Dealing with drain and foundation issues in a house can be intimidating. This guide lays everything out for you logically.
Don’t forget: every step of the way, CAA-Quebec is there to help. Reassuring, right?
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Do you suspect issues with water infiltration in your basement? Check for the signs listed below. Most of them, if they’re there, will be easy to spot inside the house. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to call in a professional contractor, who will investigate further using moisture detection equipment and/or a thermographic camera. That way, you won’t have to knock down any walls looking for humid areas or cracks.
Read our Tips & Tricks instalment on thermography.
Indoor signs of excess humidity or water infiltration
Be very careful of mould, the microscopic fungi that grow on humid materials. To develop, mould requires only moisture and organic material to “feed” on: wood, paper, carpet, etc. It releases spores, which are particles that can induce symptoms such as:
This means you need to take action quickly!
Read our Tips & Tricks instalment on mould and other basement health hazards.
If you do see these signs, your drain or foundation might not be the culprit. They may instead point to one or more of the following problems. Read on to learn more about each one.
Problem: The backfilled earth around a house becomes compacted over time. If there is a negative slope, water flows toward the house.
Warning: Be careful that you don’t shift the problem to a neighbour’s property!
Problem: Gutters that are the wrong size, improperly positioned, or broken can cause runoff water to pool around the foundation. The quantity of water coming off your roof during a storm is impressive.
Warning: Always disconnect downspout extenders before the onset of freezing temperatures in the fall.
Read our Tips & Tricks instalment on gutters.
Also known as a dry well or soakaway pit, it’s a hole dug in the yard and filled with ¾ in. crushed stone. It’s connected to the downspout by a length of non-perforated underground pipe. The entire assembly is covered by geotextile membrane before soil and grass are replaced on top.
Problem: Some trees, if located too close to the house, can lead to formation of cracks in the foundation. In dry periods, especially if the soil around the house is clayey, the roots can retain water, which can then put pressure on the foundation.
Warning: Poplar, willow, elm, red maple, Manitoba maple, silver maple and bur oak trees near the house are to be avoided at all costs.
Problem: Windows that are too close to the ground tend to develop leaks.
Warning: If the window can be used as an emergency exit, then the window well must not prevent a person from exiting.
The bottom of the window well must be filled with gravel, and there must be a vertical drain pipe to direct water to just above the foundation drain, without being directly connected to it. Protective mesh to keep out debris is advisable, and all window wells must be cleaned regularly to ensure they work effectively.
Problem: In iron-rich soil that is in contact with water and air, deposits of iron ochre (also called ferrous ochre) can form. They are recognizable by their rust colour. These deposits can end up blocking the foundation drain.
Warning: This is a job for an expert. There are several possible remedies: add an indoor drain, lower the water table, or (the most frequent solution) replace the flexible corrugated fondation drain pipe with one made of smooth-walled PVC pipe with large circular openings.
If you’ve performed all of the previous steps but you still have problems, you need to explore the possibility of cracks in the foundation or the basement slab, and/or damage to the drain. This section describes the most common problems along with their solutions.
As of March 17, 2016, foundation waterproofing work done by qualified contractors is eligible for the Government of Quebec’s RénoVert refundable tax credit. You have until March 31, 2018, to sign a contract entitling you to the credit. Find out more on the RénoVert Web page .
Possible causes of cracks in the foundation include:
Consult a building waterproofing contractor (this specialty is included in RBQ Licence 7), who can tell you whether the crack is stable or not (e.g., because of ground movement) and proceed with repairs. By choosing a certified contractor, you can be assured of a job well done.
Though sealing from the inside may require removal of interior finishing, this solution is usually less expensive than tackling the problem from the outside.
If the foundation is unstable, only an exterior membrane will guarantee a waterproof seal.
