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We are currently midway through a major renovation to an old house. Part of the renovation was digging out a new basement and adding a new foundation around it. The basement has a ceiling height of about 8 feet, with about 5 feet below grade and 3 feet above grade. The basement and foundation work was completed a few months ago.

We are seeing some very damp areas on the new foundation walls after heavy rain. Here are some example photos. You can see the water dampness by the discoloration of the wall in the photos. It's mostly in the corners and where the wall meets the floor:

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This house is still under construction. There are no gutters at all yet, and the grading hasn't been addressed at all yet. In other words, when it rains, the water literally just pools up along the side of the house and sits there.

My contractor is telling me that this is why we are seeing these water issues right now, and that after the gutters are installed and the grading is addressed it will not be a problem.

I think this makes sense, but I am also wondering if that's just a convenient explanation. In other words, even without gutters and proper grading, should the foundation walls still be water proof if they were constructed correctly? Or does the contractor explanation seem reasonable?

Here's an additional photo showing the damp-proofing that was applied to the new foundation before the dirt was filled in:

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The corner closest to you in the outdoor photo is the same as the corner furthest from you in the "office" photo.

Thanks very much for the help!

  • Do you have a sump pump? Also, pictures of these outside corners may help answer your question. – Dano0430 Apr 22 at 16:35
  • Yes @Dano0430 a sump pump was installed as part of the renovation. Why do you ask? I will try to find some photos of the outside corners. – flyingL123 Apr 22 at 16:43
  • Sump systems are a way to prevent water pressure against the foundation from destabilizing the foundation and bleeding through the walls. A properly installed sump will have drain tiles around the foundation that let the water seep through and enter the sump hole, where it collects until it triggers the sump to pump it outside. – Fred Shope Apr 22 at 18:02
  • "The corner closest to you in the outdoor photo is the same as the corner furthest from you in the "office" photo." - did you add the second window in that corner later? I only see one cutout in the outside picture, but two windows in the "office" picture. – Undo Apr 23 at 5:15
  • Yes @Undo the additional window was added later. – flyingL123 Apr 23 at 18:02
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You've really got a two-step question here

  1. Would a lack of gutters and grading explain the water?

    The simple answer is yes. That's the source here.

  2. Even without gutters and proper grading, should the foundation walls still be water proof if they were constructed correctly?

It's that second question that will get you. Your basement walls comprise an access point for water. They're almost always concrete, which is porous and will let water wick inside. To help prevent this, you have an ecosystem to help channel water away from the basement walls. That ecosystem comprises

  1. Gutters - Collects the water from the roof and helps to channel it away from the foundation
  2. Sloping - Naturally moves water away from the foundation via gravity
  3. Weeping tiles - Typically a "sock" covered drain pipe with holes, this collects water seeping down by the base of the foundation and helps to channel it away (think underground gutters)
  4. Waterproofing membrane - The foundation should have some sort of waterproofing to help the water reach the weeping tiles and get channeled away
  5. Sump pump (optional) - Sometimes the water comes up from under the foundation. If this is the case, pipes in the basement floor will channel the water to a catch basin, where a sump pump lifts the water up and out, typically combining it with gutter discharge (older setups did this into the sewer, but this could permit flooding into your home in the case of torrential rain)

You probably have #3 already (few places don't require some sort of weeper at the basement wall), but I would have someone investigate (or do it yourself and dig a hole, carefully since older weeping tiles were literally ceramic tiles). It's #4 where I see a giant red flag. You want some form of waterproof membrane to keep the water from seeping in because gutters can clog and ground can settle and/or erode so you no longer have a proper slope.

If I were you, I'd consult with an expert on the water table and drainage. You need to know if that was all rain water, or if there's seepage from the water table. I would then demand the contractor excavate the basement walls and apply a proper waterproof membrane. It will be costly, but it will be more so once the walls are finished in the basement. Don't rely on slope and gutters to do it all.

It's also worth checking to make sure your sump pump isn't discharging into the sewer. It might also be a good idea (while the basement is torn up) to add a sewage backflow preventer.

Fix this now, or you'll find your basement damp, moldy and possibly water damaged.

  • Thanks so much for the awesome response. I added a photo that I took during construction of the new foundation. I believe that black stuff is some sort of tar/damp-proofing material. I'm guessing that's not the best decision compared to an actual waterproofing membrane, but still better than nothing? I can't find any pictures of a weeping tiles, but they may have been installed on a day I wasn't there, or just not done at all. I'm not sure on that one. – flyingL123 Apr 22 at 17:34
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    Weeping tiles would be at the bottom of the basement wall on the outside. That tar looking stuff might be a waterproof membrane but it's hard to tell. I would ask the contractor. Either way, it doesn't appear to be enough to stop water intrusion – Machavity Apr 22 at 17:44
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    Very thorough answer, +1 from me. – Fred Shope Apr 22 at 19:53
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Before backfilling, ensure weeping tile system is installed correctly. It is installed adjacent to the foundation footing, on outer side of the outside walls around entire perimeter of building. The top of pipe should be below the footing top height. It should be a plastic 4” to 6” diameter flexible pipe perforated with small holes. That pipe should then be wrapped in a geosynthetic sock to keep debris and silt from clogging the inlet holes. The pipe should then connect to a sump pit inside the building where a sump pump is installed to discharge water to the outside yard or to a storm sewer. Do not discharge sump pump water to a sanitary sewer, its illegal in most cities. The weeping tile pipe needs to be fully covered with washed gravel. Then cover the washed gravel with a geosynthetic water permeable fabric, such as a good quality landscape fabric to prevent the washed rock itself from getting clogged with silt over time. Then it is safe to backfill over with clay or native soil material. Do not overcompact soil adjacent to your foundation as it can create too much pressure against your exterior walls when soils swell when it gets wet (similar to wood swelling when kt gets wet).

Other item I noticed is the tarring sealing/membrane in photo needs to extend higher than the finished earth grade. It currently only looks to extend as high as the rough grade as it is not even up to the bottom of where the basement windows are to be installed. Your windows will still require corrugated steel window wells to be installed. Window wells require washed gravel inside them with final elevation 6” below your window bottom. An extension of perforated pipe is recommended to extend vertically up from the weeping tile to the window well and end jjst under the washed rock in the window well. This is an emergency flow in case water flows over into your window well.

You will have to make earth and soil grade corrections after a few years after the soil around the building settles more. This is needed to ensure positive drainage away from your outside foundation walls.

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    Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Good answer; keep 'em coming! – Daniel Griscom Apr 23 at 12:05
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Please note that if the weeping tile was installed but a rain storm caused a bunch of muddy silty material to enter the surrounding excavation before proper backfilling, then any washed rock that was installed may already be clogged up. This would render your weeping tile ineffective. The washed rock around the perforated pipe gives a clear inflow area for the water to get to the pipes small inlets. So if the washed rock is clogged, the inlet holes also get clogged and water will not get to your sump pump and instead will stay and saturate the soil around your building, which is very bad for numerous reasons. (Weeping tile design and function is similar to a “french drain” if you want to look that up for reference).

P.S. I work in civil engineering in Alberta, Canada and deal with drainage issues regularily.

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