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Poor Foundation Drainage

Foundation drainage is incredibly important to the health of your home. Recognizing poor drainage, and taking steps to alleviate it early, can make all the difference.

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Basement waterproofing may go a long way toward protecting your home from dampness, humidity, and all the issues they can bring. However, there is only so much it can do. Even the best waterproofing measures can be overpowered. It’s important to keep in mind that the safety of your home starts with the very soil it rests upon. 

Why is Foundation Drainage Important? 

flooding and poor drainage

Your property’s foundation is one of the most important parts of the structure. As well as providing a level and stable base for your home, it is responsible for bearing the weight of the entire structure. This means that the only thing more important than your foundation is the earth underneath it. Fundamentally, unsuitable soil is the number one cause of foundation damage to properties in Colorado. 

The ability of soil to drain water effectively is just one measure of its suitability, but it is one of the most important. Just as incredibly loose, unstable soil can cause damage to your home, soils that are very expansive or absorbent can also damage your home. 

As such, foundation drainage is incredibly important to the health of your home. If you do not direct water away from your property perimeter, you could end up facing a number of issues. As well as the possibility of hydrostatic pressure damaging your home and the chance that all that water will freeze in the winter, you could end up with a home sitting in the middle of a clay bowl. 

What is the Clay Bowl Effect? 

The clay bowl effect is a phenomenon that occurs when the looser backfill soil around your home absorbs more water than the hard-packed virgin soil beyond can drain quickly. 

When a property is built a larger area must be excavated. Once the foundation is poured, the excavated soil is replaced and compressed around the foundation walls. While most contractors make an effort to properly compress this backfill soil, it is not as densely packed as the virgin soil around it (which could have been compressing for centuries). 

This results in the area around your home taking on and holding a disproportionate amount of water, and the soil around it forming a bowl of sorts. As a result, your home will be at more risk of certain kinds of damage. 

If your property has robust foundation drainage systems in place, however, this doesn’t have to be a huge issue. Good foundation drainage will ensure water is removed from around your foundation or prevented from pooling at your perimeter. Instead, it’s directed toward the street’s main drainage systems. 

This prevents a clay bowl from forming in the first place. When you have little to no effective drainage, however, trouble is sure to follow.  

What Causes Poor Foundation Drainage? 

If you are concerned that your property may have issues with poor drainage, then it’s time to call in an expert. They can conduct a full assessment and identify the underlying issues. While there are a myriad of possible causes for poor foundation drainage, the most common are: 

Malfunctioning Sump Pump 

faulty sump pump

Your sump pump is one of the first and last lines of defense that your home has against water damage. This is why it’s such a good idea to have a backup sump pump in case of a power outage. If your sump pump is not performing correctly, you may have trouble with moisture inside your home, too. 

A pump that has stopped working altogether is most likely to cause flooding. However, a pump that is draining water slowly could lead to issues with humidity and cause water damage to your basement and your foundation. 

Even if the pump itself is working well, you should make sure its discharge line is fully functional. A discharge line that is too short or that has become damaged could leak water back into your foundation or simply deposit it at your property’s perimeter, creating a cycle of buildup and removal. This will damage your foundation over time as a result of consistent soil saturation. 

Blocked or Damaged Gutters and Drains 

clogged gutter

Your roof-level gutters and ground-level drains are hugely important when it comes to ensuring your property has adequate foundation drainage in place. Roof-level gutters are important for gathering and redirecting rain and runoff so it can be removed from your property safely, rather than pooling at the base of your home. 

Adding extended downspouts to your gutter system can go a long way toward improving your foundation drainage, for example. Likewise, perimeter and ground-level drains are vital for dealing with rain and thawing snow, collecting it before it sinks into the ground, or even gathering it from the ground in some cases. 

If either or both of these systems become blocked with debris, fallen leaves, or ice, your foundation will quickly become waterlogged and suffer as a result. Thankfully, major clogs and blockages are fairly easy to prevent and rectify. Regularly cleaning out your gutters and drains, checking them in the fall, and scheduling regular maintenance should be enough to prevent serious issues from forming without your notice. Regular maintenance will also ensure that you are notified of damage and deterioration, like rust or cracks, long before they become an overwhelming problem. 

Outflow Direction 

Ideally, all your property’s drainage facilities should be directed in such a way that they release water into the more robust street drains away from your property. 

If they do not do this, you are simply moving water from one part of your property to another, storing up problems for a later date. Certainly, yard grading can go a long way when it comes to helping with moisture management, but you should still take the time to ensure that your outflow drainage is well optimized. 

