Advice for crawlspace water source/issues


Old 01-01-19, 08:55 PM
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Join Date: May 2015
Location: USA
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Advice for crawlspace water source/issues

Small 2 bedroom 1 bath house built in 1950. Raised rubblestone foundation that sits above the ground, so no underground foundation. It has a dirt crawlspace. My parents bought this house in 1979, not knowing much about houses. My mother has been a widow since the early 90's.

As best as I can tell, before her and my father bought the house in 1979, the former owners were told by the Federal Housing Authority that the gas water heater in the kitchen would have to be moved. So basically I think they're the ones who did this.

The crawlspace door is on the back of the house about 6-8 feet from the corner of the house. About 5-6 feet inside of the crawlspace door, there is a dug-out area of the crawlspace where you can step down into it and stand up. It is a rectangular area approximately 4 feet deep (or more in some areas), about 12 feet long and 3.5 to 4 feet wide. They used cinderblocks and mortar all the way around to build a retaining wall of sorts about 3 feet tall. Before building this wall, it looks like a thick concrete slab maybe 4-5 inches thick was poured and the wall basically sits on the outer perimeter of this slab. I presume this is why the wall has not sunk into the dirt over decades. At the "lower" end they punched a hole in the middle of the concrete slab and basically dug into the dirt to make a makeshift "open" sump pit. They put a pedestal pump in the open hole and attached the pump to a board nailed to one of the floor joists above. The water heater was placed at the "upper" end of the rectangular area.

There used to be the central HVAC system in the middle of that along with the water heater. There also used to be just one pedestal pump there.

That flooded a long time ago and here's a video of that mess:

Years ago, I put in a second pedestal pump to keep up with the flow in case the first couldn't keep up. That's why the above flood happened because the little 25-30 gallons per minute pedestal that they had there couldn't keep up.

The problem? This area is below ground level outside. When it rains, water flows out of a lot of places in the surrounding wall. It is crazy. Some years it may not trigger the pump at all. One year during the winter, an inch or so of rain might start water flowing in and the pump might pump out 70 gallons at a time every 20-30 minutes for 2-3 days and slowly get to where it comes on less and less with time. However, during the fall or late spring, it might rain 3-4 inches or more and not a drop of water in the crawlspace inside of that walled area. So I suspect that the water table may be raising up and down. The house is in a residential neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia. This house is located most of the way up a street that has a large hill, so the house is about 900 feet above sea level. When it comes really, really hard downpours, water will flow from yard to yard. That's pretty normal. Now, previously, they had this old wooden crawlspace door up and water could literally flow right into the crawlspace. I installed a new (sealed) crawlspace door and also put a simple 10-foot section of drain under the crawlspace door set in concrete so that water would flow into it and off to the side of the house into the grass, basically. The problem was water flowing under the door itself. No water flows on top of the crawlspace dirt, so this isn't water running under the rubblestone foundation on top of the ground. The problem is IN/UNDER the ground where the water is coming from.

Now let's talk about present-day. There was nowhere else to put the HVAC system, so we flipped it horizontally and hung it from the floor above the crawlspace.

Now we're at this point:

So the HVAC system is out of the hole (there was absolutely nowhere else to put it). There is just the water heater remaining, which I'm working on a solution for. There is nowhere to put that, either.

So here's an unobstructed video of what happens with the water flow now, taken just several days ago:

Ignore the water spraying out of the PVC pipe. I'm about to change that out soon, anyway. Basically someone doing some other work down there took it upon themselves to drill a "weep hole" into the PVC on each pipe unbeknowst to me and they didn't do it right and used too big of a drill bit. It looks ridiculous, but the pump functions for the time being and it isn't getting the motor wet on either pump.

Now if you look at the water coming from that area over near the water heater, you'll see that most of it comes from back there. That water heater? It is bathing in about half of an inch to an inch of water sitting directly on the dirt. Not a good idea. Remains dry except during heavy rains and then the dirt down there is moist at best. Still not good for it, obviously.

