Where is all this water coming from?
Rain falls, snow melts, it soaks into the ground. Much of this moisture is pulled deeper by gravity, well below the frost line. The frost line is a depth beneath the ground that never freezes. Here in Minnesota, that can be as deep as 54 inches. If seepage is moving below the frost line, you may have water problems year round. In spring and summer when the frost is thawed and rain storms occur, the problem could be much worse.
As the ground water is pulled deeper, it moves sideways, following the slope of underground terrain. As the top soil absorbs rainfall, the underground layers of soil become even more saturated, forcing water along the paths of least resistance, called capillary veins. Capillary veins are underground streams of seeping water. When these veins get near a building, water seeps into the surrounding area that was dug up during its construction. The area is shaped like a bowl, and its soil is more loosely packed than the undisturbed clay-laden soil just a few feet from the home. This soil cannot percolate the ground water away fast enough, allowing immense quantities of water to press against each below grade wall of the building.
As the water level rises, the weight of the water builds pressure. This is called hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure forces water to the paths of least resistance. When the water has nowhere else to go, it will probe weak points in a building. Window wells, settlement cracks and weakened mortar are all weak spots.
Meanwhile, even deeper water may go beneath the footing and get under the basement floor. Many floors are supported by a base of sand or gravel called a vapor barrier. These materials absorb water very quickly. The water under the floor rises, trying to reach the level of the saturated soil around the building. This rising water creates powerful hydrostatic pressure from below. As we know, water will attack the point of least resistance. In the case of water below the floor, this is the cove. The cove is where the foundation wall meets the basement floor. Since these are two separate pieces fit together, the small gap in the cove is water's point of entry into your basement.
If the floor seam is sealed, the slab and wall are made into one piece, forcing water to probe for new weak spots. This is when floor cracks, thought to be settlement cracks, are caused by upward hydrostatic pressure. In older homes, where the concrete is much thinner and older, the pressure will actually heave the concrete, exposing the vapor barrier beneath.
Can I Fix the Problem Myself?
Sometimes. Before calling in professionals and having expensive, messy work done on your home, there is a short list of things you can try on your own.
Check Gutters and Downspouts - A clogged gutter will keep water from flowing to downspouts, and will cause it to pool and saturate an area. Downspouts are designed to carry water away from your foundation. If they are disconnected or damaged, water will pool there was well.
Exterior Grading - If the grade around your home slopes toward the building, water will flow that way. You can do your own landscaping to create a slope in the opposite direction, away from your home, so surface water is encouraged to flow away from your home instead.
Clean Floor Drains - Sometimes moisture will appear in the middle of the room, rather than at the perimeter. Is it possible there is a natural spring under your basement floor? It's possible. What's more likely is your floor drain is clogged.
What Should I NOT do?
Before you have your water problem fixed, please, for your own sake, DO NOT...
Paint or Redecorate - Paint will not stop the flow of water. It will blister and break. Any redecorating will have to be done again after the problem is fixed.
Install Framing and Drywall - Insulation, wood and sheet rock will all rot and have to be replaced.
Furnish a Bedroom - It is unhealthy to live in a dark and damp climate. The reasons above also apply. Also, bugs.
The 4 Stages of Water Penetration
1. Damp smell, mold and mildew, discoloration of walls and foundation, blistering paint.
2. Wet walls, water appears in cove area, and a combination of first stage signs.
3. Water on the floor or walls, cove area seeping water, damaging appliances, furniture and paneling. Insects appear.
4. Mud and heavy water come in, holes in the walls, replace foundation materials.
Infestation - Wet surfaces, especially wood, are softened by chronic dampness and are an invitation to wood boring insects, which compromise the structural quality of your home.
Your Health - Mold spores and Bacteria cultures form on wet and rotting surfaces. The elderly, the allergic, and those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to a variety of illnesses.
Dry, Comfortable Living Space - This is one third, or even half of your home. Your basement can be a nice place to live.
Damaged Appliances - Water heaters, furnaces, washers and dryers - none of these items deal well with damp conditions.
Home Value - Resale value is adversely affected by a wet basement. Even water stains, musty odors, and mildew will turn off potential buyers. A seller may be held liable for undisclosed defects long after the home has sold. Financing and inspection organizations like the FHA (Federal Housing Authority) may stop the sale process until the problem is fixed.
Structural Problems - Water seeping through soil crevices creates pressure against walls and up from beneath floors. It is gradual, even imperceptible, but eventually concrete floors, footings, and walls can crack and sheer. Damage radiates upward to above ground sections of the home. Mortar joints open, window casings snap, and brick breaks. Without taking action, repairs for this type of damage can be truly overwhelming. It is better to take care of the problem now, rather than later.