How to keep the Basement Dry

how-to-keep-the-basement-dryNo one wants to come home to a flooded basement: family heirlooms, old vacation photos, workout equipment, theatre system all ruined. Fact is, this becomes the reality of many families every single year especially during the spring months of increased rain. There are a few different things that can be done to avoid this tragic disaster.

Sanitary and Storm Sewers
First it helps to have some sort of knowledge on the type of sewer system that are in your neighborhood. Most cities have two different types of sewers. There are sanitary sewers, storm sewers and combined sewers. Sanitary sewers carry waste from sinks, toilets and other bathroom fixtures. Storm sewers collect rain and surface water and transport it to local bodies of water. Combined systems is a combination of storm and sanitary sewers. They are connected either under your house or in the street.

The two systems keep from wasting money treating street water, and keep the treatment plants from being flooded. The city of Milwaukee has a deep tunnel system that fills up to keep from having sewage overflow into bodies of water.

Your house is connected to the sewer system through us of a floor drain or plumbing fixtures in your basement. Waste is carried out of the house and into pipes leading to the sewage treatment plant. The waste is moved either downhill by gravity, or by using a pump. If you have a sump pump in your house it should be rerouted to to the storm sewer.

Drain Tile Systems
Homes that have drain tile systems have components that collect and remove water from around the foundation of your house. Exterior drain tiles are on or above the footings of the house. The tiles are covered with two or more feet of gravel. Older homes have concrete tiles,and newer homes have plastic pipes. Interior drain tiles absorb the water from exterior drain tiles through bleeders placed in the footings. The interior drain tiles then route the water to either a sump pump or a palmer valve. In order to keep water out of the rest of the basement a thin layer of tar or water proofing material is applied to the outside of the foundation, and block basement walls are coated with a thin layer of concrete on the outside under the water proofing material.

Palmer Valves- Drain tile systems in homes built in 1920’s to the 1950’s were often connected to the basement floor drain through a one way valve called a Palmer Valve. However many cities require that the valve be removed because it drains storm water into the sewage often causing overflowing systems. As a home owner you should check to make sire that the valve opens freely.

Sump Pump- Drain tile systems in homes build after 1950’s have a sump pump that removes the storm water and pumps it to an underground storm sewer line.

Septic Systems and Basement Drainage- A septic system is basically a personal sewage treatment system, and are only located in rural areas. The drainage is the same, but it goes to a septic tank for treatment instead of a city sewage treatment facility. With a septic system the sewage drains from a different location so the house may have an additional pump. There usually are not storm sewers. All storm water is routed to the surface where they generally drain into ditches.

How Sewage Backs Up Into Your Basement

If the sewage system backs up it could cause sewage in your basement. The blockage of the system could be caused by a blocked pipe, a blocked pipe in the street, and/or the combined system is backed up or overflowing.

If the sanitary system or combined system become backed up sewage can get into your home through floor drains or any plumbing fixture.If it is an issue that occurs in all of the houses of a neighborhood, it is due to either a blockage of a major sewer line or the line has more flow than it can handle. For example in an instance of heavy rain the system may not be able to handle the sudden increase in flow. There is not much that can be done to prevent instances of neighborhood sewage backup, but to work with your city to make sure problems are fixed in a timely manner.

How Rainwater Backs Up Into Your Basement
If your home has poor surface drainage, gutter or downspout problems, rainwater can easily enter your basement. Drainage systems are not designed to hold excess amounts of surface water so if water pools around the foundation of your home it can get into your basement.

Water from the Sump Pump- If you live in a home with a sump pump, you can experience flooding if the power goes out. The discharge is blocked so the flow becomes too great and the pump malfunctions. The storm water can fill and overflow the sump pump crock, run down the floor drain and possibly flood your basement.

Water From The Walls, Window Wells, Cracks, And Floors-Water can leak into your basement due to poor surface grading, problems with gutters, or downspouts, and/or sump pump discharges. Leaks can also be caused as a result of problems with the palmer valve, drain tile, storm sewer line, or window wells.

Avoiding and Correcting Problems
1. Keep gutters and downspouts clean, and direct the water flow away from the basement preferably 6 feet from the foundation.
2. Grade soft surfaces.
3. Grade hard surfaces.
4. Grade the soil around window wells to direct water away.
5. Check the Palmer Valve.
6. Check the Sump Pump.
7. Look for gaps and cracks in joints.
8. Check for cracks in poured concrete walls or block walls.
9. Check problems with underground storm drain lines.
10. Investigate underground water supply lines.
11. Investigate all homeowner installed underground drain lines.
12. Watch for roots in the Sump Pump crock.
13. Fix / level concrete that pitches towards your home through mudjacking.

Before Doing Major Repair, Test Drain Tiles
If you have continued seepage it could indicate damage. However before ever starting a major repair first evaluate the interior and exterior drain tiles. This test costs approximately $400.

An interior drain test requires cutting holes into the basement floor to expose interior drain tiles and bleeders in several areas so they can be inspected for debris and water flow. Exterior drain tiles are tested with a “water spud” which is a small pipe that looks like a tree root fertilizer tool. The pipe is inserted into the ground next to the foundation and water is forced into the ground through the pipe, and the flow is traced. If the flow is obstructed water will appear on the basement walls and floor.

Knowing When You Need An Expert
If you have continual leakage even after maintenance, then you should have your basement evaluated by an expert. You also need an expert if you discover leaking wall and/ or floor cracks. Find an expert who is not associated with a repair company, to avoid the danger of paying for unnecessary costly repairs. When choosing a contractor remember to take your time and check references.

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