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Diagnosing a Basement Leak: Is it My Plumbing or My Foundation?

Sep 17, 2015 • By Matthew Stock.

Basement Leak

Discovering water in the basement is something every homeowner dreads.

Depending on the severity of the problem, it can mean a lot of work in hauling out soggy boxes, drying rugs and furniture or just cleaning up the puddle.  Then, there are the questions that arise in the aftermath – How do I fix this?  Who can I call? 

What is this going to cost?

The answers?  Well, that depends on where all that water came from.

Did it come from a burst pipe, backed-up sink or a floor drain that leads to the sewer?

Or, did it come from a crack in the basement wall or floor, a flooded sump basin or that tiny space between the basement wall and floor?

These are very different problems that require very different solutions and, not surprisingly, the expertise and services of very different professionals.

Do I Need a Basement Waterproofing Contractor or a Plumber?

Most homeowners understand that every trade or profession has its strengths and its limits – a carpenter would do a great job building a staircase but the homeowner probably wouldn’t be happy with the results if he or she hired the same guy to carpet it.  Same goes with water problems that occur in the basement.

Let’s look at an obvious example.  A homeowner returns from a winter vacation and finds several inches of water on the basement floor.  Looking up, she sees a huge split in an overhead water pipe that apparently froze and burst.  Who does she call?  A plumber, obviously.

But, how about if that same homeowner arrived home from vacation to find a small, shallow puddle of water that seemed to originate from the point where the basement wall meets the floor — no pipes nearby, no drains.  Who you gonna call?  A basement waterproofing contractor — because the water likely entered the basement through the cove joint and was forced in by hydrostatic pressure below the basement floor.

In not-so-obvious instances there two rules of thumb that can help determine whether a leak in the basement is a plumbing problem or a foundation leak:

Quantity of water – A plumbing problem, particularly burst pipes, clogged fixtures and backed-up drains, usually results in a large amount of water in a short period of time.  A foundation leak, on the other hand, usually takes time to develop and enters the basement slowly, which is why it is most often described as “seepage.”

Quality of water – Water that enters a basement due to a foundation leak is just about always clean and clear because it is ground water that has filtered through soil before it seeped into the basement.  Water that results from a plumbing problem may also be clean, as in the case of burst interior pipe or leaking joint, but it can often be dirty and smelly, especially when it results from a sewer back-up or clogged drain or fixture.

It’s usually pretty easy to spot a plumbing leak and when you do, call a plumber.  They are the best at fixing and installing pipes, drains and fixtures.  They unclog drains, toilets and sewer lines and fix leaking faucets.

Foundation leaks or seepage can be difficult to pinpoint and that’s why a homeowner needs the services of a basement waterproofing contractor to find and diagnose the problem as well as repair it.  Basement waterproofers are qualified professionals that permanently repair wall cracks, install interior and exterior drain tile and seal foundation walls with exterior waterproofing membranes.  They repair and install window wells and covers and do the same with sump pumps, both primary and battery backup models.

At U.S. Waterproofing, our expertise lies in preventing and repairing foundation leaks caused by seepage and we have done it for more than 57 years.  We leave the plumbing to the plumbers and more than 300,000 satisfied customers have left the basement waterproofing to us.  Why not ask for our free advice?

Want to know more about the differences between plumbers and basement waterproofers?  Please post your questions in the Comments box below.

Tags: diagnose basement leak, diagnosing basement leak

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