Now, just to the right of that water heater where the back right corner of that wall is...there's an area behind the wall where it looks like the dirt washed out or something. I see various types of what some people have told me looks like walnut shells or something:

I probed that hole with an endoscope that transferred and recorded video via wifi to my cell phone and captured these images from it:

Water pours out of that hole when it rains a lot and I suspect that possibly all of the water may be coming from this one hole and basically coming out at the corner and splitting off both ways. It looks like it does in the video. Building up behind the wall all the way around until it finds its way out of the cracks and then it appears to come from all directions. As you can see, that crawlspace dirt is old and stiff. Kind of rock-like. I suspect that water would easily flow through a path in it, but I'm wondering if they dug this out and dug through an underground spring/creek/river. It only happens when it rains a lot, like 1-2 inches. For that, the pump may come on a little here and there or not at all. If it rains 3-4 inches over a period of 2 or 3 days, there might be 70 gallons coming in every 10-20 minutes. In the case of a downpour thunderstorm (which is what the above flooding video is when the HVAC was down in the hole)...a ridiculous flow happens. That was like 2 inches in 30 minutes and there was water coming from everywhere down there, inches of water flowing through all of the yards, etc. A literal flash flood, but with just inches of water flowing through the yards and going downhill to the other yards. But the top part of the crawlspace stayed dry. You see the size of that hole in the photos...maybe baseball-sized. During heavy downpours like that, it probably spits out max water to full capacity.

They have also turned some of the cinderblocks at the base of the wall sideways to apparently serve as drains. So it seems they knew this would happen when they dug this out. No idea why they made it this way. Freaking nightmare.

So here's a video of the unknown water hole putting out said water:

Pardon the shaky video and odd camera angle. I was weaving my arms through pipes above the water heater to get a view behind the wall while sliding in an inch of cold, muddy water going into my shoes.

My mother told me that years ago my father (who was a metal detecting enthusiast) dug up "some kind of storm drain with tin over it" in the back yard. I dug up the sewer line for the house in the back yard. Old clay pipe, but looked okay. I suspected there might be an old septic tank out there on the other side of the sewer line. The sewer line runs parallel to the house about 6 feet away from the back of the house. I continued on poking around the other side of the sewer line until I eventually found an old concrete block septic tank in the back yard about 10-12 feet from the back of the house and technically about in line with where that mysterious water hole is in the crawlspace behind that wall. It was empty/pumped, but they never filled it. No water in it. 3.5 to 4 feet deep, maybe 3 feet wide and about 8-10 feet long. I filled it up with fill dirt thinking it was the source of the water. Negative.

So what could we be dealing with here? Eventually, she wants to sell this house to move to another city further out. I don't like those pedestal pumps shaking the house when they come on. I want to put a sump basin where that existing hole is and put some submersible pumps in there. I would like to put down some thick concrete to reinforce that hole and have a secure spot for the basin, first. Then drill holes in the basin, wrap it with some type of landscaping fabric that lets water in (but keeps dirt/grit out) and then put some type of rocks or gravel around the basin and also in general a few inches thick or more all the way across the rest of that rectangular area just so that it is something else to walk on that won't be muddy and as "open" as it is now. I suspect that whole area might have once been the concrete slab, but mud has washed in from behind that wall over the years and covered it. The little area around the makeshift can see a little trickle of water actually spraying out from around the top of that. Maybe just hydrostatic pressure in the surrounding ground or could be some type of spring.

Will my idea be feasible? I don't want to mess with digging all around the perimeter, putting in drains around the house, etc. Not worth it. The water heater could be slightly downsized and elevated on a stand out of the water. I'm mainly curious where this water could be coming from. I don't know of any storm drain or any other pipe in the back yard that it could be leaking from. But yet it comes directly from that hole every time. Thoughts?

Water pumped out goes up about 7-8 feet vertically, then goes out to the back yard at least about 25 feet away. But I don't know if there is some kind of odd water issue going on under the ground or what. I'm a little familiar with groundwater, but this area doesn't seem like t he type for it. I'm also wondering if this problem hasn't become worse over the years or the previous owners just didn't care. I'm not as concerned now that the HVAC is out of the hole and not prone to flooding. The water heater is old and will be replaced at some point, anyway. The quieter/faster pumps will keep the water in check. I'll be throwing in dual iON Storm Pro BA33 1/3HP pumps, each with their own 2" pipe that will meet a main pipe just outside of the house. Each can kick out 3,000GPH. One will be enough, but the second will be the backup just in case. I have no idea how far the water would go up the wall if allowed to just flood. I have heard the horror stories where my father went down to find the pump quit working when I was a kid and the water went up the wall an unknown height. If I had to guess, probably a foot or two at least. Also, unlike the pedestal pumps, the submersibles can't be overtopped. I don't think that's the same water coming back in.

Last edited by jmr1068204; 01-01-19 at 09:10 PM.
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