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January 2019

Foundation Types and What to Do When Your Foundation Leaks

forming a concrete foundation

Every residential or commercial structure has a foundation of some sort.

The type of foundation you have in your space can depend on when the structure was built, building codes in your area, the soil type and water table depth. These factors typically make the decision about what kind of foundation you get.

For first-time homeowners in particular, this can be a confusing topic, especially when you add in foundation terminology.

So what is the difference between a foundation, crawl space and basement, or is there a difference? Do different foundation types need different maintenance? What if your foundation starts leaking? Does the repair depend on the type of foundation you have? What if you don’t know what kind of foundation you have?

These are just a few of the customer questions we have fielded over the years about foundations.

In this article, learn essential foundation basics and find out how to fix a leaky foundation from the inside, regardless of what type of foundation you are trying to fix.

What Is a Foundation’s Job?

The basic job of a foundation is to support the structure above it. At its most fundamental, the foundation gives all the walls a common point of contact so they don’t separate.

What is particularly interesting here is that the original term used to describe a foundation was “footings," meaning, to give the basic structure a foothold in the ever-shifting earth.

So here, you can see that even small cracks or leaks—the simple presence of moisture that wasn’t present before—can and should be deeply concerning!

Figuring Out What Type of Foundation You Have

While you may find some natural variation between these, especially with the ongoing evolution in the building industry, essentially there are four basic types of structural foundations.

Slab

Perhaps the best-known type of foundation is the simple slab. Typically created from poured (wet) concrete, the slab type foundation seems simple at first glance. But it can be oh-so-complicated to lay properly and evenly, as any building contractor will tell you!

Slab foundations are more common in more temperate climates that are less vulnerable to the natural expansion and contraction of the earth that can arise with extreme seasonal temperature shifts.

Pier and Beam

The pier and beam type of foundation can be easily confused with the crawl space (which we will look at next here). A pier and beam (or post and beam) foundation uses inset posts with horizontal beams, usually made from concrete or wood, to stabilize the structure.

A pier and beam foundation can make it easier to make repairs by providing easy access to utility lines and pipes installed underneath. This foundation can also be smart in flood-prone areas because it elevates the structure off the ground by a foot or more.

However, this type of foundation is both pricier and more complicated to construct than the typical slab. It is best used for smaller structures built on relatively stable soil.

Crawl Space

A crawl space type of foundation is similar to a pier and beam in that both elevate the structure off of the surface of the soil. A crawl space generally uses a higher elevation—2 feet or more. Elevation is achieved with the help of cinder blocks rather than poured concrete or wood.

This is an especially smart foundation choice in tropical climates, since a crawl space foundation also helps protect the space above in flood-prone areas. However, the catch-22 is that crawl spaces are also prone to mould and mildew because the area is slow to dry out.

Basement

The basement foundation type is quite common in colder climates such as what we have here in Canada. Many people don’t at first realize that a basement is actually a type of foundation as well as a method for adding extra usable square footage to a space!

There are different ways to construct a basement. The two most common types are poured concrete and cinder blocks (a mixture of sand, cement and cinders that are like large yet relatively lightweight bricks). A basement will have walls and then a poured slab floor in between the walls. The rest of the structure then sits on top of this.

Because of the extra planning and labour involved, basements are more expensive than other foundation types.

Basements are generally contraindicated in geographic areas where the water table is high, underground springs are present or the soil is inherently less stable. This can cause ongoing structural issues that make basements more challenging to maintain.

Foundation Fixes for Any Type of Leak

Discovering your foundation is letting in moisture can be so distressing! Where is it coming from? How much of it is there? Has standing water or persistent dampness already caused damage? How can you tell for sure?

These are questions for a professional to answer. Diagnosing the cause of moisture is the most common issue that triggers a call to our office. The customer on the other end of the phone has picked up on signs that moisture is there. They just don’t know what to do about it!

The good news is, whatever type of leak you have, there is a way to resolve it to prevent any further damage from being done.

From installing wall anchors or braces to reinforcing and stabilizing walls or installing additional piers or jacks to prop up a sagging crawl space, we have plenty of time-tested repair options to suit any issue or budget.

Fixing a Leaky Foundation from the Inside

Once your foundation has cracked to the point at which moisture is seeping in, the smartest solution can be to simply waterproof your foundation from the inside out.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-875-6664 if you suspect your foundation may have a leak!

