Water is the single largest enemy of homes. Most people only become concerned with water if it is leaking through their roof or coming into their basement. While these are serious issues and potentially expensive to correct, you should also be aware that water can cause a host of other problems.
As we dive further into this section we will look at the damage water can cause, what to look for as you view property for potential purchase, and the maintenance and corrective actions required to control water’s destructive potential.
- Undermines the foundation and causes structural damage
- Causes dry rot which can lead to structural and cosmetic problems
- Ruins the finish work in a basement
- Damages and stains sheetrock
- Deteriorates hardboard siding
- Creates a favorable environment for termites and mold
- Kills grass if allowed to puddle for prolonged periods
- Erodes the yard
- Causes front stoops to shift and settle (also caused by poorly compacted soil)
- Cracks concrete if erosion washes out the supporting soil
To begin, let’s take a look at three water challenges you may face: surface water, water table considerations, and water runoff from the home itself. Many homeowners have concerns and/or questions about basement moisture and remedies. Then, we will discuss how to evaluate potential water problems when viewing a home.
Surface water is defined as water that does not immediately seep into the ground, but follows the contour of the land. Surface water becomes a problem when it flows toward and reaches the perimeter of the home. Once there, it can seep down along the foundation walls and find its way into the basement where it may cause damage.
- Re-grade the yard
- Maintain a slope away from the house by adding and compacting red clay at low spots around the perimeter of the home
- Landscape contouring for minor problems to direct water away
- Add catch basins in areas with standing water and tie them into a buried drain system
If a home has been built in or near a flood-plain area, or has a creek running at or near the same level as the basement, it may experience water table issues. Unlike other water issues (which involve water seeping DOWN) this problem involves natural water sources, like a spring or a shallow water table, which seeps UP from the ground to cause both cosmetic and structural damage. Mold can be an ongoing problem in these homes.
Jeff’s Note: It is extremely difficult and expensive to correct this problem in a home. It may even be impossible, depending on the situation. I recommend you look for another home.
Rain may become a problem when the structure itself has maintenance deficiencies or construction errors.
If a home’s gutters are not properly installed and maintained, the overflow could go into the soffit area and cause internal and external problems. Improperly discharged downspout water may seep into the foundation and basement areas causing cosmetic and/or structural damage.
- Keep gutters clean and free of debris
- If you have a constant battle with leaves and pine needles in your gutters, consider installing a product such as Leaf Guard
- Make sure that gutters slope toward the down spouts
- Make sure all down spouts are directed to flow away from the home or bury them inside a properly constructed drain system
Currently there are two primary “schools of thought” for removing basement moisture. One deals with the water before it reaches your basement and the second deals with the water once it arrives in your basement.
Once it reaches the basement:
Basement waterproofing companies usually employ similar methods. They come inside the basement, cut and remove the concrete floor 10 inches from the wall, dig out the soil and bury a perforated pipe. This pipe is sloped to force the water to flow to a point where it is either pumped out or runs out. Then the trench in the floor is filled and covered with concrete.
Although this process will keep your floor dry, and make your basement more “liveable,” it will not keep water from entering your home.
Before it reaches the basement:
If water is penetrating your basement it is often less expensive to locate the source of the water on the surface (overflowing gutters, clogged downspouts, improper grading, etc.) and make your corrections there. This will correct the problem permanently at the source to prevent continued damage and expense. Any cosmetic corrections will mask symptoms but will not correct the problem, so you should make exterior corrections before doing any interior finish work.
Waterproofing by a specialized company may be a nice insurance policy, if you can afford it. It would prevent cosmetic damage from a gutter that becomes clogged, or a similar correctable and temporary situation, but it is not a correction for an ongoing water problem. And, this process is expensive, costing between $36 and $46 dollars per linear foot.
Also, if water is making its way into the basement, it is often coming under the foundation at some point. If too much soil erodes from underneath the foundation, the entire house may settle and result in serious structural damage.
Jeff’s Note: I recommend you work from the outside in. It is better, more effective and much cheaper to locate the source of the water on the surface and make your corrections there.
What to Look For
Homes that sit at an elevation that is lower than the front or rear yards are especially prone to problems. A large quantity of surface water may also be found near where downspouts distribute water from the roof. Consider the following:
- Does the lot have a positive slope away from the perimeter of the home on all sides? If not, can the water be handled and directed away? (Pay particular attention to the first two feet around the perimeter of the home)
- Are there areas of dead grass that appear to be low spots in the yard?
- Is there obvious soil erosion?
- Are there any retaining walls that are leaning?
- Do the gutters appear to be functioning properly?
- Are all downspouts discharging the water in a manner that carries the water away from the perimeter of the home? (Make sure all gutters slope toward the down spouts)
- Are there many trees that overhang the roof? (If so, remember that it will be important to keep the gutters clean for them to function properly)
- Has the front stoop settled at all?
- Check any crawlspace carefully – is the soil underneath dry?
- Are there any signs that water has entered the basement? (such as water stains on the walls, discolored carpet, mold on the walls, or musty odors)