Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Permanent LED Christmas Light Fail + the problem with basement waterproofing companies

In this episode of the Structure Talk Podcast, Reuben and Tessa delve into the world of basement waterproofing companies and the often-misunderstood use of moisture meters. Reuben shares a frustrating experience with installing permanent LED lights, highlighting the challenges and lessons learned. The hosts discuss the common misconception that drain tile systems are a universal solution for all basement water issues, emphasizing the importance of addressing exterior water management. They express the need for a comprehensive approach, envisioning a service that combines various solutions instead of a one-size-fits-all fix. The episode provides valuable insights for homeowners facing basement water problems and encourages a more holistic perspective on waterproofing.




The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.



Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk Podcast, a production of Structure Talk Home inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murray. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Yes, welcome to my house. Tessa, do you know where that little rift comes from at the beginning of our podcast? 

Tessa Murray: Welcome to my house. I don’t. Tell me the story.

RS: Yeah, that’s it. I mean, we don’t have any vocals on our riff. But that is the song. It’s by Florida and…

TM: Florida. Yeah.

RS: Florida and I paid somebody, I don’t know where on Fiverr or something, to take that song and redo it with just the piano so that I wouldn’t get hit with some type of copyright thing. I don’t think we’re big enough where anybody would even care. But that was on one of the quizzes. That was one of the for our annual Christmas party, for Structure Tech. We always do a spouse quiz. We do a cahoot where all the spouses or significant others need to chime in with their answers and it’s all questions about the company. And that was one of them. What’s the theme song for the Structure Talk podcast? 

TM: Oh, that’s impressive. Did anyone get it right? 

RS: I think like one person got it right and nobody got it.


TM: Oh, that’s awesome.

RS: Tessa, what’s new in your world? What’s going on? What’s good? 

TM: Well, so many good things. I’ll pick one though. It’s been a highlight. So I took a quick trip down to Florida because the people that taught me basically introduced me to construction and how to build a house when I was 18 and I worked for Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana. They were just a retired couple that devoted their time to building houses for Habitat and they would travel around to different affiliates and lead teams of people. And they were amazing. Their name was Bob and Doris and I have kept in touch with them over the years and we get together. Well before the pandemic, we were getting together almost every year to do a habitat build and there’s a group of us that would get together and just have a great time. Anyways, it was their 50th wedding anniversary last week, and I surprised them along with a couple of my other Habitat friends from Jersey. We showed up RSVP’d know.

RS: Oh, cool.

TM: And then we showed up and they just were shocked and it was amazing. It was such a beautiful event. So yeah, that was kind of the highlight of my week, last week.

RS: Oh, that’s awesome.

TM: It’s hard to beat that. But yeah, so shout out to Bob and Doris. I don’t think they listen to podcasts, but if they do you’re just awesome people. And they’ve changed, they’ve helped so many people indirectly over their lives. I don’t know how many houses they’ve built and how many other volunteers things they’ve done, but they’re just amazing, incredible people so.

RS: Well, and I bet they were just delighted to see you. That sounds fantastic.

TM: It was a blast.

RS: Just show up and surprise them.

TM: Yeah. It was a blast.

RS: That’s great.

TM: Yeah. So what’s new in your life, Reuben? What have you been up to recently? 

RS: Well, I’ll tell you a big fail of mine. A big homeowner fail.

TM: Yeah.

RS: You and I talked a few weeks ago about how I was saying, yeah, I think I’m gonna do Christmas lights this year. I do them some years I’ll put them up on the outside of the house, but I get tired of doing it. And this is the year I decided I’m gonna bite the bullet and I’m gonna install permanent LEDs. And so this is kind of a fancy system where it stays up year round and you can control it all with an app on your phone and you can do whatever color you want for the lights. You could turn them on red, white, and blue for the 4th of July. You do whatever you want.

TM: I can see you having a lot of fun with this.

