Tips to Prevent Basement Flooding: Paul Hynek of Hynek Landscaping
When shopping for a new investment property and following your investment purchase process, you may not immediately think about trying to prevent basement flooding, avoiding/fixing a home with surface grading problems, or ensuring it never happens in the first place.
Checking for these issues, such as drainage and grading issues on the property, are probably not things you think about, but perhaps you should! It’s a strong negotiation tactic since the more you can identify up front as deferred maintenance or important repairs, the more you can knock the price down or get issues dealt with prior to purchase. If it looks like there are foundation and drainage issues on the property, or if there may be water getting in through window wells, you won’t want to miss our interview with this landscaper.
Enter Paul Hynek
Someone like Paul Hynek may be the guy you want to consult with before the problem gets worse…especially if you live in the Midwest where concrete pour basements are common.
After a wrestling career and a Mathematics degree from the University of Northern Iowa, Paul Hynek came back to join his family’s business. This family business was once known as Hynek Farms when his father Phillip D. Hynek founded this company with only a shovel in hand and a stock trailer. Ever since 1991, this company, now known as Hynek Landscaping & Co., serves Eastern Iowa in commercial and residential landscaping.
Jeri Frank, AssetRover’s CEO, sat down with Paul to figure out how investors can know how to spot potential flooding issues in investment properties. How do you know if you actually have a surface grading problem? What is the one simple tip investors need to know for a quick surface grading check on an investment property? Paul Hynek helps us answer these questions and more in this exclusive video interview.
Early in our discussion with Paul, he gave us one simple tip for a quick inspection of an investment property:
“I like to walk the perimeter of the house,” says Paul Hynek. Walking the perimeter will give you clues to how the home is built and if it will need work to keep water out of the basement. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty good at looking at the inside of the house, but how many of us do a great job of going outside and walking the entire perimeter of the property? “The first thing I look for when I walk the perimeter [is to] see what the grade is like up against the foundation,” says Paul. “Is it flat? [Does it have] a positive slope? Is it a negative slope?”
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Don’t just pay attention to the grade of the land. Check out the rest of the drainage hardware attached to the outside of the home. “I also look at the gutters. I look at the roof. I want to make sure the gutters are working properly. I want to make sure that the eave spout can handle all the water that’s coming into it.”
Even for the few of us who do happen walk the outside perimeter, even fewer try to get out there after a heavy rain. “The easiest way to look to see if you have a surface grading problem is if there is standing water. If we just got this rain and there is still water puddling in the grass, then you’ve got a surface grading problem,” said Paul. “The rule of thumb is, if there is no puddle after about 48 hours, you are usually pretty good depending on the type of soil you have, but for the most part, you don’t want to see a bunch of puddling.”
Paul gets most of his leaky basement calls in the spring. “When the frost is coming out of the ground, it’s usually going to a window well,” says Paul. “It goes through the sides and through small windows that don’t have a real deep hole.” This is something else to watch out for when inspecting a potential rental property. You want to make sure to get those issues fixed ahead of time before taking ownership of the property.”
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[00:01] Jeri: Hi. My name is Jeri Frank, and I’m co-founder and CEO of AssetRover. Today, I’m here with Paul Hynek from Hynek Landscaping. Hynek Landscaping has been in business since about 1991. Today, Paul is going to visit with us and talk about surface grading and the importance of it. Welcome.
[00:19] Paul: Thank you.
[00:20] Jeri: All right. AssetRover is a website focused on real estate investors, and one of the issues that is common for real estate investors is they find a property that may have a wet basement. We know that surface grading is sometimes a fix for them. How do you know if you actually have a surface grading problem?
[00:44] Paul: The easiest way to look to see if you have a surface grading problem is if there is standing water. If we just got this rain and there is still water puddling in the grass then you’ve got a surface grading problem. The rule of thumb is if there is no puddle after about 48 hours, you are usually pretty good depending on the type of soil you have, but for the most part, you just don’t want to see a bunch of puddling.
[01:13] Jeri: As a real estate investor, I probably want to look at those rainy days to be honest. I just want to go out and walk the lawn and see what’s out there.
[01:24] Paul: Another thing that you wouldn’t want is if you can see where water is making a channel close to your foundation, that would mean also that you have a bad slope, because you don’t want the water to be cutting a channel into your soil right up next to your house.
