December 28th, 2016 | by Jose G. Sanchez, P.E. | President of JHD Home Inspection
It’s the experience that no home owner wants to have: A flooded basement. All basements, especially finished, can be severely damaged from flooding. In this day in age, people want to maximize their living space. This means that more and more home owners are spending tens of thousands of dollars to build-out their basement area as living rooms, bathrooms and even wet bars for entertainment in what was once viewed as a “concrete dungeon” space for storage. Protecting such a significant investment begins by understanding the causes of basement flooding and what measures can be taken to reduce the risk of water damage. The following tips can assist in minimizing this risk and providing the home owner with some peace of mind.
Clean Gutters- Seems like common sense, but this step is often overlooked. It’s a perfect example of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind scenario. If you have large trees near your home, your gutters can become clogged rapidly. The gutters will then overflow, introducing large amounts of rain water close to the foundation of your home and potentially leaking into the basement. Gutters are also not installed to hold excess amounts of water. This condition may cause permanent damage to the gutters and supports. Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Consider installing gutter guards to reduce the maintenance effort. Your home inspector should provide a visual assessment of the installation and condition of the gutters and make any necessary recommendations to avoid water overflow.
Provide Positive Surface Grading- In general the grading around your house is the surface level around your home. Surface grading should be done so as to promote the flow of water AWAY from the foundation, also referred to as positive grading. In older homes, due to settling, manipulation of landscaping, new additions, or decks, positive lot grading is often neglected and typically deteriorates through settling over time. Improper grading can result in poor surface drainage, ponding or flooding around the basement wall, foundation settlement or other damage, which includes basement leakage and dampness. Consult a qualified landscaper to make the necessary corrections to the soil surrounding your home in order to provide a positive grade by creating at least a two-inch-per-foot slope away from the foundation.
Disconnect Downspouts – Disconnecting downspouts presents advantages to both the home owner as well as the local water treatment plant. A downspout is a vertical pipe that is connected to the horizontal gutter system. This pipe transfers water collected at the gutters near the roof to the ground. Downspouts are directly connected to either the sanitary or storm sewer system through underground pipes. During heavy rainfall, the risk of the sewer becoming overloaded and backing up into your home increases. Disconnecting the downspouts will help reduce the amount of rainwater introduced to the sewer system as well as minimize the risk of flooding. In some cases, the storm sewer pipe adjacent to the foundation is either clogged or broken, which leads saturation of the soil adjacent to the foundation, which is invisible to the home owner. This condition may cause the excess water to leak into the basement thru any small cracks within the foundation. It is recommended to disconnect the downspout from the sewer system. A downspout extension piece is recommended to discharge the storm water at least 6 feet away from the foundation to prevent any storm water from finding its way into the basement. The storm sewer standpipe should be capped to prevent any water from entering the sewer.
Seal all Foundation Cracks– Sealing foundation cracks can help reduce basement flooding in your home by minimizing the chances of groundwater entering your house. Over time, foundations settle and concrete expands and contracts as a result of normal weather changes, foundations deteriorate. With this deterioration, cracks may form in your foundation. When the groundwater level around your home is high enough to submerge these cracks, they may leak water. In most cases, cracks can be effectively sealed from inside the basement. It is recommended to use the epoxy injection method to properly fill any foundation cracks. If cracks appear to be severe, you may require the assistance of a qualified contractor as they may present a structural issue and may require more substantial repairs.
Sump Pump Installation- If you have put in practice the previous methods and they don’t necessarily alleviate the water issue, a sump pump may be required and you should consider having one installed. This process can be extensive, requiring a drain tile system around the perimeter of your home for the collection of water, a sump pit and of course, the sump pump. Not all sump pumps are created equal so don’t go cheap! It is recommended to purchase a high quality pump, with additional security features such as an alarm that goes off whenever the water reaches a certain level. It is common to lose utility power during a storm. For this reason, a pump with a battery backup feature is highly recommended to avoid flooding due to loss of power. Sump pumps are recommended to be connected on a dedicated electrical circuit to prevent any unrelated faults from preventing the pump to run when required. Your home inspector should test the pump and any safety features available to ensure the pump is working properly. The sump pump discharge should be directed to the home exterior, at least 6 feet away. When looking to install a sump pump system, always hire a qualified professional to ensure that the job is done correct.
Backwater Valve Installation – If your basement is flooding due to water coming up from a floor drain, then the city sewer main is backing up. Sewage presents a significant and serious health hazard. Overloaded sewers can back up through house sewer lines and flow into basements that aren’t protected. When sewers are overloaded, residences at lower elevations are most at risk of experiencing sewer backup. A backwater valve has a gate that closes when it detects a backup and prevents sewage from entering your home. They are installed on the main sewer line either inside or outside the home. A licensed plumber can look at your system and recommend the appropriate installation. Backwater valves aren’t cheap to buy or install, but in some cases are required to maintain a basement from flooding. It is important to note that a backwater valve is engineered to be closed during sewer backflow conditions to keep water from the sanitary sewer system from flowing into your home. When valve closes, water from the inside of your home will NOT drain out. Therefore it is recommended to avoid using any appliance or fixture that uses or releases water during a heavy storm.