5 Things To Avoid When Waterproofing Your Basement
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
If you are here then you're already thinking about waterproofing your basement. That's great because the water in your basement will cause mold, odors, and even structural damage. If you do one home improvement this season, waterproofing your basement is a great start.
When waterproofing your basement, don't rely on paints and stains to fix your leak. Avoid gimmicks like concrete injection or wall panel products that claim they are "waterproof". The only true way to waterproof your basement is from the outside. Otherwise, you are always at risk of compromising the integrity of your foundation.
A quick glance online will reveal that there are literally hundreds of ways to secure your basement against moisture. Most of the ideas are good, and doing something is better than just sitting around waiting for water to attack your basement.
If you are planning to undertake waterproofing your basement yourself, then you must pay attention to some very common mistakes people make when they waterproof their basements. I'll outline some of those mistakes, below.
1. Don't Rely on Waterproof Paint
Folks, think rationally here: in what universe could a layer of paint on your floor and walls hold back a droplet of moisture? Not in this universe, I'll tell you that.
Now, I'm not claiming this stuff doesn't work - it does in a few cases. But don't expect to cover cracks or holes with this paint and have your water problems solved.
Let's talk about when waterproof paint is a good idea. Since concrete is not solid - it's really not! - water can travel through the exterior walls of your foundation.
If you have a high water table, then rest assured waterproof paint will not hold back moisture that is always present on the exterior of your foundation.
Also, if there is enough saturation in the ground adjacent to the foundation, water will diffuse through your walls via hydrostatic pressure.
Water diffusion does not mean you'll have currents of water dripping down your wall.
Instead, your block or poured foundation will have water damage stains and look damp and darker than the dry parts of your concrete walls.
In cases of very occasional diffusion, paint might be a good idea.
But not really. Any type of water intrusion, even slight diffusion, should be treated with either an interior or exterior waterproofing system.
Water diffusion can cause mold, and paint will mitigate that. Over time, however, waterproof paint exposed to consistent moisture will peel and flake.
Not only will it peel and flake, but the application of the product is also really, really noxious. You don't want to apply these types of products in your basement if you have people using bedrooms there - you'll have to air out the space for a while if you do.
Finally - check your basement windows before you start applying coats of "waterproof" paint. Often these windows are a prime target for moisture entry - you may just need some silicone on the exterior. Sometimes the simplest solutions are best.
2. Don't Just Tar Your Exterior Foundation
Most homes have exterior foundation protection in the form of asphalt or tar-based "waterproof" coating. This type of foundation protection is known as "damp-proofing". If that term doesn't fill you confidence, then you are probably right.
Damp-proofing in the form of asphalt or tar coatings is effective only for so long. If a crack or small hole occurs in your foundation wall - and trust me, they all get them eventually - then the coating is not elastic enough to fill those voids and you have water entry.
Just like waterproof paint on the inside of your foundation, the tar/asphalt coating does provide diffusion and acts as a vapor barrier.
But keep in mind that homes are living creatures, prone to movement.
Whether it's winter and the ground freezing or soil that dries and then fills with moisture, your house walls will be subjected to pressure and movement.
Also, remember that concrete moves! Yes, hard to believe that concrete, as solid and indestructible as it is, actually moves - but it does.
As a rule of thumb, concrete takes nearly a full month to fully cure. But technically, concrete cures nearly for its entire life, albeit at a much slower rate. This is just more movement that is detrimental to a tar or asphalt coating.
If you want to rely on a coating that rolls are sprays on, then you are asking for trouble. Even a thick coating of asphalt or tar foundation sealant will eventually fail.
3. Don't Fall For Contractor Gimmicks
The latest and the greatest waterproofing products aren't actually always the greatest. I've seen ads for special wall panels, state of the art concrete injection filling, and "special" sealants that "chemically react and expand to form hard barriers".
While those all sound good, you've got to ask yourself, "Do I want to fix my basement leak, or simply stop it?"
If your basement is leaking, the products mentioned above will simply stop the leak, for a period of time.
Common sense should tell you that a lot of basement waterproofing solutions are just too good to be true. You usually pay for what you get. Be wary.
Let's take a quick look at some of these "solutions":
Concrete Injection - Water will still get into your basement walls. Concrete injections sound like a great idea at first glance.
Contractors will come in and do a quick one or two-step injection process. They love it because they can charge an arm and a leg and it costs them next to nothing.
But once you fill a crack, you still haven't solved the initial problem, and injection can just lead to more cracks. Also, the epoxy in injection kits does not get rid of water in the crack - it has to be completely dry.
If you take an injection kit and stick it into a crack and just fill it, it won't work if there is any hint of moisture.
RadonSeal - Billed as the ultimate interior (or exterior!) concrete sealer, this product fills and expands into gaps and "capillaries".
