9 Steps for Solving Unseasonably Wet Basements

What can a homeowner or real estate agent do NOW to better protect their homes against moisture intrusion?

This question is coming up all of the time this year. 2013 is a little unique and if the home that you have owned for years, or have just purchased, has moisture in the basement; you may just be experiencing the strange end to the past winter. We have had lots of rain and freeze thaw conditions that have overcome basement protection in many MN homes. You are likely discovering that basement protection that has worked for many years has simply been overwhelmed by seasonal conditions.

Homeowners, follow these 9 Steps to prevent a repeat of this year’s conditions causing moisture problems in the lower level of your home.

  1. Clean out and cover, window wells
  2. Fill all low spots along the side of your foundation
  3. Grade the soil away from the exterior wall, to an angle of 6 inches fall, in the first 10 feet from the foundation. If you don’t have 10 feet from the foundation to an obstruction or the boundary line; create a swale. Swales will be described in the very next blog.
  4. Clean out and replace or repair any damage to gutters
  5. Make sure gutter downspouts extend at least 6 feet away from the foundation
  6. Verify the neighbors’ gutter extensions are not directed towards your house
  7. Test the sump pump
  8. Make sure the sump pump exterior discharge pipe extends at least 10 feet away from the foundation (not into the laundry tub or floor drain)
  9. Have a battery backup sump pump installed


MN real estate agents, when contracting a home inspector in the future; be certain that you have employed someone who is on top of their game and very knowledgeable about grading, drainage, and sumps. Fail to employ a knowledgeable and diligent inspector and you may pay the price in a year like 2013.

When buying or selling a home, it is important to use the services of the best MN home inspector that you can find. Do your due diligence, and be certain that you are employing somebody who doesn’t miss the details. Ask yourself…

Can this inspector find the elusive signs of occasional water problems as well as all the other issues found in today’s homes?

Doug Hastings
MN Home Inspector, Minneapolis & St. Paul
Kaplan University, Home Inspection Lead Instructor

Rob ‘Pops’ Leslie
Kaplan Professionals, Retired

Moisture Problems – Hardscaping (Part 5)

Although landscaping is so very important to a dry basement, sometimes other things outside the home can cause water to work its way inside. Because of difficulty and cost, people are often hesitant to consider the negative impact hardscaping can have on moisture intrusion. What I’m talking about here are:

  • Walks
  • Steps
  • Patios
  • Decks
  • Driveways

Just like the earth, over time these wood, asphalt, and concrete surfaces can settle. Often the settlement will either puddle water alongside or actually drive water towards the foundation. As I said these hard surfaces can be expensive to remove and replace. For this reason, most of the time, homeowners will leave the settled hardscaping and try anything and everything else to try to correct the problem…and it never works! There is a core principal here and that is, if water is being driven towards the foundation, at some time, it is bound to come into the basement. It might not be in normal rain or snow thaw, but during in-climate conditions it will.

That’s why if you ask a homeowner selling their house if they have moisture in the basement, their immediate reaction will be no. Then when they think about it for a moment, they will say something like well maybe a little bit on real heavy rainfalls or only when the downspouts are disconnected or only when it rains really hard from the north. What they are saying is the landscape and hardscape are not sloped adequately to handle large volumes of water. Homeowners, home buyers, and real estate professionals don’t expect basements or crawl spaces to be dry some of the time or even most of the time. Today, these people demand that these below grade spaces be dry ALL of the time.

So the grounds surrounding the home are very important to protect against moisture intrusion…but that’s just the beginning!

Doug & Julie Hastings
Your House Whisperers
Minnesota Home Inspection Services

Moisture Problems – Re-Landscaping (Part 4)

The neighbor’s basement is not a good idea. But there is a point to be made; that is once the movement of surface water is changed it may impact other homes and this could open a homeowner up to a lawsuit. So, before beginning to re-landscape you should always check with the city and the neighbors; thoroughly explaining the plan and seeking each of their approvals.

Moving some dirt around doesn’t sound like too big a deal…but are there any other concerns before starting this type of project?

There sure are and one of those would be making certain the earth isn’t placed too high on the foundation. If the earth is too close or contacting the wood framing, this would cause a different type of moisture intrusion. It would not disclose itself in the basement or crawl space, but it would rot out the structural wood framing. For that reason the building code requires a separation between the top of the foundation and the finished earth grade. Be sure and also look out for planter boxes that are too high up onto the wall, buried brick weep holes and stucco drip screeds. Each of these is very important, but they are a different type of moisture intrusion and will be explained in greater depth later.

Another concern would be window wells, and with these there are two considerations. First, there must be clearance between the bottom of the window and the earth. If not, water will seep into the basement underneath the window. Second, the well area must not allow water to pond on the window. Or this would allow water to travel through the window and into the basement.

But landscaping is not the only problem on the outside of the home…have you ever heard of hardscaping?  Check back soon for part 5 in our series on resolving moisture problems in the home.

Doug & Julie Hastings
Your House Whisperers
MN Home Inspectors

Moisture Problems – Landscaping (Part 3)

Unfortunately not, controlling exterior surface water can be quite a bit more complex than just landscaping. There are many situations that the landscaping looks just the way it should, but below the surface it really isn’t. Remember my previous comment on soils. The type of soil can impact how permeable or impermeable it may be. Some soil lets water flow through it very readily, permeable; typically this does not trap water on the foundation. And some stops moisture, impermeable; this can actually be sending water towards the house. On the surface it looks like the earth is sloped away from the foundation, but below its not.

This condition is often masked by topsoil, decorative rocks or wood chips. So discovering this problem is more difficult than just looking at the slope of the earth. It might take moving some dirt, rocks, or chips to see the true lay of the land.

Most of the time, correcting these grading problems will include hauling in dirt, raising the soil along the foundation and gently tapering it away from the house. However, there are circumstances that will actually require digging out the dirt, lowering it on the foundation, and re-shaping the land. The core principal is that water must move away from the foundation and drain off the building site.

Typically, this water will drain to the street, an alley, city drainage easements, or sometimes the neighbor’s basement…is that OK?  Check back soon for part 4 in our moisture problem resolution series!

Doug & Julie Hastings
Your House Whisperers
Minneapolis Home Inspectors

Moisture is the #1 Enemy of Any Home (Part 1)

Approximately 90% of all structural building failures are caused by moisture. This problem is clearly the #1 enemy of any home. Regardless of age, style, or location; moisture is extremely damaging and all homeowners, home buyers, or real estate professionals need to be able to recognize it.

To begin understanding moisture, it’s important to understand what the structure of a house is. There are 4 parts to the buildings ‘super’ structure and they are the:
1. Foundation
2. Floors
3. Walls
4. Roof

Moisture can easily enter these spaces from either outside or inside of the building. Sometimes moisture is visible on the surface of building materials making it easy to recognize, but most of the time it is located in concealed spaces behind the finished building materials that are not visible to the untrained eye. The longer dampness remains unchecked the more damaging and expensive it becomes to remedy.

This begins our journey; together we will methodically go through the entire house searching out this most elusive nemesis. Some of the concerns will be simple and easily understood, while others may be a bit more complex. It is my hope, that in the end, you will better understand moisture and its negative impact on the home.

Doug & Julie Hastings
Your House Whisperers
Minnesota Home Inspectors