RS: Oh yeah. My kids were so excited. They were delighted ’cause I bought this brand, it’s called Govee. And my son already had some of their lights in his bedroom, so he knows how the app works and all that and he was super stoked about this. And so I’m like, “Yeah, I’m gonna put this up.” And I knew it was gonna be a project because if you’re gonna do permanent lights, you’re not gonna have an extension cord going up the side of your house. So I needed to make access to my garage attic, needed to cut an access panel and I got a delightful surprise while doing it. Found out my garage is insulated. I never knew it was insulated.

TM: Wait, you don’t have an access panel into your, into the attic space above your garage? 

RS: No. I don’t.

TM: Really? 

RS: Never did. And I never put one in just ’cause it’s like, I don’t care. I know I don’t need to get up there.

TM: It’s not a heated space either. So you didn’t even know that it was. You didn’t know it was insulated? 

RS: I didn’t know it was insulated.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: I knew that it stayed warmer than my last garage because I store beer and soda in the garage fridge and it never freezes. But it used to kind of sometimes freeze at my last house, but it never does at this house.

TM: What a delightful surprise.

RS: It was delightful. But I’ll tell you, just even cutting in an access panel is a messy job. And then I got to run the electrical up through there and do all this other stuff and you’re working in insulation, it’s a pain in the butt. And I put a lot of the lights up. I didn’t think I was gonna finish the whole project in one day, but I did a lot of it. And I watched all these YouTube videos beforehand on how to put this system in and how to get around the soffits and all that. And I had to order a bunch of parts. I ordered a battery operated heat gun so I could do heat shrink tubing while standing on a ladder. Yeah all kinds of stuff, ’cause I wanted to cut the stuff so it looked really nice and kind of run extra wires so you wouldn’t have lights in places where they don’t belong. And so I went all out on this.

TM: Wow.

RS: And the one thing that didn’t come in time was this 30 foot extension wire to get from the garage space to the upper portion of the house. That’s a pretty long run. So I ordered this wire…

TM: There was a jump, you didn’t want lights connecting the jump…

RS: Exactly. Yeah. You got a big jump that you don’t want lights connecting. Exactly. So I was waiting for this wire and I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the whole project, but I figured I’ll get most of it installed. So I couldn’t connect the upper portion. Because I couldn’t connect it I also couldn’t verify that it was working properly, but I just thought, I know what I’m doing. I’m gonna follow the same process. So got probably about half of the lights installed at the upper portion of the house. I couldn’t get them all done because I’ve got a 28 foot extension ladder but to get some of the peaks, I thought I should be able to lay on my stomach on the roof and get there. While I’m up there. I was like, “No, this is totally unsafe. I ain’t laying on my stomach and reaching over the edge of the soffit.

TM: Oh my God.

RS: I’m gonna come down the easy way if I do that.” So I ended up renting a 36 foot extension ladder. And Tessa, that is a monster. Oh my goodness. I had to have my wife and my son out there helping me hold that thing to get it set up. And then I backed my lawn, I got a riding lawnmower. I backed that thing up into it just to keep it in place. It was such a pain in the butt. But I got all the lights put up, I did all the work and it was scary. It’s like you’re up there in the air. And then when I went back to my 28 foot extension ladder, that thing felt like a little toy.


RS: It was like, “people complain about using this is a little toy ladder. This is nothing compared to a 36 footer.”

TM: For a 36 foot though. There’s no way you can do that by yourself, right? 

RS: You can’t. No, you can’t. I think the limit for one person, I think the OSHA limit or whatever is, is 28 feet.

TM: 28.

RS: I think once you go up to a 32 footer, you need to have two people.

TM: Yeah. It’s a team.

RS: But got a lot of them put up and I ended up running this extension cable to get the upper portion wired. And it didn’t work. It was like three lights just kind of flickered.

TM: Oh no.

RS: And I tried everything in my power, could not get it to work. I sent my wife to the store. I had her buy some very expensive 14/2 UF cable electrical wire. I thought the stuff I’m using is too small a gauge. It’s not gonna bring enough current up there. That wasn’t it, that didn’t do it. I took down the old wiring and put up new wiring that didn’t fix it. And finally figured out that if you’re installing permanent LED lights, if you cut the strand, if you cut it at light number three, you need to install light number four on the string immediately afterward. You can’t jump to light number five, because they all have their individual IP addresses or whatever it is, and they cannot go out of order. So I basically mangled half of my set and I had to take them all down at the upper portion.


