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Photo by The Guardian.

Iceberg Homes: The Bulging Basements of the Super Rich

In the wealthy London areas of Kensington and Chelsea, there's a growing trend that sees the super-rich circumventing building regulations that limit the size of their homes above ground by digging down. Way down.

They're called iceberg homes because what you see is just the tip. Below the ground are basements. Huge basements. According to the recent Guardian piece on the subject, on Canadian TV tycoon is planning a 4-story basement that dwarfs the house itself.

What could these mega-rich possibly want to build extravagant basements for? Anything and everything, apparently. Swimming pools, move theaters, home gyms, servants' quarters, underground parking for a fleet of cars -- you name it.

Until recently, there have been no planning laws preventing expansion into the ground. Of 1,000 basement extension planning applications submitted in the last five years, 800 were accepted.

And all of this might not be a problem, except that it is. In many cases, the construction -- which itself is disruptive and noisy -- has literally started to cause neighboring homes to fall apart. There have been instances of cracks forming in foundations and residents being trapped behind doors that suddenly will not open.

Proposed new rules aim to prevent digging under listed buildings, but since it doesn't go into effect until the end of this year, there's been a mad rush on new basement expansion planning applications and basement expansion construction to beat the new laws..

If the mega-rich truly cared about their less-fortunate neighbors, they might offer to build access tunnels into their mega-basements and allow limited pool and cinema use. It sounds like the least they could do for all the headaches they've caused.

Bad copper pipe. Bad!

Fixing a Flooded Basement | Basement Flooding

You know what's worse than a midge plague? A flooded basement.

In a sequence of events that smacked of the Book of Revelation, the swarms of midges gave way to basement flooding, leading my housemates and I to predict that Lake Champlain will soon run red with blood. The flooding was caused by a burst in a copper pipe in the basement, which flooded both that room and half the living space downstairs. There is always irony, of course: The copper pipe fed the outdoor faucet which was being used (for the first time since the Fall) to spray the midges from the side of the house!

You can see the split in the pipe in the picture. The fixture is one of those freeze-proof faucets that has the valve on the inside of the house where it can stay warm. Although the faucet was installed correctly (with a downward pitch towards the nozzle to allow draining), we think that water backed up into the pipe when we used the hose to make our backyard hockey rink during the winter. When the water was not allowed to drain, it backed up into the pipe, froze, and split the pipe.


Fortunately things are drying out pretty quickly, thanks to a Shop-Vac Air Mover and about 8 other fans. It's nothing like the recent flooding on the coast of New England, but even the most minor of basement floods can elevate anxiety levels and interrupt daily life. I hope it doesn't happen again for a long, long time.

The installed sump pump.

Basement Waterproofing | Installing a New Sump Pump

At long last, my parent's days of shop vacuuming the basement-flooding water away are over.

That's right--they've installed a sump pump.

Pictured here, the unit's installation came only days after the end to the most recent spate of flooding to hit their Durham, NH, community. Although nothing like what the folks in Rhode Island are facing, my parents' own well-documented war against the water has cost them many sleepless nights over the years.

The pump is rated to extract 40 gallons per minute, which is hopefully more than they'll ever require. The cost for the job was $1400, installed.

Still to do: purchase and install a standby generator. As you'll see, the pump plugs into a distant wall outlet via an extension cord. The plan is to have an electrician continue the basement circuit over to the pump so the extension cord won't be needed, and then to properly size a generator to ensure that the pump--as well as the fridge, well pump, and a few other circuits--keep power during an outage.

Currently my folks are looking at generators distributed and installed by a company that deals Winco generators, primarily what they call the "New Englander Edition," a Winco with a Honda engine. I'd love to get some feedback on Winco's products to pass along to my folks.

Got a standby generator for you home? If so, what brand do you have?

Get your home prepared for flooding.

Prepare Your Home For Flooding

No mistake about it, it's flooding season. As the rain hammers New England once again, forecasters have issued flood warnings for much of Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Is your home at risk for flooding? How can you tell? Can you get insurance? What are some flooding precautions you can take? How do you clean up after a flood?

These are all important questions for any homeowner to be asking. We've compiled some key Flood-related resources together in one spot for you to consider. Take a moment to look over the information to better prepare yourself against a flooding scenario.

1) Determine Your Flood Risk. Many homeowners don't even know the likelihood of a flooding scenario in their area. Most probably take the "it could never happen to me" approach. Yet 90% of all presidentially-declared natural disasters are for floods.

2) Understand and Purchase Flood Insurance. Although 90% of "disaster-related property damage" in the US is caused by flooding, most homeowner insurance policies don't cover flooding. Find out how you might qualify for a national flood insurance policy plan.

