition, since the walls of your crawlspace are certainly load bearing, supporting your house, just like a basement does, you need to resolve any moisture problems. The crawlspace solutions have completely evolved over the years and we have the newest systems available to make your crawlspace a healthy environment for you, your family, and for your residence.
Q:My walls get wet when it is very hot, usually in the summer – is this a concern?
Yes! Regardless of the source, moisture is a magnet for mold. It is possibly condensation rather than seepage. When it is humid outside, basement walls can ‘sweat’ because of the difference in temperature. It happens to water pipes, but can also occur in your basement or crawl space.
There is a simple test for this if you suspect condensation might be the problem in your basement. Securely tape a 10″ x 10″ piece of plastic wrap onto the basement wall in an area where you have noticed dampness, sealing the edges of the plastic wrap with the tape. Check on the plastic over the next few days. Eventually you will get moisture: if the moisture is on the wall side of the plastic, you have a leak; if the moisture is on the room side of the plastic, you have a condensation problem.
Even so, you have to get rid of the moisture. In this case, a dehumidifier may do the trick. Not just any cheap dehumidifier. The less you spend, the more you will spend. Huh?! You probably just said that – if you spend less on a dehumidifier, chances are it will cost you more in electric bills than if you purchased a higher quality machine that cost more, but was much more efficient. We sell these products, but make sure if you purchase somewhere else, it is energy star rated, and it is 21st Century technology.
Q:I only have seepage in one corner / area – can I just have that fixed?
Maybe! IF it is a wall crack, then often we can just repair that specific issue. Often we encounter situations where we feel an entire basement should be treated, yet the homeowner cannot afford the scope of such a project. We make every effort to tell you what you need to hear, but sometimes you, the homeowner only wants to hear what you want to hear. Some companies specialize in this. We’ve seen homeowners spend massive amounts of money repeatedly chasing small leaks around the foundation; installing a system on one wall, then another, or grading (which is usually done improperly and rarely helps); installing new gutter systems and extensions (which can certainly help divert water coming off the roof and we recommend); concreting the surface area adjacent to the foundation walls (which does not work), and never addressing the real issue – that it’s time for comprehensive waterproofing repairs. It is usually more cost efficient to fix the entire problem.
In rare circumstances, it might even work to fix a smaller area. However, what are we fixing? Water is a symptom. You might be experiencing discomfort, pain, inconvenience, but it usually is a symptom that you have a more serious problem than just water. If you have water in one area, chances are you have it everywhere else, you just cannot see it. If there is water entering your basement in one area, something has occurred over time to allow it to enter – if we fixed it in one area, where do you think the water will go next? To the path of least resistance, which might be 10 feet further down the wall, or on the other side.
Q:I think I have mold on the walls – should I be concerned?
Absolutely! Mold is a serious health hazard that has finally been recognized as a threat to the health of anyone who is exposed to it. Your first step if you suspect that you have mold is leave it alone and call a professional certified in mold detection, testing and/or remediation. Call us! Some molds produce mycotoxins that can pose serious health risks to humans and animals. Exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems and in some cases death. Prolonged exposure, e.g. daily workplace exposure, can be particularly harmful. The term toxic mold refers to molds that produce mycotoxins and not to all molds in general.
Below, read the following questions and answers taken from the EPA Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home; This Guide provides information and guidance for homeowners and renters on how to clean up residential mold problems and how to prevent mold growth.
Q:Why is mold growing in my home?
Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.
The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem.
Q:Should I clean up the mold myself?
NO! There is no point in attempting to remove or clean up mold if the underlying causes are not addressed and solved. Unless water seepage in vapor or liquid form is stopped or corrected, mold will simply recur. Band-Aid approaches like chemical sprays, coatings, or air cleaners in an attempt to ‘kill’ the mold are insufficient and ineffective at preventing future mold and in some cases, these approaches create their own hazards. Call a professional!
Q:Can mold cause health problems?
Yes! Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed.
It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold- allergic and non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold.
Q:How do I get rid of mold?
Hire a professional. It is impossible to get rid of all molds and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. The mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must hire professionals to clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but do not fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back. Molds can gradually destroy the things they grow on. You can prevent damage to your home and furnishings, save money, and avoid potential health problems by controlling moisture and eliminating mold growth. Give us a call today!
Q:What is Radon?