Yes, this may be true. But again, you haven't fixed your water infiltration issue, and any concrete shifting or movement will render the product useless. They offer a lifetime warranty but beware of the asterisks...
Moisture-proof wall panels - there are many proprietary wall products out there that claim to prevent moisture intrusion into a basement.
Simply install the panel against your foundation wall and, voila, you have a waterproof basement (in conjunction with other waterproofing, as the small print says on all their websites).
The issue here is that products like waterproof basement wall systems simply reduce the likelihood of mold or mildew. That's it. No wall panel could ever possibly stop a leak.
Interior Weeping Tile Systems - I know, I know, this is a common basement waterproofing solution that actually works. So why is it on this list? Because it doesn't solve your water problems.
Interior waterproofing that uses a drainage system around the interior perimeter of your basement is an extremely common solution that contractors like to offer. Also known as a french drain, it does work.
The gist of the solution is that a basement contractor will put up delta membrane against your basement walls. This takes any water that comes through your foundation walls and directs it to a perforated pipe embedded in the perimeter of your basement floor.
The pipe then takes the water to a sump pump, also embedded in your concrete floor, which then sends it out of your basement and away from your house. This solution will keep the rest of your basement dry.
The problem is that water is still getting through your foundation and the integrity of your foundation walls are still at risk.
Merely applying a barrier inside your home will not make your leaks better. The leaks will still get worse, but with an interior waterproofing system, you'll have no idea how bad they really are.
Sure, for most people it won't matter. But for others, installing an interior waterproofing system is a band-aid solution.
And keep in mind that contractors make way more off an interior drain system than an exterior. Here's why: it takes more guys and equipment to do an exterior job than interior. You need an excavator plus several other guys to prep and apply waterproofing.
For an interior waterproofing job, a team of two or three can do it in the same time but for far less money. Contractors use a jackhammer instead of an excavator - cheaper and quicker. No wonder contractors push this option - it's more money in their pocket.
Lastly, contractors will claim that interior waterproofing is better because exterior waterproofing systems eventually fail due to clogs and tree roots.
But don't be fooled - a properly done exterior system will not clog. And unless you have a very shallow foundation or massive trees in your backyard, there is a low likelihood of any type of root messing up your exterior waterproofing.
4. Don't Wait for the Leak to Get Better
We could also title this part, "Don't do nothing". Leaks don't fix themselves. If you have a wet basement in spring, chances are that it will only get worse the following spring, and so on.
The worst result of a wet basement, other than the foundation actually crumbling (which does happen), is mold. Mold causes allergies and other respiratory ailments. You don't want it in your house. Water in damp, cool places like a basement is an ideal site for mold creation.
Mold left unchecked can result in costly mold remediation, either professionally or done yourself.
It also causes terrible odor for your house, not to mention the detriment to your household's overall health.
Your leak can also cause your foundation wall to buckle and fail - this can lead to costly foundation repairs such as replacing a wall, reinforcing it with steel, or other techniques that can cost an arm and a leg.
Be proactive. If you aren't a DIYer, then call a friend who is and get them to have a look at that wet spot in your basement. Just don't sit there and do...nothing.
5. Don't Rely on Just a Dehumidifier
Don't get us wrong - using a dehumidifier in your basement should be common practice. If you don't have one, get one - see the ad just below, it's there for a reason.
Your basement is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter - when this happens, bad things can occur where your inside wall meets the outside.
When those clashing temperatures meet at your basement foundation walls, then you get condensation. A dehumidifier helps keep the moist air at bay, dries it out, and makes sure your basement is odor-free and dry.
But, if you have leaks and your basement is not waterproof, a dehumidifier is barely a band-aid solution. In fact, if you have water in your basement, your dehumidifier will run nonstop and will barely put a dent in lowering the humidity in your basement.
At that point, you are just throwing money to the power company while doing nothing to stop your basement water problems.
If you find that your dehumidifier is running all the time yet it still smells and feels damp in your basement or crawl space, then it's time to do some further investigations.
The government pays folks a lot of money to study stuff like this, and according to the EPA humidity should absolutely be less than 60%, and ideally between 30 - 50%. Anything more and you've got to do more than just dehumidify your basement.
This author is all about saving you money when it comes to fixing water problems in your basement. Understand, however, that you may have to pay more upfront to achieve long-lasting results.
My hope is that you avoid the above "quick fix" solutions for waterproofing your house so that you don't waste time and innumerable headaches wondering why that musty smell or damp spot in the corner of your basement is still there.
If you are looking for simpler solutions like fixing your gutters and downspouts instead of digging up your house to install a drainage system, then visit our article on easy ways to waterproof your home.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you have any comments or want to share your experience, or if you want some advice or a digital shoulder to cry on about your water woes then give us a holler, below!