9 Reasons Your Basement Might Leak in the Winter
Nothing will put a damper on your holiday plans faster than a flooded basement. No one wants to spend their holiday season mopping up water in an old, leaky basement rather than enjoying time with family and friends. 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 is 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 factors as to why your basement might 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, our homes are surrounded by water in the frozen form: snow. 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.
Why Your Basement Might Leak
Below is a list of 8 common reasons why your basement might leak this winter, to help keep you in the know.
#1. Basements Radiate Heat, Melting Snow
While it may be below freezing outside, the temperature in your basement is significantly warmer. Whether your basement is finished or unfinished, it is quite cozy compared to the chilly weather outside. The ground outside your home is cold, frozen, and 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, that’s where the problems begin.
#2. 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 you don’t have an alternate route for it to travel through.
#3. Eaves, Troughs, and Downspouts Draining Too Close to Your House
Properly functioning and installed eaves, troughs, and downspouts are essential to keep leaks at bay. These elements are designed to reroute water away from your 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.
#4. 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 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, we suggest replacing it with clean fill dirt, properly installed, and topped with stone or mulch to prevent erosion.
#5. The Slope Surrounding Your Foundation is Off
No matter what type of landscape your home was 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 your home should slope down 6 inches in the opposite direction of the home.
While 6 inches of 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.
#6. Cracks in Your Basement Wall and Floor
Water most commonly enters your basement through cracks in the walls and floor. When moisture accumulates outside between the soil and the walls, pressure pushes down on that moisture, causing it to look for a way to escape. As the pressure builds, moisture is pushed through cracks in your walls and floors, resulting in a wet basement. Cracks in basement walls and floors are very common.
As your house settles over time and pressure changes for various reasons, cracks will inevitably occur. Click here to learn more about how and why cracks 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.
#7. Your Sump Pump Isn’t Working Properly
If you have a basement, you most likely have a sump pump. 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. Click here to learn more about common sump pump problems that can result in flooding. Remember to always make sure your sump pump is working properly before the wet winter season arrives.
#8. Your Drain is Clogged
While this may seem like an overly simple explanation, you would be amazed at how many leaks and floods can be prevented by simply ensuring your drains are draining properly. Clogged drains can cause water to back up in your pipes, and ultimately overflow into your basement. These clogs can occur in your home’s sewer lines, as well as the municipal sewer lines outside your home.
While you can’t do much to address clogs in the municipal line, take measures to ensure that the lines in 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.
#9. Leaky Window Wells
While windows allow much-needed light to flow into your 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 your 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.
Preventing Basement Leaks with Triad
As winter quickly approaches, it is important to take measures to prevent basement leaks and flooding. Remember, just because it isn’t raining, it doesn’t mean that water isn’t there. Be sure to take a good look at all 9 factors listed above during your thorough check of your basement. It is much easier to stop a leak before it starts than to repair damage after the fact.
As you begin steps toward waterproofing and winterizing your basement, we encourage you to reach out our team at Triad Basement Weatherproofing. Our team has years of experience in basement waterproofing and are here to assist you as you prepare your home ready for winter. Contact us to learn more about keeping your home dry this winter.
A sump pump is a pump that is used to remove water that has gathered into a sump basin designed to collect water, usually found in the basement of a home. There are a few ways the water may enter the sump pump: it enters by funneling into the pump through the designated perimeter drains in a basement’s system of waterproofing, or by gravity because of groundwater or rainfall, if the basement happens to be below the water table level.
Sump pumps are most commonly used when basements regularly flood, and also to solve issues associated with dampness (again, if the basement is located below the water table level). The main purpose of a sump pump is to pump and send water away from the house, to a place where it can cause less problems — usually a city storm drain or a dry well.
Sump pumps are usually hard wired directly into the electrical system of a home; however, some sump pumps may have an additional battery back up system. Occasionally, a home’s pressurized water system will power the pump in a home, which effectively eliminates the need for electricity all together — although it is done at the expense of using potable water, which can potentially make them more expensive to operate than their electrical pump counterparts.
Maintaining Your Sump Pump
It is important to keep in mind that a sump basin can overflow if it is not constantly and properly pumped. For this reason, it is imperative that you have a back up system in place for your sump pump in the event that the main power to your home is out for any extended period of time, such as is often the case in a severe storm.