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How to Fix a Leaking Basement From the Inside

damp basement wall, cornder

Water that enters your basement can come from outside or inside.

However, when it comes to tracking down a basement water leak at its source and fixing the problem, things can get more complicated quickly!

The good news is, regardless of how the water is getting in, we can fix it! In this post, learn more about how to fix a leaking basement from the inside, regardless of where the water may be coming from.

Why Any Water in Your Basement Is Cause for Concern

It’s simple enough to overlook a bit of humidity here, some window condensation there, or even a slightly stale or musty odour throughout your basement space, and assume such minor issues are no cause for real concern.

But any moisture that is steadily entering your basement brings with it the potential to generate future major repairs. Mildew and mould are opportunistic: even a small amount of moisture, perfectly placed, can attract spores that colonize and spread.

Whether you are currently using your basement for storage only or it is part of your useful living space, you want it to be safe, dry and livable like the rest of your home! When it isn’t, both your home's structural integrity and its resale value are at risk.

Why Do Basements Leak?

Basements can leak for many reasons. Sometimes a leak may be related to the structure of the basement itself. Other times, a leak may develop due to soil movement or water table levels.

When the basement walls are first constructed, that fresh concrete can develop minor cracks and fissures naturally as it dries. However, over time and with pressure from other directions, these cracks may begin to let small amounts of moisture into your basement.

Soil settling around your home can also cause pressure on basement walls that triggers the development of other types of cracks. When these cracks get large enough, they may let in more moisture and threaten your home’s structural integrity.

Yet another time basements can leak is when the water table level changes due to lawn watering, storms, runoff from melting ice and snow, or underground springs. These changes can push moisture into your basement from the outside.

Where Do Basements Leak?

Basements can leak in all kinds of places! Common places include walls, floors, around windows and doors, around pipes and structural fixtures, and even in the concrete itself.

Another less obvious type of basement leak is humidity buildup that causes condensation to form on windows, doors, walls and floors.

Here in Canada, where weather can get quite extreme in winter, frozen water pipes and nonfunctional sump pumps are also a seasonal cause of basement leaks and flooding. Seasonal flooding from local rivers, streams and lakes can also present the potential for basement leaks.

Waterproofing Your Basement: Outside Versus Inside

There are two main methods for fully waterproofing a basement space. One method focuses on waterproofing the basement from the outside in. The other method focuses on waterproofing from the inside out.

Waterproofing from the outside in

Waterproofing a basement from the outside in is possible, but it is typically very invasive and expensive.

This is because the entire area surrounding the basement walls and floor will need to be excavated before any type of waterproof wall, seal or coating can be applied.

Then the waterproofing application will need to dry and cure. Next, any surrounding lawn, landscaping, appliances or fixtures that were disturbed will need to be repaired or replaced as needed.

Waterproofing from the inside out

Here at Omni Foundation Systems, we focus on providing inside-out basement and foundation waterproofing solutions. Generally speaking, it makes more sense—financially, time-wise and structurally—for homeowners and business owners to waterproof a leaking foundation or basement space from the inside out.

For treatment of existing basement leaks, often the interior furnishings (carpet, flooring, tile, furniture, etc.l) will need to be cleaned and repaired or replaced anyway, making it relatively simple to clear out and clean up the basement, which naturally prepares it for the waterproofing treatment.

For new basements, applying interior preventative waterproofing ensures there will be minimal chance of ever facing water in your basement in the future!

How to Fix a Leaking Basement from Inside

The approach we take to fix a leaking basement from the inside always depends on the source and type of leak.

We have multiple options for affordably and economically fixing a leaking basement from the inside, whether on a preventative basis or as part of the leak repair process.

For very small cracks and fissures caused by the natural drying and settling of new concrete, it is often possible to simply apply the waterproof material without doing any crack repair first.

If larger cracks or leaks are discovered, we may need to first seal up those cracks and/or shore up surrounding walls with anchor bolts before moving on to apply the waterproof material.

In the case where the main cause of a basement leak is coming from outside—surrounding groundwater is seeping in or there is an issue with water draining away from your foundation —we may recommend addressing those issues at the same time as we apply the waterproofing treatment.

In some cases where the existing sump pump system is malfunctioning or overworked, we may recommend repairing or replacing the sump pump and/or installing a backup to guard against future flood issues.

Preventative Basement Waterproofing

For our clients who are planning new construction, we strongly recommend preventative basement and foundation waterproofing from the inside!

