Pasadena California Drainage Problem

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  • This topic has 9 replies, 5 voices, and was last updated 17 years ago by John Aldrich1.
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    • #279382

      A childhood friend of my wife lives in Pasadena, CA, you know, the “left coast” of America. We don’t hold that against her. Living in Pasadena must be more pleasant than living in the Great American Desert on the plains of Southeast Colorado. Anyway, today she sent an e-mail complaining about a drainage problem that she is trying to solve. This is the e-mail that she sent:

      “I have had French drains put on three sides of the house (the other side is the downhill side so no water can come in from there.) I’ve also put in two sump pumps and had the sidewalk on the north side (evidently the uphill side) taken out and the wall sealed (and a French drain put in) and then the sidewalk and steps re-poured. I’ve put more money under my house than INTO it and still the problem lingers. And seeps. And produces mold and mildew. I’m thinking I’ll never be able to sell because I won’t be able to pass the city’s escrow inspection.”

      I don’t know anymore about her situation than what she has described. My wife just informed me that her home is on a rather steep slope. Now, I’m thinking that there is a spring surfacing directly under the house or downslope of the french drain, or the french drains are not deep enough to intercept the groundwater that is migrating down the hill and entering her house.

      I just thought that maybe one of you experts could give some insight on the problem.

    • #300711
      Retired plbg1

      Sounds like you need you need to put drain tile around your foundation and run the water down the hill. Those french drain only collect a little of the water. Its like putting a ball in middle of the lake.

      Art retired plbg

    • #300712
      John Aldrich1

      Art, thanks for the response. I don’t know for sure, but I think that she has already had drains placed around the house. She called them French drains, but I think that they are really perimeter drains. She still has the problem despite the extensive amount of work that has been done. This is why I think that it is groundwater surfacing under the foundation, crawlspace, or concrete floor. I have sent Lawanda another e-mail asking her to explain the situation in more detail. I will provide more information when I have it.

      Septic Tank Yank

    • #300713
      Retired plbg1

      Tell her to drill a hole in concret floor and see if there is water under it if so she needs some pipe inside under floor to catch water and go to a sump pump and pump out.

      Art retired plbg

    • #300714
      John Aldrich1

      Art, I don’t know if she has a concrete floor or a dirt crawl space. I will not know until she sends me more information about her specific situation.

      Septic Tank Yank

    • #300715
      John Aldrich1

      Well, I did ask for more details regarding the drainage problem in Pasadena, and man, did she give them. It appears that the drainage could be a combination of stormwater, groundwater, and a possibility of a leaking sewer main upslope of the house. It also appears that Lawanda has a cadre of local experts delving into coming up with a solution to the problem. At this point, considering that we have not seen the problem first hand, I think it would be only guessing to offer solutions to the problem. So I am going to suggest that she put her faith in the professionals who have had the benefit of site visits to analyze the situation. Thank you Art for responding to my inquiry.

      The following is a detailed description of the situation in Pasadena.

      “My house is built on the cut of a hill; the hill cups slightly to the northeast and the cup is at the southwest corner of my house, which includes the stairwell from the family room to the dining room. The problem area has been called a cave by the exhaust fan people; it is raw hillside on coming down to meet the footing of the family room and it is under ground, mostly under a concrete patio.

      The hill is decomposed granite and I am much nearer the foot of the hill than the top. The water is both rain runoff if we’ve had rain and surplus lawn water, etc., from my many layers of neighbors up the hill. In 1982, we had a heavy El Nino and I had flooding in the family room…about 2 inches worth of water. There was also standing water, in spite of the sump pump on that side, a couple of feet deep. (The pump failed.) As a consequence, I hired a contractor who dug the trench that was intended to take the water away from the west wall of the family room a foot or so deeper because it was his opinion that it wasn’t sufficiently below the floor level. He also replaced the sump pump that was there when we bought the house.

      Over the years, I have had a second sump pump put in on the south side (which is also under ground with the hillside coming down to meet the footing at a lesser degree of slope and where the trench is more of a footpath, being wider and nearly flat. I have had the sidewalk on the north side taken up so the partial wall of the family room could be better sealed (the seepage on that side kept the paint and plaster lifted all the time) and French drains were put in. I’ve had the trench on the west side redug a second time and French drains put in there.

      All seemed to be well until a little over a year ago when I noticed that the hillside under ground was very, very damp. This was a change from previous years when it would dry out once the rainy season was over. I talked to a couple of people and decided it might be that I was over-watering; I turned the sprinklers on the hillside that poses as a back yard off in August and thought it would at least improve the problem. When we started this past rainy season, I went under the house to see how much it had dried out and to my horror it was, if anything, wetter than it had been five months earlier. I’ve consulted with several people since then (I think this was early February) but it’s been hard to find anyone who had any idea about what to do. I called the city because there is a sewer line cutting across my hillside at the property line and someone suggested the sewer might be leaking. I am told it is not. The city rep suggested that a natural spring has erupted somewhere above me but wasn’t able/willing to get me beyond that as a possibility.

