Water can find its way inside the basement in a very blunt or very subtle way. Either you find it flooded after heavy rain or a pipe crack, or you start feeling a moist, damp, unpleasant smell rising from the walls and the floor and slowly invading your entire house. No matter the source, it is mandatory to identify and remove it as soon as possible, as the repercussions can quickly become severe.
Whether it comes from the ground or gathers around the house as a result of heavy raining, water can cause the foundation to crack and challenge its integrity. On the other hand, mold will be the first to appear on the inside, which, according to Optima Institute, can create a large variety of problems, including health issues and damage to the objects around. The spores travel fast and can settle in places hidden from sight, so you may not even notice when mold starts growing behind your wallpaper or take over the carpets.
There’s a simple rule here that will save you from a whole lot of problems if you follow it. Always keep your basement dry. No matter if you don’t live in it or it isn’t finished yet. If it is musty, your other rooms will bear the consequences as well. In this direction, we have prepared a guide to help you solve five of the most common wet basement problems, so read on to discover the cause and start treating your issue.
What Can Cause Water in the Basement?
Most of the basement is underground, so the walls and the floor are constantly in contact with the ground. This is the main reason for which most homeowners deal with water problems at least once in their life. No matter how strongly-built the room is, moisture usually finds its way in, and, if sometimes it can appear in form of small stains or condensation, there are cases when a problem with the plumbing system or a natural event can lead to flooding.
Thus, it is better to stay prepared and know your system to be able to act when the water comes. Here are the main sources that can send it inside your basement:
This has to do with the level of water in the ground and the ground’s absorption capacity. This can differ depending on the climate and positioning of your household. For example, if you live in the desert, where rains are rare and the air is usually extremely dry, the ground will remain dry as well, making this problem almost impossible to develop. On the other hand, if your house is positioned near a lake or in a very humid area, where rains and snow are predominant, a more humid ground is common. As the rain pours or the snow starts to melt, all the water finds its way into the ground. However, it can only absorb a certain quantity until it gets saturated, and, at this point, hydrostatic pressure appears, which means that the water is pushed back to the surface. In many cases, it manages to create micro-cracks in the basement’s floor or uses the existing ones to invade it. The results are wet stains on the walls and the floor.
When you’ve built your home’s foundation, a hole needed to be excavated into the ground for the foundation to be lifted. When it was ready, all the empty spaces around it were filled with dirt, but the truth is that it takes a lot of time for ground that has been excavated to become as compact as it was before. Well, this soil absorbs the rain or snow water. Now, let’s do a quick comparison. If you get a material that has a thick weaving and one that has a looser, more soft webbing, which of them would absorb more water? In most cases, the second, as the water manages to infiltrate better through the layers. This is the case with the soil around your home, which absorbs more moisture than the ground in your yard, which is more compact.
This phenomenon creates lateral pressure, as the soil begins to expand, putting pressure on the foundation and creating cracks. In general, this issue aggravates if the downspouts and gutters aren’t properly installed or cleaned, allowing the water to gather around the house.
Window Well Issues
Basements aren’t caves, so you’ve built some windows to let the air and light come in. However, the problem occurs when the rain starts falling and pours for hours, even days. If the window wells are blocked or too small to deal with the volume of water, it will start gathering in front of the windows, putting a lot of pressure on the seal. In time, this can lead to the emergence of cracks around the window or compromise the seal, allowing the water to leak inside.
How Can You Tell Your Basement Is Leaking
Some unmistakable signs let you know you have a moisture problem, but, in some cases, get unnoticed or are ignored by the owners until the problem turns in a serious and a very expensive one.
If you are preparing a short inspection, make sure you pay attention to the following symptoms:
- Moldy surfaces – Mold has a specific smell, and, in most cases, it isn’t discrete at all. It usually shows up in form of dark green or black spots, but you can also spot it in more extravagant colors like pink or orange. If you are dealing with it, then the humidity in your basement is higher than 80% and this means that a source is constantly feeding water into the walls.
The biggest problem with mold is that it can be toxic, and, with its ability to send its spores away, it can easily escape the basement and invade your other rooms. Thus, it is advised to clean it as soon as you discover it, but only after you have equipped yourself with a mask and gloves to avoid allergies and contamination.
