How to Cure a Wet Basement

4 Steps to fixing a leaky basement. The basic solution is often the best solution.

Water in your basement? Don't call the basement waterproofing company yet. According to our expert, many basement leaks can be cured with a weekend's work and a few hundred dollars' worth of dirt and plastic.

We talked to Robert Vassallo, owner of Complete Building Solutions, an engineering firm that specializes in solving water-related building problems. His firm takes on many complicated wet basement jobs, but he was quick to point out that a huge percentage of wet basements can be remedied by simply regrading the landscape, and adding or upgrading gutters and downspouts. The graphic at right shows the key elements for an effective solution.

TIME

Weekend

COMPLEXITY

Simple

COST

Varies

4 Steps to fixing a leaky basement

1. Check the landscape around your house

2. Make a plan and order material

With the sketch in hand, you can figure out where the problem areas are and what you need to do to fix them. The goal is to create a 6-ft.-wide perimeter that slopes away from the house. Aim for a slope of about 1 in. per foot, but if this isn't practical, get as close to it as you can. There are two ways to change the slope of the ground near your foundation. You can add soil or some other compactable fill near the house, or you can move soil from the high area to the foundation. In either case, keep in mind that you should maintain 6 in. between the soil surface and the siding to prevent rot and discourage insects.

If you need a lot of fill, it may be cheaper to have a dump truck deliver a load. Otherwise you can buy bags of soil at most landscape supply stores or home centers. You'll also need enough 6-mil black poly sheeting to cover the area between the foundation and 6 ft. out. And if you like our idea of using bricks for the edging as shown in the illustration, you'll need to order these too. Finally, you'll need some mulch or other decorative material to cover the poly.

3. Create the slope

If you have shrubs or trees near the foundation, they may be part of the problem. In some cases, their roots form a channel for water to reach the foundation, or they penetrate cracks in the foundation and create new paths for water to enter. Remove shrubs and trees that you don't need. You'll have to work around any that are a valued part of your landscape.

Next, spread the new fill, using a level to check the slope. Or simply regrade the soil near your foundation to create the slope. Use a garden rake to smooth and level the ground. When you're happy with the slope, tamp the soil to compact it. If you're doing the entire perimeter, it may be worth renting a gas-powered tamper for this. Otherwise a hand tamper will work.

If your plan includes adding bricks along the edge, dig a trench deep enough so that the top edge of the brick is level with the ground. Then lay 6-mil poly over the ground and into the trench. Finish up by placing the bricks and covering the poly with mulch, wood chips or some type of decorative stone or gravel.

4. Check your gutters and downspouts

If at first you don't succeed

These four simple steps will solve most basement leaks caused by surface water like rain and snow melt. But if your basement still leaks after you've made these corrections, consider hiring an engineering firm experienced in solving water leakage problems to propose other remedies.

Be cautious about hiring companies that offer only their own solution, because it may not be the best one for your situation. And if you're looking for more information on solutions to wet basements, how to deal with wet carpet, how to fix plumbing leaks, or how to add an interior drain and sump pump, search for the key words at familyhandyman.com

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