How to Deal With a Wet Basement

General Article

Every day, we find ourselves in situations where we say “oh if I could only have done that differently”. Well this could be your opportunity! .When you start to research a basement problem, you will find many companies claiming to offer the latest and greatest in basement waterproofing or claiming to have all the answers and the best systems. Often, they will throw every slick line at you that they can think of to convince you they’re the best! However upon closer inspection, once you get to the heart of the matter, you will find that they use the same out-of-date damproofing methods and interior drain systems everyone else does. What’s worse they employ slick sales techniques that you would find on any used car lot! It’s all a bunch of double-speak, flat out lies, and misdirection, which is designed to con even an Eskimo into buying ice cubes!

Now I know at this point that you are going to ask me how it is that you can trust me, well the reason is simple I am not trying to sell you anything!.  I promise, if you listen to all that I have to say, and finish reading this letter,  you will end up with more knowledge than you had before, and you will be ready for those “slick” salesmen that will come in the future! I want you to be better informed, better prepared, and better equipped than you are right now; and I also want to let you in on a few TRADE SECRETS that other companies don’t want you to know. Before we go into all of the systems, I’d like to introduce myself, and a little bit about my background that makes me uniquely qualified to help you understand how to solve your basement water or your mold problem!

I started building basements over twenty years ago when I was still in high school. I got a job working for what has become the single largest basement company in Ohio. I worked on both the footer and the wall crew so I became well versed early on, in all phases of new home foundation construction and basement waterproofing. Shortly after high school I was hired by a company that performed environmental services, specifically we removed asbestos from schools and public buildings (this was in the mid eighties when the government passed the legislation to require the asbestos be removed from all government building). I learned all there was to know about negative air flow containments air scrubbers manometers and the basics of ENVIRONMENTAL CLEAN UP. I finally quit when I had saved enough money for college. I swore I would never wear a tyvec suit or a respirator again (those are the HOT non-breathable suits that we wear in mold and asbestos clean ups, its funny the way Murphy will get you when you swear not to do something). During these years I began actively pursuing one of my many hobbies and I became an amateur mycologist. I built a lab in my basement… and built myself a glove box and began to perform sterile culture techniques for the growing of all sorts of fungi and mold and mushrooms. I used Petri dishes Autoclaves and learned many of the processes used at modern laboratories today. I did spore streaking and culture analysis. I believe I gave myself the equivalent of an associates degree in mycology. When I got to college I needed a job, and I found one working for the third largest basement waterproofing company in Ohio. I was hired to service their basement waterproofing jobs that were already installed but STILL LEAKED.

I quickly began to learn that there was something drastically WRONG with virtually EVERY single basement waterproofing company in Ohio…

They all install systems with fatal flaws. They have SERVICE DEPARTMENTS to handle the “problem” jobs. I became adept at solving these problem basements “issues”. I then began waterproofing basements on my own. I realized from the very beginning that if I didn’t want to service my basement customers and charge every year for their warranty I wood have to “fix” the systems themselves used to treat basements. I read every single book there was available on the subject. I did a TONS of experimentation in those first couple of years and began to “fix” each and every one of the problems that I had discovered associated with all the various available waterproofing systems.

Over the years I have continued to refine and improve the systems so they remain “CUTTING EDGE” . About ten years ago I began to study “black mold ” and the various health effects related to it.  We actually developed the first completely NON-TOXIC (to humans) approach to treating mold problems.

The first thing that you have to understand is that there are ONLY three basic solutions to ANY basements water leakage problems.

Most companies install only one of the three systems but will claim to offer all three, in reality it isn’t true. Most companies offer one basic system either the inside system or the outside system.

The systems: Most companies rely on an interior drain system and a sump pump to control the water. They may call it something different, but a pump placed under the floor is a sump pump, and drains placed under the floor are interior drains. This is just flat out not a good idea, unless it is the only option. I recommend that you do not rely on electricity in any situation where it can be avoided. Some companies in order to confuse the customer and gain a competitive advantage claim that only by combining the interior system with something else, usually some sort of outside work (often digging down only 12 inches) is it possible to truly solve a problem (like the Big Chuck and Little John guys). The outside work generally benefits the customer very little, and allows the company to DRIVE UP THEIR PRICE and appear different from the rest of the inside system competition. Some companies, in order to eliminate the competition, actually price different methods as if they do them (even though they don’t). They will price exterior waterproofing ridiculously high, the interior drain method extremely low, and their system somewhere in the middle. If you ask for one of the two methods they don’t offer, you will be told they won’t install that for you because it just won’t work for you. Other inside system companies have come up with different interior methods, on top the footer or above the floor products. Although marketed extremely well, these systems fail in comparison to traditional under slab or exterior drainage systems. The reason is simple they completely fail to drain water under the slab either from the water table or from the exterior of the wall.

