Return to the Blog Home Page

Dealing With Leaky Window Wells

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021
leaky water wells

Leaky window wells are one of several common causes of basement water damage. Basement windows that extend below ground level contribute natural light to the basement and also provide fresh air ventilation. The excavated well that extends around the window naturally collects water during rain. However, while most window wells include a gravel bed at the bottom to allow water to dissipate into the surrounding soil, basement water infiltration may still occur due to leaky window wells.  

Signs of leaky window wells include:

  • Visible water trickling down the basement wall from the window and/or puddles forming on the floor during rain.
  • Permanent stains, streaks, or other discoloration on the basement wall beneath the window well.  
  • Mold growth on the indoor window structure or on the wall and floor below.
  • Water-damaged items stored near the window.  

Restore Proper Drainage

A major reason for leaky window wells is the simple fact that the window structure becomes submerged in water during rain because well drainage is sluggish. To support proper drainage and eliminate leaky window wells, take these steps:

  • Keep the window well clear of material that obstructs drainage through the gravel bed. Make sure dead leaves, grass clippings, and other debris are not accumulating at the bottom of the well and interfere with proper drainage.  
  • Consider adding a drain. A window well drain installed at the bottom of the well includes a grated drain opening and pipe that extends underground to discharge water into the soil further from the house.  
  • Window well covers are available in common sizes. Clear polycarbonate plastic covers completely exclude both rain and debris while still admitting light. Alternatively, simple mesh screen covers keep out well-clogging debris like leaves but still allow water to enter the well.

Eliminate Water Sources

Keep excess water out of window wells by cleaning roof gutters to prevent clogging and during heavy rain. Also grade the slope of the ground to prevent pooling and direct water out into the yard, away from the window well. 

Preventing Basement Flooding: Landscape Considerations

Thursday, March 25th, 2021
Preventing basement

Water damage that occurs in the basement may have its beginnings in the landscape surrounding the house. While basement flooding may occur from indoor sources like a broken plumbing pipe, or from naturally high underground water beneath the house, excess water saturating the soil immediately around the perimeter of the home can also slowly leak into the basement through structural cracks and other openings. Avoiding over-saturation of the soil as well as diverting accumulating water away from the house are landscape considerations that can help reduce outdoor causes of indoor water damage down in the basement. 

  • Grade the ground. Landscape sloping toward the house—a condition known as “negative drainage”—causes rainwater and water from sprinklers or other sources to accumulate near the house and saturate deeply into the soil, potentially causing water damage by infiltrating basement walls. Soil adjacent to the foundation should be sloped downward away from the house at least four inches over the first six feet of horizontal distance.  
  • Keep big vegetation away. Large shrubs and/or trees attract and retain considerable water in the surrounding soil. To prevent this water from entering a nearby basement or foundation, these large plants should not be planted closer than three feet from the wall of the house.  
  • Detour the water. Certain areas of the lawn near the house may tend to retain excess water after rain due to the type of clay present in the soil. To prevent potential water damage to the basement, create a one-foot deep trench with gently sloping sides to collect and reroute the water to another part of the lawn further away from the house. Once replanted with grass, this shallow depression will not be visually conspicuous nor interfere with mowing.  
  • Grass is good. The specific root structure of grass very efficiently absorbs water from the soil and contains it. Planting grass close to the house is therefore an ally to prevent basement water damage. Once the grass matures, avoid cutting it too short, which weakens roots and diminishes water absorption.

Leaky Basement in the Winter: Five Causes

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021
leaky basement

While a leaky basement is more often associated with severe summer storms, basement leakage during winter has its own set of unique seasonal causes. Consequences associated with a leaky basement include damage to the foundation walls and also the basement floor as seepage gradually deteriorates concrete. Water infiltrating a basement can also affect electrical wiring and major components such as the circuit breaker panel that is frequently installed there. Conditions inside a frequently wet basement also support the growth of mold that may eventually contaminate upstairs living spaces.

Here are some of the frequent causes of a leaky basement specific to the winter season.  