The normal lifespan of a foundation drain, also known as a French drain or perimeter drain, is about 40 years. Your drain may have deteriorated to the point that it no longer does is job of collecting and discharging water from the soil around your house’s foundation. Problems with a defective drain will be most noticeable after abundant rainfall and during thaw periods.
If your house was built before 1950, there may not be any foundation drain at all; few residential construction companies at the time installed them. Your property may happen to have excellent natural drainage capacity. Eventually, though, you could start to see signs of inadequate drainage. At that point, installing a drain may be the best solution.
Entrust the work to a contractor qualified in excavation and lot grading (Licence 2.5). This expertise will be invaluable both for diagnosing the problem correctly and performing the actual corrective work.
For an accurate assessment, the expert will examine the drain using a video camera connected to a monitor. Depending on the situation, they will access the drain via the cleanouts (vertical tubes running from the ground to the drain pipe), the floor drain / sump pit, or the storm sewer line. If this is not possible, one or more trenches will have to be dug outside.
Sometimes, excavating around the house is problematic or impossible. In such cases, installation of an indoor foundation drain can be considered.
A sump pit (essentially, a basin for collecting water) may also need to be installed if you regularly experience water seeping into the basement through the slab (i.e., the water table rises frequently). In some cases, the sump pit can serve to collect the water from the foundation drain.
Your sump pit needs to be cleaned every year. The drainage water brings in earth and sand, which can prevent the pump from operating properly.
The excavation work for a foundation drain is quite inconvenient for the occupants of a house, not to mention expensive. It’s a good idea to take advantage of your “big dig” to have other work done to prevent future problems—and the need to dig again in the future. This section explains all you need to know about:
The tar sealant originally applied to the outside of the foundation walls below ground can be upgraded. There are three possibilities:
Unless your basement is already finished and insulated, excavation provides a good opportunity to insulate the foundation from the outside.
Problems with water pooling on your property can be exacerbated by poor backfill quality. Proper backfilling includes:
Replacing a water inlet and sewer line is usually expensive, because it has to be done in an emergency. So why not take advantage of the machinery and labour already being there, and save money?
Are you in an emergency situation? Is there a foot of water in your basement? You have to act fast, and properly. The procedure for restoring the basement will depend on what kind of water it is and where it came from. Rainwater or snowmelt, for example, will be easier to deal with than water from a sewer backup or a river that has burst its banks.
There are three steps to a proper response:
Make sure there is no risk of electrocution.
First your insurer, then the city, and then other resources!
Report the damage to your insurer immediately, following these few steps. Visual evidence (photos, video) can be very useful to help the insurer rapidly assess the situation. If, for example, you have home insurance with CAA-Quebec and you took the “Water damage” option when you bought your policy, you are covered for water damage.
Read this advice from
CAA-Quebec’s home insurance expertsPDF file – 34 KB
Report the incident, if need be, to the municipality as well as to any utilities/providers affected (e.g., Hydro-Québec, Gaz Métro, phone company).
Quick action is required to limit the damage. For best results, entrust the work to experts.
This will ensure that mould does not proliferate on surfaces and in voids, crevices, etc. If you decide to mop up the initial damage, make sure you wear rubber gloves and boots, a breathing mask, and safety glasses to guard against contamination.
It is highly recommended that you hire a reliable post-disaster clean-up company, especially if decontamination is needed. They have the knowledge and equipment necessary to act effectively and limit the impacts. If necessary, they will demolish water-damaged gypsum wallboard and flooring to speed up the drying-out process.
Once the basement is cleaned, you can start rebuilding yourself, if you want. But consider the benefits of doing business with a company that has a general contractor’s licence: the work will be guaranteed, completed in a timely manner, and compliant with the required codes, with your home’s full property value maintained.
In this guide, we’ve presented a logical approach to dealing with problems that are not always easy to address. Several of the situations described require major work, for which you shouldn’t hesitate to call in professionals.
CAA-Quebec Residential Advisory Services are there to help you find the right contractors for the job, and to answer any questions you may have in case of doubt!