Old Houses and Basement Water Problems: What You Need to Know

Written by PermaDry on . Posted in Waterproofing your basement

If you live in a historic home, you enjoy the character and craftsmanship of quality artisans from an era long past. The old walls and beautiful woodwork may speak of the home’s history, but the basement is often a different story. Water and moisture problems are unfortunately common in older houses.

There are solutions to help you make and keep your basement just as dry and beautiful as the rest of your historic home. 

Common Causes of Old House Water Problems

Basements in old houses were not designed to be living areas as they are now. Old basements were used to store food for the winter, keep coal or other fuel sources, and store tools and gadgets that were essential to the pre-modern lifestyle. Some basements may even have old cellars for wine or ice.

Extensive waterproofing was not needed. The bricks or rubble of a “flexible” foundation allowed for water to seep into the basement in very wet conditions, where it flowed to a floor drain. So a small amount of seepage is often par for the course in older basements.

However, inches or even feet of water are another story. There weren’t wet-vacuums or sump pumps to remove flood water. The ground may have shifted, city planning may have changed ground topography, or the water table may have risen since your home was built.

If you’re hoping to finish your old basement or use it for storing items that could be permanently damaged with water, you’ll need to invest in more waterproofing than the old design originally allowed for.

The Challenge of External Repairs

Older homes have sturdy foundations, but they were not built like homes are today. Rarely will an old foundation have footings below the walls you see and the floors you walk on. Modern footings provide foundational stability to concrete basements.

Waterproofing by digging around the exterior foundation can upset the delicate strength of older homes. They rely on the pressure of the ground to remain structurally sound. Because of the lack of footings, you risk causing foundational damage to a home by prematurely digging to lay weeping tile or apply trenching with backfill.

It’s best to seek help from a professional waterproofing company before concluding that digging will fix your leaky basement. If digging and trenching is the only solution, make sure to use a professional who has experience with preserving the integrity of old foundations.

Solutions for Leaky Old Basements

Fortunately, there are plenty of solutions you can try to reduce your water problem and make the basement fit for finishing and modern storage. Here are just a few of the waterproofing methods that are effective for older homes.

Improve Your Home’s Natural Drainage

Check your downspouts and the slope of the ground around your home. All water should be directed several feet away from your foundation. If the ground slopes toward your house, you can look into grading the yard for better flow.

Check Your Crawl Space

Some homes have a crawlspace and a basement. If you have more moisture toward the crawlspace end of your basement, installing a waterproofing lining in your crawlspace can help to prevent additional water flow into the basement.

Seal the Cracks

Many older homes have weak or permeable mortar in brick and rubble foundations. Seal these cracks to help reduce the flow of water. Seal them from the outside or have them professionally injected.

Use an Interior Sealer

For small amounts of leaching, you can use a paintable waterproofing sealant on the interior of your home that can withstand the gentle pressure of extra water during rainstorms or spring run-off. It’s not a solution for full-on floods, but for damp walls, it will provide protection against mold growth and gradual water damage.

Install an Interior Sump Pump

For more severe water problems, you do need an active removal solution. Sump pumps sit below the grade of your basement. They collect water as it rises. When the water gets above a certain point, the pump activates and pumps the water away from your home.

Snake Your Gravity Drain

Many older homes have original gravity drains meant to divert the flow of water in the basement. If these are not draining well, a small trickle can become a flood. Even though you want to prevent even a trickle, your gravity drain is what protects your finishing’s and belongings from severe flood damage.

Seal and Improve Your Window Wells

Over time, the window wells in old basements can fill with silt and debris. Many times, the brick retainers are no longer functioning. Windows can become a source of leaks.

 

Sometimes it take a combination of several methods to fully moisture-proof an old basement. It’s better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to waterproofing.

For more information on how you can improve the waterproofing in your historic home, contact us at Perma-Dry Waterproofing & Drainage, Inc.

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