A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

July 27, 2020

The dye is cast, It's not flowing to the Rubicon

Dye in the tank after  ten minutes
I did a test of the southeast gutter today using florescent dye. I poured two cups of water tracing dye into the gutter, then ran the hose into the same pipe. In about 10 minutes, the dye reached the sump. I happen to have a black light in my house from doing some experiments with simulated night photography. So I used that light to illuminate the sump.  This verified without a doubt that our downspouts are draining to the sump. I think we now know enough about our situation to proceed with repairs and enhancements to better control floods. Despite all this, our area is flood prone, so nothing is guaranteed. 

July 25, 2020

Flood Control Project

I have received a lot of comments off the blog about the flooding issues in our basement. So I thought I would post a note on what we plan to do.   Water in basements is bad, but for model railroaders it is even more of a concern as our railroads are at risk. 

Background. This house is 25 years old. It is located in an area that was first developed around 1900 to provide housing for workers at Potomac Yard on the RF&P.  Our street is located in a relative flat area that is about 20 feet above the level of the Potomac River and 35 feet above sea level. There is a steep ridge to the west. Water from that ridge drains through this area on the way to the river.  

Note there is no storm sewer in the alley or street by our house. 
We have a drain pipe buried in our back yard that exits to the south west.  Our sump exhausts to this drain. We assumed the drain went to a storm sewer in the alley. But, that is not true.  I recently discovered that the city has posted a map of the sewer lines in this area. When I looked at it I discovered to my surprise that there was no storm sewer in the alley behind my house.  Once the drain leaves my lot line I really don't know where it goes.  I assume it drains west toward the storm sewer three houses down. The ground actually slopes up as you go east toward the river in the alley, so  I doubt it flows that way. 

The basement walls are sound.  They don't leak. Water enters the basement through the the sump and the air conditioner drainage hole.

We have lived here about 18 years. In the past we have not had flooding from rain as long as we had electrical power.  We did have an incident in 2011  where the circuit breaker to the sump popped off and we got some water in the basement. I was home when that happened and was able to flip the breaker and the water quickly drained.

When the basement flooded last summer, we were not home. So we didn't know what happened.  

Recent Observations   In the past three weeks I have been home during several heavy rain storms and have been observing and collecting data on how the water flows in and around our house in a storm. We also had a pipe inspection service check our gutters.  

We now know a lot more about what is happening when it rains. 

First, our gutters are not directing water away from the house. When we tested each gutter downspout with the hose, we can see water flow into the sump instead of away from the house. We had a plumber try to run heavy duty snakes in the underground portions of the downspout drainage and discovered that they are  either clogged or just end  about 6 feet below grade.  

By watching the water accumulate in my sump during a rain storm and doing tests with the garden hose and hot water heater over flow pipe, I have been able to get a better idea of the drainage under the concrete floor and around the footers.  The sump has two pipes that input to it. One is the footer drain. The other drains the A/C condensation pipe, which does create a lot of water in the summer.  These seem to do a good job of routing water to the sump. By the way, the sump is located in the front room of the house in the northwest corner under the  train layout. 

On July  22nd our power went out during a brief but intense rain storm. Our back-up battery-powered pump was not pumping, though it was spinning. The battery level was too low, despite no warning from the control panel. This battery back up system is several years old and needs to be upgraded.  I was able to jury rig the main pump with power from my car and watch it work. It took 2 hours to pump the sump dry. The pump has a capacity of 2600 gallon per hour.  

Water level near HVAC closet
The next day,  we had another massive storm. The power did not go out. We had about 1-2 inches of water in the basement. It was deepest in the HVAC closet. The pump ran for 4 hours and the water level did not change much. By the fourth hour, the water level started to go down. It took another hour to drain the water. That means we pumped around 13,000 gallons of water before the water level  dropped.   There are 7.5 gallons per cu-ft. Our basement is about 1,000 square feet. That means we had the equivalent of 1.7 feet of water in the basement. That is much more than the rain that fell on our house and lot. 

Two things could be happening. First, water is draining into the area under our basement from other sources. Second, our pump is working in a loop- that is, it is pumping water to the back yard where is accumulates and then filters back to the sump. I suspect both are happening, though the second seems more likely and problematic. The fact that water  level did not drop in the basement after rain stopped strongly suggests to me that we have a pumping loop.
Mulch tide line shows water flood level on back patio
I monitored the water outside and yes, the back yard was flooded with enough water to encroach onto the patio.  Oddly, the patio drained really well and dried very quickly.  Over the years, the landscaping in the back has gotten taller as we added mulch and plantings. I think we have interfered with the drainage pattern. 

The city sent out an email that said the storm on the July 23rd dumped 30 times the water that the city sewer system could handle.  There was widespread flooding. All the neighbors on my block had flooding in their basements to some degree. The good news is that even with this latest rain storm, the water level did not get deeper than 2 inches in the basement. My neighbor 3 doors down was not so fortunate. He got 3 feet of water as runoff from the street entered his basement though an external stair well.  He said the water at the curb was 24 inches deep.  The slight slope of the street from my house to his makes a big difference. 

I have ordered some water tracing dye to further test were the downspouts and sump are exiting. See the next post .

This evening I did an experiment. I put my garden hose in the sump pump output. After about 2 hours, the outlet got saturated and we started seeing a loop. The water from the garden hose was rushing into the sump and was getting pumped right back out.  This tells me that we need to reroute the exhaust from the sump to the front where the drainage will be better.  I also observed that water was rushing into the sump from both the footer drains and from the exterior of the A/C drain pipe. That means water is flowing from locations under my floor other than the footer drains. That is not necessarily bad, but it does mean that a second sump in the HVAC closet would help evacuate water. 

