It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time. – David Allan Coe
About three years ago, when my family and I moved into our current house after living four years in Prague, Czech Republic, we were very excited about have a new place in the U.S. to call home. The usual inspections took place — the house looked perfect. It was; it still is. But one surprising thing began happening a month or two after we moved in — the basement flooded.
The Story of an Often-Flooded Basement
Actually, the water came in more like a waterfall, pouring down the concrete wall of the unfinished basement. My cat, Morris, who loves water, ran and romped and skidded through the lake, which covered most of the floor. The water looked as if it had seeped through the seam at the base of the concrete wall where it meets the floor, but after another couple of floods over the coming year, it was clear the water was coming from the wall itself.
Then, I discovered this:
At the place where the black shows where the insulation is lifted, the concrete foundation wall is missing. The builders, years before my family and I moved in, left out the wall in that section of the back of the basement and covered it with insulation. The black is plastic-coated fiberboard, placed on the inside of the brickwork on the exterior of the house. The section without a concrete foundation wall is a whopping 20′ long.
The best my dad and I could figure out is that when it rains heavily and the ground is saturated, the water table rose on the outside of the foundation of the house, regardless of what the sump pump could handle. When water reached a seam where the plastic fiberboard met the foundation concrete wall, water flowed into the basement freely. Definitely a problem. We didn’t really know what to do but attempt to fix it.
The first step: dig.
Step 2: keep digging and try to find the leak.
At some point, four feet below the soil line, I found the seam where the leak was happening. Which meant more digging.
Step 3: spread Quikrete Hydraulic Water Seal along the entire questionable surface and allow it to dry. My dad was a pro at this.
Step 4: Keep digging because the water needs to drain away from the house better than by only regrading the dirt. We realized we needed to install a French Drain.
Step 5: We tried to calculate and figure how to transport drain pipe and the incredible weight in pea gravel we would need to lay around the drain pipe. At Lowes, we discovered this brilliant new lightweight French drain product. This made the whole process much easier for installation. It didn’t help with the digging, though — the same amount of earth had to be moved. Can you say — I became very tired from digging all of this mud and clay in 2 days?
Step 6: We installed the drain pipe and filled in around it with pea gravel (pulled from excess under the deck — my youngest son in orange above was a wonderful pea gravel mover).
Step 7: Move all of the dirt and clay back and fill in over the drain pipe after ensuring the pipe declines in elevation for the entire length.
Step 8: Regrade the soil away from the house at an angle to encourage all rainwater and runoff to flow away from the foundation of the house.
Step 9: Cap the end of the drain pipe and create an open area for the exiting water to collect.
Step 10: Collapse, recover, and pray while it rains that all the effort and work pays off.
In the past three months since we all worked to seal the foundation, install the French drain, and regrade the soil, our corner of Ohio has had several flood watches and flood warnings. We’ve had a LOT of rain, snow, freezing rain, etc. And the best news is that through it all, the basement has stayed completely dry.
It’s also interesting how many people I’ve talked with about this since the project, and how many of us have similar problems. The one thing I keep emphasizing is this: if I can do it (with the wonderful help of my dad and three teenage sons), so can you.