Basements & Crawl Spaces: How To Eliminate Water in a Basement
As with other aspects of life, home ownership is not void of challenges that can cause an owner to question (even regret) his decision to own a piece of the “great American dream.” We refer to these challenges in broad terms as “leaks and squeaks.” These terms define two of the most widespread and elusive problems associated with a home.
Surprised? Were you expecting asbestos, lead, radon or termites to top the list of “homeowner nightmares?” Not that these are anything to sneeze at, but, when suspected, they can generally be easily detected and dealt with effectively. A leak, on the other hand, is almost always tougher to solve and is a bigger threat to the integrity of your home than all of the others combined.
Aside from being a nuisance, a leak can cause substantial damage to framing, wall and floor finishes, personal property and, as we have recently learned, can be the source of life threatening toxic mold. Consequently, a leak should never be taken for granted and preventive maintenance – caulking, painting, roofing, flashing, etc. — should be performed on a regular basis to avoid such a problem from occurring.
A basement is particularly vulnerable to leaks due to its location below grade. Water takes the path of least resistance, thus, making its way into a basement through the walls and floor.
A basement is a lot like a boat – in a perfect world the interior should remain dry — but rarely does — and 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 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.
Fortunately, there are several 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 transport 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 a dry basement make. An often-made mistake is for downspouts to discharge at the base of the foundation. This condition can convert a damp basement into a flooded basement. Therefore, all downspouts should discharge into a solid drainpipe that carries water a minimum of ten 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 broadcast water over a vast area. The latter are inefficient and almost always contribute to a wet basement.
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 one half to one 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 may be a candidate for a French Drain. This subsurface water collection system consists of a trench, (typically at least one foot wide and a minimum of three 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 may stave off mild dampness, but is no match for major leaks.
More drastic measures of controlling a wet basement involve the installation of a water collection system – much like the French Drain discussed earlier — along the inside perimeter of the basement. A narrow section (about twelve inches) of concrete is removed and rock and perforated drainpipe is installed. The drainpipe empties into a sump pit and is then pumped up into the sewer or out the foundation wall and into a drainage system.
If you have a basement chances are good that you have a sump pump. However, having a sump pump doesn’t guarantee that your basement won’t flood during a major storm. When it comes to sump pumps, 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 activated.
As an added layer of protection we suggest that the sump pump should be on a dedicated electrical circuit and have a battery back up should power be lost. Power is often lost during storms – the time when a sump pump can be needed the most.
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