basement waterproofing

exterior waterproofing on Toronto homeThe problem with a basement is that it’s underground, and that rainwater permeates below the ground too. It acts like an inground swimming pool, but in reverse, trying to keep water out.  Usually, this moisture filters away naturally, unless of course there’s a deluge of rainwater. Few homeowners realize that their roofs can have the same effect, and this is how it happens:

  • Roofs are designed to shed water 100% effectively (so it doesn’t leak into the attic), and to discharge it through a system of gutters and down-pipes  A roof that’s 1000 square foot (93 square meters) in size, can process 600 gallons or 2250 liters an hour from a single inch of rain.

 

  • This water ends up on the ground, unless it’s led away through drains. If not, it pools and saturates the ground below. As it accumulates it becomes heavier. This converts to what hydrologists call hydrostatic pressure. This enables water to manipulate the weak spots in basement walls and floors, and cause a flood.

The best way to prevent this is to install a series of “waterproofing defences” that combine to do the job for you. This is easy to understand, when you follow the logic outlined below.

Lay of the Land

If a garden or paving slopes towards a house, it’s going to pool up against it, and cause water leak problems. Builders know this, although their efforts can be undone over time due to shifting and settling of the earth. Prime culprits for this are previously-disturbed earth that subsides, and the over-zealous efforts of a gardener. Fix this first, making sure there’s a clear hand-width below the level of the damp course at the very least. The fall should be one inch per foot, or 1:12 (or more).

clogged rain gutters in toronto

 

Roof Water Discharge

It’s not good enough to simply lead the water through the downpipes. It must be taken further away from the house where it can cause no harm. Ideally you can lead it to the street where it discharges naturally. If not, you may need expert help to dispose of it through a system of sumps and pumps.

Backfill Problems

Builders dig out a bigger hole for a basement than the finished product, so they can waterproof the outside. When they’re done, they fill in the remaining space. The better ones install a drainage system at foundation level first, and then compact clean earth above it.

Others fill the space with all kinds of junk, cover this over with a layer of earth, and cart away your topsoil. This system works just like the colander you drain pasta with, except in this case, the water goes down and sits against your basement walls and not into the kitchen sink.

Try dealing with this problem by hard-surfacing the open ground above the basement, plus a meter or so around for safety. With a little ingenuity you can create a garden sit-out or a rockery afterwards. However the main objective is to stop the rain from filtering through.

If This Doesn’t Work

If your basement still floods after you’ve sloped the garden, led the roof water away and hard-surfaced overhead, then I’m afraid your problem lies with water arriving from further afield through ground strata.

In this case, It’s recommended that you consult a basement waterproofing specialist who can provide good references in your area. You’ll likely need a system of French drains and sump pumps, and these require an expert.

 

 

Flooding in Toronto guideThe North East of the Americas have experienced a record number of storms this season, resulting in billions on property damage and loss of personal memories that can;t be replaced.  Here in Toronto, while we experienced quite a bit of flooding, we were luckily spared from most of the damage.  We wanted to introduce everyone to a really useful guide available to residents from The Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction

This helpful guide, sponsored by the Canadian insurance industry and produced in collaboration with the University of Ontario, is available for free via a pdf download (see the link at the end of the article). It’s packed brim full with everything you need to know about reducing the risk of basement flooding, and recovering from it when it happens.

It’s laid out like a reference book with handy summaries in the index, content that’s easy to understand, helpful diagrams, and even a glossary of terms you might not know. It puts you in a picture to either do the work yourself, or to negotiate with a tradesperson from a position of knowledge.

Format of the Book

The Handbook for Reducing Basement Flooding is built around twenty projects, twelve of which are within the reach of most Canadian householders. The author calls these “options” because not all of them apply to every home. The book starts with a general introduction to the three main reasons why basements flood, and the principles behind avoiding this.

The twelve basic options are all intensely practical. They range from preventative measures (like fixing cracks and watching what goes down the sink), to sensible things like having a risk-assessment done, getting insurance in place and chatting with the local municipality.

The other eight options are more technical in nature, and will likely require expert intervention. Nonetheless, the knowledge gained by reading them will go a long way towards spotting cowboy contractors and avoiding scams.

