Nothing will put a damper on your day faster than a flooded basement. The costly repairs and bothersome inconvenience associated with basement leaks are guaranteed to disrupt your winter plans. While we typically think of leaks and flooding during times of heavy rain, it’s important to remember that these events can occur year-round.
Basement leaks and flooding are actually quite common during the winter months. There are many reasons as to why a basement may leak. However, all leaks are ultimately caused by an accumulation of moisture. Keep in mind that moisture doesn’t necessarily come from rain. During the winter months, homes can be surrounded by water in its frozen form: snow. A quick thaw can introduce a significant amount of water to the soil around your property. While it is always best to consult a professional to assess your basement’s waterproofing, it is important to understand the basic reasons behind those bothersome basement leaks.
Plus, we’ve put together a list of how to prevent snowmelt flooding to help keep your basement dry.
Reasons Why Your Basement Might Leak
01 Basements Radiate Heat – Melting Snow
While it may be below freezing outside, the temperature in a basement is significantly warmer. Whether a basement is finished or unfinished, it is quite cozy compared to the chilly weather outside. The ground outside your home is cold, frozen, and may be covered in snow, while the temperature inside your basement is warm and toasty. This causes your basement to radiate heat. Basements typically radiate warmth up to 8” outside the basement walls.
This radiant heat entering the ground causes frozen soil and snow to melt, thus creating and accumulating moisture. As we learned earlier, a build-up of moisture is the basic cause of most leaks. As the snow melts around your basement, moisture builds up and is trapped between the frozen soil and your basement walls and floor. When moisture accumulates with nowhere to go. This is where the problems begin.
02 Hydrostatic Pressure
We all know what gravity is; the downward force that weighs things down and keeps them from floating off into the atmosphere. Hydrostatic pressure is the fancy term for the downward pull of gravity. When it comes to a leaky basement, this pressure is a common culprit. As we mentioned in #1, when heat radiated from your basement causes the frozen soil and snow to melt, moisture accumulates and becomes trapped between the ground and your basement walls. Hydrostatic pressure pushes down on that trapped moisture.
As the pressure builds, it can force the moisture through existing cracks and holes in your foundation. Additionally, the pressure can build up so much that it creates new cracks in order to give the moisture somewhere to go. Ultimately, the hydrostatic pressure will force the moisture downward, and into your basement if an alternate route isn’t present.
03 Eaves, Troughs, and Downspouts Draining Too Close to the Home
Properly functioning and installed eaves, troughs, and downspouts are key in keeping leaks at bay. These elements are designed to reroute water away from the home. However, if these features are improperly designed or not maintained, they have the potential to do more harm than good. When properly installed and functioning correctly, these elements pull water away from your home. The further away from your foundation that the water is sent, the less likely you are to have leaks.
However, if these elements are poorly maintained, installed improperly, or missing altogether, water can be deposited too close to your foundation. If excess water accumulates close to your foundation, hydrostatic pressure can cause it to be forced inside, as it has nowhere else to go. Keep your gutters clean, and downspouts draining away from your foundation (a minimum of 4 feet away) to help prevent this cause of basement leakage.
04 The Wrong Type of Soil
The soil surrounding your basement plays a large role when it comes to leaks. The right type of soil and irrigation will help the water drain properly and pull moisture away from your home. However, the wrong type of soil with improper draining can cause moisture to pool and become trapped against the walls of your basement. Certain types of soil, such as clay soil, can actually prevent leaks and flooding by absorbing moisture and expanding, rather than allowing moisture to collect and build up pressure. If the soil surrounding your basement does not drain properly, it is suggested to replace it with clean fill dirt, properly installed, and topped with stone or mulch to prevent erosion.
05 The Slope Surrounding Your Foundation is Off
No matter what type of landscape your home is built on, the soil surrounding your foundation should always slope away from the home. Improper drainage is one of the most common factors in basement leaks. The soil surrounding the foundation of the home should slope down 6 inches in the opposite direction of the home.
While 6 inches of the slope may not seem like much, it guides water away from your foundation, rather than allow it to pool at its base. The further away the water drains, the less likely you are to experience leakage. Make sure there is a clear downward path for water to follow, away from, not towards your foundation.
06 Cracks in Your Basement Wall and Floor
Water most commonly enters basements through cracks in the walls and floor. When moisture accumulates outside between the soil and the walls, the pressure pushes down on that moisture, causing it to look for a way to escape.
As a home settles over time and pressure changes for various reasons, cracks will inevitably occur. If not properly repaired, these existing cracks are a direct route, leading moisture straight into your basement. Water will continue to seep through these cracks in the walls and floors until the pressure is relieved or the cracks are eliminated.
07 Sump Pump Isn’t Working Properly
If you have a basement, you are likely to have a sump pump as well. This pump is designed to collect excess water and pull it away from the home. However, if your sump pump isn’t working properly, water will accumulate and potentially flood your basement. A sump pump is installed by creating a hole in the basement floor (the sump pit). When the pit fills with water, the electric pump is activated, pumping the water away from the area.
Sump pumps can fail for various reasons: improper installation, power failure, lack of maintenance, or frozen/clogged drainage lines. Remember to always make sure your sump pump is working properly.
08 Clogged Drain
Clogged drains can also cause water to back up in your pipes and ultimately overflow into the basement.
Ensure sewer lines within your home are flowing freely. If your drains are free of clogs and draining properly, it will help to eliminate the chances of water backing up into your basement.
09 Leaky Window Wells
While windows allow much-needed light to flow into a basement, they can also allow water to make its way in as well. Windows should be properly sealed and free of cracks. The window wells, the areas around basement windows, should have proper drainage in place, allowing water to flow away from the home, and not pool in the wells. Keep a close eye on these areas, as they are common culprits in basement leaks.