FIXING YOUR WET/DAMP BASEMENT by John A McEwen B.A. (Queens ‘84)
First off, my
condolences. Regardless of the extent of your problem, I realize
that there’s a great deal of frustration involved. Why is it
happening, how do I fix it, who do I hire to fix the thing?
A little about
myself first off. Starting backwards I’ve been doing this type of
work exclusively for some twenty years now. I would think I’d have
some 500 plus successful projects under my belt by now. And when I
say “I”, I mean me personally: running the machine, applying the
membrane, backfilling & landscaping and being responsible for the
project. Then, as now, I repair them to “living quality”
standards by simply following the directions laid down in the Ontario
Building Code; sections 9.12 through 9.15.
During that time I
was invited to write the CMHC’s guide to waterproofing:
Guide to Fixing Your Damp Basement
(the only reference book I used was the National Building Code).
Available at www.cmhc.ca
or 1-800-668-2642 for $10 plus S&H. I was appointed by the
Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing (the Hon. John Gerretsen,
MPP Kingston & the Islands) to the Rural and Northern Advisory
Panel. Was granted “expert witness” status in the Superior Court
of Ontario (I’m 6 for 6 in various Courts). And am an on-going
pain in order to get Building Departments & Housing Ministers to
enforce the existing Building Codes. Which, had they been enforced,
you wouldn’t need to be reading this right now.
recession of the late 80’s I worked for Kevin Mulroney Trucking as
their heavy equipment guy for a stretch. What that means is that I
got to build Kingston’s infrastructure and sub-divisions. There
exists no secrets between me and how these things got built. If you
start to get the impression I have a somewhat jaundiced view of the
average post 1975 house, I come by it honestly. Prior to Kevin, I
had my own company, Classic Landscapes, which got me through Queen’s
and then some. At Queen’s, and Carleton, I studied history, law
and politics. Which was all interesting and useful, but my two best
years there were spent in the fundamental Physics Program. It’s
difficult to argue with a Physics guy, because we are sceptical and
we are forever using science to back up our arguments. And in my
case; overwhelming physical evidence (I’ve documented every project
since 1990 / it’s something us science types do).
This is a direct
quote from the National Building Code. No matter what anyone tells
you, hold this in your mind like Gospel.
Protection. Moisture protection for building elements in contact
with the ground is generally categorized as either waterproofing or
damproofing. Waterproofing provides a continuous protection against
water ingress and is intended to resist hydrostatic load.
Damproofing, on the other hand, does not provide a seal against water
ingress and cannot withstand hydrostatic pressure.”
Waterproofing stops all forms of water from touching your foundation
walls. Damproofing (tar only) does nothing. These are two very
distinct things, and if you’re paying good money to “fix” your
problem you best know the difference. One more piece of legislation
then we’ll get on with the story. From the Ontario Building Code:
Required Waterproofing: Where hydrostatic pressure occurs, floors on
ground and exterior walls below ground level shall be waterproofed.”
That’s pretty straight forward. Waterproofing stops water, and
the OBC says that if hydrostatic pressure occurs the foundation walls
& floors “shall” be waterproofed. If water
(and this certainly includes moisture) leaked into your basement,
you’ve experienced hydrostatic pressure. So what happened to all
this protection the Code says you should have received?
A little history:
The National Code has no bearing on the Provincial Code, which has no
bearing on your municipality. Building is municipal domain.