TM: Oh no.

RS: Yeah. It was super frustrating. And I still had some that I hadn’t gotten to yet. So I put a bunch back up. But to finish the project, I can’t make that jump. It’s not gonna work. So to finish the project, I need to order a new light set, which I’ve done and the ETA is January 8th. So.


TM: So what you’re saying was this was a very DIY project. Anyone could handle it.

RS: Oh my gosh. Except for me.

TM: And its a maintenance starter type of stuff.

RS: Yeah. This should be so simple.

TM: Simple.

RS: And I totally failed. And so I’ve got lights on my garage that work and I’ve got nothing else right now.

TM: Oh my God.

RS: And when it does come, I’m not gonna put them up ’cause it’s gonna be too cold.

TM: I know. Well, and there’s gonna be snow and ice and good luck getting that 36 foot ladder set up in that in the winter.

RS: Well I did get that part done and that part, I didn’t cut those strings. Thankfully those strings are all in one piece, so I don’t have to redo that. I’m thankful for that.

TM: Thank you for being the Guinea pig on this Reuben. I will never install permanent LED lights on a house ever.


TM: I’m hiring that out. I can’t believe you are like PhD level home inspector Mr. DIY where simple wiring job where I have to cut an attic access is no big deal. It’s just like a little bonus to adding these Christmas lights. A project like that alone, I’d be like, “No, thank you. No.”

RS: I am not PhD level. If I was, I would’ve got it done. I am very amateur.

TM: So now you know something very important about those lights that will hopefully help save other people headaches in situations like yours. Since supposed out there.

RS: Yeah. I’ll share a victory story with you maybe sometime in the spring when it’s actually completed. We’ll return to this. But sorry, I’m taking up like half of our podcast was sharing my story of failure.

TM: Thank you for sharing that story. You made us all feel a little bit better because you are superhuman and you can do anything But it sounds like these LED lights were just little too much.

RS: They kicked my butt. Yep. Should’ve thought through it, but okay. All right. Enough about my boring light story. Tessa. All right. Today’s show, I wanna talk about basement waterproofing companies and moisture meters. And what makes me think about this is that one of our inspectors, at the end of all of our inspections, we’re all like, “Hey, if you got any problems with anything? Give us a call. You got con we got a service provider list, whatever. We’re here for the life of your house. We are your consultants.” So this one client of ours had hired a basement waterproofing company to come out, and I hate to say this, but they’re a company that we used to have on our service provider list. They were on our service provider list. I added them on there like a decade ago. And we have since taken them off.

RS: We took them off a couple of years ago ’cause they were doing some shady stuff and we heard some bad reports and we were no longer impressed by these guys. So they’re no longer on our list. But they… Our client somehow ended up contacting the same company just by coincidence, their salesperson came out and there was no signs of water really. There was one wall that might’ve had some stains or a crack or something. And the guy takes this $50 wood moisture meter from Home Depot. It’s a scanning moisture meter and he puts it up against the concrete wall. And Tessa, let me pause here. You cannot use a wood moisture meter on concrete. If you do, it will peg your moisture meter. That’s it.

TM: It’s gonna tell you… Yeah.

RS: It’ll tell you it’s wet. Yeah. Wood moisture meters are not meant to be used on concrete. There is such a thing as a concrete moisture meter. Tramex makes one and they sell for about $600 or more depending on which one you buy. And they’ll tell you the moisture content of the concrete for three quarters of an inch depth. And they’re useful if you’re gonna install flooring. You wanna make sure that your flooring isn’t gonna absorb a bunch of water. They wanna, it’s useful to make sure that the concrete is properly cured.

TM: Okay.

