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Landscaping changes can send water into basements

If water suddenly appears in your basement after years of never having problems, check the landscaping around your house. Sudden changes − like adding a flower bed or patio − or gradual changes in the grading over time can change the flow of water around your home, sending it right into your basement.

The first place to look is up − at your gutters. "It's very important to maintain the landscaping around your home, says Dave Brehmer, vice president of ABT Foundation Solutions, Inc. "So is having your gutters cleaned out and downspouts extended. These are things that our guys will recommend first. "

Experts say downspouts should be extended 10 to 20 feet from the home, if there's room, to make sure rainwater doesn't seep into the basement.

Once the gutters have been cleared, it's time to look down. If you have drain tiles installed around your foundation, start there. Brehmer said that if these drain tiles are clogged or crushed, other landscaping updates won't make a difference.

Now it's time to check the grading of your yard. "Make sure surrounding soil is pitched away from the house at a slope of at least 1/4 inch per foot so that water drains toward your yard, not your foundation," according to experts at ThisOldHouse.com. "Simply add soil, raking it smooth, until the grade is highest at the house's perimeter."

If grading issues are too large to take care of yourself, ABT Foundation Solutions can provide you with re-grading solutions to take care of the problem.

Rain Garden at the University of Wisconsin-MadisonOther contributors to basement water seepage could include

Sprinklers. Underground pipes that feed home irrigation system often spring leaks, according experts at Mr. Rooter.  "Also, if the system is not calibrated correctly, it could be sending water straight to your foundation without you knowing." Watch to see where water is sprayed. If it hits the house and runs down the wall, or there are soaked areas in the yard, these could be signs of trouble.

Subdivision changes and design. As housing areas mature, the landscape around neighborhoods can change, Mr. Rooter says. The ground settles. Green spaces get paved and have water running across them rather than soaking into them. A subdivision's overall master plan may be flawed in its design of slope or grade, or may be affected by erosion. Systems may not handle water like designers expected, or they can be undersized and need a capacity upgrade.

Here's what homeowners can do to make sure their landscaping doesn't contribute to basement flooding.

Leave a gap between your mulch and siding. Keep the materials away from siding and be sure to leave a 6-inch gap, says Beechtree owner Scott Michel on Angie's List.

“Don’t go closer than that because moisture can wick up from the mulch bed and rot the siding,” he says. “It can touch brick or block, but not siding.

Use clean, dense fill dirt for landscaping the area adjacent to the house − not topsoil. "Porous topsoil provides little resistance to water soaking into the ground around the foundation, which then infiltrates through cracks in basement walls," according to Rytech Water Damage Specialists.

You may also need to move flower beds away from the house. That's because they usually "comprise a large surface area of exposed, porous soil, readily absorbing water that then flows downward along the basement wall," according to Rytech. "Edgings around flower beds also cause water to pool, increasing ground absorption and infiltration into the house."

Watch your yard when it rains.  Angie's List member Jeff Ball said he couldn't use the basement in his Evergreen, Colorado home until he could redirect water that was flowing off the side of a mountain into his yard.  “We saw pools of water, so we knew we had a problem,” he says.

Hiring a consultant to evaluate the problem, plant grass barriers and create a path for water to drain took care of it.

Create a rain garden.  Not only do rain gardens drastically improve your home’s appearance due to the large collection of plants in a small area, they also absorb runoff through the careful selection of plants, shrubs, and trees that can handle a lot of moisture, according to Drainage and Erosion Solutions in Maryland. 

According to the Rain Garden Network, "By definition, a rain garden is a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses. The garden should be positioned near a runoff source like a downspout, driveway or sump pump to capture rainwater runoff and stop the water from reaching the sewer system."

The photo here shows a rain garden planted in the Sustainability Garden in Allen Centennial Gardens on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To get started, check out the Network's 10 steps on How to Build a Rain Garden.

If you think your landscaping may be contributing to problems with water in your basement, contact the experts at ABT Foundation Solutions, Inc. We'll do a free inspection and take a look at your home and yard to determine the work that needs to be done.