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D.I.Y. or NOT

When it comes to doing something myself; either for the adventure of it, as means to create a healthier product or just save some money, I’m interested. Sometimes my efforts and time prove to be worth it in the short and long term. Other times, things have not gone as smoothly as planned or promised and end up costing me much more in time and money. Because of these experiences, and what I have seen the average homeowner implement over the years, I’m more than happy to direct my clients on practices and/or projects that would make sense for them to do themselves. In landscaping and landscape construction, this means leaving the initial ground work and design to someone who has either the right conditioned muscles or design or horticultural experience. I believe that I have ‘fixed’ as many D.I.Y. projects for homeowners and property managers as I have implemented anew. Sometimes just having a new perspective by someone, not intimately involved with your site, can help you with the details and the whole picture. I’m always very careful about asking who was responsible for the existing work, as I know that I am sometimes dealing with embarrassment, pride and even…

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Hide and Seek

So; here I am again at another newly purchased home where the previous homeowner has implemented additions that have compromised the safety and structure of the home and left the new owners with unexpected cost. As the Washington, D.C. population continues to grow, I'm dismayed to see so many young new homeowners having to deal with these issues.  Typically, children are already living in the home - which makes the amendments even more immediately dire. At this particular home the front entrance was moved from the middle of the house to the right front. Fine - Nice - Makes sense. The original front entrance porch was correctly tied into the home with a concrete ledge extending from the foundation of the home itself.  The foundation of the original porch boxed in an open space between the outside of the porch and the foundation of the house so that, when the porch base was removed, it exposed brick and block that, at the time, were not exposed to the ground and did not need to be waterproofed.  The previous contractors ignored this detail and filled the open cavity with soil hence, exposing open celled concrete block and brick to soil moisture.  To make matters worse - the…

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Experience Matters

About 25 years ago I was called to provide pricing for a rather extensive drainage project in Bethesda, Md. The homeowner had consulted with an experienced builder and drainage expert who had provided recommendations for keeping existing underground water (springs) away from their home. I was asked to review their site and then talk directly to the gentleman who had made the recommendations. This was my first introduction to Alvin Sacks. Since this initial project together, through numerous other collaborations on storm water and site drainage over many years, Alvin has provided me with a wealth of information, advice and sound common sense when it comes to hydrology. To know that water flows down hill is simply not enough. Alvin says you must understand the “science” and how it relates to the structure of your home and site. Approximately 10 years ago, Alvin invited me to be a member of a group of professional business people in the Metropolitan area whose purpose was to help each other in business through information and leads. Alvin is one of the founding members of Metronet and, as far as I know, has rarely missed a meeting. I learned more about Alvin at these…

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Melting Snow and Molds

OK, it's going to melt....we hope.  This is when the saturation starts along the exterior walls of the foundation. If the gutters have pulled away from the house it's only going to get worse.  I don't know about you, but my mold allergies keep me vigilant year-round for water seapage.  It's easier to prevent than fix.  I've been in many homes where the residents are living with and breathing black mold everyday!!  They just got used to it and yet they only buy organic foods!!!  It's like my painter telling me his health concerns about lead-based paints and how he takes a meter with him to check the levels before sanding; (which is a important and necessary), but meanwhile, he is puffing on a cigarette!!! Fortunately, my body tells me when mold is around.  I can feel it immediately. My mother-in-law died 5 years ago from pulmonary fibrosis.  When she was sick the doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her.  She remembered that in the house she used to play in across the street as a child, every member of that family died from pulmonary fibrosis.  She mentioned this to her doctor who tested her and confirmed that she did, indeed, have the disease.  She and her brother…

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Lessons from Hurricane Lee – continued ‘Surface Drainage’

I recently saw a ‘grab’ line in an advertisement for a drainage company that stated “The most common solution to drainage is a system of French drains”.  No! This is wrong.   A French drain in the wrong location can be a costly mistake. Here are a few basic rules for handling surface drainage: If the area can be graded to divert the water, this should be the first approach.  A minimum of 2% slope on turf is sufficient to move water. If grading is not an option a surface drain, or better yet -a catch basin, could be an option.  The inlet point must still be 2% higher than the outlet point.  Excavation and distance are key financial considerations. For standing, percolating ground water a French drain system is a viable option.  Water takes the path of least resistance so gravel surrounding an open perforated pipe draws the water in.  The pipe still needs to be diverted to a lower elevation in order to remove the water from the area rather than just gathering it. A turf swale is a good conductor of water Catch basin with atrium grate to intercept surface water French drains should not be located next…

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Lessons from Hurricane Lee

A ‘1000-year’ storm event is certainly the true test of the capability of a home drainage system.    Yeah, yeah “it was a freak event” yet we have had 4 ‘freak’ events in the last 6 years and it only takes 1 to add thousands of dollars in repairs or, at least, raise your insurance premiums. Even a trickle of water in a finished basement space can ruin flooring, drywall and furnishings and feed deadly molds. Not surprisingly, most of the damage I’ve seen, in regards to drainage, was caused by the neglect of common sense principals. Drainage is one of the most important elements of a sound foundation and so, truly, the most cost effective preventative you can implement. Preferably, the builder was diligent when your home was constructed.  If your home was built in the 80’s you can cross that diligence off the list.  Faulty foundation drainage may not be evident until after the home warranty has expired or until a storm ‘event’…more on this in a future blog. It is curious to me how homeowner’s will trust their maintenance crew for resolving drainage issues.  Asking a mowing and mulching crew landscape design questions can be detrimental but relying…

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Benefits of replacing Asphalt with Pervious Pavement

Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection defines pervious pavement as having more air spaces than regular pavement, allowing water to drain through the surface into the underlying soil. Most paved surfaces are currently impervious, but Environmental Site Design (ESD) efforts including installation of pervious pavement are being required for new development as well as redevelopment of properties in Montgomery County. Applying ESD techniques such as pervious pavement in place of asphalt will help to reduce runoff and issues with flooding, as well as improve water quality. Replacing asphalt surfaces with pervious pavement can provide other ecological, social, and economic benefits.  Pervious pavement functions to slow water and allow infiltration while filtering stormwater on-site. Adding trees and vegetation in previously paved areas can provide comfortable spaces by reducing urban heat island effects and improving air quality as well as overall human health. Pervious pavements and vegetated areas help to reduce energy costs and add aesthetic appeal to any environment (www.montgomerycountymd.gov). Petro has worked on several projects utilizing ESD techniques, including pervious pavement. Petro used pervious concrete and vegetation to help alleviate issues with pooling and flooding at a residence in Columbia, Maryland. The photo below shows the pervious concrete next to…

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