Basements can be a little chilly and dark, but they should never be leaky. Mostly underground, your basement’s walls are constantly holding back the surrounding soil and all the moisture in it all the time. It isn’t surprising that water sometimes gets in. But while the occasional seepage during particularly heavy storms is no cause for alarm, other puddles, leaks, and backed-up pipes need to be stopped before they start. Here’s a quick guide on how to keep your basement dry and free from leaks.
Check Inside and Out
If you detect water in your basement, your first step is to get the lay of the land. Walk around the basement with a flashlight and note any places where water is coming in. Some things will be obvious, such as holes and cracks in the foundation, around the floor drain, and along the edge where the wall meets the ceiling. Make a map of the outside of your home and indicate wherever you find water infiltration. The rest of this overview will give you a better idea of what to look for, as well as go over some common places where water can get in.
Window wells are the unsung heroes of your house. These are those shallow holes dug in front of your basement windows. They’re there because your basement is below grade, and the windows allow a measure of sunlight in to illuminate the darkness down there. A metal egress window well isalso there to permit a means of escape in case of emergency, and to hold back the soil, water, and any vermin that might try to get into your home. Despite all that protection, check to see if it’s doing its job. The caulk around the window itself may be crumbling and letting in water, so clean it out and replace it. The wall may also be rusting and need replacement as well. Ensure the well isn’t filling with rain or snow either, and buy a sturdy cover to protect it from the elements (and to keep people and animals from falling in).
Clear the Perimeter
On your walk around the house, note if there are any places where water can build up and force its way in, top and bottom. Have leaves, branches, and other organic material piled up against a wall or corner somewhere? Are the gutters and downspouts clean, clear, and directing water away from the house? Are there divots or holes where rain or other water is pooling, and has the slope around the house flattened at any point? These are all places where outside water can try to find its own level inside your home. Keep things clean! As a special note, during winter, watch for snow building up around the border, and be sure to shovel it away before the first thaw.
Seal Basement Cracks
On your trip around the basement, did you notice any cracks in the walls? Large cracks more than ¾ of an inch wide are a cause for concern, and you should see a foundation expert for an assessment. Otherwise, most cracks are more annoying than dangerous, and if they’re leaking, they can be easily fixed. First, don’t try to repair them while they’re wet. Wait until the rains are over and they’ve had a chance to dry. Next, load a caulk gun with epoxy resin, fill them in, and let it cure for 24 hours. Keep an eye on them the next time the heavens open. Check for cracks outside too while following the same tips. If you have the time and means, treat your basement walls with a waterproof paint.
Check Your Pipes
If you have pipes running through the basement, across the ceiling, or against the walls, a cracked or loose pipe will be self-evident. But there are other ways pipes can cause water in the basement; condensation is one way. In hotter weather cold-water pipes can sweat and drip. It’s not a lot of water, but if the pipe hangs over anything made of paper, wood, or electronics, the damage could be irreparable. Protect pipes and everything else stored in the basement by wrapping the pipes in foam insulation. In case of a cold snap or furnace failure, this can also keep them from cracking.
It might just be that you have a damp basement, owing to your local climate, the weather, or what have you. Purchase a dehumidifier with a 14-pint capacity, and consider purchasing a larger or more powerful model depending on the size of your basement. The dehumidifier keeps down the dampness, clamminess, and humidity by either draining it away to your utility sink or floor drain, or collecting it in an internal tank you can periodically empty. If the dampness continues and raises your concerns, have your home inspected by a waterproofing company and see if there is a more serious problem at play.
When figuring out how to keep your basement dry and free from leaks, don’t forget to look skyward—namely, check your roof. If you’ve already cleaned out your gutters and drain spouts, as we suggested above, have your roof checked for holes, separations in the corners near the chimney and elsewhere, faulty flashing, and loose tiles. Rainwater can find its way in through the roof, the attic, and drip down the walls all the way to the basement. This can even happen in wintertime. Snow falls and forms layers on the roof. Meanwhile, even on cold days, the lower layer can melt, but the snow on top forms a dam, preventing the water from draining away. Instead, it forces its way under the tiles and shingles, through the walls, and into your home. As hard as it may be to believe, you need to also shovel your roof, or at least clear it of snow after a big snowstorm.
Check the Drain
In a worst-case and most obvious scenario, water can get into your basement by backing up and out of the floor drain. At best, the drain is blocked by debris or roots and might be easily unplugged with an auger or snake. At worst, your sewer line may be broken and need to be replaced. Either way, water backing up from the sewer and into your basement is not a good sign—have it looked at by a plumber immediately.