Until 1975 each of Ontario’s hundreds (now scaled back to 445) of
municipalities built houses as they saw fit. In ’75 the Ontario
Building Code, OBC, was mandated in every municipality with the
caveat that “the municipality is the authority”. And
municipalities went on building as they saw fit, after all they are
“the authority“. If anything, things got worse. So here’s
THE CLASSIC POST-WAR
SUB-DVISION BLOCK FOUNDATION:
hole is dug for the foundation
- A 16”
wide, 4” to 6” thick strip of concrete is cast (the footing)
which is designed to spread the weight of the house out over a
larger surface area (footings do not,or at least should not, move)
- The area
inside the perimeter of the footings is filled with “¾ in. clean”
rocks only) to the height of the footings
are laid on top of the footings, using 3/8 in. of mortar to hold them
exterior of the walls are “parged” with a thin layer of cement
exterior of the walls are “damp proofed” with a single layer of
has nothing to do with stopping water)
- A “weeping
tile” is laid beside the footing (outside) which is supposed to
lead directly to either a sewer or a sump pit
- The “tiles”
should be covered with a minimum of 6” of clean stone
- The original
excavation material is used to fill the balance of the trench
- The floor slab is
eventually cast ’wall-to-wall”; no air gaps
- The rest of the
house gets built (by the by… What used to take a crew a year or
so to build is now
routinely done in six to twelve weeks, by as many as fourteen
different “sub-contractors”, more or less co-ordinated by a
So the water is
supposed to drain through an average of six feet of clay or sand to
the clean stone, enter the drainage tile which conducts the water to
a sump pit or sewer. Meanwhile the damp proofing layer stops water
and moisture from touching the wall. Sure.
The “system” has
some pretty serious short comings:
1) Water does
not drain through clay or sand with any great haste.
2) The “weeping
tiles” must be directly connected to a sewer or a sump-pit. They
are conduit, not a reservoir.
Damp proofing (tar only) under the Code’s own definition is
in no way shape or form intended to stop water, or
moisture, from passing into or through the
the house is completed tremendous pressure is continually exerted
against the top and the face of the wall. Dry clay or sand
weighs about 2700 lbs. /cubic yard. Water saturated clay
or sand weighs approximately the same as concrete at 4000
The modern 8” (wide) 33 lb. block is 70% air and 30%
concrete. Held together with 3/8” of mortar spread over
the one inch surface “outline“. The cavity can
hold 1.5 Imp. Gallons of water (15 lbs.) and the concrete
will hold 4 lbs. of moisture.
built some pretty nice retaining walls in my time, and I would
never, ever think of using 33 lb. hollow blocks mortared together to
stop wet earth from moving the wall in (let alone stopping moisture
and water penetration). And yet this is exactly what we are asking
block foundation walls to do.
glue, and it only covers a one inch outline. The bond is never that
great, as evidenced by the ease with which it can be knocked off with
the light tap of a hammer. There’s far and away more friction
holding your wall together then anything else. The pressure from
above breaks the wall vertically and laterally usually along the
weaker mortar joints. Corners and window well areas tend to break
first. From the sides backfill material (2700 lbs. / cu. yd. dry,
now dripping wet and weighing on the order of 4000 lbs./cu. yd.)
pushes the wall in, creating horizontal “splits” typically
between the first and second course. This force is known as
“hydrostatic pressure” (force from standing water). The deeper
you go, the greater the pressure (exponentially greater).
pressure builds as water saturates the backfill material as gravity
pulls it towards the tiles. There’s the crack, and there’s the
pressure. Water is simply forced through the fault into the cavity
of the blocks. The blocks (think of them as heavy, hollow sponges)
become saturated as the cavities begins to fill with water. When
there is enough internal pressure the water simply begins to leach
out (just like a wet sponge) onto the basement floor. Or when they
really fill up the water “spurts” through the same faults on the
inside. Even after the “event” has subsided each block will
continue to hang on to four pounds of moisture, and whatever water
decides to “sit” in the cavity.
fracturing of block walls}
Thing: Cement is soluble in water. Cement is made from crushed,
baked limestone. Its constituent compound is Calcium Carbonate
(CaCO), and fresh water is an excellent solvent. As water passes
through the now broken mortar line it picks up the material in
solution and deposits it on the floors and walls as a white powdery
(sometimes fluffy) material. Commonly referred to as efflorescence,
it is actually Calcium Carbonate precipitate.
