LESLIE: Angela in Washington D.C. is on the line with a question about waterproofing her basement.
Angela, first tell us what’s been going on.
ANGELA: I’m having problems in my basement with water coming in in my garage, not in the other part of my house. But it would have to rain really hard for the water to come in.
So, I have some mold and mildew downstairs in the corners and I also have peeling of the paint. And also, I have a crack that goes across the wall about 8 feet. And I was interviewing some companies to waterproof my basement and they all wanted to drill my house down to the footer and I really don’t want to do that. For some reason, that doesn’t sit well with me.
TOM: Yeah, well, and you’re wise to question that advice. Because if you’re talking to these so-called waterproofing companies, they’re in the business to sell you very expensive repairs. And I just would venture a bet that it came with a fair degree of panic peddling about all the bad things that could happen to you if you didn’t open up your checkbook for them. Is that correct?
ANGELA: Yeah. And I was – I had – gave them money and I was going to do it and they delayed it for about a day because they needed some more of the – whatever they told me. And I went online, I was surfing the net and I came across your article and it said, “Don’t do it.” And I called them right then and there. I said, “I don’t want to do it.”
TOM: Yeah. Good, good. Well, we saved you and I’m very happy that you found the articles that we have about waterproofing your basement and how not to get ripped off.
TOM: That’s actually among the most popular content that we have on MoneyPit.com. We get tens of thousands of people that see that article every single month.
And so let’s talk about it, Angela. If you read the story, you know that we believe that most water problems that are consistent with rainfall, such as what you’ve described, have nothing to do with rising water table.
TOM: And if you don’t have a rising water table, there’s no reason to dig out your basement and put in drains and pumps and all of that. What we need to do is get this in under control from the top down.
So, you need to kind of go through a checklist here. The first thing is to look at all of the drainage around your house. Start at the roof. How is the water being collected at the roof edge? Do we have gutters? Are the gutters clean? Are the gutters free-flowing? Are they big enough for the volume of roof surface that they’re servicing?
The downspouts. Are they clean? Are they free-flowing? And very, very important, if I had to pick one thing out of everything, where is that downspout discharging? If you’ve got water in corners of the basement showing in, I bet you there’s a spout above it that’s leaking water there or backing up or clogged or something right above that area. We need to direct the water from the roof away from the house.
Now, I know in D.C., that can be a challenging area, depending on how close your home is to the next house. Do you have a single-family house or do you have a …?
TOM: OK. So you have some room to move around, in terms of this drainage?
TOM: Can you get the water 4 to 6 feet from the foundation perimeter?
ANGELA: Yes, I could do that.
TOM: OK. And I’m going to tell you how to prove this point to yourself very easily and inexpensively. Head out to a home center and buy some downspout material. It’s very cheap: probably $10 or $20 worth of downspout material. And just stick it on the end of the leaders and run it out into your yard 6, 8 feet, whatever length they come in. And just stop right there, OK? This is a temporary thing; we’re not going to leave it like this year-round.
But what you will find, if we move through a couple of rainfalls, that the volume of water and moisture and humidity that you’re seeing in your basement will be dramatically different. Why? Because you moved the water away.
Now, once we’ve proven that point, how do we do this in a neat and orderly fashion? You’ve got options. You could run it underground through solid PVC pipe, if you can find a place that discharged that to daylight. We want it to come out somewhere low where the water will stream away. So if you have a low spot in your yard where you can do that, great. If you can take it out to a curb and put it into a storm sewer, even better. So that’s a way to make it completely hidden.
If not, then maybe you tighten up those spouts and try to landscape around them so we hide the extensions. But they’ve got to get out there at least 4 to 6 feet, because those first few feet around the house are critical. If they get wet, your basement is going to flood, because that’s the backfill zone. Soil there is more porous than in other areas of the house; it’s where the house was dug up to build the foundation. So the gutters are critical.
Second to that is grading. You know, if the soil around your house is very flat, then once the water lands, it has nowhere to go but in. So you want to add clean fill dirt – not topsoil but clean fill dirt – and tamp it to slope away from the walls. You want a slope of about 6 inches over 4 feet.
And then once that slope is established, then and only then do you put some mulch or top soil and grass seed to control erosion. But you don’t build it up with top soil. Why? Because top soil is very organic and because it’s organic, it’s going to hold water and that’s not what we’re trying to do here.
So grading and gutters are the two major things to address and of all of those, downspouts are most important. Does that make sense?
ANGELA: Sounds great. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Leslie. Thank you so much.
TOM: Good luck with that project and thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.