Including this simple preventative service as a part of the new construction process reduces your chances of encountering a future basement leak from 60 percent to zero.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-875-6664 if you suspect your basement may have a leak!

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Affordable Basement Waterproofing: Spend a Little Now, Save a Lot Later!

contractor with measuring tape installing downspout

“Boy, I am sure glad my basement came with an owner’s manual and maintenance instructions,” said no new homeowner, ever!

A basement can be a mysterious thing, especially if you have inherited one along with a home purchase and you have never had a basement before.

At first, the basement can seem like just a handy place to store extra stuff or convert into a playroom for your kids or teens.

But then strange things start occurring. You begin to notice an unfamiliar odour. Or your sump pump never seems to shut off. Or the walls always seem just the faintest bit moist. What is going on?

In this post, we talk about what basement waterproofing is, how it works and why it makes good sense as a preventative maintenance strategy.

Why Waterproof Your Basement?

This is a valid question. Why should you waterproof your basement, especially if you haven’t yet noticed any warning signs of potential moisture issues?

One excellent reason is that, at least to hear the American Society of Home Inspectors tell it, there is a 60 percent chance your basement will eventually leak anyway!

With statistics like these, and especially if you live in an older home, taking a preventative approach to sealing up your basement space can end up saving you a significant amount.

There are all kinds of preventative maintenance strategies to keep outside moisture such as rainfall, groundwater and runoff from melting snow and watering the lawn from finding its way into your basement.

Foundation slope, landscaping, gutters, rain barrels, sump pumps and other aides are all fine and good as part of your backup plan. But the only guaranteed way to keep water from getting into your basement is to seal it off completely.

3 Common Basement Water Issues

Water can find its way into your basement in some pretty surprising ways. However, some ways are much more common (and predictable) than others.

Sweating, runoff and groundwater seepage are three of the most common basement water issues many homeowners face. However, given that all will produce some level of moisture inside your basement, it can sometimes be quite challenging to tell one from the others without input from a professional.

Sweating

You know you have an issue with sweating, sometimes referred to as condensation, when your walls, floors or windows start to look and feel as if they’ve just finished a marathon.

You may see exposed pipes start to discolour or rust. Walls may feel moist and filmy or even develop visible droplets of water. Sometimes wet patches on floors or carpets. When this has gone on for long enough, you may notice a telltale musty or “dirty gym socks” odour.

Runoff

Runoff is the term used when moisture from outside your basement begins to find its way into your basement, courtesy of micro-cracks and fissures you may not even be able to see.

In winter, one of the most common causes of runoff is melting snow and ice. In summer, watering the lawn is a major cause. Storms can cause runoff all year.

One way to tell if your basement water problem is from runoff is to notice when the moisture increases. If it always seems to increase after a storm or lawn watering, suspect runoff.

Groundwater seepage

In some areas where the groundwater (water table) is naturally high or naturally-occurring underground spring water is present, basement seepage can be a real source of concern.

While seepage can get worse during seasonal storms and lawn watering as well as any time there is a pipe leak, one key sign that tells you seepage may be the issue is if the water does not ever seem to completely disappear even during long dry periods.

Diagnosing the Cause for Basement Water Leaks

It’s easy enough to diagnose water in the basement. Before, your basement space was nice and dry. Now it is damp, humid, moist or even downright wet.

However, accurately diagnosing the cause of basement water leaks can take some expert sleuthing! In some cases, it may even require calling the city to inquire about ground water levels or local topography surrounding your property.

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis can be important for long-term planning purposes, including calculating your home’s potential resale value.

But in the short term, what needs to happen right away is to keep more water from damaging your basement and, potentially, your home’s structure. Basement waterproofing is the hands-down best solution to the problem of persistent moisture anywhere inside your basement.

Basement Waterproofing Options

Of course, it will never be the right moment to add “basement waterproofing” to your home maintenance budget! And truthfully, we haven’t yet had a client who was truly excited about spending their hard-earned cash on waterproofing their basement.

But it is important to know that basement waterproofing can be accomplished affordably—and doing it before a problem occurs or when the issue is still minor can be vastly more economical than having to perform major moisture-related basement or foundation repairs.

We offer a variety of options to suit different needs and budgets. Sometimes all that is required is to seal up cracks and do some strategic rerouting of your home’s existing gutter, downspout and drainage system.

Other times, adding extra insulation and repairing window seals and well drains may be the right approach to reroute incoming moisture away from your basement.

