6 Quick Ways to Waterproof a Basement
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Not everyone has time - or money - to excavate their entire home foundation to waterproof it. Luckily, there are many simple solutions to divert water away from your house so you can waterproof a basement without breaking your wallet.
Quick ways to waterproof your basement begin with redirecting rainwater away from your house by providing a clear passage for rain to leave via unclogged gutters, extended downspouts and properly graded earth. Watch your window wells and driveway for water entry points, and make sure your neighbor's runoff isn't going into your basement.
Below I'll outline six easy ways to waterproof a basement without digging up your house or turning your basement into a construction site. Let's take a look.
1. Unclog Your Gutters
Arguably the most common cause of basement water issues are gutters that don't work properly. Gutters divert water away from your house via downspouts, ejecting it onto ground that should slope away from your home.
The problem is that gutters get clogged by leaves, primarily, and other debris. Leaves congregate at the bottom of your gutters and slide down into the downspouts causing clogs.
A clogged downspout results in water backup in your gutter. Then you have water pooling over the ends of your gutters, which are often at the corners of your house. During hard rains, this causes a stream of water pouring out right next to a foundation corner that isn't meant to withstand a pool of water.
Gutter guards can work, but these also catch leaves and can clog themselves. I've had friends claim their gutter guards never need cleaning, but all types of gutter equipment will eventually need some type of maintenance.
The Fix: Get out your ladder and scoop the gunk out of your gutters!
2. Redirect your downspouts
Downspouts take water from your gutters and get it away from your house. Unfortunately, many people have them directed towards an area of their yard that is graded toward their house, not away from it.
In that case, the water coming off the roof and down the spout goes right back toward the house. A simple glance at your downspouts will tell you if they are directed away from or toward your house.
If you are unable to direct your downspouts away from the house, you can purchase downspout extensions.
They come in many different varieties, but downspout extensions simply affix to your gutter downspout and extend its reach. They can also bend and flex, so you can turn them to wherever you have ground graded away from your house.
The Fix: Extend your gutter downspouts to move water even further away from your house.
3. Grade Earth Away from Your House
This sounds really simple, but poor grading actually accounts for tons, if not most, basement water issues. Even level soil next to your foundation will allow water to pool against your house and eventually find it's way into your basement.
Think of it like this: you've got a sponge and you let it sit in a sink. It's dry and crinkly. Then you run water over it for a few minutes. Eventually, it expands and gets so full that water just runs right off of it. That sponge is the earth next to your foundation.
Not only does saturated earth not hold water, it pushes it right up against your basement walls. It literally forces water through your walls, and even floors if there is enough water saturation in your ground.
Grading the earth next to your foundation away from your house is a great way to mitigate the "sponge" effect. Even if that earth gets saturated, water will still run away from the house if it is graded that way.
Get a metal rake and a shovel. Kick up dirt next to your house with a shovel, then use the metal rake to grade it away from your house. It's literally that simple.
Don't Forget: Even the soil under your deck or porch needs to be graded. Water will eventually fall through your deck and pool underneath.
The Fix: Grade soil next to your foundation away from the house - simply having it level is not good enough.
4. Cover your Window Wells
All my basement windows are above grade, except for one. I put a window well up against it, filled it with gravel and left it. Ideally, I would've put a vertical french drain in it to connect it to my weeping tile, but I didn't want to expend the time or effort. I've been lucky so far, but it got me paranoid.
I could see that a window well could still allow water to pool, which would mean serious water infiltration via all the tiny nooks and crannies of the window set into my foundation.
My solution was a window well cover. You've seen them before - clear plastic fitted over the window well and that cover the window and wall around the well.
They work. But be warned, you want one that fits your window well. Most window wells are the corrugated steel kind of various heights. Any big box store will sell the covers that fit with the wells they sell - but not always!
You must get a fitted cover, otherwise, you might as well not cover your window well at all. While the cover isn't perfectly flush against my foundation wall, it still does the trick. After all, my roof extends at least 18" beyond my walls, so not much water will get in behind the cover anyway. If you were really worried, you could caulk around the edges.
The Fix: Cover your window wells with fitted covers to prevent leaks around your windows.
5. Caulk Driveway Cracks Against the Foundation
I know, this doesn't apply to all of you and if it doesn't then consider yourself lucky. What if your asphalt driveway butts up against your house foundation? Nice cracks often open up between the asphalt and foundation, providing a nice expressway for water right up to your foundation wall.
The worst part is, water coming off your driveway into that crack will come fast and hard, forcing tons of water into that crack. Eventually, it will find a way into your basement.
So what to do? You can't grade asphalt away from your house. Removing it isn't an option unless you want to spend hours and hours, or lots of money. The good news is that, if you have a caulking gun, you can solve your problem quickly.
First, you need to clean the crack next to your foundation. There are many different methods you can use. I've used a shop-vac, which worked well for a shallow crack. Some have advocated using a pressure washer, but I'd be careful as it would send a bunch of water into the crack.
Either way, the crack needs to be cleaned. Once you get all the junk cleaned out, you can caulk. If the crack is too deep you'll need some sort of backer to fill in the extra space where you are going to seal. Foam works fine and it's cheap. Pick up some exterior foam from a hardware store and cut it with an Exacto knife to fit snug into the crack.
Next, you'll need some exterior silicone sealant. I used all-purpose silicone. There are tons of different silicone products like the "advanced", metal, kitchen/bath, etc. Just keep it simple. You can't beat getting a product that works for under five bucks.
The Fix: Clean and caulk cracks between foundation and asphalt with silicone.
6. Talk to the Neighbors if Their Water is in Your Basement
This is a tricky one, and extremely common: you've taken all the above steps to mitigate water from getting into your basement. Great. Then the next hard rain happens and you realize it: your neighbor's downspouts run right into your yard - and house.
In dense subdivisions, this happens all the time. Contractors are supposed to have culverts and tiles to redirect water between homes, but by the time they finish a house, things like water diversion take a back seat.
If your house is properly graded and sealed, it won't matter if your neighbors home sits above your own and hasn't properly accounted for his or her own water runoff. And if their house sits above yours, chances are they haven't considered their drainage anyway because they have a dry basement - it all goes to your house instead!
First, you're going to have to have "the talk". Since everyone who reads this is probably a really nice person, chances are you have a great relationship with your neighbor who will readily fix their drainage once you inform them.
If you don't have tons of "love" for your neighbor, you can at least go to them offering solutions and perhaps some financial compensation to assist in purchasing downspout extensions. Also, offer to help clean their gutters - a small inconvenience that will save your basement and forever endear yourself to the neighbor.
And if all that doesn't work, you may have some sort of recourse via a neighborhood homeowners association or local bylaws.
I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that, but you can't sit idle while water pours off your neighbor's house into your own lawn. That could cause more extensive foundation problems, such as sagging walls and mold - issues that are really going to cost you serious cash.
The Fix: Help your neighbor divert water from their yard away from your own.
Some homeowners panic when they get the slightest hint of water in their basement - don't. Try the above quick fixes first before you go and hire a contractor. You'll be amazed at how diverting water and re-grading your landscape can mitigate most basement water problems.
I hope you found some of these suggestions helpful. If you have basement water issues, always start simple before going and excavating your entire foundation. Like anything, the solution might be an easy fix that you won't have to spend much money on.