Diagnosing a Wet Basement

Diagnosing a Wet Basement

by Amy Kalinski, US Waterproofing, and Angela Duea, Lieberman Management Services

People in the Chicago area just lived through the wettest May on record, followed by a cold and frequently rainy June. For a homeowner who has had trouble with water in the basement or who suspects they might, rain is always a bad sign. A forecast of heavy thunderstorms or a few days of persistent drizzle will often be the cause of frequent treks down the basement stairs to see if anything is happening. What many homeowners don’t realize, however, is that rain is only part of the cause of water in the basement.

There are many misconceptions about how wet basements happen. Some homeowners think that the joint between a paved sidewalk or gangway and their home needs to be caulked to keep water out. Others have been told that because their home sits a little lower than their neighbors, a wet basement is inevitable. These “facts” are not true. Wet basements are caused by water in the soil surrounding the basement and there are a number of points of entry: cracks in concrete walls and floor, deteriorating mortar joints in masonry walls, poorly fitted windows, the cove joint where foundation walls meet the footings and other places.

Water infiltration points in basement
Water infiltration can happen through many points in a basement.

One of the most important ways to maintain a healthy foundation and dry basement is proper yard drainage on the outside of your home. Most importantly, you should extend downspouts and sump pump extensions at least 10 feet from the foundation.

Another factor contributing to basement leakage could be landscaping that may retain water or block its flow. Overflowing gutters and negative grading – where the land slopes toward your home – all spell trouble for your foundation. All of these are factors that can contribute to a water seepage problem in your basement.

Inside your home, another area to check is your sump pump. If the pit is full of water to the top, the sump pump may have failed. Making the investment in a battery backup system is never a bad idea; if a storm knocks out your power, your sump pump can still do its job.

Water can also enter a basement over the top of or through foundation walls via deteriorated mortar joints in masonry walls, through porous concrete block or brick and through honeycombed concrete. Look for discoloration where the floor meets the wall. Seepage from foundation walls generally winds up on the floor and will leave stains.

All of these signs can point you to the source of basement problems, and indicate which type of professional you may need to contact to resolve a wet basement problem. If you are responsible for fixing your foundation issues, make sure you hire a licensed professional with good reviews – and consider getting more than one quote for the work. Stay dry!