HRRC offers remedies for wet basements
Despite starting off the spring with lower-than-average rainfall, Northeast Ohio had more than double-the-average rainfall during the first half of June. For many homeowners, that means dealing with water in places it doesn’t belong. Whether it comes from spring rains, melting snow, or both, Northeast Ohio homeowners are no strangers to soggy yards and wet basements.
What’s a homeowner to do when the rain outside becomes water inside? First, consider why water is getting inside your house. During a heavy rain, go outside and look at what is happening to the water coming off your roof, driveway, patio, and even across your yard. Armed with that information, you can plan how to get your house dry again—and keep it dry.
Check your gutters. If you see a washed-out area beneath the gutter line, it’s likely that water is cascading over the top of the gutters, or pouring behind them, where it can work its way through the basement wall. Securing the gutters and aligning them properly will enable them to contain the water and direct it into the downspouts as they are designed to do.
If you see a “geyser” of water above your downspout, you can be pretty sure that the storm sewer from your house to the street has become clogged with tree roots, silt or something else—a common occurrence with all the mature trees in our neighborhoods. It’s not too difficult to clear these storm drains using a sewer snake. There are many types designed to clear pipe up to 4 inches in diameter, most powered by an electric motor and featuring a flexible cable, 50- to 100-foot long, with a cutting tip on its end. You can get access to the storm sewers through a driveway drain or at the base of a downspout (chip out the mortar holding the downspout in place, and lift the downspout out of the drain tile it feeds into). Homeowners with combined sanitary and storm sewers (common in many older Cleveland neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs) may be able to access their sewer lines through a port (“clean out”) in the basement, as well. You can hire a contractor or plumber to snake your drains and even provide a camera image of the cleared line to ensure there aren’t more serious issues, such as a cracked or collapsed sewer pipe.
If you see water pooling along your foundation wall, look to see where it’s coming from. It is usually much easier to divert surface water away from your basement wall before it gets there than to keep it from coming through the wall once it is there. If your lawn slopes toward the foundation, add a few yards of fill dirt around your house, grade the surface to slope away from your foundation (the newly graded surface should slope down at least 2 inches vertically for every horizontal foot you move away from the foundation wall), and cover it with 6–8 inches of amended topsoil for plantings. If you want to go a step further, you can create another barrier by attaching a sheet of heavy polyethylene (sheet plastic, at least 6 mil thick) or a rubber membrane to the foundation wall at the point where the final topsoil will be (6–8 inches above the fill dirt) and extending it down the wall to the fill dirt and then over the fill dirt for several feet into the yard. After you add topsoil over the plastic sheet, this extra barrier will serve as an “underground roof” to help water run away from the foundation wall before soaking into the soil. In cases where you can’t correct a slope toward the foundation, you can create a modified French drain—a trench dug parallel to the wall some distance away from the foundation, containing a drain pipe set in gravel and feeding into your storm sewer or to daylight in the yard—to intercept and divert water that runs toward the foundation wall.
If your driveway comes right up against your foundation, water can find its way into the gap between the asphalt or concrete surface and the house. Seal this gap with silicone caulk or a rubberized crack filler designed for sealing cracks and joints in asphalt or concrete. These materials should stay flexible when our seasonal freeze-and-thaw cycle causes driveways to heave and move relative to the foundation.
In the majority of cases, these methods will solve your water problems. Only after you have tried these inexpensive remedies should you consider basement waterproofing. Don’t try to waterproof your basement walls from the inside, as no paint or sealer has yet been proven effective in keeping water out for any length of time.You may notice a short-term improvement from painted-on coatings, but if you don’t address the source of the water, pressure in the walls will soon break through the sealer or cause it to de-laminate from the wall and allow water to enter your basement, again. Keeping water out of the walls, rather than trying to trap it inside the wall, is a far more effective approach. That said, re-waterproofing exterior walls or replacing buried sewer lines requires much digging, which makes it expensive, and too labor-intensive to be practical for most people to do by hand.
There are two approaches that contractors will describe to you. The most effective is to dig down around one or more of your basement walls where water is intruding and apply a fresh coat of waterproofing compound and/or waterproof membrane, designed to be used below grade to the walls. The contractor may also need to make repairs to the wall surface and mortar joints as part of this process. While the foundation is excavated, the contractor should correct any problems with the perforated footer drain around the foundation that runs out to a sewer line in the yard, as well as the gravel bed it rests in.
Because this exterior waterproofing is so labor intensive and costly, some contractors recommend a type of interior waterproofing. With this method, water is allowed to come through the walls into the basement, but is directed into a channel around the perimeter of the basement floor. A sump pump is installed to pump the water back out again.
If you decide on this second approach, make sure you discuss with the contractor how the sump pump will be powered if you lose electricity during a storm (sump pump back-up batteries are available and can keep a pump running during a power outage). Also, understand that the interior method will not solve your water intrusion problems, only alleviate the symptoms.
To find a contractor who will snake out your sewer drains or waterproof your basement, you can review evaluation forms submitted by area residents in Home Repair Resource Center’s (HRRC) contractor evaluation books. You can visit HRRC (2520 Noble Road) any weekday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or arrange for an evening appointment by calling 216-381-6100, ext. 16.
Rebecca Stager has been on the staff of HRRC since 1989, and currently serves as marketing and development associate. Visit www.hrrc-ch.org or call 216-381-6100 for more information on programs and services.