  • Snow accumulation around the foundation. As banks of snow that accumulate against the side of the house melt slowly, the water penetrates into the gap between frozen soil and the foundation of the house. This water may seep through existing cracks in the foundation wall or continue to penetrate underneath the foundation and seep upwards through cracks in the basement floor.    
  • Ice blockage in gutters. While snow melts on warmer portions of the roof, ice present in gutters may block the free flow of water. As blocked gutters overflow, water pounding on the ground below may penetrate deeply into the soil, eventually causing a leaky basement.
  • Frozen pipes. Plumbing pipes typically routed through the basement may freeze in frigid winter weather and leak or totally rupture, flooding the basement.  
  • Sump pump failure.  A basement sump pump discharges infiltrating groundwater through a pipe typically extending into the back yard. In frigid winter weather, ice may form in the discharge pipe, obstructing free flow from the sump pump. This may cause the sump basin in the basement to overflow and the pump itself may be damaged.
  • Window leakage. Basement windows extend partially below ground level into window wells. Water from rain or melting snow may accumulate in basement window wells. If the window well structure or the windows themselves are not properly sealed, a leaky basement is a frequent consequence.

Four Ways a Leaky Basement Can Damage Your Home

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
 leaky basement

One way or another, a leaky basement ultimately becomes an issue for the rest of the house, too. It becomes impossible to separate water damage issues occurring down there from the overall integrity of the home’s structure, as well as its healthy indoor environment. A leaky basement may occur due to hydrostatic pressure pushing groundwater up through the foundation, over-saturated soil seeping through basement walls after heavy rain, sump pump failure, leaky plumbing pipes, or ruptured water heater.

Whatever the cause, the presence of water seepage or flooding in an enclosed basement just beneath your living space isn’t something you should live with for long. Here are four major consequences of a leaky basement:

  • Foundation damage. Groundwater infiltration through tiny fissures and pores in the foundation steadily degrades the structural integrity of the cement. Eventually, a water-damaged, deteriorated foundation no longer provides sufficient support and the house will begin to shift under its own weight, inflicting expensive damage to the structure.
  • Weakened walls. The sturdiness of basement walls can be compromised by leakage due to high soil water content. During periods of heavy rain, water seepage may occur through mortar joints between wall cinder blocks. This reduces the structure’s strength and can cause inward bowing of the wall, as well as widening cracks that admit more water.  
  • Electrical issues. Components relating to the home’s electrical system are located in the basement. The circuit breaker panel often installed there may be affected by water damage, particularly leaking or ruptured plumbing pipes. Electrical wiring is also routed through the basement. A wet circuit breaker panel in a leaky basement requires total replacement. Most electricians recommend that any submerged wiring should also be replaced for safety reasons, even if it appears to dry naturally.
  • Mold growth. A leaky basement is like a mold laboratory. Once water is added, all the required ingredients are present for active fungal growth. Microscopic airborne spores originating from contamination in the basement migrate upward and spread toxic mold into the living spaces of the home, presenting a health hazard to susceptible individuals. 

Six First Steps After a Basement Flood

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
Basement Flood

Many types of water inundation inside a house will end up in the basement if the volume of water is significant. A flooded basement will not drain or dry out on its own. It rapidly becomes a stagnant source of structural damage and mold contamination, as well as a danger zone for hazards like electrocution. Several important steps must be taken as soon as basement flooding is discovered. 

First, what not to do: Don’t assume the basement is safe. All basements contain electrical wiring and often outlets and appliances. Electrocution is a real hazard in a flooded or wet basement. Never contact or wade into standing water in a basement until an electrician has cut off electrical power to any circuits that are affected by water.

Once electricity is off and it’s safe to do so, here are some suggested steps to take:

  • Determine where the water’s coming from. Is outdoor flooding due to heavy rain entering the basement? Or, is it clean water emanating from a ruptured supply pipe?
  • If the water originates from a ruptured household supply line, turn off water to the house at the main shutoff valve if the valve can be safely accessed. Call a plumber for emergency service if necessary.
  • Sewage backups frequently enter the basement first because it’s the lowest point in the house. Raw sewage poses a toxic hazard and must be handled by experienced water damage professionals equipped for the job. Avoid entering the basement and keep children and pets out, as well. If you must enter, it’s advisable to wear gloves, eye protection and a breathing mask.  
  • Seek professional advice about removing water more than a foot deep. Deeper basement water should be removed in stages. Pressure from saturated soil surrounding basement walls may cause the walls to collapse if all water is pumped out at once.
  • Mold growth is triggered in 24 to 48 hours after basement flooding occurs. After water is removed, qualified mold remediation services are required to prevent contamination.
  • To prevent recurrence of basement flooding, consider installing a sump pump in the basement floor

How to Deal With Raw Sewage in Your Basement

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

A raw sewage spill means more than the expense and inconvenience of conventional water damage. It’s an emergency that imposes serious health and safety threats. Any sort of blockage or backup occurring in the main sewer line always affects the lowest point in the house first, so the basement is often ground zero for raw sewage influx. Because an enclosed basement below ground level indefinitely retains any flooding deposited there, professional expertise and specialized equipment are literally always required to pump it out and restore a safe, non-contaminated environment.

