How to Cope With Water in Your Basement

by Sponsor December 30, 2014 at 12:50 pm 0

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This regularly scheduled, sponsored Q&A column is written by Tom Faison of ReMax Allegiance at Eastern Market. Please submit your questions via email.

I get lots of calls from Capitol Hill clients and friends asking for waterproofing company references because of moisture penetration in and around their basements. Moisture in a basement and the moldy walls and ruined carpet it can cause often result in big money decisions — despite inexpensive options.

By professional waterproofing, I’m speaking of what is typically called a French drain system, which is buried beneath the perimeter of your basement and carries water to a sump pump, which ejects the water into the main storm/sewer drain, or back outside. This isn’t waterproofing. This is addressing symptoms by taking the problem out each time it appears. Imagine treating a pest infestation that way.

Over the years, I’ve seen costs for such systems range from $7,500 to as much as $14,000. Here are some simple methods and obvious reminders on how to save money by waterproofing your home yourself. Remember, we’re on Capitol Hill, where water naturally wants to run away, if you’ll just let it.

Absent mechanical failure, or manmade flaws in workmanship or installation of plumbed appliances, there are only four reasons water would be found in your Capitol Hill basement: grading, gutters, downspouts and drains.

Gutters: It seems obvious, but it’s important to understand that with most Capitol Hill townhomes, every drop of rain that falls on our flat roofs is captured by the 5- or 6-inch rear gutter that spans the width of the house. If the gutter isn’t fully clear of trash and debris, even a moderate rain load can spill over, landing directly next to your foundation. Combined with poor grading, soil becomes saturated, and isn’t noticed until too late. Many of us don’t have roof hatches or 40′ ladders, but I’ve found that many roofers willing to do the job, twice a year, for about $150. Also, Frager’s will rent out, deliver and set up a ladder for you.

Downspouts: Obviously tied in with gutters, these must also be clear of debris. But again, based on grading, where and how your downspouts exhaust water is crucial. If you’re one of a growing group of residents without functioning storm drain pipes on the rear of your home, your downspouts must be diverted away from your foundation. Without proper grading, unsightly extensions can be called for; but like a sump pump, these simply take water away from where it shouldn’t have been in the first place. When you or someone else is cleaning your gutters, try to run a garden hose down the spout to insure no blockage.

Drains: We all know they must be clear of leaves and debris, but keep in mind that in and around Capitol Hill, our storm and sewer drains are tied together. What you put in your toilet, as well as your garbage disposal, all goes to the same place; so backups can be awful. Call the plumber before you call the waterproofer … or once again head to Frager’s and rent a snake.

Grading: It seems simple, that the land around your home should slope away, but this may be the No. 1 overlooked cause of moisture in basements, particularly when the cause is difficult to ascertain before damage is visible. Over time, in even moderate rain conditions, a flat or reverse grade can result in saturated soil and a very slow penetration of moisture at the base of your foundation, which is often unnoticeable until it’s too late.

Grading is last on my list, but most important in my book. Landscaping 101: raising beds, proper plantings next to your foundation, good drainage and even some heavy dirt relocation can save thousands of dollars in unnecessary mechanical fixes. So head to Frager’s and rent a shovel. Spring time will be here soon.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of


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