Prevent Leaky Basement Walls
LESLIE: Nancy in North Carolina listens to The Money Pit on WSTP. And you’ve got a foundation question. What can we do for you?
NANCY: Yes, I have a 75-year-old brick home with a full basement. And the problem is that when we have a saturating rain the water comes through the wall in one part of the basement. And I had come up with a solution but it then occurred to me that maybe I should check and make sure if there’s any reason I shouldn’t do it.
LESLIE: What was your solution?
NANCY: Well, the basement is partially exposed. The windows are actually above ground. And I thought I might get some topsoil or some kind of soil brought in and bank it away from the house. And I have a problem with ivy also and I was thinking that if I banked the soil away from the house to help facilitate drainage away from the house but then put pavers – cement stepping stones, really, only they’re a foot-and-a-half long by eight inches wide –
NANCY: – and line the entire foundation with that on the angle, that would help me perhaps be able to keep the ivy under control as well as provide a little bit of a runoff area and maybe keep that area right next to the house drier. Does it – does that make any sense at all? Or is there any reason that I should not do it?
TOM: It actually makes a lot of sense, Nancy. You are definitely on the right track. Generally, wet basements are caused by poor grading. So the slope of the soil around the house is too flat. But even more commonly it’s caused by problems with the gutter system; either it being clogged, the downspouts not being extended far enough away from the basement or perhaps the gutter system even being undersized. So that was to be the first thing that I would check is that your gutter system is properly designed and installed and that water is discharging four to six feet away from the foundation. Generally, at the corner areas most gutters just turn out six inches or a foot. Maybe there’s a splash block. Then the water ponds there and it works its way back in.
Now, as for that soil; a couple of things. First of all, sloping is the right idea. Topsoil is not the right material, though. Topsoil is very organic so it holds a lot of water against the foundation. Once you pull that ivy out you want to add clean fill dirt to build up the pitch. And that is sort of – it looks like pitcher’s mound soil almost. It’s sort of a lighter brown color and it packs really well. And once you get the pitch established then you can put a little bit of top soil on top, if you wanted to grow stuff. Now, in your case, you don’t want so then maybe what you could do is put some mulch or some stone or pavers or whatever you want to control erosion. But don’t use topsoil. Use clean fill dirt and before you do any of that check the gutters first.
NANCY: OK. Well, I do have new gutters so I’m assuming that they put in the right kind. However, you hit the nail on the head when you talked about if the drainage area on the ground does not extend far enough away from the house.
TOM: Yeah, it’s never extended enough. You’ve got to run the downspouts out a couple of feet, then maybe put a two or three-foot splash block out to start. And if you have a severe problem what you want to do is pipe that downspout water underground out to the street if you can. OK?
NANCY: Well, I thank you very much. I really appreciate that and I’m glad to know that there’s no reason not to do it. (chuckling)
TOM: You’re on the right track, Nancy. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.