What this means is
that every time it rains and the basement leaks, the “crack” is
getting bigger and bigger. As time passes flooding occurs more
frequently, and in greater volumes. What began as a hairline
fracture will eventually accept a two dollar coin if ignored long
WATCHING A BLOCK
Lets pull up a nice
comfy chair and set it in front of the basement wall of a brand new
house, and stare at the wall. Inspected and passed by the municipal
building department, and warranted against moisture penetration for
two years less a day by Tarion (formerly known as ONHWP).
* At first the
lower coarse blocks turn a slightly darker shade of grey. This
means that the mortar lines have cracked and water is now entering
the cavity, but just enough to dampen the blocks.
* In time these
same blocks turn darker grey, and a bit of water appears where the
wall and the floor slab meet. This means that the blocks have
exceeded saturation point, and (like a wet sponge) water begins to
leach out onto your side.
* You can’t
actually see this, but water is soluble in air. So now the air in
the basement picks up the water from the walls and the humidity
becomes more frequent and in greater volume as the mortar lines
* Usually at
this point bacteria has decided that a your cool, dark, poorly air
circulated, and now permanently damp basement is a good place to
raise a family.
* Continue to
ignore the obvious, and watch the wall begin to move into the
* The pressure
from the saturated backfill material continues to push, only now the
mortar lines have dissolved to a fraction of their former selves.
Typically the second coarse of blocks slide across the first coarse
(held in place by the floor slab).
* Now, not only
can you feel the “lip” between the two coarses, but silt and mud
are routinely carried through the wall into the basement.
* Usually they
fall in gracefully, starting to “bow” the wall. However, you
might want to pull the chair back a bit, as they periodically fall
The time frame for
all this is set by a few variables, principally the amount of water
applied to the wall. It was a question on my first year chemistry
exam. Of the homes I’ve seen and worked on; most walls will break
apart during the first five years. Nuisance dampness & flooding
typically occur within ten to fifteen years. Serious flooding and
loss of the use of the basement generally at fifteen to twenty years.
When do they fall in? I’ve re-blocked walls as young as twelve
years old. The fact that we are discussing their life span in terms
of years is not a good thing.
For all these
reasons and more the walls must be properly protected and drained
from the exterior. The Code provides for all this. Unfortunately
for you, municipal Building Departments rarely, if ever, enforce
these rules. Everything is covered under Sections 9.12 through 9.15.
There are days I think I’m the only one to have ever read it, let
alone practise it.
WATERPROOFING, AND THE CODE:
Drainage disposal. Foundation drains shall drain to a sewer,
drainage ditch or dry well.
pits. Where gravity drainage is not practical, a covered sump
with an automatic pump shall be installed to discharge the water into
a sewer, drainage ditch or dry well.
22.214.171.124 (1) Dry
Wells may only be used when located in areas where the natural
groundwater level is below the bottom of the dry well.”
Read the “dry
well” definition carefully; it describes a perpetually bottomless
pit. There are very, very few “dry” wells in this Province come
Spring. Under virtually every circumstance, during extreme
conditions (melt-down), the natural level of the groundwater is
temporarily the same height (or depth) as the grass on your front
When it rains, it
Two inches of rain
over a 1200 ft. sq. roof equals 1246 Imp. Gallons of water. That’s
27 forty five gallon drums, or six 200 gallon standard basement oil
tanks, or about half a typical 2700 gallon water truck. Typically
divided over two or three downspouts. That’s in addition to
whatever water was already held in the backfill material; and God can
throw down a lot more then two inches in any given storm. And the
rain doesn’t just fall on your roof, it falls everywhere. The “dry
well” concept is a fantasy, leaving only sewers & sumps.
Building Code, OBC, is adopted by municipalities in 1975 (with the
caveat that “the municipality is the authority”). Prior to that
it was every city for themselves. Kingston (the poster child of how
not to do things right) commonly tied weeping tiles directly into the
home’s sanitary sewer (prior to ‘55 downspouts were also commonly
tied directly into the city’s sanitary system). Which, if you’re
dumping the stuff directly into Lake Ontario, works just fine.
