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Water in the Basement: What to Do, Causes & Prevention

What to do immediately when there's water in your basement

An unfinished basement with water on the concrete floor

Water in the basement from a plumbing leak can lead to mold, musty smells, and property damage.

Water in the basement can lead to mold, musty smells, damaged walls and floors, and ruined furniture and belongings. It's necessary to get rid of the water, fix underlying problems, and take steps to keep your basement dry.

Here are 4 steps to take now if your basement is wet:

  1. Priority #1: Stay safe. Standing in water while handling any electrical device can cause shock or electrocution. If you must go down into a flooded basement, wear rubber boots and make sure you can stay dry. Don’t touch wet electrical wires or devices.
  2. Try to determine the source of the water. Is your basement water problem a one-time event or do you have a consistent problem? If the problem is water seepage, it's likely to keep happening if not dealt with. If the water is from a plumbing leak, contact an experienced plumber for help.
  3. Have standing water pumped out as soon as possible. If your basement is only partially flooded, you can suck up standing water using a wet-dry vacuum. Otherwise, you’ll need to call in a plumber or a disaster mitigation specialist to pump the water out. After pumping the basement, it may be necessary to run a dehumidifier to help dry out the area.
  4. Remove materials and items that might attract mold. Some materials like paper, fabric, wood and leather will attract basement mold if they remain wet for more than a day or two. Dry out and save what you can; discard the rest if possible. Water-damaged wood-framed walls and gypsum board can be partially replaced by a Basement Systems contractor, using the EverLast® Finished Wall Restoration System.

Why is your basement wet?

Water seepage where the basement wall meets the concrete floor

Water seepage where the basement wall meets the floor is a common cause of water in the basement.

Aside from a plumbing leak or local flooding, there are two major causes of water in the basement: surface water and subsurface groundwater.

Here are the three most common symptoms and the causes of each of these problems below.

1. Symptom: Water coming up through concrete basement floor

If water is coming through the basement floor or coming in where the basement walls meet the floor, then the source of the water is likely subsurface groundwater. There are a few reasons for this.

Causes:

Hydrostatic pressure - Rising groundwater and saturation during wet weather causes hydrostatic pressure, which pushes against the foundation and pushes water through cracks and openings in the concrete. This pressure can also cause the basement floor and walls to crack.

2. Symptom: Water near exterior foundation wall or stains on foundation wall

If the water in your basement seems to be only near the exterior foundation walls then the problem is likely surface water that isn't draining away properly. There are several problems to look for around your house.

Causes: 

  • Leaky basement windows or clogged window wells - Leaves and debris can clog window wells and cause them to fill with water. The water can leak into the basement through cracks and gaps around old basement windows.
  • Overflowing gutters - Water overflowing from the gutters can get into the basement and erode soil, which can cause foundation cracks.
  • Short downspouts - Downspouts should extend at least 10 feet from the house to ensure runoff is discharged far enough away from the foundation.
  • Landscape slope - Your yard and the soil next to the house should slope away from your foundation to keep water from pooling and saturating the soil.
  • Settled pavement - Pavement can crack and settle over time, which can cause rainwater to flow toward the house. A contractor can repair or replace the pavement so that it slopes away from the home.
  • Roof leaks - Water leaking in through the roof can run down and damage your basement ceiling or walls.

Learn more about the causes of water in the basement after rain and ways you can solve this problem.

3. Symptom: Flooded basement with water covering all or most of the basement floor

Basement flooding during wet weather is a common problem. The additional water on the surface and underground from heavy rains and melting snow can put a heavy load on drainage systems. There are many reasons why the basement might flood.

Causes:

  • Sump pump problems - If your sump pump isn't able to keep up or if it fails due to a mechanical problem, your basement can flood. Read about the common sump pump problems and what to do about them.
  • Plumbing or appliance failure - A damaged or burst pipe, cracked washing machine hose, or failed hot water tank can cause major flooding in the basement.
  • Exterior drainage tile failure - Exterior drainage systems are prone to clogging and other problems. If the French drain system fails or was installed incorrectly, the basement can flood, especially during heavy rains.
  • Storm sewer backup - During heavy rains, the municipal storm sewer system can become overwhelmed with water. When the water level gets too high, water can back up in the system and into your basement.

How to prevent water in the basement

Whether you have a puddle or a basement filled with water, any water in the basement can cause expensive damage. An effective basement waterproofing system can help prevent water damage. Here are some improvements you can make to help keep your basement dry:

  • Improve outside drainage. If water pools near the foundation during a storm, clean your gutters to prevent overflow, add downspout extensions so gutters drain away from the foundation, and make sure the soil around the foundation is properly sloped away from the house.
  • Install or replace sump pump. A cast-iron sump pump, like Basement Systems' TripleSafe System, can provide reliable protection against basement flooding. Consider installing a battery-powered backup pump, like our UltraSump System in case the power goes out.
  • Add interior drainage. An interior drainage system can effectively solve a chronic basement water problem. Basement Systems' patented WaterGuard® Basement Drainage System is a hidden interior drain that captures water before it reaches the basement floor. The water is piped to a sump pump that automatically discharges the water outside your house.
  • Protect against plumbing leaks. Replace an old tank-type water heater before the interior rusts out and causes a major basement flood. Replace rubber washing machine supply hoses if they show signs of cracking. Check water supply and drain lines for leaks, and take steps during cold weather to prevent water lines from freezing and bursting.
  • Install new windows and window well covers. Cleaning window wells can prevent them from clogging with leaves and other debris. You might also consider adding a window well cover and replacing old, leaky basement windows. These upgrades will do more than prevent water leaks; they’ll can also make your basement more attractive and energy efficient.
  • Repair foundation cracks. Horizontal, vertical, and stair-step cracks in the foundation walls are caused by changes in the soil around the foundation or construction defects. A foundation repair expert can inspect the cracks to determine the cause and whether repair is needed.
  • Check roof for damage. Look for worn or missing shingles and other signs of damage that may lead to a roof leak.

Find a basement waterproofing expert near you

If you need help dealing with water in the basement, Basement Systems has the proven waterproofing solutions and professional installation you need to ensure a dry basement - all the time.
Find a basement waterproofing contractor near you to get a free evaluation and cost estimate.

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