Radon is the invisible, radioactive mono-atomic gas that results from radioactive decay of some forms of uranium that may be found in rock formations beneath buildings or in certain building materials themselves. Radon is a chemical element, a naturally appearing (not man-made) gas that may contaminate water or air in buildings. Its chemical symbol is Rn, and its atomic number is 86. It is the heaviest noble gas, and it is colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive (see radioactivity), and almost completely un-reactive (forming compounds only with fluorine). It is rare in nature because all its isotopes are short-lived and because radium, its source, is scarce.
Q:Where does Radon come from?
Radon seeps from certain soils and rocks (such as granite) into the atmosphere and can accumulate in poorly ventilated spaces near ground level, including residential basements.
Q:Should I be concerned with Radon gas?
Yes! Radon is most likely the most pervasive serious hazard for indoor air quality in the United States and Europe, and is probably responsible for tens of thousands of lung cancer deaths per year. Controlling indoor air is a necessity for every home that any foundation, concrete crack repair, and basement waterproofing contractor should consider when thinking about offering the most value to their customers. Indoor air quality control of radon gas and moisture through concrete walls and the foundation cove joints will not only improve the indoor air quality of a basement and/or crawl space, but the entire home.
The risk from exposure to residential indoor radon at a given concentration, although yet to be defined precisely, is generally estimated to be comparable to the corresponding risk in miners. As a result, radon is thought to be the single most important cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and to cause 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancers, or 15,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. Hence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that indoor radon concentrations not be allowed to exceed 4 picocuries per liter (4 pCi/L), a concentration that might be expected to double the risk of lung cancer if inhaled throughout an average lifespan.
In humans and laboratory animals, the risk of lung cancer increases with increasing exposure to inhaled radon and its short-lived decay products. In underground mines, the risk appears to increase in proportion to the total cumulative dose to cells lining the airway, and to be about two times higher in smokers than in nonsmokers.
Q:Why do I have radon in my basement?
Depending on how houses are built and ventilated, radon may accumulate in basements and dwellings. Homes that are too well insulated may trap radon gas, increasing its concentration. It may be due to gaseous emanation produced by the radioactive decay of radium, given off by some soils and rocks; it may collect and constitute a health hazard in buildings with poor ventilation.
Q:How do I know if I have Radon – How do I test for it?
Radon can be measured in the home with a number of relatively inexpensive devices, which are available from some state and local governments as well as private firms. Pertinent information can generally be obtained from the local state radiation or the Environmental Protection Agency office. A home inspector can test for radon.
ASTM E-2121 is the standard used for reducing radon in residential buildings as far as practicable, which is below 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in indoor air. Radon test kits are commercially available. The kit usually includes a ‘collector’ that the user hangs in the lowest livable floor of the house (the basement) for 2 to 7 days. The user then sends the ‘collector’ to a laboratory for analysis.
Radon levels fluctuate naturally. An initial test might not be an accurate assessment of your home’s average radon level. Transient weather can affect short-term measurements. Therefore, a high result (over 4 pCi/l) justifies repeating the test before undertaking more expensive abatement projects. Measurements between 4 and 10 pCi/L warrant a long-term radon test. Long-term kits, taking collections for up to one year, are also available. Measurements over 10 pCi/L warrant only another short-term test so that abatement measures are not unduly delayed. Purchasers of real estate are advised to delay or decline a purchase if the seller has not successfully abated radon to 4 pCi/L or less.
For further information, check with the EPA and the National Environmental Health Association or give us a call. We would be happy to have your basement inspected by a Radon Pro.
Q:What can I do about Radon? How do I mitigate or lessen the exposure and danger?
Indoor radon can be mitigated by sealing basement foundations, water drainage, or by sub-slab de-pressurization. A pipe that serves to vent radon, especially from the basement to the roof, is often suggested to prevent its buildup. In severe cases, mitigation can use air pipes and fans to exhaust sub-slab air to the outside. Indoor ventilation systems are more effective, but exterior ventilation can be cost-effective in some cases. Methods for reducing the concentration of radon and its decay products in indoor air include ventilation; air filtration; sealing of cracks in basement floors and walls; installation of a sub-slab exhaust system beneath the basement floor; and remediation of heavily contaminated groundwater or well water that is used for drinking, bathing, or showering.
