Wet Basement ? Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Your basement may flood every time it rains, or simply have a constant leak. Maybe your foundation has a large concrete crack in it. However, there are several signs that we like to have our customers look for. The earlier you catch a foundation problem, the easier and more inexpensive it is to fix. That’s where basement waterproofing comes in.
The good news about these unplanned indoor pools is this: while wet basements are often thought of as one of life’s biggest home repair headaches, they are generally easy and inexpensive to fix. Yes, that’s right–easy and inexpensive!
Most people blame a wet basement on a high water table, the natural level of water in the soil under the building site. This is another myth, because homes are not built below water tables. Builders attempting such a feat would find themselves constructing a foundation in a muddy mess. Likewise, basements that flood after a storm are never caused by rising water tables. A water table moves slowly and seasonally. If basement leaks show up after a heavy rainfall or snow melt, the cause of your problem is far easier to spot and to fix.
Most basement leaks can be traced to trouble with the drainage conditions around the outside of the house. If too much water is allowed to collect in the soil around the foundation, it will naturally leak into the basement through the walls, or even up through the center of the floor.
The waterproofing solution lies in improving these drainage conditions, which is easy, cheap and highly effective. Here’s where to begin…
Good gutters. Roof drainage is, by far, the number one cause of basement leakage. Since roof surfaces are as large as the house, they collect lots of water in heavy rainstorms. What happens to that collected water can mean the difference between a wet and a dry basement. Are your Gutters working properly?
Properly designed gutters should have at least one downspout for every 600 to 800 square feet of roof surface. Gutters must be clean, because dirty gutters fill up and the water overflows directly to where you don’t want it: near the foundation. It’s also important to make sure the ends of the downspouts are extended to discharge at least four to six feet from the foundation. Spouts which discharge too close to the foundation are like big fire hoses blasting water into the basement.
If your yard and local building laws permit, one of the best ways to control roof drainage is to discharge downspouts into solid PVC plumbing pipes that run underground and release water to the street or to another low-lying area. When making this improvement, be sure to pitch the pipe slightly toward the discharge point to avoid backups. Also, don’t attempt this with the soft, flexible black pipe that landscapers like to use around flower beds, because it’s easily crushed and cannot be snaked clean like PVC plumbing pipe can.
Sloping soil. Next to gutter problems, the angle of the soil around the foundation perimeter can also cause wet basement woes. The soil should slope away from the house to keep rainfall from collecting against foundation walls.
The angle and type of soil are also important. The soil should slope downward six inches over the first four feet from the foundation wall. Thereafter, it can be graded more gradually but should never allow water to run back toward the house.
If grading needs improvement, use clean fill dirt (not topsoil) to build up the soil around your house. Tamp the soil down to the correct slope and finish with a layer of topsoil and grass seed to prevent erosion. Or, just use stone or mulch. Whatever the top layer is, be certain the slope is established with the fill dirt, or else the water will just run through the more porous material and into the basement. Also, don’t use straight topsoil for the grading improvement. This kind of soil is too organic and will hold water against the foundation. This is the opposite of what needs to be done.
It is also important to avoid landscape treatments that hold soil close to the house. A brick, stone or timber landscape edging around flower beds adjacent to foundation walls may look attractive. These edges can prevent water from draining away from the foundation and increase your risk of basement flooding.
Following these simple guidelines will solve 99 percent of wet basement blues. These waterproofing improvements are inexpensive and can usually be done yourself or with a little help from your friends.
Whether you are a buyer, seller or owner of a home, wet basements are always a concern. Not only is a wet basement unusable. Flooded foundations can be seriously weakened and toxic mold–the newest threat to residential indoor air quality–can fester faster when an ample supply of water lies just underfoot.