Channeling the professionals and hydraulic cement…

As you know, we love the magazine This Old House – and the TV shows This Old House and Ask This Old House.  We love the professionalism, experience, problem solving, and knowledge shared by the guys.

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We happened upon some tickets to our Denver Home Show two weekends ago. We saw that Kevin O’Connor was going to be a speaker so we were motivated to go check it out.  It was fun.  We got a sneak preview of one of their current projects for This Old House TV show.

Tad got to ask the first question – “Does Tom Silva ever make a mistake? It appears that he knows everything!”

We also got to talk personally with Kevin after the presentation.  It was fun.  He seems the same as on TV.  Great personality and very engaging.


So, what does Kevin O’Connor and This Old House have to do with hydraulic cement – since the title of this post does include the words hydraulic cement? Well – we recently saw an episode of This Old House that was about using hydraulic cement on a basement foundation.  It was interesting and educational because we’ve got hydraulic cement use on our To Do List.  So, there you have it – Kevin O’Connor who is the host of This Old House where we saw hydraulic cement being used on a foundation and we’ve got a foundation that recently benefitted from some hydraulic cement…

This story starts with a corner basement leak when it rains really hard or when we have a big snow storm that melts in a day.

The first thing we did to help remedy the situation was on the outside.  We simply had the landscaping sloped away from the house. This helped significantly, but it didn’t completely resolve the problem.  Upon closer inspection of the source of the leak – from the inside – we noticed that it was actually where the sewer line leaves the house through the foundation.  It looked like the hole where the sewer line leaves the house wasn’t properly sealed.  It just had some spray foam insulation around it.  What the heck?


Tad kept saying we just needed to use some hydraulic cement around the pipe.  I didn’t know what he was talking about – and wasn’t particularly convinced at first. Then, there was the This Old House episode where they sealed a leaky foundation with hydraulic cement.  It looked pretty easy to use.  So, I figured maybe Tad was right on this one.  We put the plan in motion this last weekend. Hydraulic cement to the rescue…


Tad started by removing all the old spray foam insulation from the hole  – all the way back to damp dirt.


The next step was to mix up the hydraulic cement and squish it tightly into the space. My role was to squish the stuff into the space since my hands are a bit smaller than Tad’s, and I could wedge them all the way to the back. Tad was in charge of mixing small amounts of the hydraulic cement. The instructions say to mix up only what you can use within 2-3 minutes because it hardens that fast.  It also says to mix to the consistency of putty. I am here to tell you that these instructions are in fact accurate – and should be followed. This stuff hardens within 3 minutes and is impossible to apply if it isn’t exactly the consistency of putty. We probably mixed up 10 or 12 batches so we had the opportunity to discuss what the meaning of “putty” consistency really is. I would show you pictures, but Tad was in charge of the photos and they were all too blurry to use. So, I am going to describe what putty is – and isn’t. Putty is putty. It is dry-ish. It is not sticky. If it sticks to your gloves, it isn’t dry enough. It is not the consistency of drywall paste. The best/closest comparison we arrived at was Play Dough (aka Play Doh). The correct consistency for hydraulic cement is the consistency of Play Dough – everybody knows what Play Dough is, right?

An hour later, an almost entire bucket of hydraulic cement, 10 or 12 small batches of the stuff, and an extensive conversation about the consistency of putty – we hope to have a dry basement – and another quick weekend project is complete.


There is one final measure I would like to pursue to ensure that our water problems are fixed for good.  I would like to completely divert the courtyard drainage away from that corner of the house.


I am wondering if more hydraulic cement is in our future? Maybe, if we write to Ask This Old House, they will come out and help us with that project?  Hmm…