Winterizing & Waterproofing Basements & Foundations

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Contact us today to get your home prepared for winter!

Winter is here! In the hustle and bustle of the holiday to-do lists, we hope you didn’t forget to get your home ready for the season. If you’re new to basements and winterizing, you’re in the right place. This guide will take you through why basements and foundations need to be winterized, and how to inspect, winterize, and waterproof them. This includes finished and unfinished basements, basements with windows and cracked or water damaged foundations. 

What does it mean to winterize a basement?

Why do you need to winterize your basement and foundation? Basement leaks can cause a lot of damage to your home. They can occur for a number of reasons surrounding colder weather. 

For newer homeowners “winterize” may seem like an intuitive word, but what all does it entail? Winterizing your basement, crawlspaces and foundation requires an inspection. First, inspect the exterior of the foundation. Make sure the ground slopes away from your home. Your plants should be at least a foot away from the foundation on a slope. This will keep water away from the structure.

Next, take a look at your gutters. Make sure they are cleared of any leaves or other debris. The downspout should discharge the water 5 feet away from your home.

Next, you’ll need to seal any type of crack. Cracks in foundations form when the weather changes and causes the ground to swell or shrink. These cracks become a cyclical problem when water finds its way inside them. Walk the exterior and see if there are any cracks. Take a look for cracks near windows as well. If you find any, have them professionally sealed.

Prevent drafts — and higher utility bills — by checking the weather stripping and caulking gaps.

Handyman caulking a window frame

You will also need to prepare your pipes. When water in pipes freezes, it expands and can cause pipes to break. These breaks can lead to major flooding issues. To prepare your pipes:

  • Make sure pipes are drained, disconnect hoses, turn off and faucets
  • Insulate pipes using heat tape/cables
  • Insulate basement
  • If temps drop below zero, keep pipes warm by allowing a warm water drip overnight.
  • If pipes are against an outside wall, leave their cabinets open so your heat can keep them warm.

Make sure your heating system is well-maintained. Call an HVAC professional to clean and inspect your system. Keep an eye on the furnace filter and make sure it’s changed at least every three months. 

A sump pump installed in a basement of a home with a water powered backup system.

Sump Pumps need to be prepared as well. Sump pumps collect water and help direct it away from your home. When they stop working, water accumulates, and your basement can flood. These pumps can fail when they are not installed properly, when the power goes out, when they are not maintained, and when drainage lines freeze or clog. Be sure your pump is functioning to prevent basement flooding.

What are common problems basements have in winter?

The main issue basements have in the winter is flooding. Many winter effects cause flooding. For example, melting snow can cause basement flooding. This happens when the heated house causes snow nearby to melt and flow into the basement. Make sure the ground around your home slopes downwards away from the structure and that plants are at least a foot from your home.

Cracks are another cause for basement flooding. Even tiny cracks can allow in water and lead to leaking, flooding, and other damage. Aside from flooding, drafts in your basement can end up costing you a lot in heating bills. Make sure any cracks are repaired and weather stripping is maintained.

Broken pipes can also leak and lead to flooding. When water inside pipes freezes, the pipes can burst, allowing water to flow into the basement. As explained above, this can be prevented by applying heat tape to pipes.

A broken sump pump will lead to flooding. Flooding happens when the sump pump stops collecting water. Make sure to keep your sump pump maintained.

How can you waterproof a basement?

Many things go into waterproofing a basement. The first is drainage. Proper drainage systems should carry rain and groundwater away from your home and prevent flooding. We have several articles about drainage systems. Gutters factor into this as well. Gutters need to be cleaned and maintained to prevent clogging and water accumulation. Another exterior method for preventing flooding is ensuring a proper slope.

There are three main ways to waterproof a basement:

  1. Interior waterproofing — Interior waterproofing includes using sealants and coatings to prevent condensation from occurring inside your basement. Interior waterproofing is the quickest and cheapest option. Sealing any cracks, then applying a waterproof sealant will prevent water from entering the basement.
  2. Drainage — Drainage systems prevent water from getting near your home by directing it away from the structure. A drainage system is the most important factor when it comes to waterproofing your home. There are many types of drainage systems that can be extremely effective depending on your location, rain levels, etc.
    foundation infill
  3. Exterior waterproofing — Exterior waterproofing is the application of a waterproof coating to the exterior walls of your home. If there is a drainage issue, exterior waterproofing can help mitigate it. Exterior waterproofing is a big undertaking and requires professional assistance. To conduct exterior waterproofing, the area around the foundation must be excavated. This is a laborious process that requires the use of heavy machinery. After excavation, a waterproof sealant is applied to the exterior walls. This sealant should last forever and is typically applied during construction. 

Winterizing foundation

Combining these methods can help prevent basement / crawl space  flooding and water damage. 

Are there differences in winterizing finished and unfinished basements?

It can be tempting to save on the energy bill and skip heating your unfinished basement, however, that could cost you more in the long run. Heating your basement can help keep the rest of the house at a good temperature and actually reduce the energy used by the HVAC system. 

In addition, heating an unfinished basement helps prevent mold. Mold thrives in cool temperatures. When warm, wet air collides with cool walls, extra moisture is created and leads to mold. Keeping the walls warm helps prevent this.

Heat isn’t enough to keep an unfinished basement dry. The same waterproofing methods are necessary.

What can you do about a cracked foundation before winter?

When it comes to a cracked foundation, the right time to get it fixed is yesterday. Cracked foundations can cause major issues throughout your home. As winter hits, those cracks can let in water from melted snow, allow heat to leak out, and worsen. Make sure to contact a professional as soon as possible if you know of, or suspect foundation damage.

There are many methods for fixing a cracked foundation. The best one for you will depend on the soil conditions, structure weight, sinkhole activity, drainage, and more. Some of these methods include foundation underpinning, drilled piers, and grout injection.

Contact us to get your home prepared for winter.