The Constant Problem of Wet Basements

Water can be sneaky, especially when it comes to basements. You walk down to your basement and see evidence of moisture: condensation on the walls, peeling paint, tiles lifting off the floor or a white hued deposit on the walls that’s called efflorescence.

Negative Grading of soil

All basements simply want to fill with water. Our common clay soil is like plastic and holds and expands when water is present. It can swell like a dry sponge and crack and crush walls with ease.

You cannot easily find the leak. So what are you supposed to do? The problem has to be dealt with before the leak goes from a nuisance to a major problem that requires expensive cleanup or repairs.

First, know that you are not alone. The Des Plaines, Illinois-based American Society of Home Inspectors estimates 60 percent of U.S. homes have wet basements, and 38 percent run the risk of basement mold. All basements want to fill with water because water always seeks the lowest point and often that’s the basement.

So what should you do?

First determine where the water is pooling; this important for cleanup. Standing water can cause much damage and lead to mold growing.  Often finding the water takes some detective work. So check:

  • Under the furnace
  • Under the washer and drier
  • Under shelving or other areas where items are stored.
  • Any other area that is not readily visible. You might pick up what appears to be a dry box only to have the soggy bottom fall off.

Next: Determine where the water is coming from: commonly runoff, or subsurface seepage.

Beware Basement Contractors

Many Basement Contractors neglect to raise the issue of corrective grading and drainage, because if these details are not attended to by the customer and there is a future problem, commonly there is no warranty for lack of correct maintenance. That Lifetime Warranty is worthless.

Consider other options before spending thousands to repair cracked walls and install new drain tile systems and never address the exterior drainage issues that caused all the problems in the first place.

A “wet” wall may not mean there is bad drain tile.

Stained walls are often where the hollow block wall structure fills and holds water. Minute fractures in the exterior mortar allow seepage into the wall and there is no drainage at the bottom foundation footing that the wall stands on. When drain tile is repaired commonly there are thumb sized holes drilled in the block at the base, and a bent piece of corrugated plastic or Shad is installed to direct the seepage into the new drain tile system.

Other issues that can cause wet basements are:

Runoff – Rainwater or melted snow is the most common cause of basement and crawl space moisture. The water goes through topsoil and collects at the compact soil base of the foundation. Pressure forces the water through gaps or cracks in walls and footings.Gutter Leaks Water also moves through porous walls.

Runoff can be problematic. Still, there are things that can be done:

  • Make sure the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house.
  • Look for and patch any cracks in the foundation.
  • Keep gutters clean so they don’t overflow and drop water around the foundation.
  • Use an extension on the gutter drain pipes to direct water away from the foundation.

High groundwater – If your wet-basement symptoms act like runoff but happens all the time, it’s probably high groundwater. This should be dealt with by a professional.

Never had water on the basement floor, my drain tile is fine   -Wrong.

While water trickling on the floor is a common hall mark of failed drain tile system or other issue, by no means does the lack of it mean all is just fine.

Remember the drain tile is an open system, such that a back up in one area can drain out in another open area in the drain tile and never go to the sump crock or Palmer valve to the sewer. Constant staining along the base block all around commonly denotes water being held in the drain tile pipe, not draining, and the dry basement interior draws the moisture through along with the lime salts from the mortar causing the frosty crystals to grow and collect creating efflorescence.

This is a key factor denoting an area where the drain tile pipe have failed, and are clogged up with silt- mud washed down and into the pipe from years of downspouts draining to the foundation and gutters overflowing. 98% of the time this cannot be flushed or cleaned out [beware of those who say it can be, as typically this is a method for getting their foot in the door], and a repair consists of jack-hammering out the floor, and the drain tile system all around the basement floor edge 14″- 16″.

Drain tile testing and wall repair methods and standards can be viewed at wafrp.com.

Basement Leaks -Lower BlockWhen a wall or drain tile system is “Questionable”, we always suggest a professional independent evaluation, and a report written by a independent foundation specialist and/or Professional Engineer (P. E.).

The report should include pictures of each test location showing clearly the results of the exposed conditions plainly, description of conditions observed, repairs and standards to which the repairs are to be made and how.

It might also help to hire a professional, independent building inspector. An inspector can determine the cause of the water and give informed advice on the best solution as well as give a full report on other potential concerns throughout your home.