One of the things they don’t warn you about when you buy a home is the nightmare that is diagnosing and solving issues that come up. When we bought our home in 2019, the prior owners had indicated that the basement got “a little moisture” when it rained. Yeah… okay. This was our life for March and April the following spring!
Every single time it rained, we’d sit upstairs nervously waiting for the sump pump to kick in and praying that we wouldn’t spend the entire night mopping and squeegeeing up water in our unfinished area of our basement. Needless to say, the prior owners did not fully represent the truth of the situation and it was up to us to remedy it. But we fixed our basement water issue and didn’t break the bank while doing so. It’s leaked zero times since we made our yard improvements.
We had a basement specialist come in, as well as a grading specialist and a landscaper. The basement waterproofing specialist conducted a comprehensive 3 hour tour of our home (interior and exterior) and quoted us nearly $30,000 to make all the recommended improvements. But here’s the thing: the expensive solutions that they recommended we use didn’t actually prevent water from getting into our home – it simply mitigated and managed the water once it was already there through a complex draining system. We fixed our basement water issues for $700 and it hasn’t leaked once since. Here are the steps we took to accomplish this.
Check the Efficiency of your Sump Pump
Cost: $150, but you can find ones that are more or less expensive
Before you head outside, let’s address some pieces on the inside! Your sump pump is one of those things you don’t worry about… until you need to worry about it. We found that our sump pump was running incredibly slowly. We replaced it with a new pump and tested it to make sure that water was being moved out quickly. You can buy pumps with alarms, Bluetooth features, etc.
The grading specialist and the landscaper ended up being the most helpful resources we could possibly find when it came to what to do outside. Here are the things they suggested and how much it cost us:
Replace Window Wells with Tallest Options Available
Cost: $75 each for 2 window wells, plus $45 each for 4 new window well covers (Total: $330)
Our existing window wells on the side of our house where the moist water issues were occurring had window wells that were below grade (the height of the yard). This proved to be a major issue for water running over the window well rim and seeping through the edges of the window. We dug out our existing two below grade window wells and installed taller ones that would bring the window height above grade. I know window wells aren’t pretty, but they’re meant to be functional. Ours are on the side of our house that doesn’t have gate access so we almost never see them anyway, so we didn’t care as much what they looked like.
We also put in more expensive window well covers and properly attached them to the siding. The previous owners had just set them on top without attaching, and the cheap plastic versions couldn’t support the weight of snow.
Ensure Your Window Wells are Backfilled with Dirt, Not Gravel
Cost: $0, if you dig yourself
At the recommendation of the grading specialist, we dug down below the layer of dirt to see what was backfilling around our leaky window wells. To our dismay, more than a foot down around each window well had been backfilled with gravel! People sometimes like to backfill with gravel because it doesn’t settle as substantially as dirt does over time. But the downside of gravel is that it drains toward your house instead of away. We dug out countless buckets of gravel and relocated it to other areas of our yard where we wanted to promote drainage. In its place along the window well, we added dirt and compacted it as best we could. The key is to ensure a dense layer of dirt around your window well that does NOT promote drainage, and then to encourage that water to drain away from your house on a slope. More about what we did with the gravel below…
Install “French Drains” in Low Lying Areas Away from the House
Cost: $200 in equipment rental for auger + your labor + $50 in grass seed
We rented a post hole auger (what you’d use for drilling fence post holes) and drilled about 80 2′ deep holes in the low lying spots of our yard away from our house. We knew that water would naturally flow to the lower spots in the yard, and we wanted to ensure those lower areas weren’t near our foundation or basement windows. We drilled holes simultaneously to removing gravel from our window wells and swapped the dirt in our yard for the gravel. By burying gravel (which drains very well) in dozens of holes in our yard, and then covering with a layer of dirt, we were able to promote drainage where we wanted it.
A true French Drain has tubing in it to direct the water. In our case, we dug the holes and filled with gravel, but the same idea still applies of directing drainage where you want it to go.
Properly Grade Away from Your House
Cost: $0, if you dig yourself
Older houses settle over time, and a negative grade (sloping back toward your house) is an issue that can attract water damage to your vulnerable areas (like window wells). We never would noticed our negative grade because of mulch, leaves and gravel on top of the dirt when we moved in at the end of fall. As soon as the ground thawed, we dug out gravel and re-graded 4′ away from the house at a slope of 1″ per foot. As a result, the grade slopes downward (away from the house) and our lawn is 4″ below the grade at the edge of the house. We were able to use dirt from projects in other parts of our yard and did not need to source any. I realize that it looks like we put gravel down in the photo above – it’s just really crusty dry dirt – not gravel!
Be sure not to build up organic material against your house (especially if you have wood siding) as this can encourage wood rot and pests.
Discourage Water Leaking Inside Your House
Cost: $15 for sealant paint
Just to be extra safe, we cleaned off the inside of our basement windows (which we don’t open ever since they aren’t egress windows) and painted around the edges with waterproof sealant. We used Flex Seal liquid rubber sealant as it was affordable and easily applies with a paintbrush. You probably don’t need to take this step if you follow all the steps above, but we figured, what’s $15 to be extra cautious?
These solutions might not work for everyone, but here were some resources that were very helpful to us as we researched how we might be able to fix our issues for far less than the price we’d been quoted: