Did you know that 98% of basements in the US will be affected by water damage at some point in their lifetime?
Basement water damage is not a chance occurrence – all basements will eventually experience leaks unless homeowners take proper precautions to keep moisture out of their homes.
The problem is, preventing and detecting water damage isn’t cheap or easy. Even minor leaks can turn into major foundation issues or flooding if left untouched. That’s why the best solution for homeowners is to stay informed about the telltale signs of water damage and what can be done to prevent it.
We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you figure out whether you need to waterproof your basement, as well as what to do about it – no experience required.
Why do basements leak?
Basements leak because they’re underground, making them a natural target for water seeping through the surrounding soil.
Since water always looks for the path of least resistance, it will naturally gravitate towards the less compact dirt which was originally displaced to build your home. This puts added pressure on the foundation, pushing the moisture through cracks and porous holes in your concrete. As the basement moisture levels increase, dampness and other problems begin to cause damage.
In addition to exterior pressures, internal sources like malfunctioning pipes and improper drainage can also contribute to expensive water damage. Identifying the source of your moisture problem is crucial before you begin to waterproof your basement.
What is basement waterproofing?
Waterproofing your basement is different from waterproofing your iPhone.
When you waterproof your iPhone, you are trying to prevent any and all water from touching it.
A basement on the other hand is made of concrete, which is a porous material. It has thousands of tiny holes which make it easy for moisture to enter and cause problems. If you were to simply seal up those holes, the water would still collect around your basement, eventually causing it to crack.
Instead, when you waterproof your basement you are managing the moisture that inevitably enters your home. Proper drainage, sump pumps, and dehumidifiers are among the many ways moisture can be removed before it causes bigger issues or flooding. But first, you need to know what kind of problems can occur, so you know how to choose the right tools to solve them.
How to find out if you need to waterproof your basement
If you have a basement it is in your best interest to be educated about the types of water-related risks and waterproofing techniques available to you. The first step is to do an inspection of these two major areas for signs of a water problem:
- the basement itself
- the surrounding property
Following this process will give you the best chance at preventing, diagnosing, and solving water issues in your basement.
Inspecting the basement itself
Leaks can come from just about anywhere. Here are a few warning signs of water damage to look out for:
Wet streaks are the most common signs of water problems in basements. Moisture around pipes, coming from cracks in walls, running along window sills, or pooling at the floor-wall joint are all indicators that you may need to waterproof your basement.
The cause of these water stains can vary, but it’s usually a sign of moisture seeping in through microscopic holes or larger cracks in the concrete due to high pressure. However, this is not always the case. Faulty piping elsewhere in the house could easily cause water stains and flooding in the basement, so make sure to do a thorough check for pipe leaks before committing to other repairs.
Strange Odor and Low Temperatures
Musty smells and temperature drops in your basement may be signs of mold or mildew from increased moisture in the air.
If you notice any of these symptoms of mold growth, try to isolate the potential source. Clogged window wells, sweaty pipes, or cracks in the walls and floor can all raise basement moisture levels enough for mold to accumulate and lead to that “wet dog” smell we all know and love.
After you’ve identified the problem, take the following actions:
- Bring humidity levels in your basement down to about 50% with a dehumidifier
- Remove and clean any contaminated materials such as clothes, papers, or furniture
- Scrub walls, floor, and ceilings with bleach and a stiff brush
This may seem like overkill, but mold is a serious problem when it encroaches on your living space. It’s not just about the smell – variants such as black mold are highly toxic and can lead to some nasty chronic health issues.
Commonly confused with white mold growth, efflorescence is a collection of salty mineral deposits left behind after moisture evaporates from a surface. It often shows up as a shimmery white substance on walls and floors.
Mineral deposits in your basement are guaranteed signs your basement needs waterproofing. They may also be signs of sub-par construction practices such as overly-wet grout or poor irrigation and landscaping when the home was built.
While efflorescence will not pose any threat to the masonry in your basement, it can be unsightly to have around. To remove it, anything from a dry brush to a thorough power washing can do the trick. However, this will depend on the composition of the surfaces being treated, so be sure to consult with a waterproofing professional to find the right removal technique for your basement.
If you notice any cracks in your basement walls, don’t panic just yet.
Cracks happen for all kinds of reasons that may have nothing to do with basement moisture. Hairline cracks below ⅛ inches in size are probably not a structural problem and just come from the natural settling process every home goes through.
However, cracks larger than ¾ inches may be a warning sign of deeper foundation problems and possible water seepage. If you find crevices of this size, contact a foundation repair specialist to get an expert opinion.
Bowed or Bulging Basement Walls
Many basements with a severe water leak will have bowing or bulging issues. Bulging and bowed walls are caused by hydrostatic pressure from wet soil expanding and contracting around your foundation. They are a sure sign that your walls are in danger of collapsing.
If you notice any kind of curvature to your walls, you need to take action immediately. Carbon fiber straps can treat minor bowed walls, but if your walls are extremely curved you should call a specialist as soon as possible.
Inspecting the surrounding property
Conditions on the exterior of your basement can have just as much of an impact as the interior on your potential for water damage. Here are a few ways your property can contribute to leaks in your basement:
Plants near the foundation
When you have plants near the perimeter of your home that need regular watering, that water has to go somewhere. Inevitably, it will go deep within the soil and create added pressures on the concrete.
You can solve these grading problems by creating a downward slope with extra soil. Make sure it’s at least 6 inches in height with a runoff of about 10 feet from your foundation. Alternatively, you can create a french drain, but these can be difficult to install and maintain on your own.
If you’d rather not invest in a drainage system, the next-best solution is to remove and replant those bushes in an area where the water can adequately drain away from your home.
Clogged gutters and downspouts
Gutters and downspouts are how your house disperses water during and after a storm. They can become easily clogged with debris over time, causing rain water to flow over the edges and directly into your foundation. Make sure to perform regular checks to keep this from happening.
Downspouts can also cause problems if they are not able to disperse water far enough away (10 feet) from your foundation or other concrete slabs. For example, if your downspouts are pouring water onto your driveway or sidewalk, this area will eventually become improperly graded, sending water back towards your house instead of away from it.
You may want to consider investing in downspout extensions that will direct your rainwater not just 10 feet away from your home, but away from any concrete areas that could become damaged by excess water.
What to do if your home is at-risk for water damage
Water problems are not uncommon – 14,000 American homeowners experience them every day.
Moreover, most insurance plans do not cover water damage from external sources. Considering the average cost to repair a flooded home is well over $20,000, playing fast and loose with your basement waterproofing plan could do a number on your wallet down the line.
If you are seeing signs that your basement needs waterproofing, your best bet is to ask for a free estimate on a waterproofing inspection from a reputable basement waterproofing company or specialist.
Don’t wait until water is the least of your problems. Keep your home (and home values) healthy for years to come by taking action now to protect your basement from water damage.