In order to help you wade through this mess, below, you will find a brief description of the basic systems offered nationally and what is WRONG with them.

The first solution is to actually excavate the foundation, meaning the foundation is dug up; this is generally referred to as waterproofing ( but I can assure you that in most contractors’ cases, IT ISN’T). Most of the guys that do this are small 1-4 men outfits. They learned to do what they do from someone who learned it from someone etc. What these “so-called waterproofers” do is actually to re-apply the EXACT SAME SEALANTS and utilize the exact same techniques that already FAILED in the first place! This usually means re-parging the wall and smearing some tar on it like a monkey!

Have you ever known anyone that had an asphalt driveway? How often did they Have-To Re- Seal it?

I can tell you I have. When I was a kid growing up two of my neighbors had an ongoing debate about their driveways. The first swore you needed to seal it every single year, and he did. The second one swore every two years was enough. I can still hear them arguing now in my mind’s eye… LOL. The sad truth is that according to the US Bureau of Standards asphalt sealants begin to break down in only 18 months, YIKES! You see the sad truth is; they were both right! And these so called waterproofers charge an average of ten to fifteen grand just to dig up the basement and seal it again using what FAILED already.

…You See Tar Has Never Been Rated as Waterproof

Did you know that in the building codes there are actually two separate definitions for damp-proofing (tar) and waterproofing. Damp proofing by definition means “something that helps to slow the penetration of water into the substrate”. HHMMM “helps to slow” sounds quite different than the definition of waterproofing “something that prevents the penetration of water” and further must pass a bending test where the membrane must be able to be bent around a cylinder.

Water proof sealants are almost all exclusively used and installed COMMERCIALLY…(that’s because they are more expensive).

The extra costs are what stop the average contractor from offering you , the homeowner, a product that is effective and will last and “stand the test of time”. We have developed and recommend if you plan to re-seal your basement; that you use a  MULTI-STEP EXTERIOR WATERPROOFING SYSTEM which, uses a cement-based fiber re-enforced wall resurfacing system and NO LESS than two waterproof rated sealants. This is by no means the cheapest of methods, however, and it may or may not be the BEST system to put into place. Which system you should use depends entirely on the specific nature of YOUR problem. There are NO miracle systems than can solve ALL basement problems. The thing I can guarantee is if you use a multistep outside waterproof system it will actively drain water away from the foundation, and the water leak will be a thing of the past, not only that, but the sealants will outlast the wood on your house GUARANTEED!

The second solution is an Interior solution which I call the sub-floor water re-directional system. This involves trenching around the interior of the basement wall and installing a drainage system around the perimeter of the inside of the basement. Many companies never explain that the system only works by completely draining the walls and any water under the slab during periods of extended rain or no melt when the water table rises. This system will allow water to be “drained” from the inside of the walls by drilling weep holes into every core of every single block then drained under the floor into a drain pipe and generally to a sump pump to then be pumped out. Other companies will often “explain” that the pipe under the floor takes all the ground water and the outside trench will take away surface water. This outside trench is shallow and worthless. They never even MENTION the drainage holes drilled into the core face of the bottom row of block in the basement, under the level of the floor slab. And folks, this is THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. It is also the step most often “screwed up” by other contractors. You see there are two variables that must be dealt with in ensuring the effectiveness of the “weep holes”. First is that when the mason was laying the blocks different masons “slough off” different amounts of mortar into the bottom course which affects the level of the “bottom” inside the blocks themselves. This means it is important to make sure that you are above the mortar bed and yet remain in the lowest part of the block.

Secondly it is ESSENTIAL to make sure that your men are educated as to the history of the development of concrete blocks, as well as all of the different core patterns that have been incorporated into them over time. You see this work is done by YOUNG men. In their short lifetime concrete blocks have only been made with Two cores. If they drill into the block where they imagine the core is today, in one of the many variations in block design that have occurred over the years, it is entirely possible , no probable that they are drilling into the web rather than the core or pocket of the block. Only by drilling into every single core of every single block does it become possible to drain the entire wall and make the system work effectively. It is entirely possible to install the drain tiles perfectly and… still leave ALL of the water dammed up inside the walls, wasting all that money and still leaving the problem UNSOLVED. In fact many times I get called after the homeowners have spent thousands of dollars to “waterproof ” their basement and even THOUSANDS MOREto turn it into finished space. Only to find mold growing on newly installed drywall. This happened to one of my customers named Bonnie Rembowski. She had hired a big local company and they installed an inside system. She then hired a contractor to remodel her basement. They hung new dry wall and framed new walls. She had new carpeting installed and everything seemed perfect until… Bonnie kept getting sick.

