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Keep Your Basement Dry

A dry basement the easy* way
How often have I seen a question asked in the homeowners section of the Sunday paper concerning problems with wet basements. And how often have I seen the answer suggesting that you can fix the problem by painting your basement wall with some sort of sealing compound. Did you ever see the demonstration in some large hardware section of one of those gigundo home fixit supermarkets where they have a concrete block filled with water demonstrating how well their sealant works to prevent water from getting through. One side is not painted and the block is obviously wet, but the painted side is dry? Read on . . .

I spent eighteen years living in a house where the sump pumps, yes I did say pumpS, were both on at the same time and barely keeping up with the spring thaw running down to bedrock level, the same level as my basement floor! So I know all about the good and bad fixes for wet basements. I have tried them all and have had the high pressure salesmen tell me all about their super waterproofing compound that would solve all my problems. Bull caca! When the correct solution is applied one can have a dry basement. In the house where I lived for 18 years I had water problems, but no wet basement. I had a fully functional repair shop in the basement and never had a tool or a lathebed show any signs of rust! Wanna know how? Read on . .

First a bit of a discussion on water and water pressure. Remember the blocks I talked about earlier – the ones in the hardware supermarket? The reason that the waterproofing compound worked so well is that there was no pressure behind the water inside the block! In a typical eleven course basement, about seven feet from the floor to ground level, the water pressure at the bottom block can be as high as 3.5PSI. Now that doesn’t sound like too much but when it comes to water trying to get through a porous concrete block, it is. True, the waterproofing compound might hold up for a while, but when the water gets to the interface where the paint meets the surface of the block an interesting phenomenon occurs. There is created at the interface some stuff that is called efflorescence – a white powder substance that breaks the bond between the waterproofing compound and the block and you have an even bigger mess plus water seeping through once again.

The ONLY way to have a dry basement is to do one of two things and probably both, if you want the driest basement possible. First, and this seems obvious but nobody thinks of it until they have spent a fortune on other solutions, is to prevent huge amounts of water from getting there in the first place. That means that the earth next to the basement wall should be higher than any other ground within 20 feet. Grade the landscape away from the house. Next, make certain that the downspouts are captured by a drain tile and the water is carried as far from the basement wall as practical. If you can be certain of a fall of about a quarter inch per foot of run, keep going with the drain pipe until you reach the nearest drainage ditch!! I have seen downspouts empty out right at the basement wall and others onto a three foot long slab. That’s not good enough!!

OK, so you don’t live on a hill and you can’t find a low drainage ditch within a mile. Does that mean that you have to live with a wet basement forever? Nope. The home I mentioned earlier had no real gravity drain for a mile in any direction and the house was built on bedrock. But I did divert all the water from the roof drains to the street, about a hundred feet away, with a four inch drain tile. Given that there was ground water behind every block for three feet up from the floor, I was guaranteed that there would be water seeping through the blocks and I would always have a damp basement . . . . . . . unless.

Mostly all basements around here are constructed with concrete block. The typical concrete block is hollow – normally three, sometimes two, cavities between the inside of the wall and the outside. You always thought those holes were there to make the block easier to carry – sort of like a handle, right? Well, water seeping in from the outside simply fills up the cavities in the block and you have a nice reservoir of water in your wall. That water then seeps through the inside of the block and into the basement. Here’s the fix. It is not easy but it works!!!

Mostly all basements constructed in the upstate New York area (where I live) are built with a sump in the corner of the basement, and the slab for the floor is what they call a “floating slab”. It is not tied into the walls but rather it is poured on a bed of about a foot of crushed stone into which are buried drain tiles which are pitched toward the sump. Before the floor is poured a wooden frame is built along all four walls as deep as the concrete slab is to be poured. When the concrete sets up the wood is removed leaving a one to two inch wide trough all along the wall/floor interface. If it done correctly, you will be able to pour water into that channel and it will sink into the crushed stone below. If your basement floor is not of the floating slab type what I am about to describe is going to be a bit more difficult and more expensive. If you have a floating slab consider yourself lucky!

*This procedure is really quite easy. Look at the top block. Measure the distance from the mortar line to the center of each cavity. Now – at the basement floor level mark an X at the center of each cavity in each block. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Taylor Rental store and rent a hammer drill. It should cost around twenty bucks for the day. You will need to buy a 1/2 inch concrete drill (carbide tip) about ten inches long. It should cost about 10 bucks. Now, at each X you marked, drill as low to the floor as you can through the block and into the cavity.

