Flooding Mitigation Series #2 : Investigating Water Problems & Solutions

In this article, we hope to help shape the conversation around flooding in your individual property. Note that the homeowners who are contributing to the conversation are not contractors, and have compiled these questions from conversations with the city engineers, sewer and storm crew workers, and from the mayor and his councilman. These conversations are ongoing in the effort to help individuals protect their property from flooding. Keep in mind that they are some things the city has done, and will continue to do. There are also things that you as the property owner are responsible for, and will need to tackle on your own, or with the cooperation of your neighbors. 

Please keep an open mind with these next few articles and emails, as there is not one ‘magic bullet’ solution for every property. Sometimes a combination of solutions will work the best. It is always good advice to see out multiple opinions, and multiple bids before working through a solution. The direction provided in these articles is also a way for you to educate yourself about how our neighborhood was built. With consumer education in mind, please use these next few scenarios as a guide to investigate your issue. These questions and answers were derived from Bretton Ridge residents who submitted form data after the recent flooding, AND by city engineers, plumbers, contractors, and lineman who work in this industry. If you have another solution that has worked for you – please share! Knowledge is power!

This community is rich in experience, and your neighbors are likely the best, first contact when it comes to ‘what worked for me’ kinds of solutions.

How would I go about addressing my water problems? 

Where do I start?

What can I do as an individual homeowner to help protect my basement from flooding? 

When you are considering some mitigation for the flooding or water you may be experiencing on your property or in your house – start with a few key understandings, and some critical questions. Have a conversation with your neighbors, your friends, contractors and professionals. Get as much knowledge as you can about how your house works, then make some decisions. Here’s a few ideas to get you started thinking the right way.

Acting as the homeowner: 

First, I need to know exactly how water is getting into my house. It is not good enough to say “water is in my basement” I have to know exactly where it is coming from. I will need to know this regardless of if I’m fixing the problem myself or if I’m going to pay a professional to fix the problem for me. It’s also critical in determining what the real problem is with your individual property.

Here are three main causes of water entering my home with a few examples of each. There may be more than one cause – so keep that in mind.

  1. Sewer System
  • water coming out of sewer drains in basement floor
  • out of toilets / sinks / showers most likely in the basement
  • happens (most likely) during short, very heavy rains
  1. Storm System
  • sump pump backing up
  • water coming in through sump pump crock
  • drains connected to storm backing up
  • sump pump not keeping up with water coming in
  1. Ground water
  • water seeping through walls
  • water running into garage
  • water from the yard coming into the house
  • water from gutters and/or downspouts overflowing into yard

Now that I know how the water is getting in I can either fix it myself or get some quotes from a few different plumbers and contractors. 

If I am going to pay a professional there are a few things I will definitely do before I pay anyone anything, First off I will always get at least 3 quotes. I would be sure to ask each of the service providers to explain to me what they plan to do – and how it will fix the issue. Second, after I get the quotes I will do research on what they are doing to fix it. Using the internet (YouTube is amazing!) and talking to my neighbors to make sure that this is an economical way to actually fix my problem is important. I’m not a professional but I want to be an educated consumer that is not being taken advantage of.

Here are some possible solutions to the common problems above that with enough research I might be able to fix myself or at least help me to become more informed.

Sewer System – if there is water coming from the sewer into my house there are 3 things I need to do more research on:

  • First is having the sewer “lateral line” cleaned out. This happens in two parts – one the city will do from the street to the house, and the other a plumber will have to do from inside the house to the street. *If you have never had this done, there are likely some tree roots, non-flushable wipes, or other obstructions that are causing backups or increased pressure in the line, and those should be cleared once every few years.*  PRO TIP: City maintenance workers verified this is the #1 thing on their list of homeowner remedies. It’s not terribly expensive, but makes a huge difference if this line is clean and clear.* 
  • Second is a backflow prevention valve or check valve that is placed on the main sewer pipe exiting my house. This is a mechanical device that will close automatically, preventing water from coming in if there is a storm, but will let water out of the house when you flush a toilet or take a shower. *A few plumbers and engineers we talked to discouraged the practice if adding backflow prevention to sanitary lines. This can compound the evacuation of waste from your home if the city lines are filled. Consult with plumbers before considering placing one of these on the sanitary line in your home. *PRO TIP: Taking a shower, washing laundry, running the dishwasher, or similar ‘grey water’ activities during a rainstorm only compound the problem – try to avoid those during a storm session.*
  • Third is if water is only coming in through the sewers in my basement floor, I can install manual shut offs that I can close when a storm is coming. These are mechanical devices inside the house you can open and close during heavy rains or flooding. These shutoffs have to be maintained, and opened and closed manually – so consult a professional on the true functionality first. 
  • The flooding I experience is sewer water, not rainwater. This might happen if your sewer and storm system are ‘cross-connected’. It is possible that a previous owner may have hooked up a toilet or basement shower to the wrong service line on purpose or by accident. If this is the case, it is possible that the cross-connected pipes flood sewage back into your house. This should be investigated with a ‘smoke test’ or other camera inspection, then should be fixed. 

    **Please keep in mind ANY of these solutions should be done AFTER consulting professionals**

Storm System – if water seems to come in through the storm water system (crock in the basement) it may be a result of increased pressure in the line based on a high volume of water entering the system over a short amount of time, or some other related problem. Some things I need to check in my house include: 

  • My Sump pump can’t keep up so i might need a larger pump / additional pump. A lot of sump pumps dump water into the backyard. If your backyard drain or swale is not clear, this may be a related issue – see the section below on swales. PRO TIP: Having a backup pump on hand, connected to a hose is always a good plan for emergencies. If you do run a second pump, city workers confirmed it is fine to pump excess storm water into the street, which will ultimately enter the storm system. 
  • Consider a backflow prevention device. A backflow preventer on your stormwater drain will prevent water from outside of your home that has already entered the city system from backing up into your house. These can be helpful in retaining water from the street into your home. Another line of defense, combined with other suggestions here may be helpful. A plumber would inspect your system to determine the best placement. Most stormwater backflow valves are placed outside in your yard between your house and the street, with a cleanout access. These devices are cheap, but the labor is not. Get several estimates before proceeding. 
  • When it rains, my gutters are backed up. They overflow, and are now dumping water into my yard or alongside my house. I need to get this water away from the house and preferably into the street. A long, collapsible downspout that I can hook up in emergencies might do the trick. I am responsible for the pipe that connects my house to the main storm pipe in the street and it’s really common for this pipe to be full of stuff that prevents water from running quickly through it. I can easily pay someone to come scope out this pipe and clean it if it needs to be cleaned. PRO TIP: If my house floods quite a bit, I might consider looking at diverting water from my downspouts into a ‘soaking trench’ or other landscaping method. This would immediately take water away from my house, and divert it to the street. 
  • My backyard fills with water. The backyard drain may need to be located and cleaned out or opened up. In some cases, the sump pump may be pumping water to the backyard, which is already full of water, creating an endless cycle of pumping. The water in the yard might need to be drained to the street to allow the sump pump to ‘catch up’ to help get the water out of your basement. PRO TIP: This might require city intervention to locate and clear out the backyard drain – the city WILL help with locating the drain and verifying that the line is working properly. If you are interested in this, you can call the water service department. *A map of existing backyard drain placements and flow direction in Bretton Ridge is published with the article about backyard drains. Your flooded backyard might require an additional ‘retention’ method in your backyard if a neighborhood drain isn’t available. This could be done in conjunction with your neighbors to build a crock with a pump that dumps water into the street or the storm system via gutters or downspouts. This is a common solution, and would be cost-effective in clearing out a number of backyards with the same issue. Also please note that once the drain has been located and verified – maintenance and upkeep of the drain is the responsibility of the homeowner(s).

