Basement Waterproofing Products: Will Caulking Fix a Wet Basement?


As in many urban areas, homes in Chicago tend to be on narrow, deep lots with not much room in between.  Living elbow-to-elbow like this requires a spirit of neighborliness but it also creates some unique basement seepage problems –- and some equally unique theories on the kind of basement waterproofing products that can solve them.

Typically, these slim spaces between houses are paved with concrete or asphalt, creating either the type of sidewalk famously known as the Chicago “gangway” or a narrow driveway.  Driveway or gangway, these hard surfaces usually neither create nor, to the surprise of many homeowners, solve basement water problems.

As I have explained to many an urban homeowner, it’s not the rain or snow falling on the surface that makes their basement leak; it’s the water in the ground.  This groundwater, and the accompanying hydrostatic pressure on the foundation, is found all around the foundation, including under the sidewalk, so nothing that is done on the surface of the paving will affect it at all. 

Some homeowners I have met in my 30 years in the basement waterproofing business have tried to fix basement water problems by repairing or replacing the paving that lies next to their house.  This is certainly a good general home maintenance practice but it won’t do anything to stop water seepage in the basement.

Are Tar or Caulk Effective Basement Waterproofing Products?

I’ve been asked many times over the years if we couldn’t just apply tar (or caulk or some other sealant) to the seam where the concrete meets the foundation.  My answer is always the same:  We could, but it probably won’t help and it will look terrible.

In urban homes, it is common to find that a sidewalk or driveway situated next to the building is higher than the top of the foundation, which may create a grading problem. If a homeowner or contractor seals the joint between the concrete and the foundation with caulk, water will collect there in heavy rains or snowmelts and will infiltrate the basement by flowing over the top of the foundation or seeping through bricks.

How Does the Homeowner Solve his or her Seepage Problem?

There are several ways.  If the sidewalk or driveway is going to be replaced because of cracking or heaving (both signs of groundwater under the paving, by the way) it’s a great opportunity to have a basement waterproofing company apply an exterior waterproofing membrane to the foundation before the adjacent area is re-paved.

If the foundation is poured concrete, have a basement waterproofing expert check for cracks that are seeping water.  These cracks can be filled by injecting expanding urethane from the inside without excavating or disturbing anything on the exterior of the home.

If the seepage is coming from what’s called the “cove joint,” where the foundation walls meet the basement floor, then an interior drain tile system is probably the answer.  Interior drain tile, installed next to the footings, relieves the hydrostatic pressure that causes cove seepage and carries the water off to a sump pump, leaving the basement dry.

And, as is true for any home, basement seepage problems may be avoided by good yard drainage -- making sure that rain gutters are flowing freely and downspout discharge is directed at least ten feet away from the foundation.  A basement waterproofing company can install underground downspout extensions to accomplish this in a way that’s both effective and attractive.

If you have concrete or asphalt up against your foundation, don’t break out the caulk gun or call the paving contractor to solve your seepage problem.  At U.S. Waterproofing we’ve solved these problems at thousands of homes in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Hammond.  Talk to us -- we can solve your problem, too.  Our advice is free.

If you have any questions about water seepage in your home, please ask them in the Comments box below.


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