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I have a bulkhead entrance to my basement. The bulkhead walls are mostly fine, with the exception being near the top. The top 6 or 8 inches or so of the walls are constructed of what appear to be cement bricks (or something similar). The metal doors are attached to these bricks, and the bricks are somehow adhered to the walls below. The bricks are covered in some sort of mortar or cement, and I wouldn't even have realized they were distinct from the poured wall if some of the mortar/cement fill hadn't started to chip away.

What has resulted is a situation where, if you look at the bulkhead walls from the inside, you can see a horizontal crack ~6-8" below the top of the wall. When it rains, some water seeps through this crack and accumulates in the bulkhead. (ground level is approx 2 inches below the very top of what you see)

from inside looking out - see the horizontal crack between the top two steps

Here's a close-up of the top left corner. close-up of top left corner of crack

Finally, a shot of the "bricks" on the right side of the stairs in a place where it's not leaking, just to show how they are attached to wall. bricks attached to wall and not leaking

I am going to try putting some hydraulic cement along the crack on the inside. However, I am wondering what else you might suggest?

I was thinking of digging up a foot or so of the soil around the perimeter of the wall, and replacing it with gravel to help water quickly flow below the level of the crack. Would that help?

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Susie - we need a couple of good pictures to answer this right. –  DMoore Sep 9 '13 at 20:40
    
is your question simply: How do I prevent rain water from leaking through a crack in cement? –  mike Sep 10 '13 at 1:15
    
@mike not quite - I'm specifically interested to know if you think gravel (or anything else in addition to hydraulic cement) might help in my situation, not just in the "any crack in cement" situation –  susie derkins Sep 10 '13 at 20:28
    
@dmoore I've finally added some photos. –  susie derkins Sep 18 '13 at 0:55
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4 Answers

Best bet here (given that it's shallow) would be [in the spring/summer] to dig up around the outside, and waterproof it from there. Waterproofing the inside only is doomed to fail, as the water will still be in the wall, and in this arrangement it will freeze and move, breaking any inside-only treatment. Dig down a foot or so, clean the wall well, patch any holes or cracks, and then coat the whole thing with waterproofing.

Your stairs are almost an exact match for the circa 1964 house I worked on for a while ;-) A center runner was evidently not popular then.

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If water is entering your basement from that close to the top, then improving the grade will be the most economical and direct way of solving the problem. Water does not come through crack like that without building up on the outside, so it's probably safe to say you grade is rather flat or sloping towards the bulkhead. My rule of thumb, that I've used for decades now, is to imagine (or really use one) a soccer ball up against the exterior of bulkhead entrance(or foundation, house) and let it go. Does it roll AWAY from the house for approximately 5 feet? If you keep this 5 foot area sloped away from the foundation, you will have ruled out any surface water creating your problem.

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If this is an ongoing issue the best choice it use an epoxy injection solution used to repair concrete walls. Hydraulic cement is a stop gap that might not even work short-term if you are getting that much water. If you use an epoxy correctly it will be much stronger than any of the concrete around it and that crack is done.

I have used epoxy kits on a few basements with 100% good results. Note that the link is an example not one that I have used. I did get something similar - but it was about half the price.

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Depending on where you live, that crack may be above the frost line. Water seeps in between the discontinuous bricks, freezes, opens the crack more, and eventually cracks the whole way through. Since bulkheads are usually extended away from the house, they are colder than the rest of your basement and may freeze in cold climates. So assuming you live somewhere cold...

I would consider improving drainage around the top of the bulkhead. Slope the soil away from the house so that surface water drains away from the house before seeping into the soil, keeping the soil near the house drier. If the drainage problem isn't too bad, then you could try burying gravel so that the bottom of the gravel is below the frost line. If you are particularly enterprising, you could go so far as implementing a french drain (perforated PVC pipe + fine filter + gravel), so long as you have a place to let the french drain drain to. French drains are a really big-hammer approach though and would probable be overkill for something this small.

After dealing with any drainage issue, I would make sure that the exterior face of the concrete is continuous, especially across that line - a single continuous layer of concrete over the face of the outside may help to prevent water intrusion through that partition in the structure of the wall. After that, I would waterproof the exterior of the wall, well above and below that crack, possibly below the frost line to prevent new damage further down. This could be achieved with a waterproof membrane like blueskin or bitumen paper, or something like waterproof paint.

Disclaimer: I am not a contractor, I am a house-handy software engineer.

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