RS: But that’s it. If you’re a home inspector, you don’t use one of these things to try to figure out if you’re gonna have water coming into the basement. And I’m bringing this up too and elaborating on this because I teach that water intrusion class to home inspectors all over the country. And for a big part of the class I’m talking about moisture meters and how to use them and all these tips and tricks. And there’s always someone in the class who raises their hand and says, “What about using on basement foundation walls and all these other places in the basement to figure out if you got a wet concrete block wall.” And, you can’t. My answer is no. Don’t go near a concrete with this thing ’cause you’re not gonna get anything useful. It’s gonna tell you the wall’s wet and then what’s somebody supposed to do with that. So don’t use a moisture meter on concrete if there’s any home inspectors listening to this episode. For any homeowners, if you’ve got a contractor coming out to your house using a moisture meter on concrete, I’ll give you two possibilities.

RS: Number one, they’re incompetent. They don’t know what they’re doing. Number two, they’re pulling a scam. They do know what they’re doing because every concrete block wall they have ever used this thing on has pegged their moisture meter. So they do know what they’re doing and they’re just pulling a scam. They’re trying to sell you a drain tile system and a sump basket. Can you think of any other possibility Tessa? 

TM: Nope. I think you covered it. Preach it Reuben. Preach it.


RS: Okay. All right. Well this just made me mad. And it just cements the fact why this company is no longer on our service provider list. This is a despicable practice. And it got me thinking more about basement waterproofing companies. When we do home inspections, water in the basement is a huge thing that we’re looking for. If it’s unfinished, it’s not gonna be that big of a deal. If you got some water leaking in. We talked about this a lot and a lot of our recent episodes with home inspectors from other parts of the country. But if you’ve got a finished basement, Oh, what can happen when you get water leaking into a finished basement Tessa? 

TM: Mold.


RS: Yeah.

TM: Yeah. Indoor air quality problems, health problems. Yeah. Nobody wants a wet sheet rock or wet insulation or moldy carpet.

RS: Yeah. It’s really bad news. So, we’re looking for that during our home inspections. And where do all of these problems start, Tessa? 

TM: Usually at the exterior somewhere.

RS: Yes. Yeah. What percentage would you guess are related to exterior water management? 

TM: Like 99% probably.


RS: You probably went even higher than I would say, but I mean yeah. Whatever it is, it’s really high.

TM: You’ll have some basements that I’m sure have maybe some mold growth or whatever because of condensation from high indoor humidity levels and… But a lot of times what you see is just, yeah, evidence of moisture moving through that foundation from the exterior.

RS: Yeah. Exactly. So, I really got to thinking about this, about this guy using a moisture meter. And I started thinking about what good companies do. And I realized there’s kind of a hole in the basement waterproofing industry. There’s a service that needs to be filled because when you contact a basement waterproofing company, they basically have one tool. If you got basement water problems, they got one tool and it’s installed drain tile. It’s a huge deal. It means that they’re gonna break up the concrete floor in your basement all around the perimeter, depending on the company. Now if you contact a good company and you’ve got a basement problem in one corner of the basement, or a water problem in one corner of the basement, they might address that one corner. They might put drain tile along two walls.

RS: You contact an unscrupulous company and they’re gonna say, “we need to drain tile your whole house.” And they’re gonna wanna go through all these finished areas, pull the carpet back and cut up the walls, cut up the basement floor, dig down a whole bunch of dirt and all that stuff and then put in drain tile. And there’s two ways they do it. And I was just having conversation with the guys over at standard Water, a great company that we recommend. And they’re saying most companies are gonna just dig a tiny little four inch cut and they’ll dig out a little bit and they’ll put the drain tile in and they’ll pour concrete right over the top of it. What they do is they do a one foot cut and they go way down below and they put the drain tile next to the footing, not on top of it, but next to it. They go all the way down to the bottom, which is a much better way of doing it. But I’m on a tangent now. What I’m getting at here it’s an invasive process to install drain tile. It costs a ton of money, and then this stuff is gonna direct all that water to a sump basket, this pit in the floor of your basement.

