Water, Water… Was that a quack I heard in your basement?

Talk to me about the water!

Ducks are swimming in newly formed lakes all over the Dayton Metro region. It’s spring! Rain falls in buckets, slaps across homes in sheets and finds it’s way into every nook and cranny it finds.

Liquid Water is a fascinating substance. Unlike snow or ice which are solid forms of water, liquid water is a fluid. Fluids like to move in the path of least resistance, much like air. Unlike air, water and homes can be a disastrous mix.

I’ve been building for 29 years. New homes as well as remodeling. It never ceases to amaze me at how tenacious water can be. First, because of it’s liquid nature, it always wants to seek it’s own level. 6th grade science. What that means to a home with a basement is, when the water table rises above the concrete slab level of your house, water will want to seek a path to fill in and level itself. Think of taking a bath. As you settle in to the tub, the water displaces itself around you for a moment, then immediately fills in around your body to cover you in a perfectly level bath height. Your basement is the body of your home, the water around the foundation is the tub. If your basement is 100% water tight the water around the foundation can’t seep in. Think of a glass half submerged in a sink full of water. If you have openings in your foundation or slab, water will seep in trying to do what it does best: seek it’s own level.

This is not a forgone conclusion though. Wet basements can be easily remedied. It’s just getting water away from your foundation. This can be done in a few different ways.

If you were lucky enough to have a builder (like me) who thought about this issue before the foundation was back-filled, they would of installed natural or gravity relief lines. This is when drain-tile piping is installed around the foundation and run away from the foundation using gravity, i.e. running it down hill away from the house. If you didn’t build a home with a walk-out basement sloping down and away, the builder still can use gravity. The homes sanitary sewer line is bedded in gravel, and it always [should be] running down hill. This allows ground water to run into the gravel bed and down to the sanitary sewer bedding at the street and then into the water table. This usually works well as water will seek to fill in the gravel bedding, which is much lower then the basement slab, rather than fill up around the house. You can, and should though, have a mechanical sump pump installed to relieve any other hydrostatic pressure around the foundation walls. Also, all settlement around the foundation should be repaired to slope away from the home, relieving pressure on the settling ground. Even if you live in a older home, taking some of the steps here will relieve enough pressure to keep you dry.

Time to Fix it

This is an important step. But very often companies are ready to fix it all up and charge you for it before mitigating the original problem. Make sure the contractor you hire explains exactly what they’re going to do to fix the leak, before they fix the damage. Will they fix the crack in your foundation or will they just tear out moldy stuff and clean up the space? If they don’t find the leak source, there is no point in moving on to repair other items. They may have to cut open walls of your theater room or rip up carpeting to find the source of the leak. This can be messy and difficult to track down and may take a few tries. Water is the most illusive and mysterious substance. There when you don’t want it and not there when your trying to find it!

Once the leak is found, make sure it is fixed properly. Foundation cracks should be injected and sealed with an expanding epoxy like product from a separate company that holds the warranty. Don’t let the contractor half ass it! The sump pump should be installed and functioning, with a battery or waterline based backup system. All moldy stuff should be removed, but just because it got wet, doesn’t necessarily mean it has to go. Things dry out and can be very adequately cleaned. Carpet can be dry suctioned and a fungicide can be applied. Wooden baseboard and door casings dry easily and can be stain killed and repainted.

But the mold thing

Mold exists everywhere, all the time. It’s a constant presence in the air and surfaces. You could think of it as, say, organic. That has a nice ring to it. “My groceries are organic and so is my mold!” When it comes into contact with water it grows, meaning it rears it’s ugly head as a 3 dimensional object on your drywall or trim that you can see. Anyone who tells you they can get rid of all the mold is either lying or has not been in the business very long.  Don’t get me wrong, real, nasty mold exist and can be harmful or fatal to some people. But if you called a company to come clean up the water within 72 hours and they got there and cleaned up and set dehumidifiers and fans in place, you’re probably 90% salvageable.

So, get the ducks out of the basement and into the pond where they belong. Make sure you get around the house and fix standing water problems near the foundation. Hopefully you’ll never need to call me for this. But hey, if you do, there’s always next year for that kitchen remodel!


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2 Responses to Water, Water… Was that a quack I heard in your basement?

  1. Thanks for the information, it’s been useful.

  2. eMoov says:

    Everything should start with a plan. Design or visualize what your basement will look like after this renovation. And that will surely make your project successful having a waterproof basement inside your home.

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