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Patio won't solve moisture problems

Water - getting it where it belongs and keeping it out of places it doesn't belong - is often a major headache for homeowners. Problems with too much water are especially intractable, as they are often related to other problems having nothing to do with water.

So we sympathize with the Baltimore reader who wrote to us about his water problem."I recently moved back into a townhouse that I had rented for the last four years while I was working in Europe. Ever since the house was built, the area immediately behind the house has been damp, if not wet. Because of the house's orientation, the damp area gets very little sunshine. The house has a finished basement with a walk-out in the rear. In 1992, my brother built a deck on the rear of the house, on the next floor. With the area constantly wet, and without sunlight, the only thing that grows is moss and mud. In addition, with the constant dampness, mildew is growing on the siding.

"One solution I have in mind is to put in a patio. I figure that the patio would reduce the moisture coming up through the ground, and if properly done would take rainwater away from the house.

"One complication, though: Right in the middle of the back wall of the house is a downspout. I figure that it would not be a good idea to have the downspout emptying directly on the patio. One solution I had in mind was to run plastic pipe from the downspout, under the patio, and have it empty out past the end of the patio.

" . . . My brother mentioned that he has seen some patios made from concrete that are `textured' so that they look just like a brick or stone patio. I would think that one advantage of an actual brick patio would be that individual bricks could be removed or replaced if necessary. What do you think would be better: concrete or brick or stone?

"I don't have any experience building a patio, so I planned on contracting the project. The patio would be approximately 20 feet by 15 feet. Can you give me an idea how much a patio this size would cost? Also, do you have any ideas where I can find a reputable contractor? I've asked my friends and neighbors, but they couldn't give me any names of contractors."

Most outdoor dampness problems come from improper grading or from land settlement. (In rare cases it might be from underground springs or bedrock near the surface that prevents water from draining.) In newer townhouse developments, it sometimes happens that common areas are not graded well, or a lot of settlement has occurred after grading, or that sod or grass in common areas has not been maintained well and has died.

However, moisture that's a problem without a patio will still be a problem with a patio. Correcting a downspout that directs runoff to an area that doesn't drain well is the first step. The reader didn't mention actually wanting a patio, so perhaps having the gutters altered and downspout relocated, and perhaps having the grading in the immediate area corrected, might solve the problem.

If he does want the patio, and can't relocate the downspout, it is possible to bury a downspout extension under the concrete or brick. The extension should be plastic solid-wall pipe, or PVC, with joints glued solidly together.

Make sure you can remove the downspout from the extension to clean it out if it gets clogged.

(You should check your downspout drain at least once a year, preferably after the leaves have fallen.)

The phone book lists gutter and downspout contractors; you need to interview them until you find one who seems to know a lot about water problems.

If the reader does decide to have the patio built, he has plenty of options - brick on sand, brick on concrete, stone or patio paving blocks. Bricks and stone are subject to mildew, so the reader may want to consider a concrete patio that can be rinsed with a mildew remover.

If he does decide on concrete, there are a number of concrete finishing options available.

As for the cost, gutter and downspout work could be as little as a couple of hundred dollars; grading, burying the downspout extension, and building and finishing the patio could cost as much as a few thousand.