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Why Does my basement leak?

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As every homeowner knows, one of our biggest fears is that we will find water in our basement. We tend to forget that older homes were not built with the understanding that the basement would be used as family living space or as a rental unit.

With the high cost of acquiring living space in our cities, residential basement use is on the increase. Every homeowner should be aware that the possibility of having water penetration in the basement is fairly high. Over 60 per cent of basements have moisture seepage in one form or another, while 38 per cent experience mould and fungus growth due to the presence of an elevated moisture level in the air or basement surfaces.

High moisture levels in the basement are not desirable for the following reasons:

  1. they impact on our quality of life (i.e. usability of living space)
  2. they can lead to damage to the basement's construction, finishes and personal effects stored there
  3. they can adversely affect the health of the occupants through the growth of mould or fungus.

Learning to recognize the symptoms of high moisture content or dampness in your basement starts with examination of the obvious places. Check the base of the exterior walls for any sign of visible dampness, use your nose to smell for dampness in the finishes or carpeting and run your hand along drapes and windows checking for any surface condensation. If you should find any evidence, your next step is to identify the cause of this dampness and to see if it only happens occasionally, periodically or if it is permanent.

This article will only deal with basement dampness due to the presence of water in its liquid form and not with an elevated moisture vapor count in the house. Click for a Groundhogs view . . . 

Click on the image to the right to see an enlarged view of a typical basement with DDWC retrofitting applications used to solve water infiltration issues in most basements.

If you have determined that moisture seepage is present in your basement then an internal and external examination of your property is required. This time when performing the internal inspection, you are looking for the causes of moisture as compared to the signs or effects of moisture penetration. Pay attention to items such as: visible cracks in the foundation wall or floor slab, any separation between foundation wall and slab, any obvious hole in the wall or slab; and any separation between the wall/slab and any protrusion through them such as plumbing, electrical or structural members or fittings.

All of these are potential sources for water entry and some may reflect other problems with the property which may not be evident to you. If any structural problem is suspected, then a professional should be brought in for further evaluation.

During the external inspection, evaluate the foundation walls for any sign of cracking, heaving or deterioration of any nature. Observe the slope of the earth or walkways that abut the foundation walls. Any sign of water ponding, dirt or earth accumulation and any moss growth is indicative of improper grading and should be rectified as soon as possible. You should always have a positive slope away from the foundation walls to assure all water flows away.  

(Note:  The mistake most people make is adding soft un-compacted earth against the home's foundational walls to achieve this "positive grade".  In reality this type of grading only increase the problem by allowing this new added earth to act like a sponge. It would be better to remove earth to achieve the proper grade).

Look at your eaves-troughs (gutters) and downspouts. Are your eaves-troughs full of debris? This can cause water to overflow and pond next to the foundation walls. Are your downspouts heading into the ground by your foundation walls or are they discharged above ground six to nine feet away from the house? Older homes will generally have their downspouts discharge below ground into the storm/sewer system and in some cases into the weeping tiles. Any one of these set-ups can lead to localized basement leakage as these systems age, crack up or become occluded with leaves and other wind blown debris. Newer homes, whose downspouts are usually directed away from the house, will often have splash blocks which are sunk into the ground or downspouts which end next to the house. Surface drainage is only effective if the downspouts or splash-blocks divert rainwater at least six to nine feet away from the house.

Do you have any window wells or basement windows that face a driveway or are sunk below ground? Either one of these, if improperly executed and maintained can collect and direct water into your basement instead of away from it.

Do you have any vegetation (flower beds or gardens or bushes) that require regular watering right next to your home? Be aware that every time you water your roses you are directing water directly to your foundation. Over-watering, which you might believe effective for plant growth, will cause your basement dampness levels to increase.

The above will give you an idea of what to look for. This is not an exclusive list and sometimes all causes are not obvious to see. . . . 

An inspection by one of our estimators can uncover those underlying causes, that are not so apparent to normal visual inspection.  A Desert Dry Waterproofing Contractors (DDWC) estimator will spend enough time to thoroughly check for the cause of water infiltration, moisture, mildew, mold and other associated undesirable conditions.  Then they will give you a written estimate, at no obligation, based on their deductions and your mutual collaboration, designed to fit into your budget. 

Two means of combating moisture in the basement are available (in addition to the preventative maintenance work) and your estimator should be able to discuss them with you.

You can either choose to deal with the problem through exterior waterproofing methods or through interior waterproofing means. The method you choose will depend on the nature of your basement dampness/leakage, its extent, the physical characteristics of your site and the cost of each option.

Sometimes, radical means may not be necessary and you may be able to eliminate the dampness through proper water control on the perimeter of your property and the use of various homeowner applied masonry sealing compounds. Information on these can be found at your local hardware supplier.  

DDWC estimators will often spend the time with one of our prospective clients, telling them how they may fix their problems personally and as economically as possible.

Whichever route you pursue in combating your basement moisture problems, the first step is in identifying the problem and then, dealing with it. Take the time to educate yourself prior to bringing in a professional for an evaluation and you will profit through a higher quality solution. Always remember that your comfort is important, safety paramount and that quality is priceless.  

NOTE: Portions of text formatted like this are DDWC inserts for clarity and are not a part of the original text. This article was originally printed on the website.

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