June 2009 Edition 

Wet Basement Blues   

We have water in our basement after it rains. What can we do to get a dry basement?  
If your basement leaks when it rains or is damp and musty smelling in the summer, don't throw in the towel. There are all kinds of ways to dry up a wet basement, ranging from simple weekend fixes to more difficult repairs that you may want to hire a contractor to do. In this article, we'll show you how to diagnose your wet basement problem and give you a bunch of solutions you can try yourself.  
Where's the moisture coming from?   
Water or moisture in basements comes from two sources. One source is indoor humidity that condenses on cold surfaces, much like water droplets form on a cold drink on a humid day. The other is water or water vapor that comes from the outside. Rainwater or groundwater can saturate the soil around your foundation and leak in. Water can leak through cracks, or it can penetrate porous concrete or masonry walls in the form of water vapor. And basements can be wet from a combination of indoor humidity and water from the outside.  
So your job is to figure out what's causing the problem and, starting with the simplest fixes, work on solutions. The photo above shows a simple test to help diagnose your basement moisture problem. Take a piece of aluminum foil and tape it to your foundation wall with duct tape. After 24 hours, peel the foil back and see if you have moisture present.

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Get rid of excess humidity.
When humid air in the basement comes in contact with cool surfaces like concrete or block walls, concrete floors or cold water pipes, it condenses into water. Then the condensation drips off pipes and runs down walls, leaving your basement wet and clammy. The humid air that causes condensation can come from outdoors, or indoors from a leaking dryer vent, an unvented shower or even a humidifier left on by mistake. Water droplets forming on cold water pipes or the outside of your toilet are a clear indication that at least part of your wet basement problem is caused by condensation. Eliminating the sources of humid air will help dry out your basement.
Some solutions are repair and seal your leaking dryer vent. Add a vent fan to your basement bathroom and make sure your family turns it on during showers. Keep your basement windows closed during humid weather. And if you're still getting condensation on cool surfaces, run a dehumidifier to lower the indoor humidity. Air conditioning also dehumidifies air, so if you have central air conditioning, make sure the basement registers are open. Consider adding air conditioning ducts to the basement if you don't have any. Insulate cold surfaces to prevent condensation. Condensation dripping from cold pipes or collecting on cool basement walls can contribute to basement water problems. Reducing the humidity level in the basement is the first step, but in addition, try insulating cool surfaces. Wrap cold water pipes with foam insulation. Reduce condensation in exterior walls by insulating them. For more information, go to thefamilyhandyman.com and enter "insulate basement" in the search box. But don't cover the walls with insulation if water is leaking in from outside. You'll just create a potential mold problem.
Direct water away from the foundation.
If your basement leaks after heavy rains, making sure water is diverted away from your foundation may solve the problem. See Figure A. Start by inspecting the ground around your house to find areas that are level or sloping toward the foundation. If only one side of your basement leaks, then start your inspection on that side of the house. Figure B shows how to slope the ground away from the foundation. Unfortunately, this solution may require you to dig up existing foundation plantings, remove gravel and landscape edging, and haul in additional soil to raise the level next to the house. But it's worth the effort because there's a good chance this fix will prevent water problems in your basement. 
Add gutters and extend downspouts   
If your basement leaks after it rains and you don't have gutters, consider adding them. Gutters catch the rain and channel it to the downspouts, which direct it away from the house. Whether you're installing new gutters or already have them, be sure the downspouts have 4 to 6 feet horizontal extensions to move the water away from the house.   
The next time you get a heavy rain, put on your raincoat and go outside to see if your gutters are doing the job. If water is gushing from your downspouts and still overflowing the gutters, you should install additional downspouts or replace your standard 2 x 3 inch downspouts with larger, 3 x 4 inch downspouts to increase the capacity. Also notice where the water is going after it leaves the downspout. If it looks like water is pooling in the yard, one solution is to install drainage tubing that leads to a dry well.   
Coat the walls with masonry waterproofing

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If your basement leaks periodically after it rains, or if the aluminum foil test reveals that water vapor is seeping in from outside, waterproofing the walls on the inside can help. Waterproofing materials that go on like paint fill the pores in the concrete or masonry walls and prevent water from leaking in. Drylok Masonry Waterproofer is one brand, and it costs about 50 cents per square foot. To be effective, these coatings must be applied to bare concrete or masonry walls. Start by removing loose material with a wire brush. Then clean off any white powdery "efflorescence" with Drylok Masonry Cleaner or other masonry cleaner. Follow the safety and application instructions carefully.
Crystalline waterproofing material is another type of waterproofing coating. One brand is Xypex. Xypex penetrates
the surface and reacts with chemicals in the concrete to form water-blocking crystals. You'll spend 55 cents to $1 per square foot for this option, depending on how porous the walls are. You'll find ordering information by going to hi-dry.com or calling (800) 363-2002.
Install a drainage system
If you're still getting water in the basement after sloping the ground away from the house and adding gutters downspout extensions, then a drainage system may be the only solution. An interior drainage system installed can be installed below the basement floor. This type system allows the water to come through the wall and then collects it into a drain that's connected to a sump pump. This system is more expensive and difficult to install, but it's the best permanent fix for chronic basement leaks. Expect to spend $3,000 to $8,000 for a professionally installed system in a standard-size basement. 

 Source: April 2009 The Family Handyman


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