Ground water – ground water is considered anything that either falls onto the ground, runs off the driveway, or out of the downspouts and into the grass or landscaping. It’s not inside your house, or in the system yet, but standing or running as rain or snow melt. 

  • Generally – I need to get water away from the house and funnel it into yard drains. Several homes in Bretton Ridge have sloped driveways or patios that cause groundwater to run back at the house. If I can see it entering my home, say the water is coming down the driveway, and there is no drain there, I could install a new or bigger drain BEFORE the water gets to the house. If there is a drain, but it is backed up and not effective, then a pump might do the trick. PRO TIP: A driveway ‘trench drain’ may be something to consider for those with sloped driveways or patios. See: https://kglandscape.com/driveway-drainage-solutions/
  • Sinking landscaping: planning a place for my water to go is important. building up flower beds around my home and building / maintaining the swales along my back property line is an amazing place to store water instead of my basement! PRO TIP: If you are interested in landscaping solutions, be sure to investigate rain barrels that can store water. Also consider porous or semi-porous landscaping to help avoid water traps (puddles) where water can sit. Ask a landscaping professional for help in grading your landscaping toward the backyard drain or out into the street.
  • My gutters overflow – or I can see plants growing from them! I need to Clean my gutters, if the water is overflowing the gutters and/or downspouts and is running into my yard instead of going into the storm system then this can be a big problem. Clear them yourself, or hire a pro, it’s not an expensive service. PRO TIP: Also investigate pushing water in different directions around your home. If you have a lot of standing water, you can divert your downspouts to the street – where water will gradually enter the system. Better in the street than in your foundation!
  • Seepage through walls – you may also find that your downspouts are ‘overwhelming’ your waterproofing or weeping tiles. IF this is the case, you may consider diverting some of your downspouts into the yard, or to the street (away from the house and foundation) to alleviate pressure and volume. Capillary action between the clay soil and concrete may be ‘pulling’ water into your basement. This might happen if your house is not completely waterproofed, OR if the waterproofing is failing, OR if the weeping tiles are tied to the storm system, or if you have a backyard drain that is failing. If you have seepage, I would investigate every possible option before having to redo waterproofing. 

Keep in mind that there are likely more ways you could see water coming into your house. If this is a persistent issue for you, please continue to ask questions, investigate, get input from neighbors, the city, and from plumbers and contractors. Educate yourself about your home systems and how they work. 

Here are some helpful videos: 

There are a couple more things that found out during our research and conversations that we found interesting and helpful in diagnosing your water problems.

City storm water systems are designed to control the flow of water as it enters the system. As a result, what you will likely see around some communities are retention ponds. Since North Olmsted is built up to the point where community retention ponds are not really possible, you will see water building up in streets. Keep in mind that a lot of this is by design. Under the sewer grates in the street, there is something called a ‘restrictor’ plate. Essentially that ‘restricts’ the free flow of water into the system by limiting how much water can enter at one given time. As a result, water may back up into the street and is ‘held’ there until the flow inside the system can catch up. If all of the water from a short powerful storm entered the system at once, the pressure would be too great, and would likely cause more flooding in weak spots in the system. Keep in mind that water in the street is better than water in your basement! Water in the backyard swale is better than water in my basement! HOWEVER – if the water is flowing down my driveway or from my swale and into my house, this is a problem. If my swale is flooding into my house, this is a problem. But as mentioned above, knowing where the water is coming from is part of solving the overall problem. 

In the folliwng articles, we hope to release a few more helpful articles that will specifically articulate where to look, and how to access some of the maps provided by the city. We hope to address some of the concerns from residents about flooding, and specifically what the city and each homeowner is responsible for. We hope this gives you a place to start when addressing the flooding that might be happening on your property. 

Please continue to keep the dialog open for you and your neighbors – as we will all need to work together to solve some of these issues. Thanks!

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