Whether your basement has completely flooded, there’s a slow leak, or there’s just a mildewy smell in the air – any level of unwanted water in your basement is serious business and a cause for immediate concern.
In this post, we will cover the 13 most common sources of water entry into your basement:
- Top of the Wall
- Window Wells
- Wall Cracks
- Tie Rod Holes
- Sewer Pipe
- Mortar Joint
- Water Pipes Conduits
- Floor Cracks
- Sump Pump
- Floor Drain
- Floor & Wall Joint
- Plugged Drain Tile
We will also cover:
- Basement Waterproofing Tips
- What to Do When Your Basement Floods
- How to Hire A Basement Waterproofing Contractor
How Does Water Leak into My Basement?
If you’ve ever experienced water damage restoration in your basement, you know what a headache it can be. Aside from just the issue of standing water, you also have to deal with potential for mold and damage to your belongings.
To protect your basement from water, you should understand the common entry points of water into your basement. Although you should consult with a professional on your waterproofing options, it’s still important to be educated on why you are having water problems and how the presented solution will stop it in the future.
Your basement is probably one of your favorite rooms in the house. Or, maybe it’s just a place you use for storage. Either way, water wants to get in there and we want to keep it out. So to do that, let’s talk about the reasons your basement may be leaking water.
Top of the Wall Basement Leak
Water can leak into your basement over the top of your foundation/basement wall when the ground is near level, or worse, sloping into the house. If rainwater is draining back towards your house, rather than away from it, then the probability that it will find an entry-point above the basement wall is fairly high.
This tends to be more common in older houses, although even newer houses with poor drainage could experience this. Sometimes, it’s as simple as looking at your gutter system. If your downspouts are not long enough, or not pointed properly away from the home, it could be discharging rain water from your roof right into your basement over the top of the wall.
In older homes, the soil near the home may be settled more over time compared to the surrounding, undisturbed soil. As this soil near the home settles, it creates low spots where water can then drain into the home – something that we commonly see in the older neighborhoods around Indianapolis and Broad Ripple.
Window Wells Leak
Having window wells around your basement are both practical and decorative. These small structures are positioned outside of basement or ground-level windows to keep soil and water away from the window, but to still allow natural sunlight in.
While these generally work well at keeping ground water away and draining rain water when necessary, when your entire drainage system isn’t working properly, window wells may have trouble doing their job.
Overflowing gutters are a common source of disruption in window wells. If you have obstruction in your gutters, it may be causing rain water to overflow and gush out of the gutter, filling your window wells with water.
Checking to make sure that your gutters are clear, downspouts are draining away from the well, that your windows are installed properly, and that your window wells have their own drainage system linked with the foundation drain should ensure that water is kept outside of your basement and not leaking in through the windows.
Leaking Basement Wall Cracks
Cracks in your basement wall are one of the most serious issues when it comes to leaking basements. The issue doesn’t stop just by fixing the crack itself. We need to figure out what caused the crack, to avoid more of them showing up down the line.
Most likely, the crack in your basement wall was created by pressure – a level of pressure that is not good for your home’s foundation. When it rains, water flows and drains downhill. That means it could be flowing down your driveway, into your lawn, towards your home and down the basement wall until it stops. At the bottom of the basement wall, a reservoir of wet dirt and pressure builds up, pushing the water against your wall and either finding existing cracks to seep through, or creating it’s own cracks.
The more rainwater you have and the more sources of flowing water there are, the bigger and more serious the problem. The pressure can build up so much that it can create multiple cracks, erosion of the foundation and even a complete structural failure of your home. If you see a crack in your basement wall, it’s imperative to address the problem right away to get water properly flowing away from your home’s foundation.
Tie Rod Holes
During the original construction of your home, in many cases, the concrete forms were hand-built from wood and held together during the cement pour with 5/8 steel rods. These rods are placed in two horizontal rows, every 1.5 feet, with one row about a foot off the ground and the other 4 feet above that.