However, if you’re attempting to “treat” the material before
you dump it back into the lake (or St. Lawrence as the case may be)
it is certainly easier without the additional trillions of gallons of
storm water. The original ’75 Code forbids tying weeping tile
systems into the sanitary sewers for this reason.
are only two options: Create a separate storm sewer system with
individual connections to every home. Or have the tiles lead
directly to a sump pit, equipped with a covered sump pump in every
That’s all pretty
straight forward in my mind. However, out of all the municipalities
I’ve worked in Eastern Ontario, only Brockville (since ’55)
created a separate storm sewer system with residential hook-ups to
every house. So what happened in other municipalities? For the most
part nothing. Kingston, and many other major municipalities,
simply did not connect the tiles to anything. And this is very
easy to confirm without digging a hole. Is there and original
sump pit in your post ‘75 house? If not, that leaves direct
storm sewer access as the only alternative. Simply call your
municipal Engineering Department, and ask if your weeping
tiles are directly connected to your street’s storm sewer system.
Take a good look at
the pictures above. The tiles go around most of the house, but just
end. It is entirely, absolutely, and positively fundamental that the
tiles be connected to something in order for them to drain. I think
a six year old could appreciate that, but it seems to have escaped
the attention of a great number professional engineers, builders and
building officials. A 130’ stretch of 4” diameter BIG O (the
modern version of clay tiles) has a volume capacity of 280 Imp.
Gallons. So where does the rest of all that water go? Unless the
tiles are connected to something the water backs up against your
foundation, and eventually leaks into the basement.
Contrary to the
Code, this 2000 house built in Kingston fails in that:
* the tiles are not
connected to anything
* there are no tiles
on the walls inside the garage
* there is just a
skim of stone over the tiles (not the 6 inches minimum)
* the footings are
to thin at only 3½ inches thick
walls aren’t up yet, and I see four major Code violations. What of
the rest of the house???
is a true story. While researching my CMHC book, I had the
displeasure of contacting several “home scientists” (or armchair
water experts). They would argue that not hooking the tiles into
anything, was better than hooking the tiles into something. They
gave it a name: “The Dry Trench“.
As if by simply working the word “dry” into the title, this
would actually work. The A #1 reason I get calls: in this belief
the tiles were purposely not connected to anything. This was
Kingston policy from 1973 through 2004.
DRAINAGE TILES &
section of tile is laid under the footings before they are poured to
allow the outside water to enter the sump pit (you should be able to
see and touch the tile, or the end of the BIG O). The sump pit
should be equipped with an automatic sump pump activated by a float
system, and covered securly.
The Code does not
specify where the sump pit must be located. I prefer to construct
them outside of the house. Essentially this consists of a
submersible pump sitting about 18” below the footings, using a
culvert section as the housing. Point being of all this is that I
have fixed dozens of homes by simply attaching the existing tiles to
a pump, just like the Code said it should have been.
Required Waterproofing: Where hydrostatic pressure occurs,
floors on ground and exterior surfaces of walls below ground level
shall be waterproofed”
Application of waterproof membranes. Concrete or unit masonry
walls to be waterproofed shall be covered with not less then two
layers of bitumen-saturated membrane, with each layer being cemented
in place with bitumen and coated with a heavy coating of bitumen.”
Bitumen is “tar
asphalt, pitch…”. It is a carbon based mineral occurring
naturally as in “tar pits”. Today it is a by-product of gas
distillation. Ashwarren being the big player in Canada. At room
temperature its consistency approaches play-dough. Heat it and it
becomes liquid. It’s what your smelling when “hot mopping” of
a flat roof occurs. Mix 5% of it with sand and fine stone and it’s
pavement. To get it onto a basement wall it is either mixed with a
solvent, or emulsified with water, which allows us to paint it onto a
wall. The degree of quality depends on how much bitumen vs. how much
solvent. On a summer’s day cheap stuff will flow like engine oil,
good stuff has a consistency of peanut butter.
