Repairing Basement Water Leakage

Does this story sound familiar to you. A stormy night, the wind is howling. Rain starts to pour down in buckets outside. The trees are blowing against the roof and your kids are scared, they run to you for comfort, but you can’t. You need to run to the basement and get out the mop and bucket. Or if your lucky you have a wet vac that you can suck up the water and get rid of it.

I have, or had this problem ,too. I rent in a medium sized city and have a great landlord. I don’t bother him with small repairs or problems with the house, he doesn’t raise the rent.

I have become a do-it-yourselfer over the years and have taken after my father. I can’t see paying someone to do a job I can do for myself. Now if you have water in your basement from cracked, old cinderblock or poured concrete walls, here’s what you need to know to fix it yourself.

You’ll need to figure out how much damage is there and what you’ll need from the local hardware or home improvement store for you to get started. That means you need to see what you are looking at.

To figure out where water is coming into your basement is the easy part. When it first starts to rain go into the basement and watch. It will, after some time become evident where the water is coming in, usually cracks near the floor or near pipes that come into the walls.

If you have water coming from several places, you’ll want to mark the places so you don’t forget. It may take a little while of repairing and then waiting for more rain but eventually you’ll get all those leaks.

Or, you can take the more expensive route but it does get the job done in one shot. You can fill all the cracks in the entire basement and then paint the entire surface with a water barrier paint to ensure you will get no more water in from cracks or crevices in your walls.

We’ll start with some easy cleanup first. If your basement is like most people’s, dark and dank, you need to cleanup some first before you can repair those cracks and splits.
First you’ll want to get rid of all the debris, using a steel brush. You can purchase one of these at a hardware, home improvement or discount store such as Walmart. They only cost a few dollars for the cheap ones.

Scrub any area that you suspect of water leakage. Then cleanup debris with a brush and dustpan or shop vac. Get all the pieces of concrete too. You won’t be filling them back in or repairing with them. Unless they are as big as a cinderblock.

You will be filling all the cracks and crevices with a cement that dries quickly and hard. If there is extensive damage like whole blocks missing or coming out, it may be time to call a professional and get an estimate. The repairs I am talking about are small enough for you to repair, if it looks too big, or you don’t think you can do it, then call in the help.

A friend, neighbor or contractor can tell you for free if you need help with it. If you don’t have anyone you know that knows about home repair such as this, then call a professional. The point here is something important though. If he charges for an estimate, he’s not for you.

A repair job on your home should be from a professional, not a hack. If he charges you to come out to try and sell his services to you, he’s not who you want to fix your house. A repair estimate of any size or kind on your home should be free. And in person. If a company won’t come out to you, then go to someone else.

Now back to the repair that is in your range to fix.
Don’t be afraid to break some more concrete or mortar, that stuff between the cinder blocks. You’ll need to get down to the good hard cement or blocks to make a good repair. After you scrub the surface that has damage you will want to pick and prod with a scrapper or flat screwdriver to make sure all loose pieces of concrete come out.

If there is any large pieces that you knock loose don’t worry. You can fill large sizes up to about a foot square and three or four inches deep with hydraulic cement. The stuff we’ll be fixing our walls and floors with. After the cracks and repair areas are clear of any and all loose concrete and such you should clean it all with hot water mixed with some bleach. Just a cap full of bleach in a bucket of water to disinfect the floor and walls.

This will not only clean the surfaces of anything like mold but will show you where to repair. The water will turn the concrete darker where the cracks are. If you have mold or crystal like stuff you need to clean this all out first. The crystal like stuff is common, it is called efflorescence and is just a crystal that forms on concrete in basements from evaporating water. The mold you need to clean with bleach and water and a stiff brush.

Once this is all done you can estimate how much hydraulic cement you’ll need for a job. I used about five pounds of dry cement to fill the cracks in one corner of my basement (See Picture). There were two large holes, one the size of a soda can and the other half that much. The rest of the cracks were small but to fill them all and be sure it doesn’t leak I used a lot.

I am not worried about how it looks, just that I don’t get water in my basement. If you want to be more careful with the looks, you’ll use a little less, making it smoother than what I did.

You can always get more cement and use smaller amounts of it and run to the store for more if you need to. The larger packages will cost less per pound but it is not something that you will want to keep around for long if you don’t use it. If the stuff gets wet or even damp it will setup partially, and you’ll have to throw it out.

