Winter can be rough in Chicago and the Midwest in general and most years find residents longing for spring weeks or even months before the first robin is spotted or the first crocus pokes its head out. The winter of 2013-14 has been particularly brutal with record snow and cold and it still seems as if spring is a long way off.
Spring does manage to arrive every year, on time according to the calendar if nothing else, and that means that warmer weather and the spring thaw aren’t far behind. Although Chicagoans aren’t victims of “mud season” like people in New England, the spring thaw (besides filling all those potholes with water) can wreak havoc with our homes and create “basement leakage” season instead.
How Spring Thaw Causes Basement Leakage
Usually long before the snow flies around Chicago, the ground begins to freeze. Even the clay soil common in the area is normally able to absorb water reasonably well but, when it freezes, the rate of absorption slows to practically nothing. As long as the precipitation is of the frozen variety this doesn’t present a huge problem.
One of the first, and most noticeable things that happens is that runoff from melting snow overwhelms the municipal storm sewer system and causes flooding. In towns where storm and sanitary systems are separate, this usually won’t impact residential basements. In Chicago, however, where the sanitary and storm sewers are combined into one system, this sudden influx of water can back up sewers and result in basement flooding.
Homes are more commonly affected by water that doesn’t reach the sewer system. Even in the worst of winters, snow and ice will melt before the ground thaws, usually because of warmer air and sunlight. When all that frozen stuff turns to water and the soil can’t absorb it, it has to go somewhere. If water has ponded around the foundation or if there is a negative grade around the house, chances are that at least some of that water is going into the basement.
Given the damage done by the drought that began in 2012, it is likely that many homes around the Chicago area have gaps around their foundations caused by the shrinking of desiccated soil. These gaps, combined with an anticipated heavy snow melt, will create a wide open entry for surface water to surround the foundation and seek out any opportunity to enter the basement, including cracks, porous concrete and the cove joint.
Other likely culprits are smaller things, like:
- Sump pump discharge lines with frozen blockage or obstruction at the exit point by snow or ice
- Clogged window well drains that help create instant aquariums outside basement windows
- Snow piled or drifted against the house can cause water infiltration even without the soil separation mentioned above
Not surprisingly, all of this can be avoided when the homeowner takes a few simple precautions before the snow starts to melt:
- Check sump pumps, both primary and back-up, to make sure they’re operating properly
- Make sure window wells drains are clear
- Don’t shovel or blow snow against the house
And, of course, take normal precautions to make sure the basement isn’t seeping water under normal circumstances because it will be worse many times over when a large amount of snow melts and magnifies the problem.
If any of these things are happening in your home, or if you want to make sure that they don’t, consult a reputable basement waterproofing contractor that offers a full range of preventive and repair services. At U.S. Waterproofing, we’ve been ensuring dry basements (and fixing them when they’re not) for Chicago homeowners for more than 57 years. Ask for our free advice before things get worse.