I've had water in the basement of our 1920's house recently.  Nothing deep, just steady standing water in two areas of the dirt floor basement that started with Irene's heavy rainfall.  I've assumed it was due to the unusually high water table, nonetheless I decided to poke around.   I discovered two pipe outlets (or perhaps inlets).

They're clay pipes and appear to be from the original excavation/foundation.  I can't imagine why they would "lead" into the house so assume they a negative grade to allow moisture to drain away from the basement - a sort of 1920's version of a french well/sump pump arrangement.  Where they might lead is anybody's guess.  Maybe they go to an ancient dry-well somewhere, but I have no way of knowing.  They certainly don't run to daylight and they're doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing (assuming my theory is correct). 

Wondering if anybody has any insights to what is going on here or seen this configuration before.  The real question is what to do about it.  I am open to suggestions.  Cheers.


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You could call a Rotary Rooter type service (You may want to check BBB or ask around first for refferences) to go into the pipe if they can..  Try to get an "old-timer"  for a better chance of getitng an idea.

We have  something in our basement: It doesn't address your question but relating this might provoke some discussion that might help.  Our house is 1905 and I think what I am going to describe is in a former "Michingan cellar" (partially finished cellar, partially unexcavated cellar) which was later opened up and given a conrete floor.

Under a concrete hatch about 12-14" square is a concret "box" a bit larger than a ream paper box, wiht  two 4" pipes  on different levels going out of it into the darkness.  The box and pipe  have been cleaned out a few times when the sewers backed up after unusual rains or when  roots or careless children had clogged the works and the box started to smell,fillup with washingmachine  bubbles, sewage or once, after weeks of rain, overflow.  Usually the rotary man goes through another outlet like the floor drain or waste pipe.  I understood what it was once but have forgotten now. It is not near the waste pipe and its not near the outside wall. We all had to get our downspouts out of the storm sewer tiles  but this old system can still come to life although it has been better since our area's sewers were enlarged. I "seal" it closed wiht rope chaulk. and  when it starts getting whiffy, we call  for help.

We are soon to move to an 1830 house, with foundations expanded in the 1890's.  It got a few inches of standing water in one part, the currnet owner said, during recent relentless rains and she thought it was because  the roof gutters over that area were very very clogged (we got someone to  clean them out pronto)   But nothing smelled musty or moldery when we viewed the house. They had a sump pump put it - worrisome indeed.  Does your basement smell moldy?  Can you get someone to cap off the pipes?

My daughter has a house where sandstone  comprises the lower courses of the foundation walls,  Rare,and stupid.  Paint won't stick to it and pulls off in large sheets. Water can seep in when the soil gets saturated even though it is on a  rise above the sidewalk and the street descends to a park  which must have filled wiht runoff before this area got developed and sewered (early 1900's)   We put flexible drain pipe extensions leading  away from the foundation and cleaned the gutters and filled in the grade. It's a rental so we don't see it and no one has complained .... maybe that worked.

Good luck and be sire to post your discoveries!



Hi Carol, thanks for the reply.

I have some concerns with trying to snake these pipes.  They don't lead to any sewer type system since there is none.  We live in the boonies.  Theoretically, they could tie into the street system since there is a catch basin on the road about 100' away - though honestly I can't fathom these pipes do.  They're pointing in entirely the wrong direction.  So I would be "snaking" a pipe into some mysterious location that has probably long since filled with silt anyway.  The water we are getting into the basement is good old fashion, clean smelling rainwater.  That's certainly better than nasty smelling water, though I would prefer no water at all.

So I am leaning toward stuffing them with soft mortar and see what happens.


Step 1 should be determining what you have rather than stuffing the pipes.

You didn't say if you have a house on a hill or a nearby stream.  It was common in days past to run clay drains (the best pipe they had then) to a gully or even a lower point in the neighborhood.  Over time many of these systems have been broken, cut or collapsed.

The first thing I'd do would be some surveying of the area to see if such drains might have existed.  The second would be to explore the clay pipe with something like a set of chimney cleaning rods or even a plumber's snake.