She was treated for recurring bronchitis many times over a period of about six months. Finally one day Bonnie’s doctor suggested to her that she have her house checked for mold. Bonnie called me. I began inspecting the basement and I immediately began to notice mold growing along the bottom several feet on all the newly dry-walled walls that had just been “waterproofed”. I began inspecting the inside system and I discovered that even though a permit was pulled … Even though the drainage pipes were inspected and installed properly… even though there was no puddling or physical seepage the system was NOT WORKING . The reason why became apparent after we broke open the floor and inspected the weep holes- JUST AS I SUSPECTED. The walls were not draining do to improper weep hole placement. Poor Bonnie.

WE HAD TO COMPLETELY GUT THE BRAND NEW BASEMENT …and disinfect everything to stop the mold and help her STOP GETTING SICK. She contacted the waterproofing company who did the job WRONG. They told her there was nothing they could do under the warranty since technically the basement hadn’t leaked (it was just DONE WRONG in the first place). Poor Bonnie then had to hire us to fix the basement problem TOO! Unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened to me and sadly I’m afraid it WON’T be the last.

This inside system however is ideal for situations where water is coming up from under the slab itself; in fact it is the only solution for under-slab water issues. No matter which contractor you call the same basic system is used. There are however many problems with this system as is employed by  “competition” nationwide. The GOOD NEWS however is that we have modified the system to eliminate all of the potential problems and WE EDUCATE OUR WORKERS as to the history of concrete blocks. This education guarantees that this kind of a problem won’t happen to you. We also INSIST on installing CLEAN OUTS which are access points set in the floor. These clean outs means that down the road you can maintain your system and “flush it out” every few years with a garden hose. It also means, heaven forbid, you have a problem with the drainage pipes clogging, that you WONT have to JACKHAMMER your floor you can have them snaked or jetted clean! Contrary to what you might have been told PROPERLY INSTALLED inside drainage systems can be the BEST solution when figuring all factors especially the Return On Investment. A PROPERLY INSTALLED inside system is also the preferred method for keeping concrete block walls from disintegrating, due to the fact that it allows for water drainage and keeps soil acid buildup to a minimum.

The last two systems are what we call “beaver” or dam systems that are installed either on top of the floor or just under the floor but on top of the footer that channels water from the walls to either a sump pump or to a floor drain. These systems are marketed to installers usually under the Basement Systems(TM) , Beaver Technology and Squid gee Dri labels, and in my opinion, offer the least protection to your basement.

The Baseboard systems that sit on top of the slab or on top of the footer have several basic flaws.

FLAW ONE: the slab is poured several inches up the bottom block, this means that when the installer drills the weep holes above the floor level the system allows water to keep sitting in the block up several inches which makes humidity which leads to mold and keeps disintegrating the bottom block from the inside out. The bottom block hold the entire weight of the entire house! The LAST thing that you want is that block to crumble -DISASTER!

FLAW TWO: when the cement finisher was troweling your cement floor X number of years ago the last thing on his mind was sloping the perimeter around the basement so 50 years later some guy could glue a gutter around the edge of the basement! What that means is since the gutter is basically level it allows for pooling along the bottom of the walls and is usually just glued into place without any type of pitch added. When the water lays in it in the low sections over time it will DISINTEGRATE or break down the bond between the floor slab and the wall. Eventually LEAKING again into the living space.

FLAW THREE: This system is still prone to the same weep hole placement errors as described above due to variations in the number of cores used in blocks over time.

FLAW FOUR: This system does nothing to drain water from underneath the slab or hydrostatic water from the exterior forced under the footing- it only partially drains the walls which is not good enough to stop MOLD from developing. The second hybrid system is the system offered by distributors of the Basement Systems(TM) called Water Guard this system is installed by breaking out approximately 6 inches of the basement perimeter concrete but digging no trench alongside the footing. The system has a flat drainage pipe that sits absolutely level on the TOP of the footing. The level drain tile will always allow water to sit in it and can contribute to the overall humidity in the room, creating the conditions that let MOLD thrive. This means that the lowest part of the pipe is the TOP of the footer completely failing to drain or eliminate ANY under-slab water whether from the water table or from the exterior of the wall being forced under the slab. In other words it only drains the wall and NOTHING ELSE! This system is used because it drastically limits the amount of labor used by the contractor saving him tons of money! In fact in many cases these contractors make more from this system than any other which is the reason so many of them will offer you a basically WORTHLESS system! It has been proven that the most effective inside de-watering system is one that is installed below the floor slab, and has been given an artificial pitch. It is just as important that when using one of these true under slab systems to correct the items commonly mistaken in the industry that are mentioned above, it is best to have a thorough knowledge of all of the systems at ones disposal!!!

Good luck!