Fargo's newest basement repair firm wants to get to the bottom of your home's moisture problems
Zach Scott is a former MSUM wrestler who now wants to help homeowners pin their leaky basements and moisture problems to the mat.
FARGO — Most first-time home buyers would have walked into the basement of the 1906 home, taken one look at the large cracks spreading across the walls and the floor and walked right back out.
Zach Scott had no such qualms when he toured the mission-style bungalow along University Drive last year. He knew exactly how to fix it, so he bought the home.
“I could see it would be scary for anyone else but for me, it was an opportunity,” he says.
After several years working in basement repair and waterproofing for other companies, Scott, along with business partner Cameron Phrakonekham, launched a new business, Custom Basement Solutions, last fall.
Scott says the partners want to be able to offer a more affordable option for the many homes in the area whose basements have suffered from melting snow, the freeze-thaw cycle, poor or aging construction or our area’s volatile clay soils.
And, despite his young age — Scott graduated from college three years ago — he believes in an old-school approach to keeping foundations stable and basements dry. He’s seen an industry-wide trend toward newer waterproofing products, which are easier and cheaper to install but which he believes aren’t offering the level of water protection that an older, more intensive waterproofing process can provide.
“The new age waterproofing — they do it because it’s quicker and easier, so they can go through jobs really fast, and that’s not necessarily the way you fix someone’s home,” Scott says, standing in the midst of his own basement’s repair project.
For the past few months, the partners have been chasing leads and lining up customers for spring. Scott says they’ll be starting their first jobs in several weeks.
In the meantime, he has fixed his own basement by installing an adjustable I-beam system to gradually ease the bowed walls back into their original position. He has also dug out the old concrete around the perimeter of the basement so he can replace a new interior drainage system, which will divert any extra water toward the sump pumps.
Cellar, beware: Slippery clay ahead
He plans to use the same techniques to help repair and waterproof his customer’s basements. Scott says basement problems are very common in the Fargo-Moorhead area, due to factors like record-setting snowfall, the freeze-thaw cycle, construction issues and — maybe most significant of all — the area’s notoriously volatile clay soils.
The dramatic extent to which the Red River Valley’s clay soils swell or shrink when wet or dry, coupled with its poor drainage characteristics, makes basements here a prime target for shifting, cracking and flood damage, according to a 2003 publication by regional geologists at NDSU.
Scott says another factor is hydrostatic pressure, which is the force that water pressure exerts on basement walls. Hydrostatic pressure may occur in homes where water pools around the perimeter of the structure, especially after a rainstorm or during the snowmelt season.
Because clay soils can absorb enormous amounts of water, a home built on saturated clay soils will experience intense hydrostatic pressure.
Over time, that pressure can compromise the supports holding up walls and floors. Moisture can sink into the foundation, which can destabilize the structure that rests on it and cause the foundation to sink.
In the long run, a leaking basement can lead to severe mold problems, bowing walls or even gaps between the basement walls and the rest of your home. A 2016 National Association of Realtors study showed that homes with a leaking basement lost 30% more value than those without one over five years.
“It makes me wonder why there are so many basements around here,” Scott says.
From wrestling to waterproofing
With the realization of how seriously water can impact our homes, Scott was more than ready to strike out on his own.
A native of Holdingford, Minneesota near St. Cloud, Scott hailed from a family of wrestlers. He started wrestling in kindergarten and proceeded to wrestle all 12 years in school. During his junior year, Scott got a job working in the concrete business, where he continued working part time for five years.
Even for a guy who was accustomed to "the grind" of wrestling, concrete work was tough. "I didn't like it at first, but it was good money, hard work and I met a lot of good people,” he says. “It did seem to fit what I wanted to do.”
Scott also received a wrestling scholarship to Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he successfully competed throughout his college career and was team captain. He graduated with a history degree in 2020.
After college, Scott began working for American Waterworks, where he became a foreman after seven or eight months. He stayed there for a couple of years, during which time he learned the ins and outs of basement repair.
Scott and Phrakonekham, another foreman, decided to branch off on their own when they saw the potential for growth. “I saw a lot of opportunity to leave and do my own thing with it,” he says.
Concerned about new 'shortcut' basement repairs
The business partners have been especially concerned about an industry-wide trend toward a new generation of "overflow" waterproofing products, which are being embraced by more basement professionals because they are easier and faster to install — and therefore more profitable.
These new products involve installing loose stone and then a gutter-like drainage on top of the footing, which means the overflow system kicks in only when the water reaches floor level. When concrete is laid down to cover this new system, which is located several inches higher than a traditional waterproofing system, it creates only one-and-a-half inces of concrete flooring over the waterproofing system. This makes the floor more prone to buckling and structural failure overall, Scott says.
Traditional systems are harder to install and involve digging down to the base of the footing — as much as seven or eight inches below the floor — to install loose rock to expedite drainage, along with an indoor drainage system, which funnels all excess water toward the sump pump. This means it begins catching water long before it reaches the floor level, thus sparing the footings, structures and overall foundation from sitting in water, Scott says.
“So what we’re going to do is stick with the old school method, put it down beneath the floor, next to the footing, so it will keep the water table down, not touching your floor,” he adds.
Custom Basement Solutions also offers other internal water management solutions, such as wall-bracing services. Customers can opt for a brace which ensures the wall won’t move any farther and will stay in its current position or an adjustable I-beam system, which makes it possible to move the wall back to its original position over an extended period of time.
Depending on what services are needed, Custom Basement Solutions will charge per linear foot for its services. As an example, a basement which is 120 linear feet would cost $7,000 to dig out the concrete and old drainage system and replace it with their waterproofing system. Smaller sections, such as a single room, could start at $1,200.
Regardless of what service they are offering, Scott doesn’t anticipate they’ll lack for work. Already, they've received numerous calls just through word of mouth referrals.
When they were at American Waterworks, Scott says “there would be a four months backlog of work, there was that much demand. And every year, there would be that many new homes that needed it too.
"That’s one of the attractive things about Cameron and me coming into this business. We knew there would be work. And we wanted to help people.”
Contact Custom Basement Solutions by calling 701-347-1546 or emailing email@example.com.