Genesis 6, 14: God
to Noah “and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch”.
You’re not going to get a higher recommendation then that (and you
should notice the word “shalt“ in there, which simply lost all
meaning as municipalities “interpreted” the Code). And do not
“pitch” your house from “within“; bad idea.
cloth is the membrane. The black stuff is the bitumen (or as God
calls it “pitch”).
It is the
combination of these two that create a waterproof membrane.
waterproof membrane. You can fill this trench with water, it will
not leak into the basement!}
The modern membrane
consists of a fibreglass mesh, similar to bug screen. Simply stated
it acts as a re-enforcing fabric for the tar. If you’ve ever done
body work on a car it’s the same thing. Even the skin of the
Spitfire was built in a similar fashion. Egyptians used the same
technique to repair boat hulls some 3500 - 4000 years ago… Tried
alternative modern variations of waterproof membranes, but they must
all exhibit three qualities:
1) 100% adhesion to
the substrate. It must be completely stuck to the wall. Not merely
sitting in front of the wall, but GLUED, PERMANATLY STUCK, A
VERY DEFINITE PART OF THE WALL.
2) It must be able
to withstand repeated heads of water. Membranes are not designed to
be under water at all times. They are designed to periodically hold
water back. Properly applied that’s exactly what they do.
3) They must be
applied to the pressure positive side of the wall (the outside).
I’ll close this
section with this statement. Unless God stops rain, much sooner then
later, every below grade structure in this Province will be subjected
to hydrostatic pressure. And yet to date, to the best of my
knowledge, no municipality has ever enforced section 126.96.36.199 (1) of
the Code. If they had, you wouldn’t need me.
an existing home:
(a day in my life)
Lets assume that
your damproofed foundation was passed by a municipal inspector.
Spring arrives and it gets really wet out there. The water can’t
get down to the tiles quickly enough because clay or sand (or what
ever combination of indigenous, non-draining material) was used as
the backfill. Hydrostatic pressure builds against the wall (largely
the bottom two feet). This pressure incrementally moves the wall in
at the mortar line creating a hair-line fault. The pressure is then
relieved as water enters the wall and begins to fill the cavity of
the blocks. When there is enough pressure in the cavity, the water
is pushed through the water-saturated face of the block on to the
basement floor slab. A puddle begins to form right where the floor
and the wall meet. Phone calls ensue, your lucky enough to find me,
your read this article, check out the references, deal with the money
issue… I show up with a mid sized excavator and a dump truck…
* excavate and
remove the existing backfill to the depth of the bottom of the
* prepare a clean
flat dry surface (this can only be done above freezing temps.)
* apply a base coat
of premium asphalt
* push the
fibreglass mesh into place, and tar the face of it.
* repeat, so there
exist two layers of tar embedded mesh
* allow the bitumen
time to air dry (it does not work wet, the bitumen
must dry embedded
into the fabric to form a waterproof membrane)
* the membrane
requires a protective cover, I use rigid board insulation*
* a drainage tile
(4” perforated BIG O) is laid beside the footing (no higher,
no lower) leading
to either a sump pit or a sewer
* backfill with
clean stone only (not a piddly six inches / the whole thing)**
* re-instate the
* get paid
Membranes require a
protective cover. Dow puts overall heat loss through the foundation
at 20 - 30% of the total heat lost though your home. Go figure;
there is nothing there right now. Nothing! Basements are cold in
the winter. Cold because there’s no insulation separating you from
the cold ground (constantly 2 to 4 degrees Celsius below the frost
line). They didn’t have to be. Properly insulated it’s the
easiest part of your house to heat. Being below grade it is not
subjected to -20 degree temperatures pushed be 40 km. winds. When
this is done from the exterior with rigid board insulation there is
no gapping or “bridging” of the insulation. This allows the
walls to act as thermal mass. This is Canada, and it’s not even
mentioned in the Code.
aside; if there’s nothing between the block wall and the frost, the
frost can grab the wall and lift it out of the ground. Frost
adhesion fault lines are unmistakable horizontal faults normally
located two courses below grade.