Upon completion of the walls, the rods are removed, leaving “rod holes”. These are a very common cause of basement leak issues and especially common in older homes.
Simply put, a honeycomb is a cute word to describe air pockets that resemble actual honeycombs created by air pockets or poorly mixed concrete when it was originally poured. These air pockets form cavities which water can easily compromise causing leakage. Typically, these can be sealed fairly easily and are one of the easier fixes in basement waterproofing.
Sewer Pipe Leaking
Sewer pipe leaks can be dangerous because of the simple fact that they can remain hidden for a while – until the issue because more serious and noticeable.
Of course, if a plumbing drain has busted or fallen open, the leak will be very large and noticeable, but a smaller leak where pipes are visible, plumbing drain leaks could be very slow to leak depending on the size of the leak. Those leaks typically only show up when the drain is carrying wastewater and may show up as a ceiling stain or stain on the wall below the problematic drain, or worse yet, as mold.
Mortar Joint Leak
For homes that have basement walls constructed of cinder block, brick, stone or wood rather than concrete, locating a leak in the wall can be a bit more challenging because the walls themselves are not solid. Instead, they are built using mortar to hold each individual block in place. As with many things, the mortar will deteriorate over time.
When the mortar deteriorates, it becomes less water-resistant, allowing water to slowly make its way through the mortar and into your basement through the open joints between the top of the block wall and the blocks themselves.
The reason that these block walls are more challenging to diagnose the source of the leak, is that water will actually leak through a specific mortar joint that has been compromised over time, then run through the hollows of the blocks and then into the basement’s interior several feet away. So if you have a block wall and find an area where water is making its way through the mortar, this may not be the actual entry point, at which point you would need to hire a processional waterproofing contractor with the proper tools to diagnose the real problem area.
Water Pipes Conduits Leaking
Similar to the tie rod holes mentioned above, any hole or penetration in a concrete foundation is a potential source for water leak. So when the water line, conduit, or sewer pipes were installed, a hole was drilled through the wall. The builder would have sealed those holes with a water plug, made from a cement material on the inside and outside of the hole that was drilled for the pipe.
The problem is that the water plugs only have the capability of being installed 2″ into each opening, which means there is a void between the openings that can collect water. Any time water is being collected, there’s an opportunity for a leak, making water pipe conduits one of the top reasons why your basement is leaking water.
In this section, we’ll talk about hydrostatic pressure, which is a natural effect on your home caused by the weight of water in the ground.
If not addressed, this can cause cracks in the floor of your basement, which can lead to very serious structural problems. Although floor cracks is not on the top of our list, it is without a doubt one of the most serious signs you should look for, and a waterproofing contractor should be notified immediately.
Basically, your house settles over time. Hydrostatic pressure, caused by poor drainage, clay soil, underground water sources and extreme weather, pushes pressure against your basement foundation. For any of these reasons, water will collect and build up around your foundation. The water has to go somewhere, and therefore pushes up against your basement foundation and can cause cracks, leaks and other problems.
The more water that collects, the more weight it carries, and the higher the pressure. Now you have water coming up through your basement floor, and an overall weakened foundation below your home.
As with every other basement leak, standing or flowing water in your basement is a problem. In this scenario, the water vapor presents an even bigger problem. As the water evaporates, it becomes water vapor aka humidity in your basement. Humidity causes its own set of problems like mold, mildew, dust mites and an inflated energy bills – all things that are damaging to your health and wallet.
Sump Pump Failure
In a previous post, we have talked about sump pump failure in detail by offering 7 causes of sump pump failure and what to do. Visit that link if you are having issues with your sump pump, but for the purposes of this list, and the frequency of sump pumps failing and causing water damage, we’ll talk her briefly about sump pump failure causing basement leaks.
If you have a basement, you have a sump pump and know all about them. But why do they fail? Some common reasons are: power failure, improper installation, witch problems, lack of regular maintenance, and frozen or clogged discharge lines.
