Tending to Our Water-Damaged Basement

Brooke Bowman
by Brooke Bowman
3 Materials
4 Hours
When we first lived in our little cottage, five years before we ended up actually buying it, the basement was unfinished. It had a concrete floor, a very old and cracked shower, tons of stored goods from the former owners, and the water heater sitting directly in the middle of the space. One of the things we knew we wanted to do when we undertook our two-year-long renovation process was to finish off the space. It would give us a third level of living space and would be a great hangout for our kids to play in a little later down the road. So, we took the steps required to do just that.

We added drywall around the exposed walls. We added indoor/outdoor carpet squares on the floor, encased in the crawl space with fashionable barn doors and drug in an oversized pool table to turn it into a bona fide entertainment room. One thing we did not do, however, was properly waterproof the space. As a result, though we can handle small storms just fine, whenever we get a torrential downpour, water seeps in on one wall. This past week, Hurricane Michael swept through our area of the Triad, North Carolina, and of course, our basement got soaked. Here is how we handled it and a few things we discovered along the way.
For the past two years, we have been dealing with this issue but we never truly knew where the water was coming in from. Our contractor had always pointed us to the floor drain in the cement at the bottom of the outside stairs leading down into our basement. This area is notorious for getting filled up with leaves, as the steps are directly beneath 60-year-old, towering oak trees. If we don’t keep the landing perfectly clean, the drain does get covered, though this time around, we were careful to remove every single stem or leaf (and found a baby snake along the way), but the basement floor still got wet.

Thankfully, we were able to catch the water leak before it even began. As soon as the rain really began to come down, we stood in the basement and watched for the inevitable trickle. We found that it was coming from one particular wall, then spreading all across the floor. We went upstairs and outside to see what was affecting that part of the house, and that’s when we came to our culprit. When we had our driveway paved two years ago, it was never graded to appropriately drain off water.
As such, when we put a shovel into the mulch that is spread between the driveway and our side porch during the rain, we discovered that the mulch was basically swimming in rainwater. There was no sturdy, heavy rock or sand at the bottom weighing it down. As such, water was entering this space and essentially pouring directly down, with no ground barrier to stop it at all. Then, it was getting into a small crack in our foundation and leaking into the basement.
My husband and I worked as a team for four hours straight while our children played around us, trying to get ahead of the water and stop it before it did any major damage. We had already moved all of our valuables and important work documents onto the couch or elevated on tables. From there, I used a wet/dry vacuum to suck up all the water as it was entering the basement floor. Meanwhile, my husband stayed at the top of the house, near the mulch bed, and used his work shovel to shovel gathering water from the mulch into a bucket so it wouldn’t drip down.
Eventually, though, we realized that we weren’t really making too much of an impact with that approach. Instead, we took up about 10 carpet squares that formed a path leading from the area of entry to our outside basement steps. Then, we laid down a water hose along the path to encourage the water to route that way. There is a little concrete lip at our outside door, however, so the water couldn’t just run outside. So, I stayed at the door with a large broom and swept the water in that direction.

Once the rain stopped, we turned on our baseboard heaters, two box fans and dehumidifier. They will run for about a week and after that, most of the moistness should be evaporated, though it will be a humid and putrid environment for a little while longer.
In all, I think we were able to get ahead of the issue somewhat, as the water didn’t have a chance to sit on the carpet and ruin the baseboards like it has with rains past. Still, moving forward we are taking strides to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Now that we know where the water is coming in from, my husband is planning to install a french drain pipe in that area to catch and reroute the rain water so it won’t enter our house. That should take care of a majority of the problem, though we may need to install a french drain all around the exterior of our home if the issue still persists.

Thankfully, this was the only part of our home that was damaged from the hurricane rain and winds. Our family RV was tucked into our adjacent shelter (you can learn more here about these and why we decided to go with one) and our cars were safely in the garage. The rest of our home stayed dry, though we did have many limbs down in the backyard. I’m thankful that this was the extent of the damage, though it was maddening to deal with while it was happening. At least now we will be better prepared in the future to prevent it from happening again!
Suggested materials:
  • Wet/Dry Vacuum   (Hardware Store)
  • Shovel   (Hardware Store)
  • Dehumidifier   (Hardware Store)
Brooke Bowman
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