If your outflow drains terminate too early, are directed into an area where the ground grading will send water back to your home, or they become damaged, a clay bowl will quickly form around your property. Rectifying this issue can be fairly easy, however, and should not require too much excavation unless the majority of your drains are subterranean. 

Foundation Damage 

compromised foundation

Foundation damage is a huge contributing factor when it comes to poor foundation drainage. No matter how robust your drainage systems are, there’s only so much they can do if your foundation is actively taking on water and letting it seep into your home. The most common causes of damage to a foundation are processes called settlement and subsidence. 

Unlike settling (which is normal for a newly built home), settlement occurs when a property’s foundation drops into empty spaces left behind by shrinking, cracking, or shifting soil. The most common cause of settlement is the shrinking of expansive soil as a result of dehydration. Moisture reactive or expansive soils, like clay and peat, can grow and shrink dramatically depending on their level of saturation. Of course, this process takes time. 

Subsidence, by contrast, is most common when soil is oversaturated. Properties with poor foundation drainage are far more likely to see this issue, especially when the clay bowl effect takes its toll. Subsidence is a process of uneven sinking, which disrupts the balance and weight distribution within the structure of your home. As a result, large cracks can form in your foundation, floor, and walls. 

Any kind of damage to your foundation will result in dampness, humidity, and even flooding within your home. This is because cracks that form will act as channels for groundwater to seep up into your home. This is something that even the best foundation drainage systems cannot avoid. 

There are many potential factors to consider when it comes to poor foundation drainage in your property. The only way to figure out exactly what is happening within your home is to contact a basement and foundation specialist. A thorough inspection will help you to understand what is going wrong and what you need to do to restore your home to full health. 

Poor Foundation Drainage


If you have noticed spreading cracks throughout your basement, it is only natural to be concerned, especially if they seem to be spreading. There are many reasons why cracks could be forming and spreading through your basement. 

Excess Hydrostatic Pressure 

Excessively strong hydrostatic pressure can be incredibly damaging to your basement. Basement walls in particular can be damaged by this strong lateral pressure. Walls that are affected by this will first start to crack. If the pressure stays consistent and they are not reinforced, the walls will start to lean or bow inwards. This can cause many other issues, too. 

Walls that are cracking as a result of strong hydrostatic pressure will let water into your property over time. They will also contribute to a general increase in humidity and dampness. This can lead to mold formation, wood rot, and a number of other issues that can make the atmosphere in your home generally uncomfortable and unpleasant. 

Expansive Soil 

Expansive soil is somewhat of a co-occurring issue; the properties that face the most hydrostatic pressure tend to also be built on expansive soil. Nonetheless, extremely expansive soils bring to bear their own set of problems and dangers. For example, while hydrostatic pressure can be present in non-expansive soils as a result of underground water sources and exerts lateral pressure, expansive soils are primarily dangerous to a property’s foundation. 

Clay and peat-based soils are the most common types of expansive soil, and they can be incredibly destructive. When saturated, these soils will expand, sometimes with huge force. This can cause the foundation of lighter properties to heave, while heavier properties may begin to sink. When expansive soil dries out, however, it shrinks and can cause an issue called settlement. Settlement causes a property’s foundation to sink and can result in huge amounts of damage. 

Foundation damage can be hard to ignore once it takes root, but you should try to catch it early and nip it in the bud. It pays to regularly check your home for signs of damage. Of course, just how often you need to check it depends on the health of your home. 

When to Check Your Foundation 

If your foundation is in good health, as far as you know, you only need to check your property once every year. If you schedule your annual checks to coincide with any other seasonal maintenance you usually carry out, it will become second nature. This can feel a little silly if you have no reason to expect problems, but it’s well worth it in the long run. 

If you notice damage or your foundation has pre-existing damage, you should step up your checks to once a month or once every other month. It is preferable to check a damaged foundation monthly, but whatever you decide, you should be making a note of the areas of existing damage and checking them for escalation. 

What to Look For 

Of course, checking your foundation is only helpful if you know what to expect in terms of damage. Thankfully, there are some very simple checks that you can perform, most of them visual, which will give you an idea of whether your foundation is healthy or not. The most obvious, of course, is to look for spreading cracks. Horizontal, vertical, or stair-step, it doesn’t matter—a spreading crack is a sign of active pressure. 

