Managing leaky basements without digging yourself into a hole

If you haven’t experienced the gross inconvenience and expense of a leaky basement, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know it is not something that can just be ignored in hopes it will go unnoticed or perhaps “fix itself.”

Basement leaks can either be slow and steady, gradually seeping into a dwelling over days, weeks, and months, or they can be fast and furious, bursting through walls unannounced to create a new and unwanted indoor pool. Either way, when left untreated, that unwanted moisture can cause major issues when it comes to homeowner comfort and health, and can lead to some serious structural concerns.

Detecting a Leak

You can see it.

Standing or pooling water is a dead giveaway a basement has sprung a leak. You may also notice unsightly water damage such as rust-colored stains or spots and peeling or cracking paint. Aside from poor aesthetics, uncontrolled moisture can damage building materials such as drywall, carpeting, and studs, making it challenging to properly finish and ultimately enjoy a basement.

You can smell it.

If you can’t see the mold or mildew, chances are you will get a whiff of it. Besides the displeasing smell, the main concern here is the adverse health effects. People with mold sensitivity may experience nasal stuffiness, throat and eye irritation, and coughing or wheezing, and symptoms can worsen for those with compromised immune systems. Recent studies also show a link between mold and the development of asthma in some children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends immediate clean-up of mold upon detection and encourages home and building owners to fix leaks, effectively eliminating any moisture needed for mold growth. Best practice, as noted by the CDC, is to remove the mold and work to prevent future growth.

You can feel it.

More moisture, more problems. In addition to the presence of mold, mildew, or rot, an increase in moisture – whether through windows, cracks, or around pipe penetrations – will introduce humidity to the basement air. This combination is well known to create an overall uncomfortable or dingy feeling within the basement space.

Finding a Fix

There are a number of products and methods available to fix leaky foundations and basements. However, not all are created equal. Many are presented with a polarizing choice between the cheaper quick fix or the astronomically extensive and expensive repair. Both ends of the spectrum will dampen your spirit, absorb your money, and leave you with either a ticking time bomb or a major hole in your wallet.

For example, according to HomeAdvisor, the average homeowner spends around $4,094 to seal a basement or foundation, with minor repairs costing as little as $600. Temporary solutions such as waterproof paint and sealants that will eventually bubble, peel, and flake cost between $500 and $1,000. Fixing cracks or adding gutters and downspouts can run upwards of $10,000. The next step up is dampproofing, which can come in at approximately $15,000. Dampproofing involves digging up the outside, adding an exterior perimeter drain, an exterior full-height dampproofing layer, and then backfilling and re-landscaping. Although this is a highly effective solution, especially for new builds, it can be a lot of work and a significant investment when done retroactively.

Fortunately, there is a solution that will keep the yard intact and more money in your pocket.

3 Steps for Successfully Stopping Leaks

A properly installed interior drainage system is not only cost effective, ranging from $700-$2,600, but also provides long-term performance and peace of mind for a safe and dry basement that won’t require surprise service calls or create a cozy habitat for dangerous mold.

Dr. Joe Lstiburek, the founding principal of Building Science Corporation, one of the most influential, innovative, and respected building science firms in North America, supports the following approach:

  1. Install an interior perimeter drain.
  2. Use a vapor- and air-tight drainage mat to control hydrostatic pressure as well as entry of water vapor and soil gases.
  3. Direct the water to a sump pit with a pump that has both a battery back-up (in the event there is a heavy downpour and power outage) and an airtight lid to protect against the release of harmful soil gases such as radon, pesticides, termiticides, and herbicides.

Specifically, Dr. Lstiburek speaks to the DELTA®-MS foundation protection system. The most durable dimpled membrane on the market is impermeable to water and uses exclusive Air-gap Technology to keep water away from the foundation wall. Superior to crack-prone sprays, DELTA®-MS works to bridge concrete cracks, preventing any water intrusions for a permanently dry basement.

Used in this approach, DELTA®-MS also acts as a critical barrier to unwanted soil gases such as radon and/or methane. It’s important for those applying the product to properly seal the DELTA®-MS to prevent ingress of these gases.

For more information and tips for creating an interior drainage solution, learn more in Dr. Lstiburek’s article.

You can also watch our webinar with expert Dr. Joe Lstiburekwhere you’ll learn how to keep your basements dry as well as the right solution to a leaky foundation or basement.