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Basement and Crawlspace Leakage and Waterproofing – Part 1

It is pretty rare to find a home around the Salem Oregon area that is built with the basement in the last 20 years. The reason for this is basements are low, cut into the ground, and in this part of the country the water tables rise in the wintertime and it takes extra work to keep these basements dry. There are a few newer homes being built with basements and the techniques and materials they use for waterproofing these basements have come a long ways. For the most part, the added expense of waterproofing has been traded for more straightforward and larger margins for error with the crawlspace design.  If water enters a crawlspace it is not imidiately damaging however it is not good to have a seasonal lake in your crawlspace either!

So let’s assume you own a home or are interested in buying a home that has a basement or crawlspace. Let’s look at some areas to keep your eye on and ideas for fixing the issue of water in basements and crawlspaces.

Basement leakage

The picture above shows typical areas that home inspectors look for when inspecting basements.  Water stains cannot tell you how often the leakage occurs but it does indicate an issue and something that may need further investigation and repair.

In Salem, Oreogn, most of the water penetration issues in basements or crawlspaces will be related to ground water.  The term “ground water,” refers to the water table.  The water table is the point in the ground where saturation reaches full capacity.   Picture the water table like a sponge that is stood up on end, and water is added.  The water will flow through the sponge and pool up at the bottom until gravity overcomes surface tension.  The line of saturation at the bottom is kind of like the water table.  As we recieve rain the ground soaks it up.  The amount of rain we get determines how high the table will rise.  The water table is continually rising and falling based on the percipitation.

Now dig a hole in that sponge and place footings and foundation walls for a basement or crawlspace.  Quickly you realize that basements and crawlspaces are the first places to get wet.

Water in a Salem Oregon basement

What now?   Now that we know where that water is comming from we can look for solutions.

Sump Pumps-

By the time the buyer’s home inspection is conducted time tables are short and repairs are needed quickly.  This can be troubling because to properly fix a basement/crawlspace water issue you should take some time to properly diagnose the issue.  Sump pumps have become the do-it-all band-aid and often the water issue should have been corrected in a another area.  Sump pumps should be a last resort, and unfortunantly in the real estate world they are usually the first idea, due to the time constraints.

Proper sump pump installation

In general the water in the crawlspace or basement needs to be rerouted at the source.  Determining where the water is coming from takes time.  I met a wonderful Salem agent years ago when she was envolved with a buyer and a wet crawlspace.  I was hired by the seller to help determine why there was water in the crawlspace.  The buyer’s inspector stated that there was water in the crawlspace and repairs were needed.  The sellers hired a waterproofing contractor and the contractor told them  they needed a sump pump and trenching (surprise, surprise!  contractor’s feed their familys by installing sump pumps and trenching!). I came in and started looking at where and why the water was entering the crawlspace and, over the course of two weeks of rainy weather and diagnostics, the seller ended up disconnecting the downspout near the front entry slab, routing it away from the home and *poof* the crawlspace dried up!  Without digging up the entire perimeter of the home it was speculated that the underground downspout piping was crushed/disconnected/plugged near the front entry slab and dumping all of the water collected by the roof and gutters right against the foundation and crawlspace!

Would a sump pump have dried up the crawlspace too?  Yes, however sump pumps are perennial maintenance items and must be checked on to verify that they are working properly.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer to not enter my crawlspace if I don’t have to.  Why use a pump that needs constant attention in a place that I don’t want to go?

That situation was unusual because we actually had time to find and properly diagnos the problem.  Unless you get a “pre-sale” or “seller’s” inspection, you usually do not have that kind of time to ferret out the real cause of the water.

That situation was not unusual in the fact of water in basements and crawlspaces ususally manifests from gutters and downspouts.  These are the first places to investigate and repair if water issues are noted.  If your home was built in the last 20 years your downspouts will pour into underground piping.  It is critically important that these pipes are functional and if these pipes are plugged or crushed it is time to do some shovel work.  If you do have to re-route your downspouts a good rule of thumb is that the downspouts need to dump at least 10 feet away from your home! Those silly little splash blocks, although they may make an FHA appraiser happy, are not a good solution for keeping your basement or crawlspace dry.

silly downspout splash block


What if you have a basement, you have made sure all of the storm water dumps 10 feet away and downhill of your home and you STILL have moisture issues periodically in your home, whats next?


Evidence of moisture leakage in the basement floorThe next post I will delve into some other options for “de-watering” or drying out your home.

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Not everyone knows about the Old Cadet fire hazards that lurk in Salem Homes.

A few years ago a little company was producing a neat little electric wall heater that was easily installed, relatively inexpensive and allowed wonderful zonal heating (read-“energy efficient”)!

Things were wonderful for sometime but like most things there were a few issues with the first models. The little electric heaters were made by the Cadet corporation and after the release to the general public it was discovered that if housekeeping was not top notch these little heaters had the tendency to overheat (read-“catch on fire” and there could be “flames, sparks or molten particles spewing through the front grill cover of the heaters into the living areas”)!

The problem arose at the heat exchanging point. This is the point in every heating device where the heat that is produced in the heating device is transfered or “exchanged” to the medium that will carry heat to the home. The little wall heaters used fans to transfer heat directly to the home’s air through convection.Heat transfer of convection to describe problems with cadet heaters

The more surface area that the heating device can have exposed to the house air the better the transfer of heat. The more volume of air flows through the device the better transfer as well. There is a point between these two conditions where a balance between the two is chosen.

The little wall heaters that were brand new, met both of those expectations very well. Lots of heating elements (red hot wires) exposed to the air and the little fans did a very functional job of moving a large volume of air over the heated electric coils.

To prevent the red hot wires from getting dirty, which would insulate the heater elements from the air, hampering the exchange of heat, a small screen was placed in front of the fan. The little screen did a good job of keeping the elements clean, too good of a job.

The screens, especially in dusty areas or homes with pets became plugged very quickly. Even with the label on the side stating, “clean the heater fins every month,” these screens and heaters got neglected.Recalled cadet wall heater showing the vulnerability to over heating and fire in during a Salem Home Inspection

Although the heaters had wonderfully clean elements, the flow of air had been destroyed by the plugged screens. The thermostats didn’t know about the restriction of air and kept asking for heat. The elements got hotter and hotter as very little house air was able to flow over the elements to absorb the heat. This occurred over and over until the unit or the wall or both caught fire.


This is not new information as the CPSC noted the recall in Jan 1999. However, I still see the dangerous units in homes that I inspect around the Salem area.

The moral of this tale is; while we are in our friends, family and neighbor’s homes this holiday season we should keep our eyes open for these dangerous units. We should mention the recall to our hosts if we notice the electric wall heaters.

The way to determine if the units are dangerous is the model number.  You should look for: models FWFXLXTKZAZRARKRLXRXRW and ZC

The model number should be on the inside of the unit and behind the front panel.  At the risk of being like me, “that annoying home inspector guy,” you should try to locate the serial number without removing the panel.  I have learned that it is rude to take out a screw driver and start removing panels during a dinner party!  Also there is that little thing of high voltage live wires behind the panel…..

At the very least, you have a conversation starter for those awkward moments during the parties……..Where to find the cadet wall heater model number for the recall verification on a Salem Oregon home inspection