Monday, January 17, 2011

The Saga of the Window Well

Last night we had our usual weekly video call with my parents on my wife's laptop. After talking for a while upstairs, I brought the computer down into our basement office. About two or three minutes later, around 6:30 PM, I heard the sound of water pouring onto the carpet right behind my computer. In a panic I looked for the source of the sound and found that there was a pool of water on the nearby window sill. Just outside of that window well is where we tend to heap up the snow when we shovel the driveway. Underneath that heap was the end of the pipe that's supposed to drain runoff from the roof into our driveway. The packed snow had prevented the runoff from draining properly and had sent it into the soil instead. With our recent above-freezing temperatures, the snow melt had completely saturated the soil and it had started to drain into the window well. Once the well was full to the level of our window, it had started to drain into the house.

I threw some towels on the sill, but it was obvious that water was continuing to drain into the well and that the towels weren't going to last for very long. Fortunately we were able to get a hold of some good friends of ours across the street who lent us their wet/dry shop-vac. This let us suck out just enough water to keep it out of the house, but we realized that it was a temporary solution and that there was a lot more water than the shop-vac could handle.

Thank heavens we have good neighbors. Another friend and his son came over and shoveled the snow away from the window well and the drainage pipe. Then they climbed into the well and started a bucket brigade. We figure that they bailed out at least 80 gallons before the water was drained down to about an inch above the gravel in the well. Although we had bought ourselves some time, we could see that water was continuing to drain into the well through the crevice between the corrugated steel portion of the well and the foundation of the house.

By this time (about 8:30 PM) I had removed the sliding portion of the window from the frame and we started siphoning the rest of the water into a bucket inside the house. For two hours we had a continuous stream and were swapping out buckets every ten minutes. We drained about 50 gallons over those two hours. By 10:30 PM we could tell the well was filling at a slower rate because the siphon would break after draining about two gallons; we started allowing 10 to 20 minutes of collection time before removing the water. Unfortunately, since a very visible and nearly constant trickle continued to flow through the crevice, we were reluctant to stop. Soon we had the nagging thought that we might actually be dealing with a broken pipe rather than a water drainage problem.

At about 12:30 AM, I encouraged my wife to go to bed. Desperate to determine if I was dealing with a broken pipe or just a lot of drainage, I normalized the amount of time I allowed for the water to collect in the well to exactly 10 minutes. After each interval, I would siphon the water out and measure how much I had collected. I then plotted the results on a spreadsheet, which indicated that the drainage was gradually decreasing. (I recognize that this isn't typical behavior for normal people, but it's expected of an engineer.) By about 3:00 AM my collection rate was effectively zero and the visible trickle of water had stopped.

This definitely wasn't how I wanted to spend my evening. I ended up sitting next to an open window in near freezing weather for about eight or nine hours. We didn't have any fancy pumps so siphoning involved sucking the water into the tube by mouth (my wife and I both ended up with a lot of grit in our teeth). And since I didn't get to bed until about an hour before I have to get up to get ready for work, I called in an emergency vacation day. Even taking a vacation day I ended up getting only four hours of sleep.

At the same time, we were actually very lucky. I happened to step into the office minutes before the water started pouring into the house so it didn't fully soak into the carpet. No damage was done beyond some small areas of peeling paint. And we were most fortunate because we have friends that were willing to lend us their equipment, their Sunday night, and several hours of hard work to help us bail out the standing water in the well.

1 comment:

  1. The spreadsheet makes me proud to call you engineering kin.



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