Solving Basement Water Problems
By Monte Burch
From East to West, North to South, flooding has been a major problem across much of the United States. You can’t do much about major catastrophic floods, but you can solve many basement flooding or dampness problems. First, determine if the moisture is simply dampness caused by condensation or if water is seeping inward. Some problems are a simple fix, others require major work. In examining the problem, look for sources of water, water containment and water drainage.
To check for condensation, use duct tape to fasten a piece of aluminum foil to the basement wall that typically has dampness. Make sure the foil is taped solidly in place around all four edges. Wait a couple of days and then check the foil for moisture. If moisture is present on the outside of the foil, the problem is condensation and installing a dehumidifier will do the trick. If moisture is on the inside of the foil facing the wall, then seepage is the problem.
If you only have water in your basement after heavy rains or snow melts, the most common source of water intrusion is at the crack between the basement walls and floor, although cracks in the floor can also be a source—as can cracks in the walls, or around openings for pipes. When an excess of water builds up against the basement foundation, hydrostatic pressure forces the water into the basement. In this case, the first step is to eliminate the source. Two common problems create excess water around the basement foundation—faulty guttering (or no guttering) and poor ground slope around the building.
Gutters are Key
Check the guttering and repair, replace or install gutters where needed. If the building has trees hanging over the roof where leaves and twigs can collect in the gutter, use gutter guards to keep out debris. And, keep the gutters clean. You might wish to check into Rainhandler (www.rainhandler.com), a self-cleaning gutter system that eliminates clogged, over-flowing gutters and downspouts. For more information on gutter repair installations, check out the free online articles at www.extremehowto.com.
Effective downspouts are also important. Another product, called The SpoutOff, makes it easy to clean one-, two- and even three-story downspouts from the ground (www.thespoutoff.com). Concrete, plastic or even wooden splash blocks should be installed at the bottoms of downspouts at a slope of one inch per foot to direct water away from the foundation. In areas with flatter grades, the downspouts should ideally discharge rain water eight feet from the foundation. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Some systems utilize above-ground dispersal, others in-ground. The latter are the least obtrusive, but the most expensive. One alternative that is regaining popularity these days is the old-fashioned rain barrel. With everyone going “green,” collecting rooftop rain for gardening and other watering chores has become popular.
Get a Good Grade
The second most common problem is a poor grade. Ideally, the lawn or grade should slope away from the house, as should any attachments, such as concrete patios, walkways, and so forth. The slope should be about one inch per foot on lawns, with the slope extending at least 10 feet from the building. A common problem with older homes and even some new ones is that the ground settles, allowing the surface to slope back toward the foundation. Rebuilding the slope is the best answer for serious problems, but can be costly, and the heavy construction equipment may do more damage than good. Keep the lawn well seeded to prevent the soil washing away or back against the building. If grading the slope, the best choice is to sod the area. If a large area of watershed slopes toward the building, you may need to intercept the drainage and redirect it away from the building. This can be done with open ditching that is sodded or seeded with grass or “French drains,” which are basically rock-filled ditches. In some instances, you may need to install drainage tiles with concrete catch basins in low areas.
Other easy-fix problems include trimming dense shrubbery to allow the soil around the foundation to dry quicker. Basement window wells can also cause a problem. Unprotected windows can allow water entry, and window wells can collect water allowing the excess to seep into surrounding areas. Any windows below ground level should be protected with metal or masonry walls or wells. The well bottoms should have at least a foot of coarse gravel to allow for drainage. Clear plastic bubbles installed over the wells can also help. Since 2000, the International Building Code says every basement bedroom or living room must have at least one emergency exit. A number of window well systems are available that not only provides light and ventilation when the window is open, but meets the escape window requirement. Check out www.redi-exit.com for more information about these products.
A waterproofing barrier may be applied to the exterior, interior or both. Typically the exterior is applied upon construction of the building, the interior after water problems have developed. These products vary in effectiveness, depending on the amount of water accumulation, source of accumulation, type of soil, foundation construction and so forth. They are not especially effective on water penetration at the footer or floor and wall joints.
