Would I be able to fix this basement for myself?

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Here’s the short version of the story. My parents bought their house in ’79. Before the FHA would approve their loan, the previous owners were required to move the water heater from the kitchen to down in the crawlspace basement. They dug out a hole about 15′ long, 3′ to 4′ wide and about 3.5′ deep, surrounded it with a cinderblock retaining wall, put the water heater at one end and an "open" sump at the other end. I have no idea how/why the inspector didn’t say anything about that or why the FHA was okay with what they did. Apparently they did everything in a hurry just so that they could move and sell the house. Eventually, my father was lost and the house went into my mother’s name. Now she has this disaster in her basement. He never could figure out what to do with it. He apparently dealt with flooding a lot of times where it would overtake the pump and/or the power would go out and it would flood all the way up to around the top of the wall. Not sure why he wasn’t bright enough to add more than one pump and/or seek a backup option. Complicating things…a central heating/air system was added a long time ago. It couldn’t go in the attic or a room, so they put it in the basement and elevated it about a foot off from the base of the hole. So now the pumps are protecting that system and the water heater from flooding.

The upper part of the crawlspace isn’t exactly hospitable, but stays dry and is level with the ground outside for the most part. I don’t know why they have dug out various areas to make the dirt up-and-down and not just flat everywhere throughout the basement. The lower part gets a ton of water flow. Not every time it rains. Usually when it rains for 2-3 days, unless there is some massive downpour in a single storm that dumps a couple of inches of rain. For the most part, the little 1/3HP sump on the right can keep up with water flow (but is attached to a floor joist and extremely loud). The second one on the left is a 1/2HP and is rarely needed except during heavy thunderstorms when the ground is saturated. It only kicks on long enough to keep the water out and both aren’t needed for very long at the same time. I have seen both of them struggle to keep up during those times, however (combined 100+ gallons per minute pumping ability). I could easily replace both of those pumps, know how to run my own PVC pipe and all of the plumbing and pump-related stuff. I’ll change that stuff to submersible to make it quieter and more efficient. My problem is the water flow and how they have all of this set up. It is a huge mess.

In some areas, there is "space" between the dirt and outside of the wall. I presume that dirt has washed down into what was once an all-concrete bottom in the hole. They just vented the water through several sideways cinderblocks at the base of the wall. No proper sump, drain, and not even a sump basin or anything. They dug an open hole and let the water pool into it. That’s obviously not good for the house or for anything. Yet for decades, that was how the basement was. My mother wants to sell the house in the spring. It may have to be sold as-is if I can’t figure out something that won’t cost thousands and require a jackhammer and such in the basement.

My problem is getting the water to not run all over the floor of the hole. Of course, I know it should be going into a sump basin and should be sealed off and all sorts of stuff. My "theoretical" (and probably not up to code) solution is to clean out the dirt from the base of the venting cinderblocks, stick some of that black drain pipe (like used in retaining walls and gutter downspouts) into the edge of the holes and seal all around the pipe with some kind of hydraulic cement or mortar. Probably using something like a grout bag to actually get the stuff in there. Will it work? Who knows.

A couple of people that I have talked to have told me to get some kind of dimple board/sheet drain and fix it to either the inside or outside of the retaining wall. Obviously, with all of that crawlspace dirt there, that would all have to be moved to put it on the outside of the wall. On the inside, I guess it could be done, but that stuff seems to cost a fortune. They said that a french drain would need to be made all the way around the base of the wall (somewhere under that couple of inches of dirt or whatever it is, that is solid concrete all the way around) and run to the sump hole. Then even if I had that right now, the sump is out of whack. That’s an 80-90 gallon sump hole. Probably 2′ wide and long (or a little more), and over a foot deep. It is an odd shape and no sump basin comes in that size. So I’d have to add in a ridiculous amount of filler or alter that. Seems like a ton of work. A company would probably charge $20K for doing something like that. Any ideas out there? Plus, even if all of that was done, there would still be exposed water behind the wall. The space between the wall and dirt in some areas is because that dirt washed down out of the cinderblock drain that they made and flattened out on the floor of the hole. Filling that in with dirt would clog the outlet holes and/or do the same thing and wash back out. Then even inside of the open-top cinderblocks, you can look inside of the wall and see water in it.

Quite honestly, even if I could do what people have recommended…I’m not sure that a french drain could handle that kind of water flow.

The second kicker: 12 houses down the street, they have some type of small creek/stream in their yard that is visible. If you look it up on the map and look at both the map placement and satellite placement of the houses, that matches up with the back yard somewhere. It may possibly be running through the back yard and the nearby back yards up and down the street.

My mother has told me a lot of times how when I was younger, my father (metal detecting enthusiast) detected something under the ground probably 6-8 feet from the back of the house. He dug up part of something really big with a tin covering over the top of it and told my mother that he thought it was some kind of "storm drain". He couldn’t lift the tin up to see what was in it, so I have no idea how big it was or what it was. I’m wondering if this isn’t some kind of old culvert underground where they literally nailed some tin over it and it rises up over the tin and floods the local ground when it rains a lot. The pump comes on for usually 2-3 days after a severe rain event that lasts 3-4 days. It possibly could be just the local ground water collecting and the depth that they dug the hole out, but that stream/creek is going somewhere and is still disappearing under the ground in what we believe to be the back yards. The house was built in 1950, so they appear to have done a lot odd things back then.

I just don’t know what to do about it. Can’t really afford the cost of what a company would charge to correct all of those issues with the drainage. I have no way to verify if there is a creek/stream under the back yard. Someone told me to check with the city clerk for old maps and such, but the odds of finding that out are slim. Maybe the previous owners didn’t know that it was back there, if it is. They dug it out in a hurry and moved not too long afterwards simply because they covered the stipulation required to sell the house. The house apparently had no water issues before the hole was dug.

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