Some of these things can be avoided with a backup sump, but not always. The goal of a sump pump is to collect unwanted water, and discharge it away from the home. But when not properly maintained or installed, it won’t work correctly. A large amount of water all at once can also be too much for it to handle, in which case a waterproofing system will assist the sump pump in filtering water out and away from your home.
Floor Drain Clog
Pretty self explanatory, several conditions can cause the floor drains to clog. Among other reasons, sanitary sewer water from a clog in your home’s sewer line or even the municipal sewer line can cause sewer systems to back up into your home’s drain system, resulting in water coming up through sink drains and floor drains in the lower levels of your home.
Municipal drain clogs are beyond your control, although if you have a waterproofing system in place that is designed to properly filter out water and drain it away from the home, you’ll definitely be more protected against an emergency water damage to your home.
Floor & Wall Joint Leakage
The process of digging and pouring your basement foundation and walls results in an unsecured bond between the footing of your basement and the basement walls.
Once the hole is dug for your basement, the first thing that is done is pouring the concrete footer. The footer is a thick slab of concrete that defines the outer perimeter of your basement, supports the basement walls and also spreads the weight of the walls throughout the area of the basement to work against settling, and also to provide a strong foundation.
When the concrete is poured into a wooden form, it creates a channel called a keyway – a board embedded into the wet concrete to form a channel on the top of the footing to the middle. Once the footing has cured, the foundation walls are poured. The new wet concrete fills up that keyway which basically locks the foundation wall into the footing to prevent lateral movement.
That system works great, but the problem is that the new concrete will not bond to the previously poured, and already dried concrete. This makes the footer and the walls of your basement two separate pieces, meaning there is space in the floor and wall joint for water to pass through when under pressure.
More basement seepage can occur through the cover joint for similar reasons. This is basically the space between the footing and your actual basement floor that, because the concrete was poured separately and cannot bond, are two separate pieces, leaving a very small area for water to creep through.
The above photo shows the process of installing an interior waterproofing system for one of our customers who was experiencing basement leaks at the floor and wall joint of her home in the Castleton area.
Plugged Drain Tile
In newer homes, the drain tile, which wraps around the perimeter of your basement, is made from perforated plastic piping which is wrapped in a cloth sock. It’s then surrounded with pea gravel and installed at the base of the foundation walls. This system is pretty resilient, but can still collapse or be damaged by outside forces like tree roots. In older homes, the drain tile was made from clay crocks wrapped in felt roofing paper, a system that is a bit more vulnerable to failure.
Waterproofing Your Basement
The reasons we’re talking about how and why water gets into your basement is not for the purpose of just knowing. Knowing and understanding the causes and signs of basement water damage is just the first step – but an important step nonetheless.
The next step is fixing the issues, and taking preventative steps to avoid future water issues in your basement.
Basement Waterproofing Tips
Whether you are a buyer, seller or owner of a home, wet basements are always a concern.
- A Wet Basement is Unusable
- Flooded Foundations Become Seriously Weakened
- Toxic Mold Can Be Present – Threatening Indoor Air Quality and Your Health
The good news about water damaged basements is that their are generally easy and inexpensive to fix.
But with all of these different causes of leaking basements, what is the best way to resolve and/or prevent the problem? Ask 10 people how to fix a wet basement and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Everything that ranges from jackhammers to break up the basement floors, backhoes digging out dirt from foundation walls, new fancy sump pumps and other answers that may or may not hold real value.
While many of these solutions that you may read about or hear about from other waterproofing contractors might make sense at first, the truth is that these methods are attempting to do the impossible. The methods aim to seal your foundation so tightly that it will hold off water like a boat. The problem is that your house is not a boat and it’s not going to float. (Unless you live on a house boat, but then I’m guessing you don’t have a basement.)
The majority of basement leaks, including the ones listed above, can be traced back to the drainage conditions around the outside of your basement. If too much water collects in the soil around your foundation, and there is no proper solution to drain the water away from the home, it will naturally find its way into your home.
