Wet Basements

Published on August 28th, 2018 | by Henri

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Keeping water out of basement

Q.  Our basement, dry for our first 40 years of home ownership, began taking in water about 18 months ago. After much frustration, and increasingly more water coming in, we have installed an electric system to pump out the water.

Do you have any thoughts about where all this water can be coming from after all these years? Our city DPW says they have no idea and are as stumped as we are! Can you help us?

A.  You didn’t say when the leakage occurs. Is it when it rains heavily or when snow melts? Or is it a regular occurrence regardless of the weather or time of year, in which case it may be caused by a leak in the city’s entrance water line or a break in the sewer line close to the foundation.

Has your water consumption increased measurably in the last 18 months?

Most foundation leakage problems are caused by grading problems, be they from ground settling around the foundation or the settling of appendages, such as stoops, patios, walks, driveways, etc., over time under certain circumstances.

Very few are caused by underground springs or a rising water table.

If the leakage occurs during or very soon after a heavy rain or a rapid snowmelt, it is usually a surface water problem. But if the leakage occurs hours after these events, it may be due to a rising water table or swollen spring.

With a critical eye, check the grade conditions around your entire house. Do you see any places where the ground is overly flat or actually leaning toward the foundation? This can happen when heavy rain or large amount of melting snow saturate the soil close to the foundation over time.

Settling of the soil can also take place after a long period of drought followed by heavy rains. It can also happen if the foundation has buckled from frost pressure.

Flowerbeds can settle over time and as they are worked over at spring planting time. They can also hold great amounts of water, especially if heavily mulched.

Next, look at all appendages: Has the soil settled around a stoop, window wells, attached patio or walk? Has your dog dug a comfortable hollow place in which to lie and cool off in warm weather? Have any downspouts caused sunken areas near the foundation? Have you recently installed a brick or other form of border to the outside of flowerbeds? Is a walk parallel to the house blocking proper drainage? Has there been a recent increase in heavy traffic on your street, perhaps caused by some construction, that can cause the soil to compact from vibrations?

These are some of the possibilities I have encountered that may have caused leakage in the last 18 months.

The rule of thumb is for the grade around a foundation to slope away at a rate of about 2-inch per horizontal foot.

It is best to plant a healthy crop of grass and avoid shrubbery and flowerbeds within four or five feet of a foundation. Instead, plant them farther out and enjoy them from your windows.

If you have gutters make sure that the downspouts discharge onto plastic or concrete splash blocks, or extensions, to dissipate water away from the foundation. But if you don’t have any, lay patio blocks flat with the grade at the roof drip line to prevent erosion.

If any appendages lead water toward the foundation, that should be repaired, which may be expensive to do.

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