- January 6, 2021
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New fallen snow is magical as it turns everything into a winter wonderland, but when that snow results in dampness and water in your basement, not so much. Many homeowners think that basement flooding and water issues only happen in the spring and summer when we traditionally have heavy rainfall, but snow and freeze / thaw temperatures can also increase the chances for hydrostatic water pressure and the resulting flooded basement. Melting snow and frozen water in the ground also creates problems.
Why You Might See a Flooded Basement in the Winter Months
There are several reasons you might get a flooded basement in the winter months, or at least puddles big enough to cause a problem. Let’s take a look at some of the main causes of this water seepage.
1. Your Basement Is Warmer Than the Outside
This may sound obvious, but it’s the implications that are important here. Your basement may be chilly to you, but it’s a lot warmer than the ground outside adjacent to your foundation. The first couple of feet of ground is frozen and possibly covered in snow, while your basement, even if it’s unheated, is at least 55 degrees. This means your basement ends up radiating heat through the foundation walls. The heat can radiate up to 8” into the surrounding soil causing it to remain thawed and the snow to melt. That causes water to build up and get trapped between the frozen soil and your foundation walls. We’ll give you one guess where that water ends up going. That’s right… in your basement. The gravity behind hydrostatic pressure will force that water down into your home via seams from the different concrete pours associated with your foundations construction and existing cracks and holes in your foundation walls. It may even cause new cracks from the pressures from existing thaws.
2. Clogged Gutters and Downspouts Draining Too Close to Your Home
All those fall colors mean falling leaves, a ton of which can end up in your gutters. If you don’t clean them out, leaves clog the gutters and cause rainwater or snow and ice melt to cascade over the edge of the gutters rather than down the downspout. That water moves down right next to your foundation and fills up this unfrozen, warmer than the rest of the earth area next to your foundation.
A traditional downspout drains right next to your foundation. Consider getting a downspout extender, and direct it away from the home, downslope if possible. Perhaps your home is newer and has buried downspouts. In this case, you only have to worry about the gutters. It is important to note however that during times of severe cold that buried gutter extensions can freeze preventing water from draining away from your home. This causes ice damming of gutters and water from building up next to your foundation.
3. The Slope Around Your Foundation Is Wrong
All of that water cascading out of the gutters can cause erosion near your foundation. Take a walk around your home. Look for areas near the foundation where the mulch has been pushed away and you see bare ground. Water has now created a slope going TOWARDS your foundation. You need to fix that so the slope away from your home in those garden beds is at least 6”. This slope allows water to drain away from your foundation. You can hire a landscaping crew to do this, or you can use fill dirt or topsoil yourself. Be careful not to add too much soil! Grading soil above your cement foundation next to the wood structure is not a good thing as it can cause over the foundation seepage!
4. You Have Cracks in Your Basement Walls and Floors
If you have a finished basement, you may not even know the cracks are there. If you can see visible cracks, you should have your basement waterproofed by a professional. Any foundation company will tell you that there is one thing they can always guarantee and that is that concrete will eventually crack. Water will take the path of least resistance, and if there is a crack, that’s where it will flow.
Another thing to consider is what your basement walls are made of. If they are made from concrete block (also known as cinder block), the builder would have damp-proofed the outside surface. But that coating can wear away after 5-10 years turning those cinder block walls into sponges for water. This is why the older your home gets, the more prone it can be to water seepage. In fact, it’s been our observation that 9 out of 10 basements leak within the first 10 years.
5. Your Sump Pump Has Issues
If you have a sump pump, you need to test it and make sure it is working before winter arrives. Get it replaced if it’s nearing 10 years old or is making strange noises when it does run. Age and strange noises are both indicators that your pump may fail soon. Make sure you ensure your discharge is flowing away from your home to help prevent unneeded hydrostatic pressure!
6. Leaky Window Wells
If your basement has windows below grade, you have window wells. You should cover them in winter to prevent snow from building up right next to your foundation and the window seal. You should make sure each year that the windows themselves are properly sealed. Your window wells should also have a drainage system that allows water flow away from the home.
Preventative Measures You Can Take
If you already have a sump pump, there are a few things you can do to make sure it can do its job properly, including:
- Keep snow and ice cleared away from the end of your sump pump the discharge line(s). This allows the water to flow freely, rather than collecting at the end of the pipe and potentially causing the line freeze and in turn causing your sump pump to burn out.
- Keep snow and ice away from your foundation walls, as well as basement and crawl space access doors. This helps keep melting snow from forming pools of water that can infiltrate the foundation walls and access doors.
- If you don’t have downspout extenders, get them and keep them clear after snow falls so the water has somewhere to go.
- Test your sump pump periodically to ensure it is in working order. Newer pumps will have indicator lights and/or alarms to tell you the status. We recommend battery backup sump pumps as well.
- And lastly, if you have water in your basement, seek out a permanent solution to prevent the problems that come with a damp or flooded basement.
Protect your home as best as possible from having a flooded basement.
If you’ve had to throw out a bunch of water damaged and possibly mold damaged stuff, it’s time to put that flooded basement behind you. Until you put a system in place that protects you as much as possible from having the problem, you will continue to have water damage to your finishings and belongings.
If you want to protect the value of your home and protect your family’s health, set up a FREE inspection of your basement. The team at Value Dry has decades of experience in basement waterproofing. You can count on us for an honest assessment and evaluation, as well as solutions tailored to your specific needs. Take control and reclaim your space.
To get started, call us at (888) 768-2583. We serve homeowners throughout Maryland, Washington DC, northern Virginia, and parts of Delaware.