The water leaking into the White House was causing serious problems during the recent, much publicized, renovations to the Press Briefing Room. Mostly the water just seeped through the walls but sometimes, after a heavy rain, it gushed in. The majority of this ground water infiltration was coming through the original stone foundation in the area where Thomas Jefferson had his wine cellar, Franklin D. Roosevelt had his swimming pool (it's still there) and where he delivered his fireside chats. It's also where Richard Nixon had his two-lane bowling alley. These leaks were bad enough that a sump pump system was installed to divert the water to a drain line. Yes, the leak had a history.
Because excavating around the West Wing of the White House was not an option, there were repeated attempts to stop the water infiltration from inside the structure using internal coatings, cementitious grouts, caulks and other materials. They all failed.
T. Luckey Sons, Inc. (TLS) of Harrison , Ohio was scheduled to be in D.C. to solve the same type problem at the historic St. Regis Hotel . By chance the engineers for each project were discussing their problems and found they had at least one in common, water leaks. The engineer representing the St. Regis suggested the other contact TLS to discuss the White House situation.
We assessed the problem and recommended that an expanding hydrophobic polyurethane grout be used. We explained that it would be injected directly through the foundation walls, all the way to the back side, where it would migrate to fill all voids, force its way into fissures and form a water tight barrier. This approach could be described as “after-the-fact exterior waterproofing” but applied from inside the structure.
Two leaking walls were addressed. They were forty feet long, twelve feet high and, in places, five feet thick. The walls were mostly constructed of stacked, rectangular stone, 4” high, 12” long and 5” wide. When we began to drill we encountered mortar, muck and poured concrete from decades ago. Some of this concrete was also five feet thick.
We used a hammer drill with a six-foot long 5/8” O.D. drill bit to drill all the way through the wall. The drill holes were in a grid pattern on 36” centers to ensure the entire back side of the walls would receive ample polyurethane grout. Injection packers (5/8” X 4” long) were installed into the drilled holes starting at the lowest point. Because hydrophobic polyurethane expands and moves upwards as it reacts, the lowest ports were pumped first. The grout expands up to twenty times its volume as it changes from a liquid state into closed cell foam. Some of the drilled holes above and to their sides were left open (packers not placed in them) to witness evidence of the expanding grout. Other holes were drilled, as necessary, to ensure complete coverage – forming the waterproof barrier behind the wall. When pumping was completed the injectors were removed and the holes were patched with a carbon fiber and dry wall was installed.
The project took ten days to complete. Approximately 500 gallons of polyurethane grout was used. Our five T. Luckey technicians and a representative of the polyurethane grout provider underwent an F.B.I. background check before the project began, and were assigned full-time security the entire time we were there.
TLS has worked all over the United States . We're proud of our track record for solving complex problems. The White House project was a lot of fun. We've worked on a number of military bases, some required security clearance, but nothing like the “personal attention” we received at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue . Our technicians, managers and supplier take great pride as Americans to have been involved with this work.
No, we didn't get to see the President or anyone terribly important, but we were an important part of the team renovating the Press Room. Now whenever I see a press conference there, I'll know for sure the speaker isn't standing in a pool of water.
Oh, the St. Regis work was successful as well.
Randall Brooks, General Superintendent
T. Luckey Sons, Inc.