[01:45] Jeri: That one will just be evident by looking, right?
[01:48] Paul: Yes. For the most part. Sometimes you can’t see it because the grass grows up, but if it’s just a little channel … It all
kind of depends.
[01:58] Jeri: If you are an investor, would you walk the perimeter of the house, and what would you look for?
[02:06] Paul: I like to walk the perimeter of the house. The first thing I look for when I walk the perimeter of the house is I look to see what the grade is like up against the foundation. Is it flat? Is it … It’s got a positive slope? Is it a negative slope? Then if it is a negative slope, I look to see, “Can I put dirt in there to bring up the grade, or am I running out of concrete?” You don’t want to bury your siding. You want to stay down, 6 inches from the siding so you don’t get bugs crawling up in there. Tose are the things I look for. I also look at the gutters. I look at the roof. I want to make sure the gutters are working properly. I want to make sure that the eave spout can handle all the water that’s coming into it, because if the water is pouring over it, that means potentially you need to change the downspout from a 2 by 3 to a 3 by 4, or even the steepness of the roof peak. Maybe you need to put up a little extra backboard on your gutter in order to make sure all the water hits the backboard and goes into the gutter so it works properly. Those are all the things that I look for when I’m walking around a property.
[03:19] Jeri: Okay. How common are grading problems in both new and old homes?
[03:24] Paul: They are pretty common in both. I would say we work a lot with any house that’s probably five years or older, just because the over dig, they are out off 3 foot past the foundation. When they go in, they excavate that out, they back-fill it with dirt, and it takes seven years for that to totally settle out. That’s what they came up with. Any time in that cycle of time period, that can all be settling which, therefore, means you’ve got a negative slope going to your house, or potentially a problem.
[04:01] Jeri: This is something that gets worse over time?
[04:05] Paul: Yes. Soil is always moving. Underground there’s rivers, there’s streams. Anytime water is moving in somewhere, it has the ability to be able to move along with its soil, whether it’s on a surface or whether it’s underground. No matter how old your house is, or how young, or … It always has a potential that the water is going to move the soil and drag it somewhere to where you end up with a negative slope along your foundation. One of the biggest things that occur along the foundation with water is it always gets the most water, because any rain that’s blowing toward your house, it hits the siding and it falls straight down. If you’ve got a 10 foot wall of siding, you basically just took a 10 foot area strip of your yard and basically put it all into one spot. If you’ve got this one spot in your yard getting 2 inches of rain, that spot just got 20 inches. Therefore, it has a very high volume of water coming towards it during the big rain.
[05:14] Jeri: If you have a problem with grading, what steps do you go through to fix it?
[05:20] Paul: The first thing I do when the slope is wrong, and the easiest thing to do in my philosophy is let the water flow naturally. If I can get the property to grade away, the city code is 10 feet out from the foundation 6 inches of fall. You want to be 6 inches down from your siding. If I can get that and have it be a natural slope away from the house, that’s the route I try to take. You usually end up … Potentially they’re hauling off dirt or you’re hauling in dirt, depending on what you have along your foundation. That’s usually what I try to do first. If that doesn’t work … Say we tried that method. If somebody wants to do it in stages, we tried that, it didn’t work, now we’re going to look and potentially put downspouts out. The difference with us when we do a downspout, we don’t use a pop-up. We get it out away from the house, more than just 10 feet. We try to get that water so when it comes out of the tile, it’s not going to go back towards your foundation. That’s kind of the second phase to what we usually try to encourage people to do is the downspouts.
[06:35] Paul: Once that’s done, then if they’ve still got a water problem, usually we have to excavate around the foundation. We dig out all that dirt, and we put in a new foundation tile. The difference with us compared to the foundation tile that’s down there is every contractor that puts that foundation tile in the footing, we like to go below the footing. The elevation of the basement floor in the footing are within a few inches, so that when the water comes up from the ground and goes into that tile, if it gets too much capacity of water coming too fast and tile can’t keep up, you’ve only got 2 inches of grace before it’s coming under your basement floor and through the cove joint. We like to put our tile down 8 inches so, therefore, now we’ve got about 10 inches of grace. We go 8 inches below that footing. That seems to work pretty well for us. We haven’t had anybody calling back complaining yet. That’s good.
