Keep Water Out of Your Basement

This is the time of year that I get a lot of calls from people asking about water problems in their basements.

Part of the issue can be that the ground around their home has started to thaw out, while the ground further from the home is frozen. If the the lawn around home is not properly graded, this can result in the snow melting and running up against the house and soaking into the ground. If it can then find a place to come in to your basement, it will.

However, it doesn’t have to be spring to have this problem. It depends on a variety of of factors, including proper grading around the foundation, soil type, the presence (or absence) of drain tile or similar drainage system and a sump pump, gutters and downspouts and where they channel the water (are they plugged?), the condition of your foundation, and even how high the siding is on the house.

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Left: This is a situation where the water came off of the roof, landed on a concrete patio, ran up against the house, and because of a heavy clay soil, had no place to go. We did not find out about this problem until we removed the concrete patio in preparation for a new paver patio. We had to stop work until the problem was fixed. The owner had Hanson Excavating come in and install a tiling system. Under the future brick patio we had to dig channels just to get the water away from the foundation (see below)


If you have a problem, the first thing to do is to go outside and look at the grade around your home. It could be that the soil is sloped toward your foundation.This is the most common problem that I deal with, and is usually the easiest to fix. It could be that the soil settled after construction, or if you don’t have gutters, the water could have come off the roof and “pounded” a channel next to the house and caused the soil to settle. This is especially true where two roof sections come together to create extra runoff. The normal solution is to import soil around the foundation and, if need be, put down black plastic and a stone mulch to channel the water away.

Water problems are much more prevalent if you have a heavy clay soil. If you live in Wang’s Woods (Woodland trail) you know what I’m talking about. Heavy clay soil does not allow the water to drain away fast enough. Water will always follow the path of least resistance, so if there is a crack in your foundation or even if the mortar on your foundation blocks has come loose, water will gladly flow in to the opening, down your basement wall, and on to your nice new carpet. Once the water has found a way in, it will continue to channel to the same spot every time. I have also seen situations where the water filled up the hollow area in the blocks all the way up to the top block.


It can add to the problem if the home has not had a drainage system (such asoct26 05 040.jpg drain tile) installed and/or it does not have a sump pump in the basement to pump the water back out and away from the house. This is can be especially true of older homes. Almost all newer homes built by a reliable contractor on “questionable” soil will have some sort of drainage system with a sump pump installed. However, I have seen situations where the water was pumped from the basement but because of a poor grade it just ran right back in to the house and in to the basement again. It could be (especially if you have the dreaded heavy clay soil) that you may have to have a drainage/sump pump system installed by a local excavate or building contractor.

Another place to look is up. It may be that you need to install gutters on your home. If you have gutters, make sure that they are not plugged up from last year’s leaves.(Although with almost every roof in town being replaced, this may not be a problem this year!) Make sure the downspouts take the water far enough from the house so that it keeps on going and never comes back. I have installed systems that take the water in a pipe under ground and directly to the city run-off system, but you have to get a permit to do this.oct26 05 043.jpgProbably the most serious situation involves the condition of your foundation, especially if you live in an older home. The solution could be as minor as a simple patching up, or it could involve major repairs. It is an issue best left for an expert building contractor.

Left: What a mess!

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