Modern construction that conserves energy by making homes air tight exacerbates the risks of radon exposure if radon is present in the home. Older homes with more porous construction are more likely to vent radon naturally. Positive-pressure ventilation systems can be combined with a heat exchanger to recover energy in the process of exchanging air with the outside, and it should be noted that simply exhausting basement air to the outside is not necessarily a viable solution as this can actually draw radon gas into a dwelling. Homes built on a crawl space can benefit from a radon collector installed under a radon barrier (a sheet of plastic that covers the crawl space).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in 15 homes in the United States has radon levels above the recommended guideline of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) (148 Bq/m³)The half-life for radon is 3.8 days, indicating that once the source is removed, the hazard will be greatly reduced within a few weeks.
Q:Will waterproofing my basement enhance the value of my home?
Absolutely. Money spent on cleaning up a moldy, wet basement typically pays off in an immediate increase in your home’s market value Ask the potential buyer if they want a dry basement? According to various quotes online, the National Association of Realtors and the American Society of Home Inspectors state that a wet basement can decrease the value from 10% to 25%. Rarely would it ever cost 10-25% of a home’s value to fix a wet basement. It is also added living space, an increase in usable square footage. A finished basement, after you remove the moisture can return from 90% to 120% of the value. Ask a realtor!
More importantly, prior to selling your house, because of new laws that protect the consumer, you will be required to fill out a disclosure form. One of the first few questions asks if you are aware of any moisture problems in your basement or crawl space. You can sell ‘as is’, leaving the problem for the new owner to fix, which will typically result in a decreased sales price. Failure to inform the buyer of any problems can also result in a lawsuit.
Q:What kind of warranty do you provide?
That will actually depend on what we are doing, what product and service we are providing. For a sub-soil system, we might only warranty for a year, if we see trees in the vicinity whose roots might interfere or compromise our system. For interior systems, we usually warranty for life of ownership, transferable to the next owner. For outside excavation, we might warranty from 5 to 20 years, depending on what we excavate and why! For pumps, 5 years. It all depends on what we do for you. If you buy a new home, you get a whopping one-year federally mandated warranty. One year! Think about that for a second. Our work will have a much higher quality and a much longer warranty.
Q:How long does it take to complete the job?
Which job? Some jobs take hours, some days, and some take weeks. This question is a great question, but can only be answered when we know what product or service we are providing to you. It takes about an hour to replace a pump, which we do. It takes one to three days to install an interior drain system. It can take a week or two to complete an addition on your home, or build a deck. It can take a week to replace a roof, excavate an entire wall, and rebuild it. Before we start, you will know approximately how long it will take and we will put that in writing if you like. We want to complete the job quickly, but do it properly – there is a balance between the two.
Q:What does waterproofing my basement cost?
Again, a simple question without an easy answer. First, the problem has to be analyzed, a solution(s) determined, and then options priced accordingly. The first part of the pricing or estimate is determined by the footage, regardless if it is linear or square footage – inside systems can be simple linear feet unless we are dealing with covering the interior walls with drain board, microbial systems, waterproofing materials, etc. Outside excavation is always square feet. A drain system on a fifty-foot wall is fifty linear feet. To install an outside drain system on the same wall, then we would excavate for example, 6 feet in grade. That multiplied by 50 linear feet gives you 300 square feet. Then you have pumps, window drains, stairwell drains, backup pumps, wall systems, warranties, soil systems, discharge lines, downspout extensions, etc. and so on. Again, scheduling an Inspection is only a phone call away.
Q:How do I choose the right basement waterproofing company when there are so many out there?
One Hundred, Thirty and Counting! That is how many you have in the DC Area. In the end, this might be your most difficult and most important decision. It isn’t comparing apples to apples. Actually, it’s closer to finding a ripe apple in a barrel full of rotten apples. There is a whole list of criteria you can use to determine whether a basement waterproofing company is the right one to work on your home.
In order for you to fix your basement, you need:
1. A company that is capable of fixing your basement. A company that has the knowledge, expertise, and most important, the experience in structural foundation repair (residential and commercial).
2. A company that is capable of performing properly and ethically. A company whose goal is to use that knowledge, expertise, and experience to apply the time and proper materials in doing, not a good job, but a great job.
3. References; Testimonials.
4. A company who will honor and service the warranty should the need ever arise or should you want to sell your home with the added benefit of a Dry Basement Warranty; a company whose corporate structure is not only intact and in Good Standing, but a company which doesn’t have any complaints. A company, which does not service their warranty, will have complaints. Be careful of the BBB – they are not a consumer agency. They are a franchise operating for profit from companies who pay for membership. There are many waterproofing companies with more than 100 complaints, which have a satisfactory record. If they have “resolved” complaints, they were still complaints to begin with – why? A few complaints (2-3) are normal. More than a few is a red flag!
