You are here

How to Cope with Water in Your Basement

This is forecasted to be the rainiest month of the year. (Edit: July summary registered almost 10" of rain in the DC area.)

I get lots of calls from clients and friends asking for waterproofing company references because of moisture penetration in and around their basements. Moisture in a basement and the moldy walls and ruined carpet it can cause often result in big money decisions — despite inexpensive options.

By professional waterproofing, I’m speaking of what is typically called a French drain system, which is buried beneath the perimeter of your basement and carries water to a sump pump, which ejects the water into the main storm/sewer drain, or back outside. This isn’t waterproofing. This is addressing symptoms by taking the problem out each time it appears. Imagine treating a pest infestation that way.

Over the years, I’ve seen costs for such systems range from $7,500 to as much as $14,000. Here are some simple methods and obvious reminders on how to save money by waterproofing your home yourself. There are only four reasons water would be found in your: grading, gutters, downspouts and drains. (Absent mechanical failure, or manmade flaws in workmanship or installation of plumbed appliances.)

Gutters: It seems obvious, but it’s important to understand that with most townhomes, every drop of rain that falls on our flat roofs is captured by the 5- or 6-inch rear gutter that spans the width of the house. If the gutter isn’t fully clear of trash and debris, even a moderate rain load can spill over, landing directly next to your foundation. Combined with poor grading, soil becomes saturated, and isn’t noticed until too late. Many of us don’t have roof hatches or 40′ ladders, but I’ve found that many roofers willing to do the job, twice a year, for about $150. 

Downspouts: Obviously tied in with gutters, these must also be clear of debris. But again, based on grading, where and how your downspouts exhaust water is crucial. If you’re one of a growing group of residents without functioning storm drain pipes on the rear of your home, your downspouts must be diverted away from your foundation. Without proper grading, unsightly extensions can be called for; but like a sump pump, these simply take water away from where it shouldn’t have been in the first place. When you or someone else is cleaning your gutters, try to run a garden hose down the spout to insure no blockage.

Drains: We all know they must be clear of leaves and debris, but keep in mind that in and around Capitol Hill for instance, storm and sewer drains are tied together. What you put in your toilet, as well as your garbage disposal, all goes to the same place; so backups can be awful. Call the plumber before you call the waterproofer … 

Grading: It seems simple, that the land around your home should slope away, but this may be the No. 1 overlooked cause of moisture in basements, particularly when the cause is difficult to ascertain before damage is visible. Over time, in even moderate rain conditions, a flat or reverse grade can result in saturated soil and a very slow penetration of moisture at the base of your foundation, which is often unnoticeable until it’s too late.

Grading is last on my list, but most important in my book. Landscaping 101: raising beds, proper plantings next to your foundation, good drainage and even some heavy dirt relocation can save thousands of dollars in unnecessary mechanical fixes.