What’s Different About Sewage?

There’s good reason why professional sewage remediation teams look like the clean-up crew at a nuclear accident, enclosed head-to-toe in a hazmat suit with eye protection, a face mask and often breathing from a respirator. Raw sewage commonly contains pathogens including Hepatitis B virus, E. coli bacteria, as well as parasites like Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia—better known as the two most common causes of water-borne illness. Even the Poliomyelitis virus that causes polio is a frequently identified component. Direct contact with raw sewage isn’t necessary to become contaminated, just breathing the fumes may result in infection.

Don’t Even Try to Do It Yourself

Putting on rubber boots and gloves and adopting a can-do attitude aren’t enough. That’s why any responsible sewage clean-up advice must be brief and blunt: Don’t do it yourself. Let qualified professionals handle it.

In addition, these precautions apply:

  • Stay out of the basement.
  • Keep kids and pets away, too.
  • Avoid breathing sewage fumes.
  • Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with compromised immune systems should immediately evacuate the house until it is declared safe to return by a qualified professional.

Can Items Be Saved?

The general rule is, all items directly contacted by raw sewage should be discarded using methods that comply with local and state regulations for toxic waste disposal. Attempting to disinfect sewage-saturated materials such as carpeting, furniture, drywall, insulation, bedding, and clothing is typically more labor-intensive and expensive than replacement. Valuables deemed to be irreplaceable will require professional decontamination procedures before being safe to handle.

What to Do When Your Sump Pump Fails

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

If your sump pump fails, you’ll probably only become aware of it after water begins entering your basement. It’s difficult to tell if a sump pump’s defective until it fails to actuate at a crucial time. Most of the time, you’ll have to begin by removing some water from the basement. If water is limited to minor pooling around the sump basin you may be able to handle clean-up yourself. If flooding is widespread across the basement floor, call professional water damage recovery services.

Caution: Water flooding the basement floor poses an electrocution hazard. Avoid all contact with water until electricity has been shut off at the main electrical panel. If you cannot safely access the main panel without contacting water, call an electrician to turn power off at the meter.

  • After the area is safe to enter, remove minor pooling by mopping or using a wet/dry vacuum.
  • Bail out the sump basin with a bucket and look for any debris or other objects that may be obstructing the pump inlet screen. Unplug the pump, remove the pump and clean the inlet screen.
  • Reinstall the pump. Pour five gallons of water into the sump basin to determine if the pump automatically actuates. If you don’t hear the pump motor run, the motor or float switch is probably defective. You’ll need a professional plumber for further troubleshooting and/or replacement of the unit.
  • If you hear the pump motor actuate, go outside where the end of the discharge pipe releases water—usually somewhere in the backyard. Check to see if water is flowing out of the pipe. If not, check for any obstructions at the end of the pipe. If no obstructions, the pump impeller or some other internal part is likely faulty. You’ll probably need a new pump.
  • If the pump empties the basin and shuts off, but water rapidly flows back into the basin from the discharge pipe and actuates the pump again, the check valve to prevent backflow through the discharge pipe is probably defective. A plumber can replace that component.

3 Common Basement Water Issues and How to Handle Them

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

basement water issuesIn your home, the basement is where destructive water damage can occur. In many cases, the basement is either the origin of unwanted moisture or its ultimate destination. Water infiltrating from almost any source typically affects the basement of the house first. An enclosed basement can quickly become an unhealthy environment for moisture formation due to high humidity and condensation.

Here are three common basement water issues:

Condensation

Moisture condensing from clammy basement air creates chronic dampness that spawns basement mold growth. It also deteriorates exposed wooden structural components. To eliminate condensation, reduce your basement’s humidity level:

  • Ventilate with fans or by opening basement windows. A basement ventilation fan permanently installed in the rim joist or upper segment of the basement wall exhausts damp air directly to the outdoors.
  • Install a dehumidifier. For continuous humidity removal, a basement dehumidifier with an integrated humidistat maintains basement humidity to specific settings.
  • Vent the dryer. If a clothes dryer is installed, make sure it exhausts through a duct that extends outside the house’s exterior.
  • Insulate plumbing. Uninsulated water pipes routed through the basement form a cold surface that condenses water from the air, dripping and saturating the pipe’s surroundings.

