Cracks in foundation need not kill deal
Question: I saw your response to a basement leakage situation and I would really appreciate your advice.
I am in the process of purchasing a 40-year-old house with a full, unfinished basement. During inspection, we noticed horizontal cracks on the block foundation wall 30 to 36 inches below grade.
There is no visual deflection on the walls, though, and they are 90 degrees upright.
The horizontal cracks are more than 10 feet long on one side — just a crack line with no visual gap or opening — and about six feet on another side. The basement is dry, but there are some old seepage marks on the floor.
I would like to finish the basement at some point, and I am worried that if this is a major issue it might turn out to be a deal-breaker.
I’d appreciate your input, please.
— via email
Answer: The description of the cracks is the telltale of block walls having sustained from some frost pressure. Fortunately for you, this pressure seems to have been minimal since you cannot see deflection in the walls.
Masonry is unforgiving, and it takes very little pressure for cracks to develop. The important thing is the width of the cracks and what deflection the walls are showing.
The seepage marks on the floor might have been caused by an earlier grading problem. Ask the sellers to give you the history if they know it. It is possible that they are not the original owners and the leakage occurred before their time.
I suggest that you check the grade around the foundation. If the ground slopes away from the house and all appendages — including patios, walks, driveways and porches — do not drive water toward it and you should be OK.
Water heater vent issue
Q: I read your columns regularly in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and have found your advice helpful in various situations that I have encountered. I wonder if you may have a solution to an annoying problem I have.
We have a second-floor gas water heater that supplies the heat for our first floor through radiant heating. The water heater is in a utility room with a second-floor furnace. The water heater is vented through the roof via a 4-inch pipe that is capped with a “whirlybird,” or turbine vent.
The problem is the vent.
There are two issues. One is that when it is very windy, the turbine seems to reverse motion and the exhaust from the heater is blown back into the pipe. That blowback can be so intense that it blows out the pilot light and it is necessary to reignite it. This is very annoying when it occurs at night and is not discovered until the next day — not to mention concerning regarding the exhaust coming back into the house.
The second issue is that when the temperature falls below about 25 degrees for an extended period, the turbine begins to rattle when it spins, causing a disturbing noise throughout the house.
Do you have any suggestions on how to fix these problems? Would replacing the whirlybird vent be the solution? If so, what do you recommend?
Thanks for your always informative columns.
— Mt. Lebanon, via email
A: The blowback is not only annoying, it is very dangerous. As you are aware, combustion gases blown back into the house can present a deadly danger.
You should have an HVAC contractor replace the turbine vent with a different cap, perhaps a fixed cap that is compatible with the required exhaust capacity of the heater.
Send questions to Henri de Marne at First Aid for the Ailing House, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106; or email [email protected].