Age – Don’t get fooled by age. Some companies state they have been around since the 1950′s. B-Dry is one. They state they have been around since 1958 – they sell franchises. Their franchisee could have started yesterday. Another is Vulcan Waterproofing who state, “We’re not just in the Basement Waterproofing Business, WE INVENTED IT!” First, their corporate structure has folded, forfeited, dissolved, and re-formed so many times it would make your head spin. When they say, we invented it, I think what they are referring to is inventing the waterproofing complaint. In the magazine, Consumer Reports of July 1974 (we have the article) of 4000 installations, they had 2500 complaints. They haven’t changed.
In addition, they are not the oldest. Trotter Company in Georgia, in our opinion, is the oldest, since 1929, and they have no complaints. They do excellent work. U.S. Waterproofing in Chicago is another that has been around since the 50′s and does great work. We know of a few companies in our area, which have been around for only a few years, but do great work! Age is age. Complaints are the true determining factor of a company’s commitment to quality, ethics, and excellence in business practice.
As Kevin Ott, a writer in California states, “Your grandpa was right. To get the measure of a man, your grandpa used to say, you gotta shake his hand and look in his eye.” It is the same with contractors. See if the company will send a representative over to assess your problem and provide an estimate. This is the time for you to keep your eyes peeled – if you hire this particular contractor, he, and his workers will be in your home for several days or weeks. Is that something you want?
Hard sell doesn’t sell. It’s impressive to see someone who’s determined to make a sale, but ultimately the decision is up to you, and a contractor should recognize that. If the price keeps changing, or you keep getting calls to drop the price, run! Also, anyone who says your house will fall down if you don’t hire him right now isn’t to be trusted (unless your house is ready to fall down. We probably will not want that job). A good basement waterproofing company is hard to come by. However, with a little research and a good eye for quality, you might get your money’s worth. Then again, you might not!”
Here’s a promise. If for some reason you will not hire us, tell us whom you want to hire. We will at least give you our opinion and refer you to a good company if we feel you are making a mistake. We have a dossier on almost every company (except the gypsy companies which only come out in the rain) – complaints, history, systems they use, level of craftsmanship, etc. We hope that you have your problem solved, and that is truly our desire. We will not get every contract, but at least use one of the few great waterproofing companies in our area. There are approximately five!
Q:How do I determine whether a company is ‘capable’ of doing the work?
A contractors’ license is a start; a start to determine that a company understands the rules and regulations that govern estimating, bidding, selling, and operating legally under the guidelines mandated by the individual Local, County, State, and Federal Governments. For example, contract law; permits; understanding the Federal 3 day ‘Right of Cancellation’; mandated business practices, etc. However, passing the exam, fulfilling the requirements, and then obtaining a contractor’s license may have absolutely nothing to do with construction, foundations, renovation, and waterproofing.
Foundation and structural repair, and construction in general, is a science (not a gimmick) which over the years has evolved, thanks to engineers and legitimate structural repair contractors who understand soils, concrete, cement, brick, block, building materials, water migration and infiltration, and ultimately, DRAINAGE. Also thanks to the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who have ceaselessly worked to create new products, which work. Over time, some applications have failed, some have been overwhelming successes.
As experienced contractors and inspectors, we often encounter homes with structural problems – bowed or displaced walls, horizontal and vertical wall cracks which shear through block and concrete; footings which appear to be cracked and need underpinning; stone walls which are crumbling. These issues can only be addressed through an engineer’s report. As one homeowner asked me recently, “Why do we need an engineer’s report?” At which point I replied, “How else are you going to know what to do?”
Indeed, how else will you be able to pull a permit if structural repair is necessary? You won’t – not with structural issues. Yet we continually encounter situations with homeowners who have received estimates and proposals from so-called waterproofers to do work, without an engineer’s report. Why? Because the companies that gave these unsuspecting homeowners a proposal really do not have a clue. Alternatively, if they do, they obviously and with certainty do not intend to perform properly, ethically or legally.
Unfortunately, there is no government administrative body (city, county, state, or federal) which oversees the ‘Waterproofing’ Industry; no official body that establishes and regulates building standards and work ethics in the Waterproofing Industry; no regulatory body, no municipal, county, or federal department or division that determines what you can or cannot do regarding foundation and structural repair.