There are five drawings in the Handbook for Reducing Basement Flooding that illustrate the primary causes and solutions, and how the twenty options fit into the bigger picture. It’s a good idea to print these out and have them available as you read the other content. You’ll be sure to want to pass this essential information on to others.

 

You can download the Handbook for Reducing Basement Flooding Here

Safety tips during a floodEvery year a surprising number of homes in The North East of America and Canada are flooded during storms. While this is happening, there’s often little we can do about it, because the force of water can be unstoppable. As it recedes, it’s time to take quick action, as it may still be possible to recover the situation, at least in part.

Here in Toronto, we were lucky to miss the bulk of Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through much of the East coast.  While damage was minimal, there were still thousands of homes that experienced damaging floods that turned their basements into mini swimming pools.  Next time you experience a flood in your basement, be sure to take the following precautions before proceeding.

  • Make sure the electricity is turned off – This is your number one priority, because every year there are reports of people being electrocuted in their flooded homes.  The electrical panel to the home is almost always located in the basement and if water reaches it, it can have devastating effects to anyone that is wading through the water.  Make sure power to the entire house is shut off.  Have an electrician confirm this, don’t take a risk. Water can conduct electricity through your body with deadly results!

 

  • Check for gas leaks – Turn off the supply if you smell the slightest whiff of gas. Carbon dioxide is rightly called the silent killer, because you can’t smell it. Make sure your home is well-ventilated before you turn on any gas appliance (or even light a candle or a cigarette).

 

  • Inspect your sewerage system – If there’s water bubbling up, then you can be sure there’s a stoppage somewhere. Be sensible about this. Find alternatives without adding to the problem. And don’t take a chance with drinking tap water until you get the okay from the authorities (after which you should let it run for a while first).

 

  • Only eat food you can trust – If your freezer has been out of action beyond the recommended period, don’t touch the food stored in it. After you open the freezer door for the first time, cook anything that’s safe immediately.

 

  • Get help – If you’re trapped by surrounding water, try to contact the authorities for help. As soon as you can, inform your insurance company and ask for guidance. It’s also a good idea to have your home inspected for unseen damage. Book soon for this, as the queue is bound to be long. Make sure the examination includes the foundation, structure, roof, and all reticulation systems too.

 

  • The big clean-up – Be sure to wear stout waterproof boots, strong rubber gloves and face protection, because you never know what’s washed into your home along with the water. Be especially mindful of rodents, snakes and stray animals, and stay away from bee and wasp nests.

When things return to normal as your home dries out and your insurance company completes repairs, you may be left with one nagging problem that’s sometimes extremely different to resolve. This is the mould that could be growing silently in damp spaces beneath the floors and attic, from where it can spread almost anywhere.

At best, mould is an irritation that ruins fabrics and stains art works permanently. At worst, it can trigger chest infections, and cause asthma attacks and coughing seizures. If you end up with severe mould infestation in your home there’s little chance of eliminating it yourself – especially when you have extreme water damage as in the case of a flood. Save yourself a deal of time and trouble by calling in a mould expert instead.  Mould removal companies have special structural drying equipment and detectors that can effectively remove the moisture, and mould from your home.

Getting your home ready for rainy Fall season TorontoThe weatherman is predicting alternating spells of warmer and cooler weather in Toronto this fall. This could result in abnormal precipitation in South Ontario. This means it’s time to start thinking about keeping your Toronto basement dry. There are various things that you could do to keep your home and basement dry this Fall.

Your main contribution is going to be to ensure effective surface water run-off, so the moisture can’t seep down alongside your foundation walls where it could build up and start to penetrate through. Get this right, and even a poorly waterproofed basement might survive for a while. However there could be other problems too.

Gutters and Downpipes

A roof is a catchment area that channels rainwater into gutters and down drainpipes. If these become blocked or overloaded, they spill over, releasing uncontrolled water that could cause a flood. You need to do three things:

  • Determine whether your gutters are deep enough, and if there are sufficient downpipe points

 

  • Find a service to keep the system scrupulously clean and inspect it regularly for damage

 

  • Ensure that water discharged to ground level is channeled away to where it can’t cause harm

Garden Area

If there’s an area in your garden where the water pools, or where the plants and earth are mouldy, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s feeding water down below ground – where it could easily find its way to the outside of your basement walls.

