Identify the Source of a Cellar Leak
LESLIE: Next up, we have a call from Dee in New Jersey.
How can we help?
DEE: Yes, hello. I have a problem with my cellar. I have stairs that lead down. There’s the iron doors and there’s stairs leading down. And at the bottom of the stairs I have water seeping in when we have heavy rain and I was wondering what I could do about that.
TOM: The stairs that you have on the outside of your house, that’s what we call Bilco doors; the metal doors on a slant.
DEE: That’s right.
TOM: OK. The area to the left and the right of that Bilco door opening, what’s the drainage conditions like right there? Because typically, if you get water that ponds in those areas or runs too close to that area, you’ll get water in the bottom of the stairwell.
DEE: No, the strange thing is there’s the patio on one side and then on the other side there is an attached garage.
DEE: And there’s no water draining there at all. It just seems to be seeping from the ground.
TOM: OK, are you sure that the door of the Bilco is not leaking? Have you run a hose on it and had somebody watch underneath?
DEE: Yes. I got a flashlight and I looked when it was raining and there’s no rain coming in. It’s just from the bottom of the stairs there.
TOM: OK, there’s only one other possibility and that is that this is a general grading or drainage issue that’s stemming somewhere else in the house and just happens to work its way down there. Here’s the other areas you have to look at.
First of all, and most critically, make sure that your roof gutters are clean. Your gutters are clean, your downspouts are clean, and your downspouts are extended out away from the house. We need them to be out at least 4 feet, maybe even 6 feet, so the water drains away from the foundation. Because …
DEE: Yeah, we have gutter helmets.
TOM: OK. Now that works well except in really severe, driving rainstorms and then it tends to run over off the gutter guard. So watch out for that.
The second thing is the drainage conditions around the outside of the house. Look at the grading; make sure it’s sloping away from the walls. That’s really important. If it’s sloping into the walls or it’s too flat, that water basically sits against the foundation, Dee, and it goes down and it runs around the base and it’ll come out in different places. It could come out in the middle of the basement floor or it can come out in your window well. But somewhere in that area is where the water is accumulating. Since it’s happening consistent with rainfall, it’s got to be a drainage condition. You’ve just got to find out exactly which drainage condition is leading to it.
DEE: You don’t think there’s like a spring or something underneath there.
TOM: No, it’s not. It’s a good question, though.
LESLIE: Yes, that’s Dee’s water supply.
TOM: That’s right. Dee’s spring water.
LESLIE: It’s the hottest new bottled water.
TOM: No, and I’ll tell you why I absolutely know for sure; because it only happens in heavy rainfall. And springs rise and fall seasonally; they don’t rise and fall consistent with rain. So it’s definitely a drainage condition. You’ve just got to figure out where it’s going wrong.
DEE: OK, I’ll have to check that out again.
TOM: OK, Dee? Thank you very much. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.
LESLIE: And she must be a regular listener because she knew everything that you were going to tell her to do and she did it in advance.
TOM: That’s right. But now, having told her again, she’s been reinforced and she’s ready to rock and roll with that and get her basement dried up.