The waterproofing solution lies in improving these drainage conditions.
In fact, we’ve worked with customers where the waterproofing solution was as simple as increasing the length of the gutter’s downspouts to drain further away from the home. Sometimes it’s that simple. Sometimes it’s more involved. But by being educated and working with a reputable contractor, you’ll be able to find the right waterproofing solution for your basement.
How to Hire A Basement Waterproofing Contractor
When selecting a basement waterproofing contractor, you should find one that has experience and a good track record with customers.
A fly-by-night contractor that cannot stand behind their solutions is probably just looking for a quick dollar. Or one that is looking to dig around your foundation or some other elaborate and expensive solution is probably just looking to pray on your ignorance of waterproofing and basement leaking problems. Hopefully, this article will help educate you so that you can ask your contractor the right questions and know when a waterproofing solutions makes sense or not.
ReNew Servies Group has been waterproofing basements in the Indianapolis area for 13 years. We have interior and exterior waterproofing systems which can be implemented based on the source of your problem. These solutions are generally inexpensive and don’t take too long to install. We also have a physical location here in Indy, giving our customers the peace of mind that they can always come back to us if the problem persists.
It’s extremely important to hire a local contractor who has a history in the area. For instance, we understand the difference between homes in Broad Ripple and homes in Carmel, which tend to have leaky basement issues for different reasons (although not always the case). But because of the home’s age, location and how the basement was built at the time of construction, the issues tend to be different and we’re able to recognize and locate the issue because of our local knowledge, in addition to our heavy training and knowledge of basement waterproofing in general.
What to Do When Your Basement Floods
Before anything else, consider your family’s health and safety before you do anything else.
Here are a few potential and immediate dangers:
- A wet basement carries a legitimate risk of electrical shock. If you can safely do so, turn off your home’s power at the main breaker.
- Protect yourself against gas leaks. If you smell gas, leave the house right away.
- Sewage can contain bacteria and transmit disease and the floodwater in your basement may have originated from the sanitary sewer and contain raw sewage.
- While this is not very common, a flood with certain conditions may weaken walls or even ceiling structures. If there is any concern that structural integrity has been compromised, or you simply dont know, leave the area and call in the experts.
Once you have limited dangers, you’ll want to stop any water leaks if applicable. If flooding is due to a busted pipe, you’ll want to shut off your water at the main water valve. If it’s a plumbing issue, or you’ve turned your water off because of the busted pipe, avoid flushing toilets, turning on water valves, running the washing machine, etc.
Next, you have a few phone calls to make.
You’ll want to call a water damage specialist and your insurance company. Those two will work together to get your home back to normal and get the maximum coverage from your insurance company. Sometimes you’ll have to look into a plumber, flooring contractor, and all types of contractors to fix and restore your home. But reputable restoration companies like ReNew Services Group, can do all of this for you. We don’t just extract the water, we also help you dry-out your belongings and possessions, we work directly with your insurance company to arrange payment, and have the resources and technicians to extract the water, fix the plumbing and rebuild your home. It saves you time, money and the headache of dealing with multiple contractors.
Once the water restoration and insurance is in motion, start salvaging your belongings the best you can and keep an itemized list of all the damages.
By the way, moving quick is important. In order to salvage your items, reduce risk and eliminate mold growth, you should consider water in your basement – or anywhere in your home for that matter – an emergency situation.
Waterproofing your basement seems to never be a concern until after you’ve experience a water damage situation at your property. What’s meant to be a preventative measure is often used as a reaction to a disaster.
That’s understandable, as you’re not wrong to assume that your basement is strong enough to deter water. It’s our hope, though, that this article brings you some awareness on the variety of ways that water can enter your basement from the outside.
Consider a basement waterproofing system that doesn’t necessarily seek to make your basement air-tight (that’s not possible, as explained above), but a system that understands water will be present below ground and addresses that by draining and filtering the way out and away from your home when it does try to come inside.