- Cracks – If you spot them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they were created by water. Cracks develop as the building ages as a result of soil settling. But, if there are moist spots around them, then water has found its way in, and you are already dealing with a serious problem (Which can be solved though, as we are about to explain).
- Efflorescence – This is a truly discrete signal, and most people don’t think of associating it with water seepage. Nevertheless, if you observe efflorescent stains on the walls, it can mean that water passed through masonry materials and left behind the salts and minerals it carries. The result looks like a powder.
- Rotting wood – The door, window frames, or wooden furniture you have deposited downstairs can suck the excess of water and start rotting in time. In most cases, the wood swells, making the door and the windows more difficult to open and close.
How Do You Stop Water from Coming into Your Basement?
By now, you’ve probably identified the source of the water, so it’s time to get it solved. Here are some measures you can take to preserve your foundation dry and your house safe and stable:
1. Solve the Landscape Problem
If you are dealing with lateral pressure, a cause can be improper yard landscaping. You probably have a slope in your yard, and the house is situated at the wrong end. Thus, instead of flowing away from the foundation, the rainwater goes towards it, and, when the soil gets saturated, it can even remain around the house until it evaporates.
The most common action is to bring some soil and sand and create a small hill next to the house, making sure it is higher than the ground around the foundation. Thus, the rain will slide on this artificial hill and drain away from the house. Or you could dig a swale, which is actually a small ditch, to direct the water away from the foundation. The second option is usually cheaper, but not as cheap as you will expect. You will pay around $1,000 for the ditch, but the mound of dirt can cost you a few thousands of dollars.
2. Take Care of the Gutter and Downspout System
First, check your gutters. If you are lucky, the problem may have to do with them being clogged, and a quick clean up can save you from further work. If they are clean and working, check the distance to which the downspouts are evacuating the water. Is it at least 5 feet? If your basement is wet, it may not be. In this situation, consider adding plastic or metal extensions. A permanent solution would be to install an underground drain pipe, which will stay in neat condition for longer, as it is hidden and doesn’t come in the way as the extensions would. Plus, it can be of help even in extreme conditions when other drainage means seem to fail.
3. Repair the Cracks
If you are dealing with a crack or two that seem to form around the pipes, then the problem may not be too severe. Get some hydraulic cement and get them fixed. This solution is one of the cheapest and can work for small leaks. Nevertheless, make sure to follow the evolution of the walls. If more cracks develop in time, you may need to take more expensive and extensive measures.
4. Clean the Footing Drains
First, check if you have them. Some houses have this system of pipes, designed to collect and divert the water from the foundation. The sign that these pipes are clogged is water stains appearing in the points where the walls meet the floor. In this case, you are dealing with hydrostatic pressure, which is a pretty severe problem, and some small repairs in the cracks won’t help you. If you are lucky to have the footing drains, get ready for some work which will imply flushing them with a garden hose. If this system doesn’t exist, you may need to install a curtain drain, which is actually a shallow trench, in which you place gravel and perforated pipes to gather the water before it reaches your house and direct it towards a safer location.
5. Use a Sump Pump
Sometimes, it is just a pity to destroy a mature landscape that has taken years to reach the present form. So, if you cannot stop the water from coming inside, at least you can get rid of it fast before it manages to cause any damage. Consider installing an interior drainage system with a pump that can collect and evacuate the water outside. For this solution to work, you will need to make a hole in the floor and install a performed pipe, designed to collect the water and direct it toward the pump.
This will cost you around $3,000, but, usually, isn’t a permanent solution, especially if you plan on turning downstairs in a living space.
The Bottom Line
Usually, if taken care of on time, basement problems can be solved easily and with low costs. But, as the issue becomes more severe, your expenses can increase considerably, and the few bucks you’ve saved when the first leak appeared may turn into thousands of dollars. Water is essential for life, but it can have a hugely destructive force, so we advise taking it seriously, as it can attack your home’s foundation in many ways. It pushes the walls, causing them to crack, makes the wood rot, and can get your walls moldy. Keeping the basement dry is a matter of safety and security, so make sure your family isn’t exposed to all the problems that are linked to high humidity.