Still other times, we may recommend installing a backup system to support your existing sump pump.

Our most popular and permanent option is to waterproof the inside of your basement. Our basement waterproofing service guarantees no further moisture will be able to penetrate your basement and damage your home or possessions.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-875-6664 if you suspect your basement may have a leak.

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How to Fix a Crack in Your Basement Wall

basement wall crack

Even the most solid house construction will develop cracks at some point in time. But there are different types and sizes of cracks, and some are more concerning than others.

Basement cracks can be tough to diagnose. Warning signs may initially be slight—the kind where you shake your head and think that maybe you’re imagining that musty odour or increasing humidity.

In this post, we teach you what you need to know about how to diagnose and fix a crack in your basement wall.

Types of Basement Wall Cracks

The first thing you need to know is that your basement walls can develop different types of cracks.

You may have just one type of crack in your basement wall or you may have all different types of cracks. Which types of cracks you'll see depends on the types of pressures your basement is experiencing and how it is constructed.

The basic types of cracks are horizontal, vertical, diagonal and stair-step.

Horizontal

Horizontal cracks are commonly caused by the natural shrinkage of drying concrete. These cracks can be the toughest to spot because they are often quite tiny!

The biggest risk with horizontal cracks is moisture seepage. Because they can be so difficult to spot, it is important to know other warning signs to look for. Increasing humidity, a grassy or musty odour, allergy symptoms, and formation of mildew or mould are the most common warning signs.

Vertical

Vertical cracks are commonly caused when a basement wall begins to bow during or after construction. There are many reasons a wall may bow inward, including pressure from surrounding earth, especially if the crack is midway up the wall where pressure is greatest.

These cracks are typically easier to spot—they tend to be larger and will continue to spread over time. The biggest risk with vertical cracks is structural damage to your home.

Diagonal

Diagonal cracks can develop in several ways. Sometimes the crack will be wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. The reverse is also possible. Diagonal cracks can also develop around structures like windows and doors. If your basement is missing anchor bolts or the surrounding earth is causing pressure, these cracks may start to appear.

These cracks are typically pretty easy to spot except when they form around windows or doors and are quite small or hidden by door jambs or window sills. The biggest risk with diagonal cracks is that the structural integrity of your basement can decrease.

Stair-step

Stair-step cracks form for similar reasons as for diagonal cracks. But these types of cracks will only form in basements constructed using concrete blocks rather than poured concrete. As their name suggests, stair-step cracks follow the structure of the blocks, leading to a "stair-step" crack pattern.

The biggest risk with these types of cracks is, again, the structural integrity of the basement being compromised.

What to Do If You Suspect Basement Cracks

Home ownership comes with an ongoing steep learning curve. Most of us don't go into home ownership knowing exactly what steps to take when our basement wall develops a crack.

So there can be a very natural moment of panic followed by lots of questions! This is quite normal and we get these types of calls every day.

Whenever you suspect or visibly see cracks forming in your basement walls, the first step is always to do more research. You want to find out what is causing the crack. You also want to know if there are other cracks. And you want to know whether the cracks you are seeing are the type where a "watch and wait" approach is recommended or if you need to take action right now.

Have a professional come out and do this research and make a diagnosis. This way you are not wondering and worrying. You know what you are dealing with and what your options are, and you can make practical decisions.

How to Fix a Crack in Your Basement Wall

You now know that there are several types of basement cracks that can form. Some may form right away due to the natural process of drying concrete. Others may form later due to structural changes in the earth surrounding your basement. Still others may form for other reasons relating to how well your basement was constructed or the types of materials used.

The good news here is that regardless of the types of cracks you are seeing or how mild or severe they may be, they absolutely can be fixed!

The most common fixes we recommend include these:

Wall anchors

Providing more support to your basement walls is always a good idea when there are changes due to the surrounding earth. For this reason, we often recommend installation of additional wall anchors to prevent further movement of basement walls due to outside pressures.

Waterproofing

Basement waterproofing is the most effective tool we have found to fix cracks that may not be causing severe structural concerns but nevertheless present their own significant risks if left unaddressed.

For example, basement waterproofing can be a particularly important step to take if you have the types of hairline cracks that are permitting moisture to seep in. This can lead to mildew and mould that will literally rot your home from the inside out.

These fixes are sometimes recommended in tandem when your basement structure has developed multiple types of wall cracks.

Get in Touch

Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-875-6664 if you suspect your basement may have a crack!

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