It’s vital that you build an open drainage system to prevent this happening. If your property is low-lying, and you’re receiving run-off from a neighbour, you may even need to consider installing a sump pump so the problem stays under control.

Leaking Appliances and Pipes

As basement is almost inevitably below a main dwelling. To check for leaky pipes upstairs, turn off all the taps and monitor the water meter for an hour. Liquid follows gravity downwards. Downwards is often into your basement. If your water meter moved, call in a leak detection expert to sort the problem out for you.

Underground Problems

The same applies in the basement itself. Make sure your appliances are watertight, and that there’s no sign of mould where pipes penetrate. If you find evidence of water seepage through the walls themselves, you need to do one of two things right away:

Dig out the basement on the outside and fix the problem properly

OR

Install a weeping tile and sump pump system to channel the water away.

These jobs both require the services of an experienced basement-waterproofing specialists.  Before starting any work, be sure to get a few estimates first and decide if this is your best course of action.

Stop-Gap Solutions

If your problem is little more than a damp smell, you may be able to keep it under control for a while by installing a commercial-grade dehumidifier, and ventilating regularly with fans. However in this instance you may be delaying the inevitable as more water finds ways though. Home insurance seldom if ever covers neglect.  Don’t neglect a damp basement either.

 

A water soaked carpet can be a real mess. Especially when it’s in your basement and it’s soaked from possibly contaminated sewer water.  Yuk! Every moment you delay, your carpet’s survival is under threat. At the same time, there’s little purpose in trying to do anything while the water’s still coming in. This is definitely no time to be rash. You need a cool head here.  Here in Toronto, between the weather and the age of many of our homes, basement flooding is quite common.  If you do experience a basement flood, and your have carpet down there, here are a few tips for you to follow.

flooded carpet with mold

Turn off the Water Supply – If a basement suddenly develops a leak, it’s quite possible an appliance down there has developed one too. Turn off the water at the entry point. Just don’t go below because it might not be safe to do so yet.

Switch off the Electricity – Don’t mess with this one. Your life could be at stake. Turning off the main switch is only good enough if the basement’s correctly wired. Rather ask an electrician to make your basement electrically safe for you.

Inspect the Area – Now you can take a good look around the basement, and hopefully find the root cause of the problem. Check the ceiling and the walls for obvious signs of running water. Look at every plumbed-in appliance carefully. Then examine the carpet for water-intrusion from beneath. The darkest, wettest spot is likely where your problem lies.

Salvage the Carpet

If the carpet is cheap, or clearly ruined, don’t waste your time with it. Put in an insurance claim and have a new one fitted. A carpet that isn’t cleaned and dried properly is a great candidate for mold.  However if you have a high insurance excess and consider it worth salvaging, here are two alternative solutions.

  • If the carpet is recoverable but really water-sodden (or you need to uplift it anyway to attend to an underground leak) clear the basement and use a commercial wet-vac to mop up as much water as possible. Then remove the carpet (watch out for rusty nails on edging strips) and take it someplace where it can dry out in the sun.

 

After that, you can find a carpet fitter to relay it for you. Don’t waste time trying to salvage the underlay though. It’s relatively cheap, and will stretch and tear as you take it up in any case.

 

  • If the water spill is localized and clearly not welling up from below, all you may need to do is mop it with the commercial wet-vac (don’t press down hard) and then turn on several large fans plus a powerful dehumidifier. Don’t rush things. When it’s finally dry, you can shampoo it clean.

Move Quickly

Ignore a damp carpet in a basement, and you’re inviting mold to settle down there, from where it could gradually migrate upstairs and affect your family’s bronchial health. Should you be unable to take any of the steps we recommend immediately, then it’s time to call in a commercial carpet cleaning service urgently.

Longer-Term Concerns

Clearly, there’s little point in reinstating a carpet until the root cause of the flooding has been solved. Depending on your skills you may be able to sort out a plumbing problem yourself. However, if you’re faced with water intrusion you’re going to need advice from a basement water-proofing specialist, because that’s probably a more serious concern that will require a professional inspection.