In reference to waterproofing, welcome to the ‘Wild West’ where anyone with a valid Class ‘A’ Contractor’s License can state, “We’re waterproofers.” Even IF you find a company with the personnel that ‘know’ what they are doing, there is no guarantee that they will then apply that ‘know how’, that experience to perform properly and do a good job. What if they subcontract out the job to just anyone? What if they’re a franchise or licensed operation?
This means that you – yes you – can become a waterproofer overnight! With $35,000 to $75,000 to purchase a franchise or license and two weeks training at corporate headquarters, you can instantly become a Waterproofer, ready to sell some company’s product to some unsuspecting homeowner; to install a ‘patented’ (gimmick) system that costs next to nothing to install, that requires little or no materials or labor, little to no experience, time or effort. Products and materials which ignore all the principles and science of Foundation Engineering, Waterproofing and Drainage Principles, and Structural Repair; products and materials which do not even meet the minimal requirements for ‘New Residential Building Code’ in Texas; which will not pass ‘County Inspection’ for new residential construction;
What if the company you hire installs a system that cannot possibly succeed? What if you purchased a ‘Bill of Goods’ from some misguided soul who himself / herself was sold a bill of goods at a home show promoting someone’s franchise or licensed turn-key operation; someone who didn’t have a day of experience in this business to start with, let alone the decade or two of experience which a good or excellent waterproofer possesses.
If you want a great hamburger, do you go to McDonalds? (I hope not – they sell prepackaged, frozen hamburgers, which are ok at bargain prices). If you want your foundation repaired properly, do you go to a cookie cutter operation? A licensee? A franchisee? Or do you contact a company that will actually diagnose and correctly prescribe the remedy that is unique to your situation? No two homes are the same! No two waterproofing companies are the same. No two solutions are the same.
Q:What makes you a great company, the right company for my home?
This will ultimately be for you to decide because those terms are subjective. However, customer service, customer service, and customer service, in that order. We are here to serve. By serving you, we profit. We actually understand the following business principle – if we do a great job for you, you will refer three others. If we do a horrible job, you will tell 20 others.
We have a long-term approach to business and our long-term approach is to make you our customer for life. However, to be objective, each of our employees has decades of experience in the related industries, and knowledge of the fundamental principle of ‘Help Others’ and a desire to do so. Our corporate philosophy and the foundation of our company, pun intended, are quality and ethics.
With that in mind, we only employ professionals who have demonstrated excellence and superior craftsmanship in the work that we do. The person who enters your home to diagnose your problem will have 10 – 20 years experience and will know as much about basements, foundations, home inspections and renovation as anyone in the business, sometimes more. The person who oversees and supervises the work on your home will have over 15 – 20 years experience in the work they are conducting. The materials we use will be of the highest quality possible under your contract. We want to be your preferred contractor for LIFE! Moreover, as such, we will do everything possible to make you love us individually and as a company.
Q: We are building a new house – is this a good time to get work done?
Absolutely! This is the best time and the most affordable as we can offer a discount due to the ease of access, with no obstructions, and the ability to do it right from the beginning. If your builder advises against it, ask him for a lifetime warranty against seepage into your basement. They won’t do it, because they are not the experts that we are. Many of the homes we waterproof are two to five years old and their original “builder grade” system has already failed. In fact, about 10% of our jobs are replacing systems installed by so-called waterproofers.
Q:Can I do this myself?
Rarely! We love DIY – which some people interpret as DO IT YOURSELF! We mentioned “Builder Grade” in one of our sections, which represents the minimum quality or standard of craftsmanship. DIY is actually one step lower. In our opinion, which entails over 20,000 homes, DIY really means Destroy It Yourself. We’re not being disrespectful, but we rarely encounter Home Inspectors and General Contractors who know anything about the science of foundation and structural repair. We have many contractors who won’t ever touch anything below grade – they will always call us. Homeowner’s who spend money attempting to fix this problem with landscapers, plumbers, neighbors, and a host of consultants from Home Depot and Lowes, generally spend more on attempting to fix the problem, than actually would cost if they called us first. On the flipside, if you call some of the other waterproofing companies out there, you may be better off doing it yourself.
Q:Do you provide references?
Yes! We have some right on our website, but we can provide names and phone numbers if you want to speak with one of our customers.
Q:How do I pay for the work?
Cash, personal checks, bank checks, money orders, credit cards (Visa, Master Card, Amex, and Discover) are all accepted forms of payment. We usually require a 33 percent deposit with a signed agreement. The balance is to be paid to our installation team upon completion of the work or according to a schedule of payments on larger projects. We also have several financing options and sources available, with approved credit.