      The neighbors above me who might be over-watering assure me they are not and one has reported she also has noticed increased dampness in her lower level in the past year or so. I called the contractor who did the French drains and the second sump pump and he suggested that I get it dried out and then put in an exhaust fan to pull the damp air out so mold and mildew wouldn’t be encouraged. It was dehumidified and the mold and mildew treated; the lab report as to what kind of mold hasn’t been returned yet. Then I had the exhaust fan put in but I don’t think it’s up to the job and now that I’ve spent the money, realize that so long as there is seepage, the fan will continue to run and my electricity bill will be prohibitive. Already is, since it’s been running 24/7 ever since they put it in.

      A person taller than myself (5’5″) can easily stand up on both the south and west sides, either in the trench or on the path, so it’s a very generous crawl space. The sump pump guy put down a water barrier and he is planning to come back in July (when he thinks it will be dried out. I hope he’s right but I wouldn’t put $2.00 on it at present) to see if there is anything else he can suggest/do.

      Sorry for the length, but it isn’t a typical situation. Any and all suggestions are appreciated!

      And because you were so nice to write, I’m ignoring your comments about “left coast,” etc. :-)

    • #300716

      There are sometimes when Mother Nature decides to have her way no matter what best effort man put’s forth to have things his way.

      We had a lake in our area with no natural outlet that keep rising about a foot every year, all the experts didn’t kwow why? It never did that before. Of cource over the years many homes were built around the lake and were slowley over taken by the advancing water. The experts tried de-watering pumps, adjancet retention areas, punching holes in the ground trying to break through a shelf to lower the water table and nothing worked.

      Finaly after millions and millions of dollars, a three mile 24″ Polyethylene Pipe to nearest river the people in the area are finaly getting there homes back from the rising water but; only after the pipe failed and was repaired at least three times.

    • #300717
      John Aldrich1

      PLUMBILL, thanks for the response. I totally agree with your statement regarding “The Control of Nature.” I created a response to Lawanda and included your response to my inquiry. Sometimes human beings must learn to have more humility. Not every problem can be solved with engineering and technology. I suggest that everyone that has followed this thread read the John McPhee book, “The Control of Nature.”

      Lawanda, you did an excellent and thorough job of explaining the drainage problem at your home. You are right, it is an extraordinary and unique situation. Considering the soil on the site is Decomposed Granite, all of the possibilities offered as to the origin of the increased drainage are likely. The nature of the structure of Decomposed Granite is such that there is very little water storage capability. So after years of lawn irrigation upslope of your house the static ground water table has increased. There may be a technical solution to the problem besides the cessation of irrigation by all of your upslope neighbors. However, the technical solution is beyond my scope of understanding.

      The T & E (Trial & Error) method that I would suggest if it were my home, is to install a “curtain drain” around the upslope side of the house. This curtain drain would have to be deep enough to intercept all of the water coming down the slope so that it could not surface above the lowest house footing elevation. There would be no guarantee that this approach would be effective, but it is the only thing that I can suggest at the moment.

      Sometimes it is impossible to “Control Nature.” In fact, a very good book written by John McPhee is titled “The Control of Nature.” McPhee describes 3 different instances where the human beast failed to control nature by making feeble attempts using modern engineering techniques. The first was trying to control the Mississippi River by building levies, the second was trying to control volcanic activity in Iceland, and the third was trying to control mudslides in Southern California. I highly recommend this book. It is a good read.

      It appears that you have investigated all the possibilities in solving the problem and the experts that you have hired have employed the typical technologies that are available in the drainage industry. I suggest that you put your faith in the fellows that are trying their best to solve this problem. It is very frustrating, and embarrassing to put forth your best effort and still not overcome the problem.

      I posted an inquiry on your behalf on another Discussion Forum, which is based in Sydney Australia. We receive input and advice from experts from all over the world on this forum also. I am the Bulletin Board Moderator on this forum, so I have to read every item that is posted. I received a response from PLUMBILL that confirms my take on your situation.

      PLUMBILL wrote on 28 April 2004 at 09:40 PM:

      There are sometimes when Mother Nature decides to have her way no matter what best effort man puts forth to have things his way.

      We had a lake in our area with no natural outlet that kept rising about a foot every year, all the experts didn’t know why? It never did that before. Of course over the years many homes were built around the lake and were slowly overtaken by the advancing water. The experts tried de-watering pumps, adjacent retention areas, punching holes in the ground trying to break through a shelf to lower the water table and nothing worked.

      Finally, after millions and millions of dollars and a three mile, 24″ Polyethylene pipeline to the nearest river, the people in the area are finally getting their homes back from the rising water but; only after the pipe failed and was repaired at least three times.

    • #300718

      I have read with great interest of your down hill water problem, I would recommend that you engage . a Geotechnical Engineer he would solve the problem by conducting a soil test and if the problem is an underground spring he would no doubt locate the source of the spring with the correct instruments

      » This message has been edited by John Aldrich on 30 April 2004

    • #300719
      John Aldrich1

      stewart, thanks for the response. I will pass on your suggestion to Lawanda. She has asked that I extend her thanks to those who have responded in an effort to assist in solving her dilemma. So thanks a lot to all.

      P.S. you can edit your submittals by clicking on the edit icon which appears at the bottom of your message. I find that I frequently have to use the edit key to correct the spelling and grammar in my responses.

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