Water seeping or leaking through the foundation walls into the basement is due to a hydrostatic pressure being exerted on the walls by saturated soil. This condition is the result of water accumulation around the foundation.
The best way to control this type of problem is to minimize the amount of water that accumulates around the foundation. The following are some of the more common causes of water accumulation around the foundation, which can easily be detected and corrected by the homeowner.
- Missing or defective gutters and downspouts to handle the rain runoff from the roof. The downspouts must discharge the water away from the structure. All too often, an elbow or splash plate at the base of a downspout is missing, so that the water is discharged directly around the foundation.
- Improper grading. The ground immediately adjacent to the structure should be pitched so that it slopes away from the building. Around many homes this area is incorrectly pitched, resulting in surface water (rain or melting snow) collecting around the foundation.
- Unprotected basement-window wells. The area around basement windows, if not shielded from rain or serviced with a drain, can easily accumulate water that can leak through window joints or seep down around the foundation.
- Uneven settlement of walkways or patio.
- Leaky garden spigots. Most homes have exterior-mounted spigots for connection to a garden hose. If the valve is faulty or is not tightened properly, water will drip or leak around the foundation. Water dripping at a rate that fills 1 cup per minute results in 90 gallons of water per day accumulating around the foundation. This water enters the basement through cracks or open joints in the foundation wall.
Occasionally I find that the walkways around the house or the patio have settled and are sloping toward the house. As with improper grading, this condition can cause surface water to collect around the foundation.
When the house is located on an inclined lot, surface and subsurface water flows toward the house from the higher portions of the lot. In this case, depending on the incline and the amount of water involved, water-flow control measures will include grading the lot on the high side, so that there is a swale to collect and redirect surface water around the house, and installing a French drain (curtain drain) below the ground to intercept subsurface water and direct it away from the house.
If the amount of water that accumulates around the foundation walls is not excessive, it can be prevented from penetrating into the interior by sealing cracks and open joints on the inside walls with a hydraulic cement and then coating the walls with a cement-base or epoxy sealant. Coating the wall is particularly helpful when the wall is porous, like a cinderblock wall. However, when an excessive amount of water accumulates around the foundation wall, as with a poorly drained soil such as clay, waterproofing the exterior surface of the basement walls might be more effective than treating the interior surface. In addition, a perforated drainpipe is normally installed near and parallel with the foundation footing. (See FIG. 6-5.) The purpose of this footing drain is to carry away water that is accumulating around the foundation and thereby reduce the hydrostatic pressure.
For the footing drain to operate properly, it must have a free-flowing outlet. I know of several cases where builders installed faulty footing drains around houses during construction. The problem was that the drains completely encircled the houses like a doughnut and had no free-flowing outlets. These footing drains were of absolutely no value. Even though initially a footing drain might function properly, over the years it can malfunction because the perforations in the drainpipe or the outlet become clogged. Also, many a footing drain has been damaged during a later modification of or addition to the structure. If the house has a footing drain, you should ask the owner to show you the location of the outlet. The drain outlet should be kept clear and should be checked occasionally during a heavy rain to ensure that it is operating properly.
Even though waterproofing the exterior surface of the foundation wall is more effective than treating the interior surface, quite often an interior treatment is chosen because of the costs involved in excavating around the foundation and temporarily relocating trees and shrubbery. For excessive water accumulation around the foundation, an interior treatment includes sealing the cracks and coating the walls to make them watertight and installing a drainpipe along the foundation footing below the floor slab that discharges into a sump pit.
Just a word about waterproofing the exterior surface of the foundation wall using a pressure-pumping process that requires no digging or relocation of plantings: Caution. In this process, a sealant, pumped through tubes that are inserted into the ground, is supposed to coat the wall and render it watertight. The effectiveness of this treatment depends on the condition and porosity of the ground around the foundation. Since contractors doing this work do not always take test borings and analyze the soil, the process is usually not effective, and additional measures are invariably necessary.