The first major hurricane of the season has been beating up on Florida and the Gulf Coast, particularly on our poor, battered neighbors in Louisiana. Hurricane Isaac, like most hurricanes and tropical storms, has weakened over the land but it will continue to have its effect on the central part of the United States for at least a few days.
In the Chicago area, we’ll be catching the “tail end” of Hurricane Isaac this weekend and that means heavy rains. Besides spoiling some Labor Day barbecues, these rains are likely to end up flooding more than a few basements around Chicago, a situation made worse by the lengthy drought we have experienced this summer.
Why the Combination of Drought and Hurricane Isaac is Bad News for Chicago Basements
In an earlier article, we discussed how this summer’s drought may actually be damaging your foundation. The problem caused by the drought and unusually high temperatures is called “soil desiccation,” the removal of moisture from the soil surrounding your foundation. The moisture doesn’t evaporate; it is actually pulled from the soil by trees and plants surrounding your home.
In an effort to survive drought conditions, trees and other plants, such as shrubs, send their root systems deeper and wider in search of water. These roots draw water from the soil, keeping the greenery alive, but causing the soil to shrink, particularly the clay soil that’s common in our region. When the soil shrinks, it pulls away from the foundation, allowing foundation walls to shift and cracks to occur.
Soil shrinkage also creates open pathways for water to run down along the foundation and find openings to enter the basement.
The heavy rain we experienced in the Chicagoland area last Sunday was a warning of how bad things could get. Many local homeowners who had never had a water problem before reported wet basements and that’s nothing compared to those who will be affected if we get the two or three days of sustained rain from Hurricane Isaac that is predicted.
So What Can I do to Prevent Basement Seepage?
OK, so it’s a little late for major repairs before this weekend but there are some things you can do:
Check your Sump Pump – It’s a really good idea to test your primary sump pump. Using a hose or a bucket, pour water into your sump basin until it’s full enough to trigger the pump switch. Make sure the pump turns on, pumps as much water out of the basin as possible and shuts off. If you have a float switch, make sure it’s not pushed against the side of the basin or tangled in wires.
Make Sure your Back-up Sump Pump is Working – If you have a battery back-up sump pump, make sure your battery is charging and that the pump is operating properly. No matter what type of back-up pump you have, unplug your primary pump and test the back-up the same way as above.
Clean your Gutters and Downspouts – I can’t say enough about the key role played by gutter systems in preventing infiltration of rain water. If your gutters are clogged, water will spill over and saturate the ground next to your foundation. If your downspouts end right at the base of your foundation, the same thing will happen but worse. Consider some temporary extensions as a stopgap until you can do downspout extensions the right way.
Cross your Fingers – Hey, it might help.
Look, I don’t want to exaggerate the possibilities here but I do want to make sure that Chicagoland homeowners understand that heavy rains from Hurricane Isaac (or whatever the source of the next heavy rains) can cause some real problems after the extremely dry summer we’ve had.
At U.S. Waterproofing, we’ve helped more than 300,000 Chicago homeowners make and keep their basements dry, come drought, hurricane, blizzard or whatever the notorious Chicago weather throws at us. If you’re concerned about your basement, get in touch. Our advice is always free.