Basement water proofing. Is some amount of water every ok?
August 26, 2022 10:06 AM   Subscribe

There's evidence (pictures) of water in my basement. Not a lot. Mold is involved. Is it the drainage system around the house? Gaps in the brickwork? (Some are apparent.) Could I have some tuckpointing done, have someone rip into the moldy wall, clean things up and patch the wall? A thousand dollars-ish? Or, a basement water company could come. They'll tell me to fix the drainage, which will entail ripping up my driveway and who knows what else. Tens of thousands of dollars? Can't someone shove a camera somewhere or do any kind of definitive testing?

If you click on photos in the album, they have descriptions that I hope are helpful.

The evidence of water in the front of the house has been ignored for years. The wood paneling was torn away a couple of months ago after a pipe burst, but it had been moldy(?) for a long time. Rotten? Something was going on. The plumber who fixed the pipe stuffed something in between the bricks around the hose spigot which was fed by the pipe. I assume he knew that I needed to call a mason and have it properly filled in, but he wanted me to stop asking him if he could do something about it. Since then, there was water in that corner once. There's been some light rain over the past few weeks and this area has been dry as a bone every time I've checked it, which admittedly has been occasional at best. Some carpet was also pulled up after the burst pipe, but I remember it being squishy from time to time over the years. The ceiling was messed up. I think it was never repaired after that same pipe burst many years ago. The ceiling in that corner is gone now, but I don't remember evidence of more recent water leaking. The walls also may suggest that the water is coming from below ground and not from the gaps in the brick.

The evidence of water on the side near the back of the house has, likewise, been ignored for years. I'd probably keep ignoring all of this if I weren't thinking about repairing the damage from that burst pipe. Every once in a while, there is a small puddle of water at the bottom of the steps. I don't remember the last time I saw any water at all. Not this year, certainly. Maybe, a couple of years. But, there is definitely water there. Rarely. Very rarely. A little bit. And here too, the wall seems to suggest that the water is coming from below ground. I'm just freaking out about potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars based on feelings about how the wall looks.

The evidence of water on the back of the house is actually a little more recent. More than months, but less than many years. There's some mold on the wall on the landing of the stairs to the basement. The signs of repair work in that picture are because there used to be a trash compactor in that wall. That wall seems perfectly lined up with some vulnerabilities in the exterior brickwork, so maybe I can just have that filled in?

Anyway, I'm prepared to do, and by "do" I suppose I mean "spend," whatever is necessary, but I'm anxious about having no idea what that is. Can I plug some holes and fix the damage? Or do I need to do extensive repair work? It seems like the only people available to advise me are the people who will make ungodly sums of money doing extensive repair work.

How do I decide both what actually needs to be done and what is unnecessary?
posted by stuart_s to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
What is the gutter situation on the roof, especially around that corner of the roof? Are any gutters overflowing or any downspouts missing? I know more than one house with basement water issues that were nearly entirely solved by having the roof drainage fixed.
posted by soelo at 10:12 AM on August 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

You are going to have to have qualified people help with this, looking at your actual site and situation. Getting quotes from several businesses is going to be concrete and specific and will probably be free (in money, though not in time) vs hiring an engineer to make recommendations.
Since you are not in a hurry, go with the drainage/waterproofing/masons who do serious work rather than businesses who pitch themselves towards panicky people trying to get a house sale to close. The former aren’t interested in upselling, in my experience.
posted by janell at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2022

That downspout that disappears into a concrete slab seems … suboptimal.

If it goes into the sewer, that’s illegal where I live, and if not it could very well be sending water into the basement.
posted by jamjam at 10:19 AM on August 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Absolutely start with the drainage around the house. Roof water has to go into gutters. Gutter downspouts have to carry water away from the house. Ideally, the ground has to slope away from the house all the way around. Now, it appears you have some concrete paving coming right up to the house, with some broken bricks etc. Maybe the the driveway is similar and these pavements are delivering water to the wall. In those areas, again ideally you would remove the pavement and reinstall it to drain away from the house, but you might start by obtaining a bunch of concrete filler/sealant (comes in tubes). Clean out all loose mortar and seal up all the gaps, including the one where the concrete meets the brick wall. I would do that, and any possible grading and downspout redirects, and then wait and see what happens. In my old house I did that sort of thing, and what had been rivulets coming into the basement stopped, and never reappeared for 25 years.
posted by beagle at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Call one of the "waterproofing" companies in your area. They are often older, established, reputable companies that can seem weird or low rent because the industry tilts towards goofy ads. (In Chicagoland, the company I use has ads that say "Basement leakin' got ya freakin'?") You can check reviews on or whatever your favorite site is to make sure they're okay.

A company like this will come out and do an inspection for free, identify the cause of the leak, let you know whether it's in the range of things they service, and give you an estimate. Once they told me I had foundation cracks that were causing the leak and they fixed it with hydraulic sealant. Worked great. Another time, they followed the leak to a plumbing connection in a wall and advised me to call a plumber.

It's a pretty low risk way to start off.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Based on personal experience (installing new gutters solved 98% of my basement leak issues), I'll also vote for starting with a good look at exterior drainage. The next time there's a decent rain, grab your umbrella and walk around your house, checking to see where water is pooling, puddling, flowing, and falling off your roof. You want to direct that water away from your house.

Depending on what you see, your first step might be gutter cleaning, repair, or installation. Vinyl gutters are pretty affordable compared to the foundation damage caused by busted (or absent) gutters. Very important: make sure the downspouts are directed in a way that they do not cause water to pool around your foundation. For me, this meant getting a big drainage pipe, attaching it to the downspout with zipties, and pointing it downhill. This cost me 15 bucks and 15 minutes and has saved me literally thousands in water damage.

If your gutter situation is good and water is still puddling around your foundation, you may need to look into more expensive solutions like regrading, french drains, and other stuff. If you think you might need this, call an expert (or a few experts) for a quote.

Also -- do you have condensation happening? Some of that looks like it might be condensation. If so, get a couple of dehumidifiers in there stat.

Finally, for mold cleanup (and water source identification), I find the EPA's A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home very helpful. It has a lot of good tips for cleanup and prevention.
posted by ourobouros at 12:45 PM on August 26, 2022

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