Secondly, you can look to see if your external steps are even, and look to see if your home looks uneven from the street. Finally, you should look for saturated perimeter soil (a sign of poor drainage) and make sure your windows and doors still hang well and open/close smoothly. Sticking windows and doors are a subtle sign of subsidence in many cases. 

While we would never suggest DIY solutions at any point, foundation repairs are something that even the most skilled and experienced amateurs should steer clear of. This is not just a matter of capabilities; it’s about tools and consequences, too. 

Foundation Repair is Dangerous 

First and foremost, we do not suggest DIY repairs for foundational issues because they are intensive and often dangerous, even if you have the right tools and skills. No matter what the issue with your foundation is, repair will require excavation of the site. This is a huge task in and of itself, and that’s before you even start working on the repairs themselves. 

Depending on the issues at hand, you may also have trouble getting ahold of the right products for a successful repair. While, in theory, an amateur with the right tools could install carbon fiber supports, for example, these are not easy to get ahold of, and the ones that are sold to the public may not be industry standard. This can cause a whole host of issues. 

You Could Triple Your Costs 

While professional help may seem costly, it can actually be far more cost-effective than attempting DIY repairs. This is partly because of the cost that hiring specialist equipment would incur, but also because of the likelihood that DIY repairs will need to be addressed or modified by a professional at some point in the future. When the repairs in question are sistered joists, the cost is not too bad. However, when the repairs are to a property’s foundation, it is a different story. 

The need to revisit old damage, often undoing DIY work along the way, is very common and incredibly costly. When you add the cost of materials, products, and equipment together, it is very likely that you will spend much the same on a DIY repair as a professional one. The main difference will be the fact that DIY repairs do not come with the same peace of mind. 

Foundation Saturation: Effects and Solutions 

You may be wondering: Just what is the issue? Why are foundation flooding and general dampness in your home something that you should worry about? 

Foundation damage is one thing, but did you know that you could face serious issues within your home as a result of poor foundation drainage, even if your foundation does not start to crack? 

A Flooded Foundation is an Unstable Foundation 

Even if your foundation does not begin to sink or settle into the ground, poor drainage can cause it to move sideways. A foundation that has started to slip may stay intact, but it is fundamentally unstable and will cause problems within your home with alarming speed. This can cause many issues, such as: 

  • Cracks in your walls as a result of the shifting load 
  • Damage to your driveway because of the lateral pressure 
  • Even the collapse of adjacent but separate structures, like small garages 

Furthermore, it is only a matter of time until a slipping foundation becomes damaged. Just like street creep can crack your foundation by putting pressure on it through expansion, your foundation will eventually come up against pressure that it cannot withstand. Even if it does not, there is only so far a foundation can slip before it starts to cause issues for some of the main utilities in your home. 

Water Damage 

Poor foundation drainage is sure to cause a higher rate of relative humidity in your home, particularly in your basement. This can cause a number of issues for you and your property. First and foremost, flooding will damage your personal belongings, furnishings, and pretty much anything else it touches. Even a small amount of moisture can make your basement an unhealthy place to be, however. 

Mold and mildew formation is common in homes that have issues with poor foundation drainage and general dampness. While certain kinds of mold can be benign, others can cause serious health concerns, especially for those who have underlying conditions like asthma. 

proper basement waterproofing
The solution: proper basement waterproofing

Wood rot is common in homes that have issues with humidity and dampness. If you have exposed wooden supports or structures in your basement, a damp atmosphere will make them far more likely to degrade. When wood begins to rot, it can attract pests and give off an unpleasant smell, but the most worrying thing by far is the way it loses its structural integrity. 

If your poor foundation drainage leads to an issue with dampness in your home and wood supports start to rot, you will notice that the floor they support sagging. Over time, this can become so severe that the supports collapse, even taking the floor with them. 

With all of this in mind, it is important that you address your issues with poor foundation drainage as early as possible. Dealing with the problem early will minimize the damage and keep your repair costs low. 

Let Complete Basement Systems Deal with Your Poor Foundation Drainage 

The last thing you want to worry about is poor foundation drainage and all the issues that this can bring down on your home. however, if you see signs of foundation or generalized structural damage in your home, it is important that you book a home inspection as quickly as possible. 

Getting a professional involved is one of the safest and fastest ways in which to address foundation drainage problems. Complete Basement Systems offers a free written estimate on the day of each inspection, as well as transferable product guarantees and warranties. Get in contact to learn how we can help you overcome your drainage issues, and better prepare for the future. 

Our Basement Waterproofing Experts Can Help

Schedule free inspection
Schedule free inspection
Our Basement Waterproofing Experts Can Help

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