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How to Prevent a Wet Basement

Jul 28, 2014 • By Matthew Stock.

Benjamin Franklin

One of the more famous axioms in American language originated with that bountiful source of quotes himself, Benjamin Franklin.  Among many witty truisms, Franklin famously said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Of course, Franklin was writing in advocacy of establishing a fire department, which he did in Philadelphia in 1736, but his point holds true about most things in life.  It’s better to get a flu shot than to visit the doctor suffering with chills and fever.  It’s better to fix the hole in the fence than to chase the dog all over the neighborhood.

And, of course, it’s better to take steps to prevent a wet basement than it is to clean up the puddles and go to the expense and inconvenience of having it repaired.

Prevent a Wet Basement Before It Happens

Most of the things a homeowner can do to prevent a wet basement will be done on the outside of the home with one very significant exception. 

There are two factors that cause a wet basement – water in the ground and a means of entry.  There isn’t a whole lot of preventative medicine for means of entry because neither a homeowner nor professional can prevent cracks from occurring in floors or walls, seal up the cove joint or eliminate porous concrete or cracked mortar joints.  One great step would be to install an actual exterior waterproofing membrane on the foundation during construction instead of mere damp-proofing but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

One thing that can be done is to ensure that basement windows are properly fitted and that window wells are in good shape – not separating from the foundation, drain clean and running and cover intact.  When a window well drain is missing or clogged, rain water can build up in the window well and eventually create enough pressure to displace even a properly fitting window.

A window well cover is also essential, not to block rain water but to keep out leaves, grass clippings, trash and other debris that can clog the drain.  A professionally installed steel-reinforced polycarbonate cover that is custom-fitted to the window well will offer the best and longest-lasting protection.

Keeping rain water out of the ground surrounding the foundation is the real focus of preventing a wet basement.   The soil in a ten-foot zone around the foundation is particularly vulnerable to oversaturation because it is the site of the original excavation that was done to construct the foundation when the home was built.  This soil remains less compacted than the surrounding undisturbed soil and absorbs water more quickly.

One way to lessen the saturation of this soil is to keep rain gutters clean and flowing.  When a gutter is clogged, ran water will simply run off the edge of the roof and end up on the ground around the foundation where it is quickly absorbed.  Considering that a one-inch rainfall can drop as much as 1,000 gallons of water on the average roof, keeping gutters clean keeps a lot of water in its place.

Of course, clean gutters won’t accomplish much if they flow into downspouts that discharge right next to the foundation.  A downspout that is dumping water at the corner of the house will contribute significantly to a wet basement so extending downspouts beyond the 10-foot zone around the foundation will prevent that soil from becoming oversaturated.  Underground extensions installed by a professional will ensure that extensions stay in place and that unsightly snakes of plastic tubing aren’t detracting from the appearance of the home.

The one thing that can be done inside to prevent a wet basement is to regularly inspect and test the sump pump.  Often referred to as the heart of a basement waterproofing system, a sump pump collects water from interior drain tile and discharges it outside the home.  If the sump pump is inadequate for the demands made on it or has failed entirely, water can collect in the basement very quickly when heavy rains drive up the water table.

Some of these preventative steps could be done by a homeowner but, except for cleaning and unclogging gutters, most are best left to a professional.  At U.S. Waterproofing we have been preventing (and fixing) wet basements around Chicago, northwest Indiana and southeastern Wisconsin for more than 57 years and have the experience and expertise to prevent a wet basement in your home.  Why not ask for our free advice?

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