Quick drainage is
the object. If there’s no hydrostatic pressure, there’s no
problem. So instead of putting clay or sand in the trench, why not
just fill it with clean stone. “Clear, washed or clean”, by any
adjective the dust is removed at the quarry. The air pockets (about
50% by volume) allow water to race down to the tiles.
The re-cap and
We all grew up with
the experience of basements being cold in the winter, damp in the
summer, and at times wet in the spring and fall. Why? Because there
exists no insulation on the exterior, there’s no waterproof
membrane to stop the walls from
there’s no waterproof membrane to stop water from passing through
faults in the wall, the backfill material is ideally unsuited to
allow water access to the drainage tiles if they are connected to
anything in the first place. In spite of a written “Code” that
is routinely ignored, in all or part, by the vast majority of the
province’s Building Officials. It leaks because it wasn’t built
to Code. It’s fixed by bringing it up to Code.
To fix it, you
have to do what I just stated. To minimize the problems you can try
1) Get the surface
water as far away from the foundation as possible. Clean
eavestroughing and downspouts, extended downspouts, improved grading.
These options will not seal existing faults in your wall, but it may
divert more water away from the wall. It is certainly not the
end-all and be-all. It’s not the water you can see that is leaking
into the basement, it’s the water below grade. Also the modern
sub-division severely limits grading options. What if you only have
six or eight feet (and fences and trees…) between you and your
neighbour. NEVER BRING THE GRADE ABOVE THE FOUNDATION
2) Amazingly, it is
extremely common that the existing weeping tiles around your home are
not connected to anything. Known as the “dry trench” (I’ve yet
to discover the sorry excuse who came up with this concept). The
“dry trench” was ordered in Kingston and the former township, in
most areas from ‘75 through 2003. Confirm it with your Engineering
Department if you don’t (or can’t) believe me.
If there’s a sump
pit in your basement check to see if there’s a clay tile coming
into out from the outside (prior to ‘75) or the end of the BIG O
(post ‘75). Not there? Don’t be surprised. Most sump pits are
added after the fact (you can tell) in a sort of ignorant “knee
jerk“ reaction to water problems. Needless to say it won’t work
unless the tiles are directly coupled into them. To make it work dig
a tunnel from the pit to the tiles (often easier said then done).
Or, have us install an external sump system.
3) From the inside
on newer solid (cast) walls ONLY, you may try hydraulic
cement or epoxy injection. In both instances you are “corking”
the wall from the inside in an attempt to force the water into an
existing tile system (if it’s there). I would put the application
of hydraulic cement (available in all building supply stores) within
the abilities of most home-owners. There is nothing you can do
from the inside for block walls because of the cavity. Seal it
in one spot and the water will simply appear further down the wall.
typical: Water / moisture is delivered to the opposite side of the
drywall because the Code was not enforced. The drywall & wood
picks up the water and ideal conditions are created for mould spores
to raise a family
This is my Mother’s
field, and I’ve been subjected to it since birth. Eventually you
accept the facts, and try not to think about it anymore. I’m only
adding that because this is not a topic for the squeamish. If you’re
given to bug phobias (Howard Hughes), skip this. I believe Louis
Pasture dreamt up ways to kill bacteria out of disgust more then any
other reason. However, to those interested… we live on their
planet, and to a large degree at their pleasure.
A human consists of
about 10 quadrillion “human” cells, and about 100 quadrillion
bacterial cells. Assuming an average amount of hygiene, there should
exists about one trillion bacteria happily grazing on the surface of
your body as you read this. They are amazingly prolific, Clostridium
porringers (the gang green bug) can duplicate in nine minutes. At
that rate (if unimpeded) it can create 280,000 billion of itself in a
24 hour period. The average human cell takes about a day to copy
everywhere in inconceivable numbers on, above and below the earth’s
surface. In the mid 60’s there were perhaps 500 known species.
