DIY – Do It Yourself – is a popular practice among homeowners and there are plenty of commercial interests that make it easier – most of the time.
At the top of the pile is an entire television network devoted to DIY. Shows feature inexperienced homeowners being led through home improvement projects by buff dudes in plaid shirts or perky young women in tool belts. The message is “if they can do it, you can too.”
And then there’s that big box hardware store that offers everything for the DIYer. Their slogan: “You can do it. We can help.”
Of course, there are the piles of magazines, books, YouTube videos and in-store classes that are designed to make a handyman out of every homeowner.
All of these things are great. Doing home improvements yourself is a terrific way to save money and to put your personal stamp on your home. Of course, there are DIYers and then there are DIYers.
Even the rawest amateur can successfully paint a room, plant a garden or hang some drapes.
Those with a little more experience (and the right tools) can install a faucet, replace a light fixture or re-glaze a window.
And there are the folks who can give home guru Mike Holmes a run for his money – the ones who build decks, remodel their own kitchens and install electrical circuits.
You’ll note there was no mention of sealing a foundation. There’s a reason for that.
Why Sealing a Foundation isn’t a DIY Project
When most people refer to “sealing a foundation,” they are talking about applying an exterior waterproofing membrane, which is a thick coating of asphalt-modified polyurethane applied to foundation walls to keep out water. Exterior waterproofing membranes are very effective on both poured concrete and masonry foundations and installing one to stop seepage is usually a great idea.
However, there are several reasons why it’s best to rely on a professional when sealing a foundation:
Sealing a foundation is very labor-intensive. Do you like to dig? Really, really like to dig? You’d better if you’re considering a DIY membrane project. The process begins by removing anything next to the house in the affected area, including decks, patios, sidewalks and planters – and then the real work starts.
In order to install the membrane, the entire foundation wall must be dug out to a depth of as much as eight feet and the trench should be wide enough to work in. Oh, and because it’s right next to the house, all the digging has to be by hand.
The right materials can’t be found at the hardware store. There are horror stories on the internet about people using roofing tar and plastic sheeting to “seal” their basements below ground and the ending is always pretty gruesome. The polyurethane used by professionals is a specialized material meant for soil contact and it won’t erode over time like consumer materials will. Heavy duty drainage board and insulating material may also be used, depending on the situation, and a roll of Visqueen just doesn’t measure up.
Drain tile may be needed. A professional will be able to assess the ground water situation and recommend whether the foundation would benefit from installing exterior drain tile when applying the waterproofing membrane. A homeowner probably couldn’t and would be hard-pressed to install it correctly anyway, even if he or she did guess correctly.
Got a lot of spare time? Even if you’re willing to take on the job, it requires a huge commitment of time. Even with a few able-bodied helpers the excavation alone can take days to complete. Then the wall has to be cleaned thoroughly, the membrane applied and allowed to cure, drainage board or insulation installed and the excavation backfilled. That’s not even counting removing outside structures.
Who ya gonna call? So, after all that work, your basement still leaks. Are you going to call yourself up and complain? A professional will provide a warranty.
DIY is a great thing and an admirable pursuit for homeowners and it can even work for keeping your basement dry. Clean your gutters and make sure your downspouts and sump pump discharge more than 10 feet from the house – just don’t take on jobs that are best left to the pros.