Is the cellar stone or block?

Is there a sump pump currently?

Is there evidence a cistern might have existed where the pipes come in?

Hmmn, good questions.  Our house is up high, but our backyard is even higher and made mostly of ledge.  One of these pipes points in that direction, which would require it to make a 90 degree turn and run at least 100 yards to reach daylight.  I've certainly found no outlets by walking the property nor would I expect to, even if they did exist.  They would be completely covered by soil and grass by now.  Oh, and did I mention there is now a barn (built after the original structure) on top of it all?

The cellar is stone and dry except for these two annoying pipes, which make it decidedly undry.  There is no specific evidence of a cistern.  Being a 1920s property, bringing rainwater in seems a bit primitive for the period, but what do I know?  I even had to google cistern.

My sister just had a new drainage system installed which will sump pump dump the rising groundwater into foodgrade holding barrels first before sending it out.  It will be refiltered when they draw it for their drinking water.She calls it her "doomsday system."  There it is - off-grid water! 

The first rule of underground lines is to never presume you have any idea where it went or what path it takes.  That rule and the pursuit of such lines has about $10,000 invested in equipment on my truck.

Consider the conditions at the time of building and you can then work up an idea of what might have been done.  

There weren't tractorhoes or trackhoes in 1920, so chances are your cellar was either hand dug or dug with a team and slipscraper.  Under those conditions it would have been very logical for a line to leave under the wall and turn 90° beyond the foundation to run downhill and be covered when the cellar was backfilled.

A flat plumber's tape with the wheels on the end may well tell you a lot when you push it into the opening.  Worst case a power drain cleaner will tell you more, and you can rent them fairly cheap.

are these pipes down at grade level or higher on the wall? If down at ground level then they were probably drain pipes to who knows where and have since silted in or clogged with tree roots. Your options are either find the other end with a lot of digging up of the yard and open it or cap it; or rig a way to drain them away inside the basement. You could either dig a dry well and let the water seep into that or funnel it into drainpipe and drain it outside somehow. I would advise against stuffing them with mortar as the water then will search for other ways to go and you'll have a new problem to deal with.

I too have a dirt cellar with no drain outlets of any kind. There is a shallow (3 ft) stone-lined well in the far west corner which I assume functioned as a dry well for this very reason. It had been filled with rocks and trash but I opened it back up and plan to install a sump pump in it for the rare occasion we do get a high enough water table for water to come in.

How  is this going?  I have lots of questions about this.

Since we actually got into this old house we bought, I am no longer an innocent though still fairly ignorant!

I opted to treat this issue the same way I treat most with the overwhelming amount of house projects I have - do nothing and monitor.

As it turns out, no water has entered over the last six months.  The cellar has progressively gotten less damp and I'm now thinking last year may not have been the best to make an assessment.  The water table was probably at the 100-year high water mark with the ridiculous snowfall of 2011 and the fall hurricane.

Yeah sometimes you have to choose your battles.We had serious flooding here in southern New England back in the spring of 2010 which was when my basement flooded - all the oldtimers said they had never seen it like that and we havent had anything close since then.

So I'm with you Kevin - just watch it while I work on a million other projects: currently building chicken coop, fencing garden, repairing masonry wall of carriage house, replacing pool pipes, cutting firewood - and trying to keep the grass mowed and weeds down!

Waiting was good advice,Kevin and Jim, and has saved us a bundle.  We will wait 'till next spring's thaw and rains tell us more...The neighors say that week was unusual. Thanks!

My house was built 1870 and has a stacked blue stone foundation cellar. it does have a pipe that runs from the cellar  under my front yard to the street. The grade of the pipe is ok...but it can let creatures in..lololol. The house is at the bottom of a mountain literally and in the spring when the snows start melting we get water in ...that was their way of draining water out. I do have a pump now but we have to cover the pipe with chicken wire so that the chipmunks don't find their way into my nice warm house in the winter :)


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