What to do when you find water in your basement?
*I wrote this column several years ago and yet it seems every year a rainy season will show up and the calls and questions begin to come in concerning water in a home’s basement. I hope the column below if helpful if you have encountered the same issue.*
Whether it is your first experience with water in your basement or not, the discovery is never fun. No one wants water in their basement. It is a royal pain.
That being said, I am confident that over half of the homes that I have encountered in our area have had water in the basement at some point. I used to know an inspector who would say, “There are two types of basements in Kansas City: those that have had water in them and those that will.” I don’t necessarily believe that to be true, yet the point is not lost on me.
Homes are a moving, shifting, and settling organism. They are constantly keeping you guessing. This is why homes that have never had a problem with water intrusion can all of a sudden have a water issue. Not only is your home in a constant state of change, more importantly the soil around it is as well. Here in lies our biggest regional challenge: expansive soil.
Expansive soil does just what it sounds like it would: it expands when water is added and it contracts when water is removed. The soil around your home can create opportunities for water intrusion, cause your foundation to shift and crack, and yet is completely manageable.
By manageable, I am speaking of the grading of the soil around your foundation. Proper grading should slope the soil around your home away from the home to carry ground water away from your foundation walls. This simple process is a must to maintain a dry basement. You should also monitor the soil right up against your foundation. During extremely dry seasons, the expansive soil in our region will contract and pull away from the foundation walls. You might have seen this around your home a couple of years ago. Essentially this contraction leaves a gap around your foundation. This gap then becomes a funnel during the first big Spring rain. And because water will always seek the path of least resistance, water will fill this gap (or funnel) and then find any little crack in your foundation to gain entrance to your home.
In most cases, homes that have water issues usually have a grading issue, a gutter and downspout issue, or a combination of the two.
Proper gutter cleaning and maintenance is just a way of life here in KC and is probably one of the most neglected projects that I see. Almost every home inspection that I have attended has mentioned either a buildup of leaves and debris in the gutters or that the downspouts dispense water right next to the foundation walls. Either way you are asking for trouble.
When gutters fill up with debris, you can experience the “water fall effect” when your gutters spill over with water creating a lovely waterfall look all around your home. This waterfall is allowing water to fall right next to your foundation walls instead of being carried away from the home as it is intended. Thus facilitating an opportunity for water intrusion.
When it comes to downspouts, most inspectors and drainage companies recommend that your downspouts be extended eight to ten feet away from your home before they dispense. You can also look at burying your downspouts as well and running them underground and away from your home. Usually the solution depends on the slope of your yard.
If you have suffered from a wet basement over the last couple of weeks, I would certainly start with evaluating your grading, gutters and downspouts. There are companies that specialize in drainage who could be good source of information as well.
One last thought: Please be careful when getting bids to water proof your basement. I say this because I have encountered numerous clients who have been sold a dry basement product (which cost thousands of dollars) and yet the cause of the water problem outside of the home was never addressed. I am not a foundation specialist. I have never claimed to be one. However, in my experience, a water problem solution is usually more simple than it appears and the solution should address the cause, not the symptom.