Sunday, April 27, 2008

Making a Dry well

Since my last post, in which I took a sledgehammer to our uneven patio with great satisfaction, we have found out some things about our house. This is the risk you take whenever you take the plunge into demolition in an older home (or even newer homes too sometimes). In this case it was nothing dire or shocking, but one of those things that made us readjust our plans slightly.

When we excavated the area near our gutter (our building only has one gutter), we found that a dry well was constructed underneath our porch, which is where all of the water from the gutter ends up- right-next-to-our-house. Water, of course, is not something you want near your home -at all.

Steve started doing some research on the internet trying to figure out what we should do about this, and found that a dry well should be a minimum of 10 feet from the home- ours is about 3 feet, except it is under our porch, so in a way, it's kind of right underneath a part of our house.

He also did research on rain barrels, which I would love to have, but there are a few obstacles.

1. For a 1/2" rain on a 1000 square foot roof, 200 gallons of rain water is generated. Most rain barrels are 55-80 gallons. We would need two or more and that would take up alot of space on our small patio. We could do one barrel and then have an overflow that goes somewhere else. Or add another gutter. All projects we are not up for right now.

2. In our cold Chicago climate, the rain barrels would need to be disconnected in the winter as with all the freezing and thawing, they would surely crack. This means that we would have to have a backup drainage system for that part of the year.

We determined that because we are not up for relocating our dry well right now, we will not be doing rain barrels. But maybe we will at some point. I really would like to.

My feeling is that if it's been okay this way for 100 years, a few more years won't kill us (or the house). We are fortunate in that we pretty much live on sand and so have excellent drainage, which may be why this location was thought a fine spot in the first place.

How has this changed our plans for our patio repair?
Well, we have decided that we don't want to pour concrete over something that will relatively soon need to be excavated and corrected and so we have opted to rebuild the dry well (it needs it!) and place 12" square concrete tiles over that area. This way, we are not cementing in something that will be removed in a few years.

Our patio will be a bit hodge-podge, but at least it will be one level and I can camouflage it with beautiful containers strategically placed. And it will be much more functional. So without further ado, here is what we have accomplished thus far with our patio and refreshed dry well.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover the foundation for our porch has a limestone footing and several courses of brick.

In this photo you can see the gravel bed that we laid to prevent the sandy soil from washing away underneath. We also laid bricks and chunks of excavated concrete in the bed to help secure the drainage pipe not pictured).

What is Steve doing with those dreadlocks you might ask? This are actually something called yoakum rope and it's used to seal the pipes like a kind of caulking. So many things to learn about. I googled "yoakum" and I can't find anything on it. I guess there are some things you can't find on the internet, but I find that hard to believe. Anyway, thanks to this post, now there is some info on this bizarre product.

After rebuilding the dry well, we leveled the soil and put another layer of gravel, which will help support the concrete tiles. We have to add more gravel and playsand and then the tiles will go in.

And then we have that strip to patch with concrete.

I am actually really pleased that we will have this all done in the next few weeks and be able to enjoy our patio this year. It's no showplace, but it will work for us until we undertake the big project of rebuilding the back porch and laying a new patio. And just fyi, building a back porch is a job we would hire others to do. We aren't that crazy. Laying a patio,that we would do. But just this morning after yesterday's backbreaking work, Steve said that if we ever do a whole patio job, we will budget in weekly massages on Sundays. Sounds like a good idea to me!


Greg said...

I think yoakum is a hemp product soaked in some type of resin or petroleum byproduct. It has been around for centuries. They first used it on wooden ships hundreds of years ago to seal the gaps in the wood. In the last century its main use is to seal drain joints just as you are using it. In cast iron joints they hammer in the yoakum before they pour in the molten lead.

bk8 said...

Ah yes the things you uncover...surprising!! Have you given any thought to a deck over the concrete? Our house had a small square pad of unsightly cracked concrete, maybe 10x10? We put a (larger) floating deck of cedar over it. It is very pretty and surrounded by plants.

Mike said...


You were SO close, the stuff is called "oakum" Here is a link:

How is the slope to your back? Is there an alley back there?


Chelle Johnson said...

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading through your blogs today. Thanks to one of your earlier sites, I actually created one of my own!

Gary said...

Try Googling "OAKUM" and you'll find what you are looking for!

Bloody Chicagoins, why doesen't you speak proper like wot I does?

Jocelyn said...

I knew I could count on you all to edubacate me. :o)

bk8- eventually we will have to tear down our enclosed back porch and when we do, we will have a deck, but we still want a patio to hang out in the yard.

Mike- our yard is sloped and we do have an alley. Do you have an idea?

StuccoHouse said...

Your patio will be so nice! I'm anxious to see how you decorate it.

Were you able to find your round downspout in a big box? I've been looking for that for ages and can't find it anywhere.

Just another little oakum is also traditionally used to weatherproof log cabins.

Mike said...


If you have enough slope out to the alley you could dig a trench along the back, fill the bottom with gravel and then connect your drainpipe to a perforated black plastic drain hose. Lay the hose in the trench and cover it all up. I did basically the same thing at our previous house but ran it to the front as we had a big hill there. Below is a link to some pics from that project, many years ago. My whole backyard was sloped wrong so besides having the downspout carry into the hose I put in a "Y" connecter and ran another part into the lowest part of the back yard. Water collected there, soaked down and into the drain hose and then ran to the front.

Green Fairy said...

I'm glad you posted that info on rain barrels; we're considering one ourselves, although probably not this year.

Mark said...

We also have a rain barrel -- out of necessity because we haven't gotten around to fixing the one part of the gutter that leaks! Oh well!

Christina said...

BTW Jocelyn- Chicago subsidized rain barrels. We got ours last year (we need to install gutters first on our garage to use it). I checked, and they are $40. If you go to the Center of Green Technology, they should have some info.

The barrels they have are not necessarily the most attractive things (I'll be disguising it at some point with something) but a comparable one is probably $80 or so. We saw some really nice looking ones at Wannemaker's in Downers Grove for maybe $175. Other garden centers have them.

Another option possibly is a rain garden. We went to a green practices in home building event where they showed one that was built in between 2 buildings.