There’s an old saying that most people have heard at least once: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Of course, most old sayings get lumped together as sort of conversational chewing gum – people don’t pay attention to the meaning or the language but just toss them into conversation without really thinking. However, the one about prevention and cure will really resonate with homeowners if they stop and think about it.
Most home maintenance problems can actually be prevented with regular care and maintenance. Rotting wood trim on the outside of a house, for example, can be prevented with a coat of paint or sealer. A leaky roof can be prevented by regular inspection and replacement of damaged or missing shingles.
Even a leaky basement can be prevented by a few simple outdoor maintenance projects, one or two of which may come as a surprise to the average homeowner.
A few fairly simple maintenance projects on the outside of a home can prevent water from leaking into the basement:
1. Clean Rain Gutters – The gutters on the eaves of a house are the first line of defense against a leaky basement, believe it or not. Consider that a 1-inch rainfall can drop as much as 1500 gallons of water on the roof of an average Chicago home. A clean, well-maintained gutter system is essential to trapping this water and carrying it off the roof. If the gutters are clogged with leaves, needles and other natural debris, they can’t do their job and all that water has nowhere to go but to sheet off the edge of the roof onto the ground below. This water then soaks into the earth surrounding the foundation and seeks a way into the basement.
2. Extend Downspouts – Having the cleanest gutters on the block, however, won’t do much good if they transport water to downspouts that are nothing more than vertical pipes that discharge water onto the ground at the corners of the house. This is even worse than clogged gutters because it concentrates rain water into (typically) 4 discharge points and causes that 1-inch rain to dump nearly 400 gallons at each corner! Extending the downspouts, preferably underground, at least 10 feet from the house will keep water out of the danger zone for leaky basements.
3. Maintain Window Wells – Basement windows are a great way to welcome light and fresh air into an otherwise dark basement space. Window wells create an opening in the outside soil but can also collect water and, improperly maintained, allow it to leak into the basement. Window wells should have a custom-fitted cover that keeps out grass clippings, small animals and other stuff that can clog the drain, which itself should be kept clear and flowing. Lightweight plastic “bubbles” from the hardware store are a poor choice because they rarely fit properly, crack and break easily and create a “terrarium” for weeds.
4. Correct Bad Grading and Landscaping – Attractive landscaping adds to a home’s “curb appeal” but, if not well thought out, can also contribute to a leaky basement. Quite often, planting beds around a home’s perimeter have raised edging or soil berms that actually trap rain water close to the foundation, creating additional saturation of the soil around it. Also, negative grading, where the grade slopes toward the house instead of away from it, causes surface water to flow toward the foundation with the same result. Cleaning up planting beds, reversing any negative grade and installing yard drainage systems will leave curb appeal intact while removing a significant source of a leaky basement.
It’s generally up to homeowners to clean gutters and fix landscaping but those who need to install underground downspout extensions, window wells or covers and yard drainage systems will benefit from the help of a professional basement waterproofing contractor. At U.S Waterproofing, we have been preventing (and fixing) leaky basements all over Chicagoland since 1957 and know our way around underground downspout extensions, window well and outdoor water management so why not ask for our free advice.
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