If walking down to the basement leads you to a wading pool of water, you have a leak that needs fixing before more damage is done. Preventing these leaks is the best way to fight moisture in the basement. Some methods are as cheap as buying dirt and can keep you from constant cleanups or costly mold remediation.

If walking down to the basement leads you to a wading pool of water, you have a leak that needs fixing before more damage is done.

Preventing these leaks is the best way to fight moisture in the basement. Some methods are as cheap as buying dirt and can keep you from constant cleanups or costly mold remediation.

Most of the preventative measures are quite simple. Steve Gitz, president of Gitz-Meier Remodeling Contractors and RestorX Northern Illinois, and Don Bamberg, owner of Bamberg Plumbing, said the key to making a basement waterproof is to focus first on the source of the problem by making changes outside the house.

“Most people tend to think that if they’ve got a wet basement that this crack in the basement wall is the problem and they’ve got to fill the crack. That’s not the issue — not the issue at all,” Gitz said. “The key to making your basement waterproof is to make your yard like a roof, you’re making a roof over your basement.”

Gravity is free, so take advantage

Sometimes the simple answer is not so obvious. The first problem area to look at is the slope of the yard around the house. Gitz said a yard should have a slope of 6 to 12 inches angling away from the home's foundation.

If there is enough yard, a slope can be created. Gitz said a contractor can be hired or a knowledgeable homeowner can try, but creating a slope is labor intensive. Over time, when the dirt settles, he recommends simple maintenance by adding more dirt, but make sure and keep it below any siding.

Extend downspouts

Gitz and Bamberg said another cause of flooded basements is short downspouts or, even worse, none at all. Gitz said downspouts should extend at least 4 to 6 feet away from the foundation.

Clogged downspouts are another problem. Water may be trapped inside, which becomes frozen during the winter and leads to a separation of the seam. Because it faces the house, homeowners may not realize the seam is damaged, so check and clean the downspouts when cleaning gutters.

Clogged gutters have led to many mold remediation jobs for Gitz. Opening up a slide show on his computer, Gitz shows multiple photos of basement corners with clusters of mold down the wall. Directly above ground were areas of missing downspouts or clogged gutters, he said.

Other common problems to look for outside the house are decorative plant borders near and next to the house. A raised decorative plant border creates a dam, causing water to overflow into your basement.

Draining systems

Another problem area to check are basement window wells. Gitz clicks to another photo where Gitz-Meier installed a proper drainage system below the window using large rock as fill.

“What this is doing is the big rock acts like a drain. You’re getting it (the water) down far enough so it can’t enter your basement, and the small rock acts as a filter to keep the big rock from filling up with leaves,” he said.

If all the problem areas have been checked and there are still leaks, temporary solutions may be made inside the basement such as waterproofing, or sealing the basement.

There are other ways to divert water, such as having drainage tile installed around the foundation, Bamberg said. In this instance, a trench is dug 2 to 3 feet deep for the drainage tile, a corrugated perforated pipe. Large rock is placed underneath and on top.

“Water seeks the easiest path it can and finds a place where there are voids in the soil,” Bamberg said.

High water table

Water could enter a basement from below as a result of a high water table. The water table may be higher in areas near lakes or rivers.

“[A basement] is like a big bucket; any cracks in your foundation you’re going to have hydraulic pressure,” Bamberg said. "Hydraulic pressure is going to push that water up and through those cracks and start to equalize the water level.”

The most extreme measure taken to remove water is to build a trench in the basement floor 2 feet from the basement walls and 2 feet into the floor to place drainage tile and a sump pump pit.

At a glance

What to examine if you're experiencing water in your basement:

- Slope of yard

- Clogged gutters

- Short or no downspouts

- Basement window wells

- High sidewalks or plant box borders in relation to foundation

The Journal-Standard