Soil Water Infiltration

Water in soil surrounding the basement may seep in through cracks and gaps. Sealing basement walls is usually only a partial solution. Reducing soil moisture content is also required. Make sure clogged roof gutters aren’t overflowing and contributing to the saturation of soil adjacent to the basement. Grade landscape around the foundation so rain water flows away from the house instead of soaking in. For persistent soil water issues, a drain tile system can be installed in the ground surrounding the foundation to collect and carry away excess water.

Rising Ground Water

In locations with a naturally high water table, rising ground water may penetrate the basement floor. A sump pump installed in the basement floor collects ground water and automatically pumps the water through a pipe to discharge outdoors. A sump pump performs double duty and prevents flooding in case a pipe ruptures in the basement and causes flooding.

Extending the Life of your Sump Pump

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

sump pump maintenanceIf your sump pump fails, you probably won’t know it until the worst possible time: after your basement incurs water damage due to flooding, a plumbing rupture or ground water infiltration. Because sump pumps are concealed inside a covered basin in the basement floor, a defective pump may not be obvious until that critical moment when it’s needed most.

The average service life of a residential sump pump is seven to ten years. To maximize your sump pump’s lifespan and avoid unexpected damage due to premature pump failure, here are some tips to follow:

Occasionally

Run it. Because sump pumps often go extended periods without activating, some manufacturers recommend routinely test-running the pump every three or four months to confirm proper function as well as keep moving parts operating freely.

  • Fill a 5-gallon bucket of water and pour it into the basin.
  • Confirm that the float switch activates the pump.
  • Make sure the pump empties the basin, and the float switch turns it off promptly.
  • Also verify that water doesn’t flow back into the basin after the pump stops, reactivating the pump. This is a sign of a defective check valve in the discharge pipe which can shorten pump service life.

Once a Year

Clean the sump basin. Pull the pump up out of the basin and clear out any debris. Also clean the pump inlet screen to ensure that water flows into the pump chamber.

Check the GFCI outlet. Most sump pumps are plugged into GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) outlets. GFCI outlets may switch off due to transient power surges taking place without your knowledge. Verify that the outlet has not switched off and that power is still going to the pump.

Observe pump discharge. Go to the outdoor termination point of the discharge pipe and make sure it’s not obstructed by dirt or other debris. Confirm that water flows freely out of the pipe.

Check the battery backup. If the pump has a battery backup feature, unplug the AC power cord and confirm that the pump activates on battery power when water is poured into the basin.

3 Tips for Fall Storm Preparation

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

fall storm damageWhile hurricane and tropical storm season officially commences in June, peak activity tends to occur later during the fall, beginning in late August and extending through October. This season is most likely to produce severe storms that bring the threat of potential property damage. The good news is, the usually predictable pattern provides a window of opportunity to prepare in advance. There’s no guarantee that a storm will strike, nor is there any assurance that you can prevent all damage if it does. Nevertheless, statistics show that a few preventive measures can help improve the odds. Here are three steps to take for fall storm preparation:

  • Protect the roof. During high winds associated with a storm, limbs close to the house that break can cause roof damage and water intrusion. Cut back nearby limbs to establish a clear zone on all sides of the house. Also, a falling tree weighs several tons and can inflict severe structural damage. Any dead or compromised trees on the property should be removed now, before a storm threatens.
  • Clean the gutters. Autumn leaves often clog gutters, causing torrential gutter overflow during heavy rain. The cascade of water down the side of the house penetrates siding and infiltrates the exterior wall causing water damage and triggering mold growth. Adding a flexible extension to gutter downspouts to discharge roof runoff at least six feet from the house also helps reduce the chance of basement water intrusion or foundation damage.
  • Prevent basement flooding. Excessive rain can quickly saturate soil surrounding the basement and leak in through cracks in foundation walls. Only a few inches of water in a basement can cause damage that exceeds $10,000. A sump pump installed in the basement floor actuates automatically to remove water before it accumulates. If a sump pump is already installed, test it now by pouring five gallons of water into the sump basin to verify that it pumps the basin out. Because power outages frequently accompany severe storms, consider adding a pump with backup battery feature to ensure that the unit activates when its needed most.