Sump Pump Mistakes
Of course, that isn’t the only mistake that can potentially happen when dealing with a sump pump. Read on for some of the most common mistakes that happen with sump pumps — and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Letting debris get in the pump.
To avoid this common mistake, make sure that your sump pump does not sit on any loose silt, small sized gravel, or any other type of debris that could easily be sucked up into the pump — because it will cause a problem. Instead, use large rocks or gravel at least the size of a dime so that your lines will not get clogged, which can ruin the motor in your pump.
Mistake #2: Issues with the float switch.
A float switch simply tells the sump pump motor to stop once the water level becomes too low. Because of what it does, your sump pump will need to have plenty of space around the float and switch for the arm to both freely float and also sink. If there isn’t sufficient room or if there is some type of obstruction in the way, the float will likely cause the pump to work improperly, which can burn up your motor.
Mistake #3: Errors with the check valve.
A sump pump’s check valve simply creates a barrier that prevents any water from flowing backward into the pump. There should be an arrow printed around the check value that indicates in which direction the valve should face. Make sure the arrow is pointing away from the sump pump.
Mistake #4: Not testing your sump pump system.
Basically speaking, there are typically 3 levels of “need” for a sump pump. Level 1 is when your sump pump basically runs constantly, even when there is little to no rainfall. Level 2 is considered to be the “ideal” scenario, when your pump isn’t normally running — but does occasionally run when the need arises, such as during heavy rain or storm, and then shuts off. Level 3 is when your pump never runs.
You need to test your system regularly, or at least once a year. But how do you test your system? That’s easy — just pour water in. Take a 5-gallon bucket filled with water, and then slowly pour the water in (think about the rate which rain water may enter the pump) until the float triggers your pump to activate. Next, you should ideally see the water level slowly drop and then eventually shut off again once the float has dropped back down below the shut off level. If this isn’t what happens with your system, you will need to troubleshoot any issues that you may be having for repairs or replacements.
Mistake #5: A broken discharge pipe.
The worst part about a broken discharge pipe is that the break can occur underground — making it impossible to see or know about until it’s too late. And how will you know it’s too late? When you walk into your basement… and find everything floating. Chances are, something similar has happened to someone you know, at some point or another. The moral of the story? Always inspect your discharge pipes, whether they stick out from your house or you have an underground system.
Mistake #6: Someone unplugged your pump.
This one seems like a no brainer, but it actually happens more often than you may think. Someone goes down into your basement and needs an electrical outlet for something. In order to plug up said item, they accidentally unplug your sump pump… and forget to plug it back in. Fortunately, this one is a simple fix: always check to make sure you plug the sump pump back up. Or, better yet, never unplug it.
Mistake #7: Failing to check for loose wiring in your system.
Checking for loose of faulty wires is another simple step that should be included in your checklist of regular system maintenance. How will you know if your sump pump may have loose wires? One indication is if your sump pump suddenly stops. Unfortunately, without checking something simple as the wiring, you may very well be overlooking something that is a simple fix to get the pump back in working order.
To check the wiring, first turn off power to the pump at the source. Next, disconnect the pump. Check the pump, inspecting for any loose wires and replacing any that you may find. Install the pump again, restore power, and then see if the pump begins working again.
Mistake #8: Not listening to the sump pump motor.
Believe it or not, mistakes can often be made if you don’t simply listen to the motor of your sump pump. If the motor and pump are both running, then you will need to inspect the outside pump (where the water should be escaping). If no water is coming out, then you will need to do some troubleshooting. Perhaps a water pipe may be blocked, or your check valve may be stuck. Some of these are fairly straightforward fixes that are easy to do yourself; other times, it is better to call in a team of professionals.
Which leads us to mistake #9, quite possibly the biggest mistake and also the most commonly made mistake of all…
Mistake #9: Not recognizing when a professional needs to step in and complete any necessary repairs to your sump pump.
If you have looked over your sump pump and inspected all of the minor details and you have exhausted troubleshooting any issues you may have discovered, you should always call a professional to get the repairs started. By simply checking if the water is discharging properly on a regular basis, you will easily be able to determine when your pump may need professional repairs.
Need Sump Pump Help?
At Triad Basement Waterproofing, we know leaky basements and everything that causes them. Unfortunately, sump pump issues can be pretty common and can easily cause a basement to flood — and we’ve seen how disastrous a leaky or flooded basement can be. We offer a wide range of basement flooding services, including sump pump repairs.