Be prepared to have water gush out at you. If the water is filled up to the maximum seven foot level you can expect several gallons to gush out for each hole you drill. It will squirt across the floor, so be prepared to have something there to block it and divert it back to the drain along the floating slab interface with the wall. Once the initial load of water has drained from the hole you will see water continue to seep out of the hole. That is a good sign. The water will no longer be filling up the block. Follow the same procedure where X marks the spot. All that built up water will now drain into the gravel under the floating slab, into the drain tiles and thence into the sump. If you have a sump pump it will be much more active than in the past so go out and get a good submersible pump that will handle the workload. Now you can go out and buy a simple waterproof paint and paint your wall with the knowledge that water pressure will not be pushing the paint from the surface anymore. And now you can go out and buy all those tools that you were afraid would get rusty in that old damp basement!!

Waterproofing Basements

No foolproof cure exists for wet basements, despite what a  salesperson or home improvement contractor may promise. A homeowner who takes the time to become thoroughly familiar with the full range of possible causes and potential remedies will be far more likely to obtain effective and lasting repairs than one who settles for the first, easiest, or least expensive method proposed as a solution.This may turn out to cost you more.

LOOK FOR OBVIOUS SOLUTIONS
The cause of a wet or damp basement can be minor, readily apparent, and easily corrected. Here are some possible solutions.

For example:
Problem: The source of water in the basement is a mystery

Solution: To determine whether the water is seeping in from the outside or condensing inside, tape a twelve-inch square of aluminum foil to a wall that is prone to dampness, sealing all four sides to make the surface behind the foil as airtight as possible. In a day or two, if the side of the foil that was against the wall is wet, the problem is seepage. If the outside is wet, it’s condensation

Problem: Lawns that are flat or slope toward the house permit surface water (rain and melting snow) to drain down against basement walls. Water enters through cracks or other openings in the walls and causes wet spots on the walls or standing water on the floor.

Solution: Slope the ground away from the outside foundation (should be about one inch per foot). Extend the slope for at least ten feet. Seed it with a good lawn grass. Sodding is a common practice and prevents the washing away of newly graded areas during heavy rains. Where a large area of land slopes toward the house, surface drainage should be intercepted and rerouted some distance from the house. Dig a shallow, half-round drainage ditch or depression designed to route the water around the house. Sod the ditch or plant grass in it. If even a shallow ditch is objectionable, drainage tiles, with one or more catch basins at low spots, may be installed. See this Drawing

Problem: Defective, clogged, or nonexistent gutters and downspout’s allow roof water to form puddles or wet soil near or against basement walls, and enter through cracks or openings in the masonry.

Solution: Install gutters and downspout’s wherever needed. Keep them free of debris. Where leaves and twigs from nearby trees may collect in a gutter, install a basket-shaped wire strainer over the downspout outlet or place screening across the length of the gutter. Repair gutters and downspout’s as soon as the need appears. To prevent concentration of water at the point of discharge, use a concrete gutter or splash block to carry the water away at a slope of one inch per foot. Roof water can also be piped underground to a storm drain, dry well, or surface outlet fifteen feet or more from the house How To Build and install splash blocks and dry wells

Problem: Dense shrubbery and other plantings around the basement walls prevent good ventilation.

Solution: Trim heavy growths of shrubbery so that soil gets more sunlight and dries quicker. When digging up the plantings, remove any pieces of masonry, mortar, or other waste material buried near the house after the basement was excavated.

Problem: Unprotected basement window wells act like cisterns during heavy storms, permitting water to seep in around window frames and below windows.

Solution: Windows or parts of windows below grade should be protected by metal or masonry window wells, with bottoms consisting of gravel to permit good drainage. Clear plastic bubbles are available to cover the entire window well like an awning.

Problem: Atmospheric moisture produces condensation (“sweating”) on cool surfaces in the basement, particularly walls, floors, and cold water pipes. Solution: Insulate the water pipes. Promote good ventilation–sunlight and free movement of air can quickly dry out a basement. Ventilation should be governed by weather conditions. During hot, humid weather or long rainy spells, windows should be closed because the outside air will probably contain more moisture than the basement air. Heat the basement during the winter. During hot weather, use air conditioning to cool and dehumidify the air.

Problem: Leaky plumbing or other sources of moisture–such as clothes hung to dry on basement lines–increase humidity in the air, increasing the likelihood of condensation.

Solution: Repair plumbing promptly, open windows or dry clothes in an automatic dryer vented outdoors. If the problem persists, experiment with using a large-capacity dehumidifier to eliminate condensation. (Try to borrow one from a friend or neighbor before investing in what may turn out to be the wrong remedy.)

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 at 6:52 pm . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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1651 Defense Hwy
Gambrills
MD
21054
USA