Summary: Getting a waterproof basement starts with identifying HOW water is getting into your basement and then stopping it. Too many basement waterproofing systems treat the symptom - not the cause. Waterproofing basement walls can be accomplished in one of two basic ways - neither one of which is the best. Each one has it's pro's and con's depending on your situation.


Normally, my basement doesn't leak any water - except when it rains. What can I do to fix this problem? I've tried some of the paint on applications but they don't seem to work long-term.

A: To most homeowners, a basement isn't a gray area. Either you love them or hate them. If you have one and haven't had problems they are wonderful - extra storage space or living space. A cool place to hide out in the hot summers and so on.

But, talk to anyone who has had water problems in their basement and it can be one of the biggest nightmares of home ownership.

Now, before we get started talking about the various basement waterproofing products and systems let me say right out of the gate - NORMALLY to fix a leaky basement requires more work than most homeowners are willing to do. Which results in a lot of people using paint on applications like you described.

Now, with some small leaking they can work. But usually the fix is a little more involved.

Why Your Basement Leaks

As you said above, the leaks seem to happen after a rainstorm.

I've seen this before and it all has to do with the soil where you live. When it rains you are literally seeing thousands of gallons of water being dumped on the soil around your home. If your home is built on the top of a hill and the land goes down around the house you won't have problems. Remember, water will follow the path of least resistance.

But, like most homes, there is usually some sort of grade that can cause water to flow towards your home. So, when it rains some of that water flows towards your basement and sits there unless it has somewhere else to go - or a path of least resistance. Also, some soils 'hold' water and if you have both of these issues the only way to fix the problem is to give the water another place to go. Right now - the path of least resistance is into your basement.
How to Waterproof A Basement

The basic gist of this article will boil down to two main options you have as a homeowner. You can either
  1. Move the water away from the basement starting on the outside of the walls or
  2. Move the water away from the basement walls by allowing the water to come in the basement and funneling it to a holding area where it can be pumped out.
There are variances on each of these methods and they can all be effective.

Different sites will tell you that one way is better than another. That isn't entirely true. There will be a better way for you to waterproof your basement walls but it depends on a number of factors.

First let's look at the two basement waterproofing systems above and look at the pros and cons and what fits your needs the best.

Exterior Basement Wall Methods

Basically, this method involves directing the water that is sitting next to your basement wall away from your house by doing work on the outside of the house. A classic example of this is installing a french drain. Essentially this is a perforated PVC pipe that is installed at the footing all along your basement. All the PVC pipe flows to the low point and continues out into your yard into a drain field or holding tank. But the point is the french drain directs the water away from your house.

Obviously, the biggest drawback to this method is you have to either rent a backhoe or hire someone to run the backhoe and dig a trench all along your foundation. This is extremely labor intensive. Also, lets say you have a porch or numerous 'jogs' in your foundation. Also, there are electrical and gas lines to contend with. Finally, if a french drain isn't properly installed silt can work it's way into the PVC and plug it up and making the whole thing worthless.

Interior Basement Wall Methods

The second basic option is essentially helping the water into your house and then directing it into a holding tank or sump pump area where it can be pumped - again - away from your home and foundation.

Some systems use what are called 'weep' holes - or small holes drilled through the concrete or block foundation allowing water to run into your basement. Then, there is usually a french drain installed in your basement floor that directs the water away.

Like an external french drain this kind of system is also very labor intensive. First, you have to drill through your foundation all along the length of it. Then, you have to jackhammer out 8 to 12 inches of your basement floor all along where the floor meets with the foundation wall - then install an internal french drain. Finally, you have to set up the holding tank and get a sump pump to sump into (and out of) the tank or install a drain field in your yard.

Sorry, I wish there were a cut and dry solution to the wet basement problem. But there isn't. Not if you want a long term solution. Sure, if it's a small water problem perhaps a paint-on application might help but, as you've said - you tried those with poor results.
Two Other Options

As an aside, I've read other stories like yours before where the water problems seem to coincide with rain and one thing that might help is to install rain gutter extension (where the rain gutter dump onto the ground) that direct the water 8 to 10 feet away from your foundation.

Also, another option is to make sure the grade around your foundation has enough slope to force rainwater downhill and away from your foundation. Too many homeowners fall in love with the look of a nice even grade around their house but all this does is create problems. When it rains - the water needs to go somewhere and it better be away from your foundation.