One bit of good news. The new ceramic tile floor was not affected by the flood. We are able to mop and scrub it back to like new condition. 

With this new data I have come up with the following plan. 

1. Redesign the gutter downspouts to ensure they drain away from the house. Drain to the front is preferred, and away from neighbor’s lot line. 

2. Regrade any landscaping that is not sloped away from the house. This is only an issue in the backyard. The front is well graded away from the house.

3. Install a second sump or enlarge current sump so that we have at least 2 @ 1/2HP sump pumps. One pump will exit in existing pipe to the back, one to exit to the front.  I am undecided on whether we need a new battery back up pump. It won't cost much to add and it would provide some redundancy if say the circuit breaker pops. The new sump pumps will be wi-fi enabled so we can monitor their performance and react if power goes out or a pump fails. 

4. Run an electrical line for a new dedicated outlet for the new sump pumps. While I'm at it, install a new wall switch and outlet so I can power my layout with one switch.

5.  Install a natural gas powered 16-22KW whole house generator with automatic cut in during power outages and whole house surge protector.  That way I can run trains in a power outage. 

6. Draft an annual service plan to check all systems and service as needed.

July 24, 2020

Another Flood

We had another massive storm last night. If you were watching opening day baseball game you saw some of it.  

This time our power stayed on, but the sump pump could not keep up.  In a way we are lucky repairs from the storm of a few weeks ago were not yet done, as they would have been in vain.

We have had several drainage and erosion contractors here in the past few days. We have some ideas to improve drainage and increase pumping capacity. None of them involve removing the Aquia Line. But if these measures don't work, we may have to strip the basement and install a whole new drainage system. 

Flooding at Nationals Park dugouts

July 21, 2020

Still Waiting

We are still waiting for the contractors to return to our house to finish the repairs to the basement. Last week they tore out the baseboards and drilled some holes in the sheet rock to dry them. But they won't be back until next week to finish up the repairs and clean up. Thus my basement has been left in a state of disarray. 

Since my model building shop and most of my Aquia Line expansion is not accessible right now for construction work, I decided to do some benchwork building in the garage for the HO layout that will reside in my office.

I built two 58-inch long by 30-inch wide frames with a 10 inch wide section that is recessed for  water front to hold the ship models.  These frames started out as game tables.  I converted then to my module frames. They don't have legs as they will sit on some IKEA shelves that I have in my office. 

Ten out of 30 inches might seem like a lot of real estate to devote to the ships that could be used for track. But displaying my ship models is one of the prime objectives of this mini layout/module. It will also be a show case for Alkem Scale Models products.  And reaching in 30 inches to uncouple cars is not good. So the track will be along the front with the ships in the rear. 

I had an idea to put a staging yard off the to the left. But now I am not so sure I will bother.  I need to come up with a track plan that is more self contained.  The track plan below shows  what I was thinking.

One issue I will have is maintaining access to the electrical panel.  In fact, I have had several foundation water contractors look at my house in the past few days to get quotes on how to reduce the flooding in the basement. Several have suggested the need for a separate circuit for an additional water sump pump That means my main panel will need to be expanded. Last year I added a secondary panel in my garage with 220V and 60 amps. That secondary panel used the last open spaces in my main panel. 

I also want to add a whole house surge protector as we have had problems with lightning damaging the capacitor on on air conditioner.   

The bottom line is the HO layout will need to be removable or at least not interfere with access to the panel. So no coved backdrop in the corner of this layout. I'll probably go with a hand painted sky and some cut outs. 


July 8, 2020

Not Again

We spent last week in Birmingham Alabama helping my daughter and son-in-law with home remodeling projects. They bought a 103-year old house. It is in a good shape in a great neighborhood. The home has a view of the city sky line to the west, including Sloss Works. In fact, the original builder of the home was a owner of a coke by-products factory.  The trip was a lot of fun, and we got several home projects complete. I made a short video showing some of the fun including some trains

We were home for a few days, when once again we suffered an intense rain storm. I don't think I have ever witnessed a lightning and thunder storm as long and sustained as this. In the midst of that, our air conditioner failed. Luckily that was a simple fix as it needed a new starter capacitor. But around midnight, our sump pump again was overwhelmed. I woke up in the morning to puddles and silty clay residue from about 1 inch of water in the basement.  

Fortunately, the ceramic tile was unaffected. and no expensive stuff was destroyed, just a few old pictures that were inadvertently stored on the floor in a closet. The restoration crews have installed dryers and fans. Tomorrow, we will find out if they need to replace any sheet rock or moldings.  On Saturday I have a contractor coming in to discuss how to reengineer the basement to prevent this from reoccurring. Obviously, the measures we took last fall were insufficient. 

Meanwhile, I starting hosting a play by email game for eight for my friends and family. The game is a conversion I  did of Johnny Reb III from miniatures to hex board game. Yes, I was inspired by the Gettysburg game that I am still playing. I actually started this project over 20 years ago while my friend John Hill, the designer of Johnny Reb I, II, II and IV,  was still alive, but never got it finished. Now John is gone, but his game lives on. My version of the game is tactical and based on the Battle of Brice's Crossroads in Mississippi. It was a decisive victory for the rebels, but was actually much harder fought than the result indicated. We will see how it goes in our replay. 

One really cool aspect of it is that my friend Don Ball converted my graphics to a VASSAL module. That means we can play the game using a map and counter on our screen versus using paper and pencil. Don has lots of experience with VASSAL and he did the conversion in a very sort time. He is also playing one of the Union commanders.

If we like this game, it would not be hard to develop other scenarios.

Example of what a portion of a typical game might look like.