LESLIE: Kelly in Illinois is on the line with an issue of waterproofing your home. Tell us what’s going on.
KELLY: It’s very complicated. I’ll try to keep this as simple as I can but we, having had our house for 22 years, suddenly water was coming in through one of the basement window wells. It’s not an egress-size window, just a small window in the basement. And so, we think it’s primarily because the grade is negative now and it’s all – you can see, even with your eyes, that it’s definitely sloping down towards that window well.
KELLY: So, we need to regrade everything and fix it all, you know, so it’s a positive grade. But the big issue that’s in my mind now is a lot of landscapers, if you get them to come over to regrade around the base of your house, they just seem to want to throw soil up on there and not worry about waterproofing or stuff like that.
TOM: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Right.
KELLY: So I was researching on the internet and it seems to me like a lot of sites and even books say you should have a 4- to 6-inch clearance before that soil starts before – you don’t want soil touching the bottom of your siding or even the bottom of your brick. Our house happens to be brick, not façade. Real brick. But you don’t want that soil right up on there, so – but yet I’ll have people coming over all the time, so-called experts saying, “Oh, it’ll be fine. I’ve done it this way for years. It won’t matter.” And I don’t want the foundation of my house and the poured concrete walls of our basement to crack.
TOM: Yeah, that’s not going to be an issue, so let me put your mind at ease. First of all, yes, if you have typical wood framing – you don’t; you have a brick house – but if you had wood framing, you do not want to have the soil to cover the siding, because the wood’s right behind it and the concern is insect infestation and rot. But since you have a largely masonry house – a poured-concrete foundation and brick walls – you can go ahead and put the soil up as high as it needs to be. What you need to be careful of, though, is this: the landscapers like to work with topsoil because that’s what they work with every day.
What you need to do, if you’re trying to make a drainage improvement in waterproofing your home, is use clean fill dirt first. That’s what you build up the slope with is fill dirt. It doesn’t look like topsoil. It’s not organic. It packs really well. It looks a little bit like the sort of the golden-brown color of a pitcher’s mound.
And once you get that slope established, you can put topsoil over that or you can put mulch or you could put stone or whatever you want to put on it. But you’ve got build up that grade first when it comes to waterproofing your home. And you want it to drop about 6 inches over 4 feet, so I would focus on that. And then whatever top cover you want to put over it – and then also pay careful attention to your gutters and your downspouts. Make sure they’re extended out well away from the house and that the gutters are clean, because that’s even more important than the grade if you want to keep your basement dry.
KELLY: Yes, yeah, we were and – but I’m not sure what you mean by fill dirt. Are you saying that this dirt has some clay in it?
TOM: It could, yes. It could have some clay in it and that’s fine because, again, you’re just using this to fill in the area that’s settled and then you’ll put topsoil over it. Now, it’s called “clean fill dirt.”
Take a look at our website at MoneyPit.com. We’ve got an article there on how to fix a wet basement and it explains it very specifically.
KELLY: Oh, cool, OK. I didn’t know that. But also, the rubber-type membrane that you can paint or trowel on there or something like that …
TOM: You’re talking about on the walls?
KELLY: Well, on the very bottom layer of brick if I’m going to have soil go up against that brick. It still makes me nervous to have dirt touching that brick.
TOM: It’s not necessary. It’s not an organic surface. It’s not going to rot, it’s not going to decay and there’s no difference, really, between having it against the stone – having it against the poured-concrete foundation or having it against the brick. They’re both masonry products. I would not worry about it. In waterproofing your home, you want to do anything to slow down moisture and do it, you could put a brick sealer on there, you could put a masonry seal on there. But I really don’t think it’s necessary to tar it.
KELLY: Well, not real tar, that rubber stuff.
TOM: Same idea, though. Same concept.
KELLY: Somebody told me today that concrete does wick, so it will absorb water and it will crack from water.
TOM: Almost every home in America is made out of concrete or concrete block and so it’s typical for the soil to be right against that. Yes, you could put a sealant on there if it’s below grade. And if that makes you feel better, you certainly could do that. But I think just to adjust the grade that you’re talking about, it’s really not going to be that big of a deal for waterproofing your home.
KELLY: OK, well …
TOM: Alright. I think I’m telling you what everybody else told you but I’m telling you this and I’m not the guy that’s going to sell you the work, OK? So, take it for what it is. It’s independent advice. I don’t think it’s an issue.
KELLY: Thank you.