Although some contractors may suggest digging down to the footing level, installing a gravel or tile drain and draining the water away, this can be quite expensive and a great hassle, and can even create possible problems with structural soundness.
One alternative is to use an interior drainage system, along the joint between the walls and floor. One method commonly used is to break up the floor around the basement floor/wall perimeter in about a 12-inch wide band. Then, remove the soil down to the bottom edge of the footing. Install perforated drain tile in a bed of 1-1/2-inch rock. The tile carries the water to a discharge area such as a sump pump or drain pipe, taking the water away from the house. If the walls are hollow block, holes must be drilled in the blocks to allow water to drain out of them as well. At best this is a messy chore, with lots of dust in the house, and you must haul all of the debris out of the basement. This is more commonly a contractor job, and it’s extremely important to hire a reputable contractor. Check their references.
An alternative and a very simple and effective solution is the baseboard system. This system utilizes a hollow plastic baseboard installed around the perimeter of the wall/floor joint. Water that comes in the joint is collected and directed to a floor drain or sump pump. If the walls are concrete block, weep holes are bored at the floor/wall joints. This is quite often also a contractor job, although do-it-yourself kits are also available. Drainaway Waterproofing offers DIY basement waterproofing kits that can be used with block or concrete walls, finished or unfinished basements.
If the leakage is due to wall cracks, or occasional capillary action, a capillary waterproofing compound applied to the interior walls can usually solve the problem. Several products include Drylok, Kilz Masonry Waterproofing Paint and a number of products from Thoroseal and Quikrete. A capillary waterproofing compound, such as UGL’s Drylok, works by capillary action, penetrating the tiny pores in the masonry. It expands as it dries to form a tough, waterproof barrier. These waterproofers are formulated to withstand hydrostatic pressure of 10 psi, which is equivalent to water pressure at a depth of 22 feet (1,440 pounds per square foot). Drylok is available in three formulas: latex base, oil base and powdered. Ordinary paint, although it will adhere to the concrete, is forced off by the water pressure.
Before application of Drylok waterproofing paint, a hydraulic cement, such as Drylok Fast Plug should be used to fill holes and cracks. This fast-setting hydraulic cement patches holes even where water is actively flowing through them. Back-chisel out the area to be patched to the shape of an inverted “V”. This allows the patch to lock into the surface. Wet down the area prior to patching to help the Fast Plug cure properly. Mix only enough patch that can be used in three to five minutes. You can also help seal the floor/wall joint against minor leakage. Clean the area thoroughly, wet down with water and apply Fast Plug to fill any gaps between walls and floor. As with any painting project, surface preparation is the most important step in applying a masonry waterproofer. All old paint must be removed by wire-brushing, sandblasting or by using other suitable means. Drylok is warranted over bare masonry only. Clean the surface thoroughly with a wire brush to remove all loose and broken mortar, dirt, dust and efflorescence (salt deposits) from all surfaces to be painted. Treat efflorescence by washing with a solution of Drylok Etch or muriatic acid, according to the manufacturer’s directions. Rinse thoroughly with water and allow to dry. Apply a coat of Drylok with a stiff bristle brush, working the compound thoroughly into the pores of the masonry. After using the first gallon, measure the area covered. It should be about 75 to 100 square feet. This thick-bodied masonry paint is formulated to provide a waterproof barrier and is not intended to be spread thin like regular paint. Two coats are required to ensure warranted waterproofing. The second coat can be applied by brush or masonry roller. If seepage is still present after several days, apply an additional coat in those areas.
The final step is to install a sump pump to remove excess water from basements. This is often a crucial line of defense against water seepage and flooding. If you’re in an area with severe storms and power outages, consider a battery-powered sump pump. If the primary pump shuts down, the battery power kicks in. When the power comes back on, the battery power stops. Keep the pump maintained. Check it at least once a year, cleaning out debris and cleaning the screen or in-flow area. A sump-pump alarm is also a good idea, especially for finished basements. It detects water in the sump before flooding occurs and gives out an alarm, indicating the pump isn’t working properly.