Remodeling? Basement Waterproofing Should Be Your First Step


Remodeling? Basement Waterproofing Should Be Your First Step

Remodeling our homes has become a great American tradition.

Whether it is to add living space, change the configuration of rooms or simply to give the old place a new look, Americans love to remodel.  In fact, it is estimated that American homeowners spent a staggering $130 billion on home remodeling projects in 2013.  (Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”)

So, what is all that remodeling money being spent on?  New kitchens and bathrooms are among the most popular upgrades.  Adding bedrooms, changing flooring and creating special use rooms, like media rooms, wine cellars and exercise facilities are also right up there in popularity.

Not all of that work is taking place inside the home, either.  Outside living spaces, such as decks, patios and porches remain popular as do landscaping and hardscaping projects.

In short, anything that makes a home more livable, more beautiful or more functional is fair game for the home remodeler.

Of course, there’s no remodeling project closer to the heart of the typical American homeowner than the finished basement.  Basements offer ready-made room that requires no major construction to increase living space as an addition would.  They can be finished, depending on the level of comfort desired, with as little as a coat of paint and an area rug but offer a blank slate for a remodeler with the desire (and the budget) to create a space equivalent in finish and furnishings to the living space above ground.

Regardless of the type and extent of the remodel, a homeowner intent on creating finished living space in the basement has a world of options – just type “finished basement” into everyone’s favorite search engine and see what pops up.  Like many other home remodeling projects, half the fun is in the planning – determining the layout of rooms, figuring out electrical and plumbing runs and picking out colors and finishes.

Regrettably too often absent from all this planning is any thought for the possibility that all that remodeling work may eventually be sabotaged by water seepage in the basement.  Many homeowners have found too late that their basement had previously undiscovered water problems that turned up after they had committed significant amounts of time and money to remodeling.

How to prevent this?  Incorporate basement waterproofing into plans for remodeling a basement and take care of cracks, leaks and other problems before nailing up the first stud or hanging the first sheet of drywall.

How to Waterproof a Basement Before Remodeling

Even if not one drop of water has ever appeared in the basement, a homeowner planning a remodeling project should consult a basement waterproofing professional to assess waterproofing systems that may already be in place and check for the possibility of future problems.  This pro can run a “hose test” to determine if potential problems exist.

If existing or potential seepage problems are found there are several ways to prevent them from ruining the new living space and requiring disruptive repairs to be done after the fact.

Crack injection – The most common type of residential foundation is one made of poured concrete and the most common source of water seepage in such a foundation is a non-structural crack in the wall.  These cracks are narrow, less than 1/8”, and can appear almost anywhere in no set pattern.

If cracks are found, even if they have not seeped previously, it is best to repair them before remodeling to prevent water problems in the future.  The recommended method of repair is to inject cracks with expanding polyurethane.

The technician begins the process by cleaning out the crack of any loose material, then inserting a number of plastic injection ports into the crack at intervals.  He then applies a coating of fast-curing epoxy over the crack to seal it and hold the injection ports in place.

Once the epoxy has cured, he injects each port, beginning at the top, with the polyurethane material until the crack is filled all the way to the outside soil.  When the polyurethane cures it remains flexible to help stop re-cracking caused by minor foundation movement.

Interior Drain Tile – Another very common source of water in the basement starts out as water in the ground under the basement.  Water exists in the ground everywhere and in many places is reasonably close to the surface.  This level of ground water, known as the “water table,” is relatively stable but can rise during times of heavy rains or snowmelt.

When the water table rises, it creates hydrostatic pressure against the bottom of the foundation and this pressure can force water into the basement through cracks in the basement floor or through the cove joint, a construction joint between the foundation wall and basement floor.

This form of seepage can be stopped or prevented by creating a means of alleviating the hydrostatic pressure by giving the rising water table a place to go.  This is accomplished by installing interior drain tile.

Interior drain tile is one of the most versatile methods of basement waterproofing but it can be disruptive to a finished basement so it should be installed before remodeling.

To install interior drain tile, the basement waterproofing contractor first removes a strip of the concrete basement floor, approximately one foot wide, from the perimeter of the basement, exposing the footings.  A small trench is then dug into the soil next to the footings and a bed of washed gravel is poured in and leveled.

Lengths of flexible, corrugated piping are then connected to a sump pump basin and extended around the perimeter of the basement on top of the gravel bed until they reach the other side of the basin.  The pipe is perforated and covered in a “sock” of filtration fabric.

The pipe is then covered in more washed stone and new concrete is poured to replace the strip of basement floor.

When hydrostatic pressure increases, water is forced into the pipe through the perforations and is carried to the sump basin where the sump pump discharges it from the house, leaving the basement dry.

Exterior Waterproofing – There are other sources of seepage that can be prevented by waterproofing on the outside of the foundation.  Masonry foundations, for example, can seep water through cracks in mortar joints or porous masonry materials such as concrete block or brick.   Poured concrete foundations may develop porous spots because of mistakes made during the original pour and poor grading or outdoor improvements may cause water to enter the basement over the top of the foundation wall.

The most common method of outside waterproofing is to install an exterior waterproofing membrane on foundation walls.  This method requires that the foundation be excavated down to the footings, leaving an opening wide enough for technicians to work.

The process begins by cleaning the foundation walls of any dirt, debris or loose mortar.  Then, the installer begins to lay on a thick coating of asphalt-modified polyurethane, which may be sprayed but is usually most effective when applied with a trowel.  This material will cure to create an impenetrable water barrier on the “positive” side of the foundation.

Once the polyurethane has cured, heavy-duty dimpled plastic drainage board will be placed over it to protect the membrane and channel water downward.  Insulating material may also be added before the excavation is backfilled.

A frequent and welcome addition to the exterior waterproofing membrane is a system of exterior drain tile, which is designed to alleviate external pressure and carry off high ground water.

In concept, exterior drain tile is the same as its interior counterpart and the installation begins by laying down a clean gravel bed.  The main difference between the two is that rigid PVC pipe, also perforated, is used for exterior drain tile because it will better resist soil movement and pressure than the corrugated pipe used on the interior.  The pipe is connected around the perimeter and routed at both ends to a sump pump for disposal of water.

The performance of any of these waterproofing methods will be enhanced if the homeowner keeps rain gutters clean and flowing and extends downspouts at least 10 feet away from the house, preferably with permanent underground extensions.  This will keep rain water from the roof from over-saturating the soil in the crucial 10-foot zone around the foundation.

Of course, the homeowner who wants to keep his or her basement dry when tackling a remodeling project will need the advice and services of a professional basement waterproofing contractor.  At U.S. Waterproofing, we have been helping homeowners in the Chicago area and northwest Indiana keep their basements dry and their remodeling investments secure since our founding in 1957.  More than 300,000 of them have used our services and are enjoying dry basements and healthy homes so why not ask for our free advice when you’re planning a basement remodel?


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