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.