Waterproofing Your Basement
Before. Photo courtesy of Basement Systems.

Three years ago, Kathryn Landers awoke to a Mother Nature bashing that left six inches of rainwater soaking her Ohio basement. After watching in angst as pillows floated by, she began the grueling three-week process of pumping the water out of the basement with a sump pump.

Months later, after purchasing new fixtures, the thaw of the winter’s snow put four more inches of water into her basement. Carpeting, electronics and books were ruined, and she knew it was time to prevent the flooding from happening again. To help understand the trouble, she asked friends who had professional landscaping experience to her home to investigate.

After drilling a hole into the side of the drain where the sump pump is located below the ground level to see how much water was rising up from below the ground, she was shocked. Water was flowing like an open garden hose and didn’t stop for weeks.

"An underground spring was pushing water up through the floor, but we found this odd since our house is notably higher than our neighbors," says Landers.

Landers shouldn’t feel alone. According to The Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) analysis of insurance industry, $1 of every $5 paid for home and business property losses in recent years has stemmed from damage due to freezing weather, snow and water leaks.

Waterproofing Your Basement
After. Photo courtesy of Basement Systems.

Questions to Ask Yourself
There are steps homeowners can take to help minimize potential damage. Wendy Rose of IBHS first suggests homeowners answer two important questions: when and where? "When does the basement flood—every year at the same time or at random intervals—and where is it flooding?" asks Rose. "If water is entering near the top of the wall in one location, an improperly sloped landscape angled toward the house could be the cause." If so, Rose suggests reshaping the landscape around the foundation of the home to redirect the water to another part of the yard. "If the entire wall is damp or water is entering through multiple wall surfaces, this may be a sign of a faulty or missing water proofing membrane," she says.

Mike Lane, director of corporate sales training of Basement Systems in Seymour, Conn., explains that when a new home is built, a tar or dampproof coating is applied and footings or exterior drains are installed around the exterior of the foundation. "Over time, when it rains or snow melts or the ground thaws, water seeps into the loose soil around the foundation and the dampproof coating can deteriorate," explains Lane. "The water seeping in brings little pieces of dirt [silt] and the silt clogs the footing drain. The water builds up on the outside of the wall, and the hydrostatic pressure forces the water to squeeze its way through every nook and cranny in the wall and footing/wall joint." If this catastrophe happens once, it is most likely going to happen again.

Simply extending your gutters out might help, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Lane says that sealants alone won’t do the trick either. "The coating on the inside simply gets pushed off because it can’t handle the pressure of the incoming water," he says.

There are a variety of options to fixing the problems, ranging from simple to complex and affordable to expensive, depending on your do-it-yourself abilities, budget and time.

Start by caulking any potential cracks or openings on the inside. "Concrete is susceptible to cracking and nothing you can apply to a wall will eliminate it," says Bob Kodner, CEO of The Crack Team in St. Louis, Mo. "We always say it’s not ‘if’ the concrete will crack, it’s ‘when.’ There’s no way to determine when a house will start to develop cracks, but as soon as you notice a crack, address it."

Successfully waterproofing your basement is a three-step process involving removing soil around the foundation, installing a waterproofing membrane and applying an internal sealant on unfinished basement walls.

"This is not an option for finished basement walls," cautions Rose. "These products also require constant maintenance or they will stop working."

If the water is coming through the foundation or a floor drain, you may need a pump. While some homeowners can install a sump pump kit on their own, you may need to consider a professional, who should provide a free installation estimate. Lane says that his company installs pumps with a battery backup in case of power failures. Sump pumps also need to be tested at least once a year.
Jennifer Johnson of Salt Lake City, Utah, knows all too well the damage that basement floods can cause. After a sudden flash flood in 2002 that dumped six inches of rain in her basement, her home was later damaged after a fire when vandals entered it while it was being rebuilt, smashing pipes and leaving water running. She hired a disaster company to pump water from the room. In 2006, her plumber accidentally misconnected a dishwasher, sending water all over the basement again. Although she’s a self-proclaimed "pro" at drying out the basement space, she’s considering installing a sump pump.

Rose suggests another option—a drainage system around the perimeter of the home or at least in areas subject to frequent flooding. Again, the process starts with removing the soil and waterproofing the foundation wall.

"Ensure that the drain has a method for diverting the water," says Rose. "The drain should empty into the primary storm drainage system, a retention pond or other source."

If you have been experiencing water problems, get started fixing the problem sooner rather than later.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac