Renovation Design Group
Filling and sealing foundation cracks is one step in making your unfinished basement leakproof.

While most of the time you can choose and plan for remodels, there are emergency situations when a renovation is less of a choice and more of a necessity.

If you find your basement wet and moldy and your foundation walls cracked, you have no choice but to look into a foundation renovation. Foundation problems that lead to leaky basements most commonly happen in older homes but are definitely not limited to them. Leaky basements can be the result of improper soil grading of even the newest homes.

The time to ensure that your home has no water problems is during construction. Basement walls should be properly waterproofed on the outside by applying a liquid asphalt emulsion or even a rubber membrane that extends down the foundation wall and over the footing. One of the most common ways water can access your home is at the joint between the footing and the foundation wall. Perforated plastic pipes called drain tiles also can be installed at the bottom of the wall to collect and redirect water away from your home.

If proper care was not taken during the construction of your home, the best repair is to dig down on the outside of your home and install the necessary waterproofing to the exterior.

This, of course, is difficult, disruptive to your landscaping and expensive. Since many people cannot or will not take such drastic action, many products have been developed to try to address the problem from the inside of the home — with varying degrees of success.

If your home is on a slope, the basement may only leak during the wet season as water drains down the hill and backs up behind your foundation wall. If it is leaking year-round, then the problem is probably hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the process of water building up in the soil around your foundation. It pushes up against your rock or concrete foundation wall and causes the wall to become waterlogged. The pressure can sometimes cause cracks in the foundation, making a way for water to leak into your basement.

Another way basements leak is through capillary action. Capillaries are tiny crevices inside basement walls. If your basement is made from cinder blocks or other cementious materials, water can seep in and build up inside the wall where it may eventually seep through to the interior through the small crevices and seams.

Often times, the water is entering the basement through cracks. Any crack in your foundation, no matter how it is caused — by roots, hydrostatic pressure or just concrete deterioration — can be the source of a leak. Those cracks need to be fixed. If the cracks are not affecting the structural integrity of the home, they can be injected with polyurethane-based material to fill and waterproof the crack. This can be a done by the homeowner but is best done by a remedial waterproofing contractor.

Basement sealers are another way to try to waterproof your basement if it is leaking. Basement sealers are products that you or a contractor can brush directly onto the foundation walls of your basement to protect it against water seepage. You should know, however, that basement sealers are not a permanent solution; this is more of a bandage-type fix. Many homeowners who apply basement sealers need to keep up with constant maintenance to prevent water leakage and seepage from reoccurring. And, obviously, this type of fix requires exposed foundation walls, so if your basement is finished with gypsum board walls this approach is not an option.

A sump can also be created to deal with water problems in an unfinished basement. A contractor breaks through about a 2-by-2 hole in your basement floor. The contractor then installs a waterproof box with a small pump inside. The water is captured and pumped through a small pipe outside the basement where it will do no harm.

But one thing you have to remember is that fixing the cracks and adding drainage systems may not fix the cause of the water buildup. It could be a simple fix. One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of basement flooding is to just check your gutters and drainage systems. Make sure the gutters are clean and that the water is draining away from the house. Also, make sure the ground around the basement is sloping away from the house so that the water runs away from the foundation instead of toward it.

These simple fixes can reduce the risk of water causing foundation damage that could leave you with a high-priced foundation repair emergency.


Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founding principals of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local architectural firm specializing in home remodels.