[07:39] Jeri: All right. First you just try the good ol’ fix the grade, then the gutters, then you do the big excavation, so you just see which works, and so they don’t have to take all of the expense if they don’t need to. You try to take the least expensive route.
[07:57] Paul: Correct. Usually your gutters and your downspout, they can kind of roll together because there is not a huge cost difference by doing those two, but once you deal with the foundation tile, a gutter gets a lot more involved, because you are hauling off all that dirt and we are back-filling all that with rock. The great thing about clean rock is when water hits that, it goes straight down. It doesn’t penetrate towards the foundation, and it also takes a lot of weight off the foundation. If they’ve left the problem go for a long time and the foundation started to move, sometimes if you back-fill that with that clean rock, it takes so much weight off of it that the foundation doesn’t move anymore.
[08:38] Jeri: So this, like many problems, it doesn’t get better over time, it only gets worse, and more expensive?
[08:44] Paul: Yes it does.
[08:46] Jeri: Okay. We’ve gone through a lot of stuff. Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we didn’t cover that you think is important?
[08:53] Paul: Sometimes like if you have a crawl space in your house or something like that, and the water issue is on the basement wall that that crawl space is connected with, sometimes we’ve had to do or put in a French drain, which is a tile basically same concept as a foundation tile, but now it is extreme. We can go down about 2½ to 3 feet deep and we can excavate out that dirt, back-fill it with clean rock, with a perforated tile down to bottom. That way, that will pull the water towards it before it gets to your basement wall. That’s sometimes another option in order to try to prevent the crawl space from leaking. Then one thing about these investors and their houses, you don’t know how much dirt sometimes that people have put around the house. We were just doing one and they buried … It looked like it was up to concrete, but instead they had their seal, the bottom 6 inches of their wood was buried under dirt. They had no way of knowing, because they had the siding all cut out so you didn’t see. It’s pretty hard to see that, but that’s stuff you want to look for when you are walking around the property.
[10:11] Jeri: All right. Very helpful. What is the reason you get called most for leaky basements?
[10:18] Paul: I get a lot of calls in the spring. When the frost is coming out of the ground, it’s usually going to a window well. It goes through the sides and through small windows that don’t have a real deep hole. Those seem to leak the most, because they are older for the most part and they are not as durable to keep out the water. They’ve corked them, they have sealed them up the best they can, but unfortunately the water always seems to find a way through those older windows. I do get calls for the bigger windows too. I’ve had some people call me after getting a new driveway, they had clean rock put all round their window underneath the driveway. Clean rock, like I said, pulls moisture. Therefore, the window well is the lowest spot next to the driveway and it pulled the whole driveway, all of its moisture. Unfortunately, that window took on a lot of water. As what we always encourage for window wells, big or small, is try to get a tile underneath of them so that way the water has a place to go.
[11:35] Paul: Some people run the tile straight down the foundation tile if they have one. Some people don’t, and you have to trench it out. I call it “to daylight” where the tile can drain with the proper elevation out somewhere else on the property. Now granted, we’ve run into problems where we can’t get that on some properties where the window is the deepest spot on the property. That’s tough, but that we do there is we put in a dry well. That’s kind of our last scenario that we can do. What that is, is we dig out as far from the house as we can on the property. We dig out a big hole that’s like 10 foot by 10 foot by 8 foot deep, we wrap all that with a fabric and we back-fill that with clean rock, which pulls moisture but yet it also would let moisture come into it and give it more time to disperse in the soil.
[12:23] Jeri: How long does a project like that take?
[12:26] Paul: It depends on the size of the house. If we are doing a foundation tile, that’s going to probably take us maybe two days. It depends on the size of the house. If we are doing a French drain or the window wells, you are probably looking more like a day. While we do it, you can stay there too. I know a lot of people get worried when we are digging around their foundation whether or not their house is going to collapse. Your house is safe.
[12:51] Jeri: Okay. If someone wanted to contact you and they are interested in your services, how can they get a hold of you?
[12:57] Paul: We have email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s one way of getting a hold of me, otherwise my phone number is
[13:08] Jeri: Okay. We’ll put that on the screen.
[13:11] Paul: Okay. Perfect.
[13:12] Jeri: Thank you very much. This was extremely helpful. We appreciate it.