A Wet Basement Doesn't Mean Your Basement is Leaking!

Posted by Luc Gerber on Sun, Jun 17, 2012 @ 04:49 AM

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Homeowners commonly report that a heavy rain or thunderstorm has left them with water in their basement as evidenced by a puddle on the basement floor. Before you start getting stressed out about spending thousands of dollars on basement waterproofing, there are some facts of which you should be aware.

In this post we discuss leaky basement reports that are commonly associated with heavy rains, and some little known facts or details which are very relevant when trying to properly diagnose and address the cause(s) of water leaks in your basement.

This post is a must read as many homeowners get talked into spending thousands of $ on basement waterproofing when waterproofing won't solve the true cause of the water in your basement.


Important Facts About Heavy Rains

Having a Leaky Basement Does Not Always Mean Your Basement is Leaking

Heavy Rains and Your Leaky Basement

Rain Penetration of the Roofline

Wet Basements Caused by Pounding Rains Against Windows, Doors and Exterior Walls

The Role Eavestroughs and Downspouts Play in Basement Leaks

The Impact of Heavy Rains in General

Storm Sewer Capacity and Floor Drain Backups

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Important facts about heavy rains

There is no question that heavy rains test the integrity of the entire building envelope of a home. Heavy rains commonly put your building envelope in general under alot of stress; here are some examples that we'll discuss further in this post:

  1. Heavy rains put your entire roof to the test; if there are any vulnerabilities, your roof will leak;
  2. Heavy rains pound against your windows, doors, and the brick veneer or siding on the exterior of your home;
  3. Heavy rains cause your eavestroughs to spill over the side and your downspouts to discharge potentially hundreds of gallons of water in a very short period of time;
  4. Heavy rains can flood your backyard and introduce significant amounts of hydrostatic pressure against your foundation walls and cause the water table to rise; and
  5. Heavy rains can overload the storm sewer system on your street and cause your basement floor drain to back up.

Having a leaky basement Does Not always mean your basement is leaking

The streaking on the pipe confirms there's a plumbing leak

When discussing heavy rains, building envelope leaks and basement leaks we need to acknowledge the role that gravity plays in bringing rainwater to its final destination - your basement. To add relevance to this statement consider this, if your main floor kitchen sink plumbing is leaking into the cabinet beneath it, don't you think that this water will ultimately end up in your basement? Count on it.

Obviously, if during a thunderstorm you can plainly see water coming through a crack in a foundation wall, then you clearly have identified a bona fide basement leak. However, if your basement is finished, establishing the true cause of your leaky basement is much more difficult and requires investigation.

Incorrect assumptions, cursory inspection, lack of expertise and waterproofing contractor greed are the main reasons that homeowners spend money waterproofing a basement that isn't actually leaking. If the source of the leak in your basement isn't plainly visible you risk spending $1000s to fix a problem you don't have! Don't take our word for it; instead read what some of our clients have posted on the Homestars Website.

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Heavy rains and your leaky basement

Getting back to the impact of heavy rains on the building envelope, here's what tends to happen:

Rain penetration of the roofline

When rain penetrates your roofline, the water enters your home. When you have a roof leak you won't necessarily see water pouring out of your ceiling (unless the leak is major). In many cases, minor roofing leaks result in water travelling along the roof trusses and then down the wood framing of the interior walls supporting those roof trusses. It is common for the rainwater to eventually make its way into your basement. That "leaky" basement may not be leaking at all!

There are numerous possible points of water ingress through your roof. We recently consulted a roofer that we trust, we asked how to best identify the location of where water penetrated the roof. According to the roofer, the only way to positively identify the precise location of a roof leak is to be in the attic during a fairly heavy rain in order to observe exactly where the water is entering. In most cases, the remedy is to re-seal the location where the water has entered; in general, the complete reshingling of the roof is not required.

Wet basements caused by pounding rains against windows, doors and exterior walls

Over the years we have concluded that, when homeowners report a wet basement after having had rains from a certain direction, the water is usually from a leak through the building envelope.

Window frames and door frames (including patio doors) are effectively inserts into large openings in the building envelope, making it necessary to seal around the frames with caulking to prevent water from penetrating the building envelope. Since caulking shrinks and dries as it ages, deteriorated caulking separates from the door and window frames and wall surfaces over time. When it rains onto deteriorated caulking, or gaps in the caulking, the rain water often penetrates the building envelope. This water, by gravity, drains down onto the top of the foundation wall(s) and often results in reports of a leaky basement.

Similarly, if rains are able to breach the building envelope through cracked mortar joints in brick veneer walls or through cracks between bricks or stone slabs on window ledges, water will run down the back side of the brick walls and end up in the basement as well.

It is crucial that you regularly maintain the building envelope of your home in order to avoid getting water in the basement, attributable to building envelope leaks.

Water leak from patio door above foundation wall


How eavestroughs and downspouts cause basement leaks

Many homeowners report that they have a leaky basement as a result of water pouring over the side of their eavestroughs.

When water pours over the sides of an eavestrough, insteading of draining via the downspout, water permeates the soil along the foundation walls. This situation causes a rise in the height of the water table next to the walls resulting in increased hydrostatic pressure (water pressure against the foundation walls).

The fact that the water pours over the sides of the eavestroughs is not the real reason why there is a basement leak; instead, the real problem is that the water is able to breach the foundation walls. If the foundation walls are properly waterproofed, water is not able to enter the basement.

Downspouts, to a much greater extent than leaking eavestroughs, introduce significant hydrostatic pressure against a foundation. In spite of eavestrough leaks, a properly waterproofed foundation will not leak.

To reduce hydrostatic pressure against your foundation, according to the experts, it is recommended that downspouts drain water 8-10 feet away from the house. Tweet: Experts recommended that downspouts drain water 8-10 feet away from the house to prevent basement leaks. http://bit.ly/2eLxTTK

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The impact of heavy rains in general

Like eavestroughs and downspouts, heavy rainfall causes a rapid rise in the height of the water table and consequently, a rapid increase in hydrostatic pressure against the foundation. When there is sufficient hydrostatic pressure, cracks and other deficiencies in your foundation are more likely to leak. Under these conditions, cracks etc., which do not typically leak, begin to leak. Again, waterproof foundation walls would prevent water ingress and a wet basement.

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Storm sewer capacity and floor drain backups

During very heavy rains, sometimes the storm sewers under the street are overloaded and incapable of handling all of the water entering them. Such conditions, can cause the storm sewers to naturally relieve pressure via the path of least resistance. In some instances, this path of least resistance is the floor drain in your basement! Many flooded basements are the result of water "backing up" through floor drains. The only way to avoid this situation is by installing a backwater valve in the drain pipe from your floor drain to the sewer. These backwater valves allow water to travel from your floor drain to the storm sewer but prevent water from flowing from the storm sewer into your basement.

Topics: basement leaks, wet basement repair, causes of leaky basements