In last week’s blog, we addressed damage to structures that result from the freeze-thaw cycle. That’s the process of water getting into porous materials (brick, concrete, etc.), freezing, thawing, and freezing again. Today, as spring rapidly approaches, we look at what happens to water when the freezing stops and warmer temperatures leave homeowners with the unpleasant results of the seasonal thaw—namely, water in the basement.
For many home-shoppers, it’s one of the first questions they will ask on their quest to find the perfect new place to put down roots: Is the basement dry? Knowing if a basement leak is particularly important for prospective homeowners who have big plans for finishing the space or intend to use it for storage. Others envision hours spent in a damp basement, mopping up intruding rainwater and dealing with the musty odors and mold growth that can result from it.
Pinpointing the exact cause of a wet basement can be problematic, especially if the home is being inspected and there hasn’t been thawing or precipitation for a while. Further, it is difficult for a home inspector to assess the condition (or existence) of perimeter foundation drainage tiles or predict the influence groundwater tables will have throughout the year, as the amount of precipitation will vary from season to season. Questions such as, Does the basement leak after an hour-long sprinkle, after a single heavy rain, or only after extended periods of precipitation? can only be answered by the homeowner who has experienced the full cycle of fluctuations in groundwater levels.
During the basement portion of a home inspection (as well as a check of the home’s exterior), certified home inspectors, like those at A-Pro Home Inspection Columbia, will check for signs of moisture in the basement and report on the factors that may be at play. Here’s a brief home inspection wet basement checklist:
Signs of Water in the Basement: It doesn’t take the trained eye of a home inspector to identify the presence of standing water—the most obvious sign that there are issues that warrant further investigation. The inspector will also note wall staining; blisters on walls; the smell of mold or mildew; general dampness and humidity; condensation on floors and walls (or actual water seeping into the basement); rotting wood structures; rug and carpet deterioration; and saturation at the bottom of masonry. Issues like wall staining may show evidence of past leakage but may not conclusively be indicative of the current state of the basement.
Blame It on the Rain?: Before assuming water in the basement is due to thawing snow or heavy rains, the inspector will rule out internal leakage from pipes, appliances, and fixtures—both in the basement and in the rooms directly above. Runoff from a leaking toilet, for example, maybe finding its way onto the basement’s ceiling or walls.
Poor Grading: Your inspector will check to see if the soil around the home slopes away from the foundation (good), is flat (not so great), or slopes toward the home (very bad), increasing the risk of rainwater damaging the foundation and gaining passage into the basement. The good news is that, in many cases, fixing harmful or ineffective grading can be done easily and at relatively little expense.
Gutters and Downspouts: Ironically, basement water problems often originate on the roof. Clogged, broken, sagging, or missing gutter pieces can cause rainwater to cascade off the roof rather than draining it away from the home. Further, a poorly designed gutter system that doesn’t properly slope toward the downspout won’t get the job done, either. Downspouts that have leaky joints, are unattached, or don’t terminate far enough away from the foundation can cause soil soakage, resulting in water in the basement and, even worse, structural damage caused by increased hydrostatic pressure working against foundation walls.
Foundation Damage: As mentioned above, hydrostatic pressure is an enemy of your home’s foundation, causing cracks that will allow water inside the basement. It is important to note that such pressure is only one factor leading to foundation damage. The presence of cracks will be noted on your home inspection report. Other basement water issues include clogged window wells that let rain and melted snow seep in, and damaged subsurface drainage systems.