Common-sense approach to leaky basements

When real-estate broker Mike Smith finally licked the leaky-basement problem in his Cumming, Ga., home, he realized he probably had the solution for thousands of similarly plagued homeowners around the country.

Apparently others in the real-estate and construction industries thought so as well because his Channel Drain product - a refined version of the one he installed at home - won a prestigious Innovator Award at the National Home Improvement Congress in Dallas earlier this year. It also drew favorable crowd comment at the recent National Hardware Show here in Chicago.

What particularly impressed the Dallas judges was the simplicity of installation. Any moderately competent do-it-yourselfer could do the work without outside help at an approximate cost of $2 a linear foot.

In his search for a solution, Smith adopted an ''if you can't beat 'em, join 'em approach.'' Let the water come on in, he reasoned, after which he would control it.

Keeping the water out (''I tried everything from installing outside drains to painting a water sealant on the inside wall'') is impossible in many instances, but directing it to where you can get rid of it easily is generally a very simple matter.

Smith, in effect, placed some inverted gutters, sealed to the floor, along the base of the wall where the water was seeping through. These gutters then channeled the water to a basement drain.

''I kept the water off the carpet by keeping it where it didn't bother anyone - right along the base of the wall - and the basement became a lived-in place again,'' he says.

To those still bothered by the thought that water has entered the basement, Smith has this to say: ''Let's face it, we have water in the house all the time - in all the pipes leading to the kitchen and bathroom faucets, but it doesn't bother us because it's controlled. It's the same with this system. Control is the key.''

To install the Channel Drain system you will need a drill, masonry bits, caulking gun, hammer, and hacksaw, along with silicone caulk and ABS or PVC multipurpose glue.

The system works like this: Four-foot sections of ABS plastic, called main channels, are attached with silicone caulk and fasteners to the walls and floor of the basement in the area of the leak. In hollow-block concrete walls, it is best to drill small weep holes into the wall just above the floor to drain any water that collects in the wall itself.

Solid foundation walls will require no weep holes.

The water that leaks in flows through the connected channels and is drained away from the foundation through a three-quarter-inch plastic pipe to an existing floor drain, sump pump, or gravity drain outside the house.

To be sure the leak is fully covered, it is best to place the drain channels against the wall for at least six feet on either side of the leak.

Water pressure to get into a basement is greatest along the base of the wall, which the channel drain takes care of. Any leaks higher up in the wall can generally be checked with a water-sealant paint.

In effect, the system works like a French drain, but requires no gravel and no digging up of the basement floor with its attendant repairs.

Channel Drain is sold in kit form through hardware outlets nationwide. If you need to know of a supplier in your area or wish to find out more about the product, write to Channel Drain, PO Box 1016, Cumming, Ga. 30130, or phone (404) 887-5886.

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