Today there are 500 known species in your mouth, and perhaps 130,000
catalogued all told. An extraordinarily low number because only
about one percent of bacteria will grow in culture, allowing itself
to be studied. It’s curious that something so prolific in nature
refuses to grow in a petre dish to such an extent. Meaning that the
other 99% or so go unstudied. Not to scare you. The vast majority
of bacteria is necessary, beneficial or benign. But, there are many
you certainly do not want to encourage.
When conditions are
not so good (and that means dry), they can go dormant to
extraordinary lengths. Healthy streptococcus cells were recovered
from a sealed camera lens that had stood on the moon for two years.
They will thrive under almost any circumstance; radiophilus will live
happily on the waste plutonium found in spent reactor tanks. Fungi
do not contain chlorophyll, and do not require sunlight. Instead
they will grow directly on their food source (most bacteria have an
outright aversion to ultra violet radiation). And practically
anything will serve as food, including the sulphur in concrete. If
concrete will serve as food, imagine what the stuff can do to wood,
cloth, drywall… But, like all living things, bacteria requires
water to live. Just give them a little moisture, as when you
run a wet cloth across a table surface, and they will bloom as if
created from nothing. Minimize the amount of moisture, and you
minimize the amount of bacteria.
Back to the
basement for a moment. Dark, damp, cool, with poorly circulated air.
Far better then any petre dish if the object is to grow algae, fungi
or amoebas. Picture a “bare bones” basement with essentially
nothing in it but the walls and the floor slab. The basement gets
damp and wet from time to time. Well simply put, there’s not much
to eat in an empty basement. Thanks to that the bacteria levels can
only raise slightly. The sun comes out and the basement dries. The
little bits of bacteria go dormant until next time.
Now picture a
“finished” basement. The drying out process takes forever, if at
all. The walls and floor get wet, but now there’s a stud wall,
drywall and carpet… all absorbing moisture. To bacteria this is
just great food, and it begins to live off it. Before long you can
smell the off-gassing and start to see the green / black stuff
growing up the drywall (just a curiosity here - in quite a few
instances the bacteria will grow up the wall to the exact height of
the first block / right where that horizontal fault regularly
When I was four or
five, my Mom demonstrated this to me in a simple kitchen experiment.
Two wet dish clothes. One left in a ball, and the other one hung out
to dry. Wait a day then smell them. Similarly, when I work on a
basement I am cutting off the moisture supply. The bacteria dies
back as does the musty smell. This usually occurs noticeable while
I’m working on the house.
The true test in
all this is how your de-humidifier functions before and after. I’ve
always held that the vast majority of moisture in your basement was
delivered from wet/damp backfill. The wet/damp backfill perpetually
delivers moisture to the unprotected walls. The wet/damp walls
perpetually deliver moisture into the basement. Your de-humidifier
perpetually pulls the same moisture out of the air. You perpetually
empty the dam thing. My work gets done, and the dehumidifiers stop
working because there’s not enough water to be sucked out of the
What isn’t a
(tar only) is not waterproofing.
(reddish or yellow fibreglass boards) is not waterproofing.
(heavy black plastic mats with bumps on one side) is not
These products, or
methods, are not intended to stop water and they don’t. If a
contractor were to state, suggest, imply… that this is
waterproofing they would certainly be guilty of fundamental
misrepresentation at best. At worst they would be guilty of fraud,
and unfortunately I witness a lot of that.
From the inept
to the out-and-out scams:
Bearing in mind,
that unless your building department insists on a permit to
waterproof an existing structure, there are no rules. In Kingston no
one looks over my shoulder. No one looks over any ones shoulder.
Any one can do anything they want and call it waterproofing (a dance
on the front lawn will suffice). The Kingston Building Department
couldn’t care less. You cannot buy a permit to waterproof an
existing structure in Kingston, to save your soul. Get the message!
