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Basement leakage- Cause, Identification, Fixes

basement leakage

In Canada, basements are an integral part of a house. All the houses from detached to semi or townhouses are built with a basement. Even in the apartment buildings, there is a basement which is used as underground parking. Basements not only give extra space but also bear the load of the whole house. Also, a basement can help you identify the health of a house if you pay attention to various signs. And one of the best ways is to look for any type of basement leakage.

Basement leakage can be caused due to several factors, most of the time these leaks are minor and can be dealt easily with help of minor fixes. But caution is important because a small leak may be a result of big structural fault. Many times not paying attention at right time leads to an increase in an otherwise smaller issue.

There are number of visible indications which can help you identify a leak:

  1. Efflorescence: It is white powdery stuff that is formed due to the crystallization of minerals present in water after the water evaporates. Efflorescence can be seen inside and outside of the basement walls. It is commonly found on concrete and masonry walls. Many times efflorescence is a result of snow or rain but there can be other reasons behind its formation which are worth considering like
  2. Water Absorption: It can be due to the absorption of water by the building material during construction. This happens when bricks are left open which results in excessive water absorption from the atmosphere.
  3.  Water Retention: It can also result from the collection of water near the walls due to poor outlet or blocking of a down trough
  4. Poor damp proofing: It also results in the absorption of water when heating is on.
  5. Internal leaks: They can be due to pipe breakage. They leave water stains and cause the formation of whitish powder.
  6. Rust: It’s a commonly known factor that rust is caused due to regular exposure to water. So, if you see rusted baseboard nails, posts or electrical boards then it’s a sign of basement leakage and you must find the root cause of it.
  7.  Mould or Mildew: The presence of mould or mildew is a sure sign of moisture as a mould needs a damp environment to thrive. Mould is quite common in old houses and often results from poor ventilation and condensation. Mould is a fungus and can also cause health issues. 
  8. Peeling Paint: One other way of anticipating water leakage or moisture retention is peeling paint. If the walls are damp then the paint doesn’t stick properly and often peels off easily.
  9. Water Stains: If there was water collection in an area for a long time then after drying up it leaves a yellowish stain. If you find yellow stains on basement walls or floor then it’s a sign of some kind of repair. Buyers should pay attention and ask questions if they see such stains.
  10. Crumbling Plaster or Drywall: If there is moisture retention in the walls either due to pipe bursting, oozing of the water due to repairs or improper vaporization then it can result in crumbling of plaster or drywall.
  11. Warped or Sagging boards: The boards swell up and change shape due to water retention. This also results in their sagging due to lost strength.
  12. Dampness on external concrete walls: If you touch the external side of walls and feel dampness then it needs attention.

Here are some of the common causes of basement leakage and their fixes-

  1. Bad Plumbing: Many times the pipes in the home are the reason for water leakage. Water can start seeping out due to improper fitting of pipes, bursting of a pipe or rusting of the pipe causing water leaks from a number of points. One should be extra careful and keep on checking the condition of pipes. This way you can prevent bigger damage from happening.
  2. Sump-pump Improper functioning: A sump-pump collects and drains groundwater under the house. A sump-pump helps to avoid the absorption of excess water by the soil which otherwise can lead to expansion due to water retention and causing water seeping out of walls or floor. So it is very important to install a good quality sump-pump which can work efficiently. It is recommended that you keep on checking whether it is working properly or not.
  3. Collection of water near foundation: Water can collect near walls or foundation during heavy rainfall or snow if proper waterproofing is not done. The common reasons are improper sloping or proximity of downspouts to the walls. This issue is more prevalent in old houses but it still can be there in new homes. One should avoid clogging downspouts and regularly check water collection during the rainy season or after a snowfall.
  4. Rift/Split in doors or windows: The leakage can happen even due to small issues like cracks or improper sealing of doors/windows. The best way to avoid it is by finding and sealing the unwanted openings. This will not only prevent water seepage but will also improve energy efficiency.
  5. Improper Basement insulation: Due to extreme weather conditions, HVAC plays an important role in Canadian houses. And to operate this system efficiently insulation of walls is done at the construction level where drywall, vapour barriers, insulation sheets are added. Improper insulation leads to trapping of condensed water in between the walls which later on cause dampness or leaks.
  6. Poor Ventilation: Dampness can accumulate due to poor ventilation. Taking hot showers or cooking food without using exhaust are the common examples leading to condensation and water retention on walls and roof. Improper passage of air around the house due to closed doors and windows also results in the same. This water which is superficial initially gets absorbed inside the walls slowly resulting in mould and water stains. This can be avoided by following simple steps like using exhaust, opening of windows and doors from time to time etc.

As explained above most of the time small problems which can be fixed easily lead to basement leakage. The minor problems like superficial cracks, ventilation, downspout blockage or small pipe leaks if managed on time don’t cost you a lot. But if the problem is structural or due to faulty foundation then it’s a bigger problem and addressing it may need huge amount of money. So, it is always recommended to have a thorough look for any signs of basement leakage while buying a house. If it is a resale deal then diligence and utmost care is needed before closing a deal. Even in a new house problems can arise so make sure you are covered under Tarion warranty and you don’t make major changes in your house which can affect your warranty claim.