Water in the basement can cause mold, as pictured, as well as other major problems. (File Photo)
Aside from being a nuisance, a leak can cause substantial damage to framing, wall and floor finishes, and personal property and can be the source of life-threatening toxic mold.
Consequently, a leak never should be taken for granted, and maintenance ... caulking, painting, roofing, flashing, etc., should be performed on a regular basis to prevent such a problem from occurring.
A basement is particularly vulnerable to leaks due to its proximity below grade. Water always takes the path of least resistance, thus, easily making its way “downhill” into a basement through the walls and floor. A basement is a lot like a boat ... although the interior should remain dry...it rarely does.
The most effective means of waterproofing is done from the exterior. The difference is that a boat can be hauled out of the water and repaired.
Waterproofing basement walls from the exterior after the fact is possible, but is generally not practical. It is costly and can require major excavation and removal or disruption of porches, patios, decks, walkways and landscaping.
There are steps that can be taken to help dry out a wet basement without bringing in a backhoe. A dry basement begins with good water management at the exterior. The first and easiest means of water management is also the most overlooked...gutters and downspouts.
The average roof will shed a monumental amount of water...all of which lands at the perimeter of the house and, consequently, in the basement ... unless there are gutters, downspouts and a drainage system that transports water away from the home. If your home doesn’t have gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, keep them clean.
Unfortunately, clean gutters and downspouts do not guarantee a dry basement. A common mistake is to place downspouts where they discharge at the base of the foundation. This condition can convert a damp basement into a flooded one. Therefore, all downspouts should discharge into a solid drainpipe that carries water a minimum of 10 feet from the home. Ideally, the drainpipe should empty into a municipal storm drain or other collection system.
Another means of managing water is to minimize vegetation close to foundation walls. Doing so will reduce the amount of irrigation at this location. Vegetation that remains should be watered with drip irrigation rather than sprinklers that cast water over a vast area.
Still another means of managing water is to ensure that the ground surrounding the house is graded to slope away from the house at a rate of 1/2 inch to 1 inch per foot. Don’t wait for a rainstorm to test watershed and drainage; use a garden hose. Puddles are a sure sign of low spots that should be filled in with soil.
If your lot is terraced, an adjacent lot is higher than your lot or your lot is on a hillside, you might be a candidate for a French drain. This subsurface water-collection system consists of a trench, (typically at least 1 foot wide and a minimum of 3 feet deep), that contains rock and perforated drainpipe. The drainpipe is installed (perforations down) on a thin bed of gravel at the base of the trench. The perforated pipe connects to a solid pipe used to transport water away to a storm drain or other collection source. The design of a French drain should not be arbitrary. Consult a soils engineer for specific design and installation details.
When all attempts to manage water from the exterior have been made and the basement still leaks, it’s time to take action inside. Begin by repairing cracks in concrete or masonry basement walls using hydraulic cement. Applying one or more coats of water-locking masonry paint to the floor and walls might stave off mild dampness, but is no solution for major leaks.
More drastic measures for controlling a wet basement involve the installation of a water collection system...much like the French drain ... along the inside perimeter of the basement. A narrow section (about 12 inches) of concrete is removed and rock and perforated drainpipe is installed. The drainpipe empties into a sump pit and then is pumped up into the sewer or out the foundation wall and into a drainage system.
A sump pump doesn’t guarantee that your basement won’t flood during a major storm. Your best insurance against a major flood is ensuring that the sump and pump are clean and in good working order. Periodically remove the pump from the sump pit and clean the intake ports and filter screen (if one exists). Check for loose connections and rusted screws, and replace as necessary. Remove any debris from the sump pit, reinstall the pump and pour buckets of water into the sump pit until the pump is made active.
As added protection, the sump pump should be on a dedicated electrical circuit and have a battery backup should power be lost. Power often is lost during storms...the time when a sump pump could be most needed.
For more home improvement tips and information, visit onthehouse.com.