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One of the exciting things that attracted my parents to buying the house in East Brunswick, New Jersey, was the existence of a “finished basement.” The basement of our Brooklyn home was a dark, musty space. It was also the location of the self-inflicted demise of the previous owner, which inspired my parents’ dark humor. Any odd noise or misplaced item was blamed on Mr. Berkquist, who they insisted was still “hanging around.”
In contrast, the new basement had knotty pine paneling, a bar made of the same wood, cool accent lighting, a workshop, a laundry room, and a space heater to keep us toasty in the winter. It was used for family parties and decorated with a couple of Christmas trees before the “underground river,” that the realtor forgot to disclose, began to rise.
The house had come with a sump pump installed at the low point of the basement, but as the water table rose, rivulets of water began to flow from multiple places behind the knotty pine paneling. My dad came up with a unique system. He hammered some kind of tap or thin pipe into the foundation at regular intervals, inserted the ends of those taps into the side of a garden hose, which he ran around the entire basement. He put the end of the hose into the sump pump, and put the paneling back up. And that worked well.
Some time later, the idea of “French drains” began to circulate in the neighborhood (one house actually fell into its own basement when its soggy foundation gave way). Soon, the sales people knocked on our door, and my parents were sold on the selling point used: “you’ll never need a sump pump again.” Our finished basement became a construction zone to dig a channel all around the foundation, for water to drain into. Instead of something like, I don’t know – a garden hose? A lid was affixed to the sump pump hole and my parents were convinced that our finished basement’s water problems were over.
And they were, until that time we went away on vacation, during which there was a horrendous storm at home. We came back to find water covering some of the basement steps. Apparently, the power had gone out, and the French drains had overflowed because, THE SUMP PUMP WAS NOT DRAINING THE WATER. You know, that sump pump that wasn’t even supposed to be there anymore.
What ensued was a fight of legendary proportions – my parents taking the position that the waterproofing company had misled them, and they were responsible for the ruination of our finished basement.
The waterproofing company said it was “an act of God” that the power went out, they couldn’t explain why the sump pump that wasn’t supposed to be there didn’t kick back on when the power was restored, and they were not responsible. And to boot, my parents still had a balance due.
The entire drama took a heavy toll on my mother, and problems she already had became much worse. Eventually, there was a settlement. The basement and our lives, however, were never the same. To this day – 31 years after we lost our parents, the word “waterproofing” and the name of the company involved (which is still in business) invoke bad memories.
So, my panicky reaction to a crawlspace full of water was understandable. But I was determined that no waterproofing company was going to give me a nervous breakdown. I was going to call the shots, control the situation, and fix the mess. And, to “practice what I preach,” I would come out at the end with a funny story. But first, I’d have to deal with The Remediator Problem.
… to be continued