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The basement waterproofing disaster AquaGuard Waterproofing Corporation unleashed on my home started with their sales pitch. AquaGuard offered up a useless interior basement waterproofing “solution” to the water seepage in my basement, claiming the problem was caused by the so-called clay bowl effect. It was all part of a slick come-on. Watch out for offers that seem too good to be true!
Bottom line up front: Get an independent assessment of the problem and realistic solutions from a reputable home inspector!
The Clay Bowl Picture (See illustration above and previous post: Clay Bowl Effect – Myth or Fact?) and the sales pitch approach AquaGuard gave me were not different from any other set of fluff, puffery, or other smoke screen tactics used by salesmen for generations to make a buck. The illustration above summarizes this sort of approach nicely. Did the salesman know this was what he was doing? Who knows. The assorted use of “science” (“The ground lay undisturbed for thousands of years…”), interesting but irrelevant facts (“One inch or rainfall on an acre of land contains 27,000 gallons of water”), grossly exaggerated pricing of alternative solutions ($35,000 to $50,000 for a properly installed but effective exterior waterproofing job), bogus claims about how the water gets into the basement (“It pools up from the bottom, around the walls, and then seeps in through the cracks”), and then the offer that is cheaper, effective, and guaranteed for life! It was all there. Again, I doubt there was an intent to simply deceive. Rather it appears to have been a combination of blindness and ignorance, plus a business culture that encourages this sort of behavior to the benefit of those making a buck. It’s a time-honored tradition tolerated by an ambivalent society. Worked on me. Don’t let it happen to you!
In this posting we’ll look a little deeper into the role of the Clay Bowl effect in the sales pitch. Given the interior waterproofing job done by AquaGuard’s workcrew was an utter failure, one has to wonder why it was offered up in the first place. I can only speculate. Here are some facts that might shed light on what happened.
During the disclosure phase of the arbitration process, AquaGuard Waterproofing Corporation provided a document called the “Contract Processing Checklist”. It contains something like 15 items with lines for “checking off” that those had been somehow addressed. At the bottom of this list is the following statement: “Failure to turn in all paperwork will slow the installation process which in turn slows the compensation process.” Let’s assume compensation means the salesman gets his cut. Of particular note is an item titled “Clay Bowl Picture”. That this accompanied other items like “Basement Survey”, “Field Report”, “Contract”, etc, on a pre-printed form makes one suspect the “explanation” of the clay bowl effect as part of their sales pitch must be pretty standard (if not expected) procedure. In other words, the sales man shows up fully intending to sell you an interior waterproofing system and will use the Clay Bowl Picture to convince you that this is the solution you need. Of course that can’t possibly true in all cases, but it sure is the way things played out in our house.
AquaGuard Waterproofing Corporation sales representative drew the Clay Bowl Picture shown above (without the Snake Oil bottle, but more on that later) when explaining the source of water seepage in my basement. Note that it isn’t simply a matter of whether the soil around the foundation is more porous than the undisturbed soil. The real question is how does the water reach the basement walls from the outside? If the water from the surface can be directed away from the foundation by a substantial distance, say 10 to 15 feet, then it will have little opportunity to flow toward the foundation. The first line of defense against surface water is proper drainage away from the foundation.
This was certainly the case for my house, though the AquaGuard Waterproofing Corporation sales representative dismissed that source out of hand. His explanation was the following. It wasn’t a surface water problem at all! The real problem, according to him, was the ground water flowing from around the yard would pool into the clay bowl and seep into the basement where the walls joined the floor. When I told him that I usually saw the water entering from the walls and then flowing to the floor, he stated that was due to the rising water in the clay bowl finding its way into the cracks several feet above the floor. At the time I gave it no particular thought, he was the so-called “Senior Inspector” for AquaGuard. Only later did I realize that his explanation was suspect and quite possibly self-serving. Any difference in the height of the water and the Clay Bowl and the surrounding soil will tend to push the water to whichever side is lower. Of course since there isn’t any significant amount of water in the basement (one would hope) the hydrostatic pressure from the outside will force the water against the wall and, if cracks are present, into the basement. The question is simply this: Is there really a significant level of water building up in the so-called Clay Bowl at all? Or is the water penetrating the soil also simply flowing along the basement wall and finding its way into the house?
I indicated above that in the case of my house the Clay Bowl Effect explanation was suspect. How do I know this? Because after I had the trench path opened up I got to observe what happened when a very heavy rainfall occurred. We received over 5 inches of rain from the remnants of tropical storm Sandy but the basement remained dry. More importantly the trench path was dry. The ground water effect was bogus. Under normal circumstances the water would have flowed along the surface, down (not up) the walls and penetrating wherever it found a crack. Fortunately the contractor I had come in and remove the tar not only patch the numerous cracks in the foundation (the real entry point for the water) but they also did an excellent job caulking the walks along side the foundation. This is a temporary patch, as I still need to grade the surface so water flows away, but it was a great demonstration that the real problem wasn’t what AquaGuard sold me at all. Later I would have a reputable outfit come in, clean out AquaGuard’s mess, and perform a proper exterior waterproofing job; something I should have done in the first place.
In summary, this entire basement waterproofing disaster, courtesy of AquaGuard Waterproofing Corporation, could have been avoided had I taken time to have a reputable housing inspector come in (for maybe $150?), give me an unbiased assessment of the problems, and maybe even a reasonable estimate of cost. With such knowledge, I would have been in a position to make the correct decision and not fallen for the cheaper and, unfortunately, totally useless system that was offered to me. But I put my trust in them, signed the contract, and paid the consequences. Don’t let it happen to you!