Why Your Basement is Leaking and How to Save It

water leaking across a basement floor from a closed door

Reading time: 4.5 minutes

It’s a day like any other. You get up, start your coffee, and then head downstairs to put a load of wash in – only to step in a puddle of water. You may have a leaky water heater or you may have a foundation issue.

We reached out to Matt Stock of U.S. Waterproofing in Chicago, Illinois, to find out! U.S. Waterproofing has helped more than 400,000 homes since 1957, and Matt himself is a third- generation home service professional who has helped to keep Chicagoland basements dry for more than 20 years.

Read below to find out how you can fix your foundation issues and prevent water from leaking into your basement!

The water is coming into the house

The most common cause of seepage is cracks in the foundation.

In Matt’s area, most of the homes were built after World War II with what professionals call a “poured concrete foundation.”

“These poured concrete foundations crack for a lot of different reasons,” says Matt, “but common reasons are general settling of the home and freeze and thaw cycles that happen in Chicago.”

The wide-temperature variations cause the soil to shift and the foundations to crack. Of course, there are other reasons, such as shrinkage of concrete (if there’s a lot of water in it). When the water evaporates, it causes the concrete or structural foundation to crack.

“You can almost think of structural foundation repair as the ying to the basement waterproofing yang,” says Matt. “You need basement waterproofing during heavy rains. You need structural foundation repair when the soil is shrinking because there’s a lack of moisture.”

Additionally, concrete sinking around the home is common, and you’ll need to get it repaired to prevent seepage.

“There are ways you could keep that concrete level and stop it from directing water towards your home,” says Matt.

Warning signs that your foundation needs help

condensation tracks run down a window
Higher humidity in your home can signal foundation issues.

The most common sign you have a problem with your foundation is water in the basement, but you might not know right away, especially if you have a finished basement or if you visit it less frequently.

“If you’re in your basement, you’re going to see it because there are trails of water,” says Matt. “If you go down there two days later, it might have evaporated.”

However, you might notice:

  • A musty smell in your basement.
  • Higher humidity.
  • Your sump pump running frequently.
a crack in a wall over a doorway
Cracking in the wall can signal a foundation issue.

If you have a finished basement, it might be more challenging to notice an issue.

“Unless you step on wet carpet, you might not know that the carpeting’s wet.”

Unfortunately cracks in your basement, which can lead to water damage, may also manifest as cracks in brickwork, cracks in drywall, and windows or doors sticking. These are indicators of structural foundation issues.

“Chicago is going through a drought right now,” explains Matt. “Until it recovers, soil will shrink and foundations therefore will sink.”

Basement waterproofing companies commonly do structural foundation repairs, too, so if you notice any of the above warning signs, call a basement waterproofing or structural repair company immediately.

Easy steps to preventing water from leaking into your basement

a homeowner in orange gloves cleaning out the gutters
Your gutters are more important than you think!

First, Matt suggests that you complete some simple maintenance tasks, which can help to avoid a more-lengthy project.

“We always recommend homeowners to keep their gutters clean and to make sure that their downspouts are extended far enough away from the foundation – 5 to 10 feet. Also, keep your window wells clean.”

Homeowners also need to ensure their yard has positive grading, which can help to prevent water damage.

“You want to make sure the soil is graded away from your house,” says Matt. “You don’t want to invite water towards your home.”

If you’ve completed the basic home maintenance tasks and you still find water in your basement, then it’s time to call in the home pros.

“If you still have problems, despite maintaining it yourself, then you need us,” says Matt. “Chances are that part of the problem is cracks in the foundation.”

What you need to know about foundation crack repair

a worker seals cracks in a foundation
Seal up your foundation!

So your foundation wall is cracked. The solution is to seal it!

“There are different ways to seal cracks,” says Matt. “You can do it from inside the basement or from the outside.”

The repair process to waterproof basement walls from the inside is referred to as the epoxy or urethane injection.

“We inject a material, an epoxy or urethane, into the crack to fill it,” explains Matt. “Although you’re working on the inside, it goes all the way through to the outside soil.”

a homeowner standing on a ladder outside a home
Stay on top of home maintenance.

With a finished basement, the homeowner may not want to remove drywall or paneling to correct the issue. During those cases, “you can also seal it from the outside by excavating it and doing a number of different treatments.”

Once the repairs and interior waterproofing are completed, a homeowner must continue to maintain the home.

“It’s like drinking a lot of water, eating a well-balanced meal, getting enough sleep,” says Matt. “And then there’s times where no matter how well you’re doing on your own, you’re going to need an expert to solve a more acute issue.”

Save your home (and wallet) from disaster

a home service pro entering a home with a tool box
Be proactive with your home projects.

You may not be able to predict when you’ll have an issue with your foundation, but you may be able to prevent prevent water from leaking into your basement by taking a proactive approach to home maintenance.

“Most people unfortunately are reactive to problems,” says Matt, “but it’s important to be proactive. Companies like ourselves offer free consultations.”

U.S. Waterproofing makes proactive suggestions, which can help to avoid a basement flood or detect hairline cracks before they widen into costly problems.

“Sometimes there’s nothing in it for us,” Matt admits. “So we’ll just say, ‘Hey, your basement looks good, but these are some things you could do yourself: clean your gutters, extend your downspouts, etc.'”

Since there are no two homes that are alike, it’s important to get your home inspected and to keep up with home maintenance throughout the year to how to prevent water from leaking into your basement.

Stay on top of home maintenance

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