Wet Chicago Basements: Caused by Last Year’s Drought?


Wet Chicago Basements: Caused by Last Year’s Drought?

What a difference a year makes.  2012 brought an early omen for Chicago with 80-degree days in March and when summer officially rolled around the area was baking in extreme heat.  Electric bills soared, lawns turned brown and rain was a rare commodity.  I had a few things to say about how that drought affected Chicago foundations.

In 2013, things were radically different.  Spring was chilly and rainy, almost at record levels, and summer took a long time getting to Chicago.  April’s record rains flooded large portions of Chicago and its suburbs and “soggy” was the operative word for most of the season.  Here are my thoughts on how that weather affected Chicago homes.

Of course, all this rain meant a lot of wet Chicago basements.  Not a surprising result under any circumstances, but is it possible that the situation was made worse by the extreme heat and drought of the preceding year?

How a Wet Chicago Basement May Have Been Caused by Heat and Drought

In general, water that ends up in a basement comes from the soil surrounding a home’s foundation.  This ground water is present everywhere, even in normally arid areas – what varies is how deep in the earth it is located, a level that is known as the “water table.”  The water table is a long-term condition that is determined by factors like proximity to bodies of water and soil composition.  The amount and level of ground water can also be affected in the short term by rain and snow that saturates the soil at a level closer to the surface.

All this ground water causes the soil to swell, more or less depending on its composition, which exerts pressure on the foundation.  This pressure can cause cracks in basement walls and floors and will force water into the basement through them and through other points of entry like porous concrete or masonry, deteriorating mortar joints and the opening where the foundation wall meets the footing, called the cove joint.

When ground water is scarce, the opposite happens and soil shrinks.  During the 2012 drought, there was a lot of soil shrinkage, much of which resulted in structural damage to foundations because foundations dropped out of level when the soil underneath them shrank and compacted.  The heat and drought also caused soil to shrink away from foundation walls, leaving gaps between the foundation and surrounding soil.  When rains do come, these gaps act like funnels and allow water that would have otherwise soaked into the soil to run down along the foundation and find the cracks, porous spots -- any pathway into the basement.  For homes with exterior drain tile, the volume of water reaching the drain tile may overwhelm it temporarily, making the problem even worse.

Another effect of drought is that trees and large shrubs planted near the foundation will send their root systems deeper and wider in search of water.  Not only will this draw more water from the soil and increase the chances of damage, but tree roots can also penetrate drain tile, downspout extensions and sewer lines to create further basement water problems.

Anyway you look at it, a hot, dry year followed by a rainy one is bad news for Chicago basements.  Damage done by the drought often won’t show up until the rains start and then it’s too late to avoid a wet basement.  An experienced basement waterproofing company can predict the damages that will be caused by drought and will be equipped to repair any and all of them, permanently and cost-effectively.

At U.S. Waterproofing, we’ve seen lots of dry and wet seasons in the 56 years since we opened our doors and we offer Chicago homeowners a complete range of remedies for their wet basements, no matter what the cause.  Why not ask for our free advice?


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