RS: And then they’ll install a pump and it’s gonna take the water out of that pit and it’s gonna pump it to the exterior of the home. And that’s how we make sure that you don’t get any water coming into your basement. So you contact a basement waterproofing company. They’ve got one tool, one trick. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This is their solution, we’ll install drain tile. While I just asked you what percentage of basement water problems are caused by outside water management? You said 99%. If you contact a basement waterproofing company, they don’t install gutters, they don’t install down spot extensions, they don’t regrade your landscaping, they don’t sandjack or mudjack your concrete patio that’s sloping towards the house. They don’t do any of this stuff. I think there’s a huge hole in the industry.

TM: I’m so glad you’re bringing this up, Ruben, because there’s so many houses I’ve been to and homeowners that I’ve talked to that have had problems with water in their basement. And it’s not necessarily like a lot of bulk water coming in or water coming through a crack or a little river flowing through. It’s slow seepage through the actual concrete foundation. And there’s efflorescence or there’s some staining. And like you said, I know that if they contact a basement and waterproofing company that they’re just gonna wanna install drain tile and the drain tile doesn’t address those issues of the slow seepage or just the capillary action of the moisture moving through the foundation. You’re still gonna have efflorescence even if you install drain tile, if you’ve got a foundation that doesn’t have exterior waterproofing or you’ve got poor water management like you’re talking about on the exterior.

TM: So what do you recommend for all of those people that don’t fit into that category of having bulk water problems in their basement? Who do they call? And there is a need for that service, like you said, who can do all of these things together? Because right now those trades are separated. You have to call a contractor who can do the gutters and a landscaper to do the grading, and someone who does sandjacking and mudjacking to fix the sidewalk or concrete patio. And it’s complicated and it’s confusing and I think most people out there think if I’ve got some moisture on my foundation wall or a little bit of evidence of water coming through that drain tile is the solution, and that’s what they’re being told ’cause that’s the companies that they’re talking to.

RS: Yes.

TM: It, it’s a huge misconception and people are spending thousands of dollars installing these systems that won’t necessarily fix the problem that they’re experiencing.

RS: Yep. That’s exactly it. And this is not an assassination of basement waterproofing companies. I mean, well it is for the company that I started this podcast with. They’re dirty [laughter], but there are good ones like Standard Water, the company that we refer. They definitely, they start their inspections by looking at the outside and they say, anytime someone’s got bad grading, they got short down spot extensions. Any of the stuff on the outside. They refuse to even give them a quote.

TM: Really? 

RS: They will not quote those jobs.

TM: Wow.

RS: And they said there’s a ton of jobs they go out to and they don’t give people quotes because they know it’s unscrupulous. So that’s part of the reason I love referring those guys is ’cause they’re not gonna sell somebody something they don’t need. But I still just think it’s unfortunate that you can’t have a one-stop shop. Someone’s gonna take care of all of it. And it makes me think of Structure Tech, like how we used to be the company, we do a home inspection and then we’d say, “oh, call these guys for a sewer inspection, call these guys for a chimney inspection.” It’s like we’d refer all these other people out. How much easier did it become for our clients when they could just call us and we’d get everything done in one shot? And that’s why I see the home inspection profession moving, and I’d really love it, if the basement waterproofing companies would move in that direction where it’s not a basement waterproofing company, it’s a wet basement solutions company.

TM: Yes. I love that. Make it happen.

RS: Yeah. Listeners there’s a need out there, if you’d like to start one in Minnesota start with the Twin Cities, please. I’d love that.

TM: And actually are all these drain tile systems too, are they all gonna be the same where it’s going to be sealed concrete over top of where they’ve installed the actual perforated tile? Or have you seen systems where they do like a dimple mat and put plastic over it and there’s a channel that’s cut in where the floor meets the wall where the water can drain down into the drain tile and that’s an open crack then. ‘Cause, I’m asking that because I’ve seen that I think in some situations, and then it creates more problems for if you ever need to deal with a radon issue in getting a mitigation system installed too.

RS: Yeah. That used to be the standard in Minnesota where they do the dimpled mat or they do some cot at the foundation where, or at the basement floor where it meets the foundation wall, they’d have some pathway for water on the concrete to get down in there.