In Loyalist Township, on the west side of Coronation Blvd., you must
have a permit. The membrane must be inspected prior to backfilling.
Papers are signed and filed stating the fact… But, “the
municipality is the authority”, and in Kingston anything goes.
water out, damproofing does nothing, enhanced drainage systems
(drain-clad, system platoon) do little. And then there exists an
exists an entire cadre of out-and-out fraud artists, who will simply
sell you an open trench in the basement with holes drilled into the
walls. If you see the words “water control“, “no outside messy
digging” or “sub-drain system” pay attention. If your
building department has abrogated its responsibility, this is what
con-men are allowed to do to your home:
- break out a one
foot wide trench along the inside of your foundation wall with a
- dig it out to the
depth of the bottom of the footings from the inside
- take a hammer
drill and drift two or three one inch diameter holes into the bottom
of each and every block (that’s 260 or 390 holes on a 1200 ft. sq.
- lay a perforated
BIG O in the trench leading to a sump pit
- cover with the
broken bits of floor slab left behind
- re-pour the floor
slab with the exception of a “rigid sealer” against the wall
And that’s it.
Wait, no. Take as much, or way more, money then what I charge to do
it properly. According to the pitch… the water leaks in and
harmlessly falls to the bottom of the blocks, where it exits through
the holes we drilled. Into the tile and over to the sump pit.
Through and under, sight unseen, problem solved. Well, not quite:
- Every time water
passes through a fault it weakens the structural integrity of the
not a question of will this cause structural failure, it’s a
- Insurers refer to
this as “improper workmanship”. You may confirm that for this
reason alone you just forfeited the structural insurance you carry.
- If you can’t
insure it what value does it have?
- You don’t
know what you’re drilling out into? If there exists a constant
head ofwater outside, it will just pour through continuously. The
last bit of “dam” was removed, and now four pumps won’t keep
up, and sections of the floor slab are starting to rise. Or maybe
there’s no supporting wall out there? (see below).
The four pounds of moisture remain in each block. Moisture = mould.
Wasn’t that the reason for the exercise in the first
- When you go to
sell your home in Ontario your real-state agent will ask you
out and sign a Vendor Property Information Statement. Line eight,
page two: “Are you aware of any moisture and/or water
problems in the basement or crawl space?”. Hiding
the problem does not fix the problem.
does not cover backing up or plugging of sewers; floods; condensation
due to high humidity, damp spots, discoloration of walls, or sump
pumps which are covered by separate manufacturer’s warranty.”
Again, if your
building department abrogates their responsibilities, anyone can do
anything they want. Take a look at the Kingston Home Builders
Association letter. In one breath they espouse the Code… Then they
fall back on Kingston’s interpretation of the Code - no rules - so
their members are allowed to be fraud artists. What kind of
legitimate Building Association allows their members to perpetrate
fraud? The same association whose members were allowed to build your
house without attaching the weeping tiles to anything? Bearing in
mind that for all their engineers, “experienced” builders, a
written Code, so-called professional building officials… I was the
only person in three decades to challenge the “accepted”
interpretation. Terry Willing (Kingston’s CBO), Bert Meunier
(Kingston’s CAO), both signed a document stating that my
interpretation of the Ontario Building Code is “strict and
draconian”. And as such “no action be taken in response to the
request by John McEwen for changes by the Chief Building Official to
the building permit administration process”. I’ve included the
pertinent parts of the Code, you decide. In my opinion the Kingston
Building Department let you down during the construction of your
house. By not issuing the permits after the fact, they are letting
you down during the repair.
They tell me
they’re right and I‘m wrong, but your basement still leaks.
That’s what they skimped on as far as the foundation goes (and
that’s where I draw the line as far as offering expert opinions).
What else falls under their interpretation of the OBC? Got a
complaint as to how crappy your house was built. Aside from
yourself, others with the same problem, and myself; no one cares.
It’s time for a change!