3) Protect Your Property From Flood Damage. If you know your home is at risk for flooding, there are a few important steps you can take to minimize damage in the event of a flood. Here's a helpful checklist you can use to make sure you are taking all the possible flood-protection steps.

4) Purchase and Install a Sump Pump. A properly-sized sump pump will go a long way towards keeping your basement dry in the event of heavy rains and flooding. Although it is essentially a last line of defense, it's still an important piece of the puzzle.

5) Know How to Clean Up After a Flood. If the worst-case scenario occurs, there's a good chance that some serious clean-up will need to be undertaken. Here's another resource on Flood Cleanup and your home's Indoor Air Quality that you should take a moment to read.

We hope all those homeowners facing flooding situations this spring come out dry and undamaged.

QuikStix Framing Solution


Forgive the promotional video, but this is one of those products I caught wind of at the IBS 2010 and had to write about.

I don't know too many people who would prefer an unfinished basement to a finished one, but it's one of those projects that can be hard to get off the ground. I know it never did for my parents' basement (although it didn't stop us kids from using it daily). The framing, insulating, drywall, ceilings--it can be a daunting project, for sure.

QuikStix from Armstrong has the homeowner covered on at least one of those project phases. As an alternative to wood framing, the QuikStix steel framing option assembles super quick (I was treated to a demo at their booth in Vegas) and eliminates the mold, rot and termite issues inherent in wood framing--particularly in the basement.

It's not a cheap solution. I was told at IBS that QuikStix costs almost double what wood framing would cost, but for me the ease of installation and the knowledge that the steel product is pretty comprehensively superior to wood is, in my opinion, worth the extra dough.

Do you have an unfinished basement? Would you use Quikstix?

What's not sexy about this?

A Fast Footin' Foundation

Okay, so foundations aren't the sexiest part of the house. We can all agree on that. And roofs probably sit atop everyone's list of "The Features of a House That Keep It Dry." But ask anyone who has suffered a crack in their foundation or sees regular moisture infiltration through that part of the house how important this half-buried, monolithic platform is to the integrity of the home and you'll probably get a pretty consistent answer. I know my parents agree. They once spent over 36 hours straight wet-vacuuming water up from their basement floor during a long spell of hard rain.

So Fab-form's relatively new "monopour" foundation system may not be the stuff of inspiration galleries, but it certainly deserves mention.

A part of Fab-Form's "Fastfoot" system, the monopour is system for using a single concrete pour for an insulated concrete form (ICF) footing and wall form application. The video that demonstrates installation does better justice than any written explanation, but the short of it is that the Fastfoot Monopour system eliminates the labor costs to pound and strip stakes and screed footing, it reduces concrete waste by 50% and concrete pump costs by 50% (since the builder only requires one pour and not two) and the system doesn't require forming lumber or stakes. Best of all, the system joins the footing and wall into one piece, which helps to eliminate ground moisture from entering any side of the footing concrete.

Basically, the system saves serious costs to the builder and provides the eventual homeowner with a better barrier against moisture infiltration. Everyone wins. It's also a step in the green direction, since it reduces lumber use and cuts concrete waste in half.

If you're building a home anytime soon, it's worth looking into the Fastfoot Monopour system. And if you are a builder, this is definitely worth your consideration.

Would you want Fastfoot MP for your house?

Be sure to follow a few important steps when looking to waterproof a basement or crawl space. Photo courtesy of Crawlspace Doctor.

How To Avoid Basement Waterproofing Scams

Just about every week there is a new homeowner writing in our Fix It Forum for advice on keeping a basement or crawl space waterproof.

This recent Fix it Forum post about water in the crawl space -- coming up through the vents -- made me look for tips in hiring a professional to handle the job.

As when hiring any contractor to work on your home, it's important to follow certain steps when hiring a waterproofing expert to avoid getting scammed or swindled. Fortunately, the good folks at basementwaterproofingpro.com have put together a handy list for homeowners to follow when looking for a suitable basement or crawl space waterproofing expert. Some of the advice is common sense and can apply to any home improvement contractor, e.g. "ask for references" and "check the Better Business Bureau."

But two steps on their list that stood out were:

1) "Look at their equipment," and

2) "Watch for the type of backfill used."

I like the first one because a contractor with well-maintained equipment indicates (hopefully) an eye for detail and pride in one's work and profession.

The second tip caught my eye because it is a subtle detail that few homeowners probably consider, or even know to consider. According to the site, trenches dug around the home should be backfilled with "clean #57 limestone," which provides great drainage. Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors have been known to substitute slag for limestone, which can give off a sulfurous smell and eventually solidifies, preventing proper drainage.

Two good tips to consider when hiring a waterproofing expert.

Have you had to deal with water in your basement or crawl space? Tell us about your solution.

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