TM: Drain down.

RS: But then once Minnesota changed our building codes this happened in summer of 2009, they said, “you can’t do that anymore.” Any of these penetrations need to be sealed up. So for the last 14 years or so, you can’t do it that way. So anytime you see it, it should be an older installation.

TM: Should be keyword. Okay.

RS: So should be.

TM: Yeah. Good to know. Well, thanks for bringing this up because I think this is a common problem. We see wet basements or moldy basements in a lot of houses and it’s not always an easy solution of just contacting a waterproofing company to fix it.

RS: Yeah. That’ll do it, you contact a basement waterproofing company, a lot of them, they will guarantee their work and some of them might put a drainage mat going all the way up the wall and they’ll seal it at the top. That can be done and that’ll guarantee, you’re not gonna have any basement water but you pay through the nose for this. So all that to say, there’s a lot of the time, there’s easier ways of getting it done. But you just…

TM: The best solution is just to, I wish we had a more cost effective, easy way or contractors who could install waterproofing on the exterior of the foundation where it should be at in the first place. Not trying to stop the water once it’s gotten into the house, but preventing it from getting in in the first place. And that’s what we need.

RS: Yep. Well, I know we’re doing this podcast at the wrong time of the year. We’re coming into the the dead of winter right now and we’re talking about basement water intrusion. But you know what? Too bad it’s on my mind. [laughter] I had to talk about it while I’m still whipped up about it. We’ll probably re-Air this podcast in the spring when everybody’s dealing with wet basement issues.

TM: For sure. I was just thinking just to close the loop on that, what I just said, I know that Building America, it’s a research program funded through Department of Energy was funding some research on excavation list foundation waterproofing methods where it doesn’t involve like getting a backhoe and digging up all the dirt, to then install some sort of waterproofing and insulation on the exterior. The reason I know this is ’cause I was helping out with some of that research years ago and it was fascinating kind of the how they did it and how we did it. And it was basically their utility trucks out there that can use high pressure water to cut slivers of dirt out to install their utilities. And you can do it when the ground is frozen. Actually, that’s a good time to do it. And so instead of digging out a bunch of dirt, you literally can just with almost laser precision, cut out a slice of dirt around the foundation of the house. And then we worked with a spray foam company to create this new spray foam chemical that would adhere to the foundation and waterproof it and insulate it.

RS: I think I remember reading about that and to get all that dirt away. It’s like they use the high pressure water and then they’ve also got a gigantic vacuum. And they’re basically sucking mud, what has now been turned into mud out from the sides of the house. I would love to own one of those tools. It looks like a lot of fun [laughter], doesn’t it? 

TM: You could do some damage with that. Yeah.

RS: You could do some damage.

TM: I know. But I think, just think about the millions of houses we have in this country that have foundations that don’t have waterproofing or insulation on the exterior and that’s really the best location for it. So, there’s just such a need for something like that. But as far as I know, it’s there after the research stage, there wasn’t any company that was developed to be able to do this. It never made it.

RS: Yeah, it sounds like costly equipment.

TM: Costly equipment and, yeah. So stay tuned, I don’t know, maybe there is something out there like that if anyone’s listening and who knows a company that can do something like that, hit us up.

RS: Or if you know of a company in your area. Well, especially in the Twin Cities who is a one-stop solution where they take care of all of this. I’d love an introduction. ‘Cause I’m not aware of any.

TM: Yes, please. How do they reach us, Reuben? What’s our contact information? 

RS: Oh, great point, Tessa. You can email us. Please email us

TM: Perfect. We love hearing from you. Yeah.

RS: We love hearing from you. Agreed. All right, well I think that wraps up our show today, Tessa.

TM: I think so. Thanks for bringing this up, Ruben. This was was fun I’m sorry about your Christmas light experience.

RS: Thank you.

TM: But man, you get an A plus plus for effort on that [laughter]

RS: I tried. I get the you tried Bart Simpson cake. [laughter] Alright.

TM: Awesome.

RS: Well we will catch you next week. Take care.

TM: Alright, thank you for listening. Bye.