Hydraulic cement is neat stuff. It is what I recommend you use to fill cracks and holes, it sets rapidly and hard. You use it on wet surfaces, you wet the concrete to get good adhesion to the surrounding concrete for your repairs.

You can use it even if water is running out a hole in your wall. You just need to let it get warm before trying to stuff it into the hole.

It is Portland cement and lime. The stuff is hazardous to your health so you need to take some precautions. A mask like the ones doctors use to keep the dust from getting into your lungs and some gloves and eye protection are all you need. You should avoid getting it into your eyes so wear eye protection. It can cause cancer so you need the breathing mask and gloves so you don’t touch it. When it’s dry it is very powdery and you should be careful not to get the dust on you. If you do wash it off, do so in a bucket or outside with a hose, not in your sink.

Caution***Hydraulic cement dries even in water. If you clean your tools or hands in your sink or drain it could set up in the pipes. Clean all tools and wash your hands in a bucket outside or use a hose. Pour the water in your grass or other area you won’t mind small bits of the concrete to be. The cement will clog pipes even in small amounts, so don’t pour any of it down a drain.

The stuff hardens in about fifteen minutes so you need to be have all tools and cleanup stuff ready before you begin. I use a cheap pointed trowel from a home improvement store to spread and mix with. A coffee can is perfect to mix the cement in. I also used a bucket for the clean water to mix it with, be careful when pouring to go slow. And the same bucket to clean tools and hands if needed. I also used a putty knife to get at some of the awkward areas behind a drain pipe.

All the tools cost very little, less than ten dollars for the trowel, putty knife and bucket. Hydraulic cement is about six dollars for a 3 pound can of UGL DryLok Fast Plug. Or Ace Hardware has a brand of hydraulic cement, 6.5 pounds for $8.

Whatever brand you use have it ready to mix and all the tools and clean up things at hand. You mix the stuff according to the package. Pour some into a can and then add a little water to get it to the consistency of pudding. You can mix it thinner to be able to pour it or thicker to get it to stick to the walls. When you mix it go slow and use small amounts of water and keep at it. If you use too much water you will have to add more mix, if you haven’t used all the package, so use small amounts of water at a time.

When it’s the right consistency, splash or spray water into all the areas you are going to patch. This will get the cement to adhere to the existing concrete. Use the trowel or putty knife to get the cement into the cracks and areas of repair. Smooth with the trowel to your likeness. I didn’t worry about how it looked. I just made sure I got all the cracks filled. It just takes a little practice to get it real smooth.

When you have all the cracks filled clean your tools with the water in the bucket or outside with a hose. Do not pour the water down a drain or sink. It will clog your drains.

Use one of the many water barrier paints to paint the whole area after you are sure you got all the cracks you could fill with the hydraulic cement. This is available at the same store you got the cement. DryLok has a couple for about
$15 a gallon. They have both oil based and water based kinds. The oil based is a little cheaper, but you have to either clean the brush with thinner, or throw it away. I planned to throw away the brush, using a cheap one for the purpose.

You can approach the painting two different ways. You can either paint any possible areas that might leak water inside or paint the whole wall and floor. It only depends on how much you want to spend on the project. If you want a neat look, then paint the whole thing. If you don’t want to spend much, then paint the edges of your repairs and any small cracks.

The barrier paint is different than the cement. You need a dry surface for the paint to adhere. Use a fan or heater to make sure the area is dry. Open any windows and air out the basement.

Paint using a cheap brush, you won’t be using that for anything else. You will want to use a dabbing motion to get into all the small cracks and crevices the first time. You will want to do a second coat to make sure you get all the cracks filled. When your done you should clean the brush in a can, bucket or outside with a hose. Don’t get the stuff in your sink or drain. It might stain the sink and clog the drain.

When your all done try some of these things to prevent more water damage inside your home.

Check the area outside your home. Make sure all drains for gutters go away from the house foundation. Use downspout extensions or concrete drains to get the water away from the base of your walls.

Clean out gutters so water flows out of them and not out cracks or low spots. It should flow out the downspouts and away from your house.

Using gravel, wood chips or sand to slope the ground away from your walls so water drains away from your house.

Patch any spaces along sidewalks that run against your foundation that water could get into with hydraulic cement.

You should not have any more frantic runs for the mop or shop vac after you get all the leaks. Have a dry and fun day.

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