What to do when there's water in the basement

The fix might be easier and cheaper than you think

A wet basement is the bane of many a homeowner's existence. No matter what they do a heavy rainfall usually finds water seeping into the basement, damaging possessions as well as the structure.

If you face this problem you aren't alone. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than 25% of homeowners with basements have this problem. To fix the problem, you first have to determine where the water is coming from. It can have a number of different sources – and even more than one.

One source is condensation. Basements can be damp simply because they are below ground. Sometimes, weather shifts can create water problems, with moisture forming on the walls and dripping to the floor.

Condensation test

One way to tell if condensation is the problem, tape a twelve-inch square of aluminum foil to the damp wall area. Seal all four sides of the aluminum foil as tightly as possible. If in a couple of days, the outside is wet, it is condensation. You can counteract the problem by running a dehumidifier.

If the outside of the foil is dry but the inside is wet, then the water is seeping into the walls from the outside, a more difficult fix. Your task is to learn where the outside water is coming from.

In most cases the water is coming from your roof. If you home lacks an adequate gutter system that directs water away from your foundation, water will pour off the roof and erode the ground next to your home's foundation. Unless the gutters are properly maintained and kept free of debris, they will overflow.

Water can also seep into the foundation if the ground slopes toward the house. A patio or driveway that slopes toward the house instead of away from it will funnel hundreds of gallons of water to your foundation during a heavy rain storm.

Visual inspection

A visual inspection of your home's foundation, taking note of the immediate geography, can help you isolate the source of your water leakage. Conducting this inspection 20 minutes into a heavy rain storm might be even more instructive.

If you identify the source of the water – from the roof, for example – take steps to address the specific problem. Clean and repair cutters and make sure water from the downspout flows away from the house. If that is the only source of the water, that should take care of the problem.

There are plenty of contractors that specialize in basement and foundation modifications to address wet basements. These services can be costly and, in many cases, unnecessary.

However, if you feel you need what they offer to fix your problem, check online consumer forums, the local chamber of commerce, state attorney general's office, county clerk and consumer advocate organizations for information about waterproofing firms.

Get references

You should ask each company to provide a lengthy list of references and speak with several previous customers. Don't settle for one or two pre-selected names. Ask for references in your own community or surrounding neighborhood.

Carefully examine each firm's guarantee or warranty. Are there hidden costs for repair? Does the warranty last for the lifetime of the home? Is it transferable to a new owner? Is a clearly written, understandable guarantee or warranty provided?

Be wary of a salesperson who changes a warranty to close a sale. Those revisions may not be honored by the company.

Beware of any contractor promising a final cost estimate over the phone. The actual cost will always depend on the size of your basement and the scope of the problem.

Keep in mind the services of these companies may only be needed if you determine there has been significant damage to the foundation of your home over a number of years. In some cases it might require excavating and exposing basement walls. However, the the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a study that found injecting waterproofing substances between the exterior and the wall "has not demonstrated a satisfactory performance and is not acceptable under HUD standards".

Finding the source of invading water and blocking it will be your most effective and least costly option.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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