John McEwen

B. A. WATERPROOFING
 

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:

A 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.


During the 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.


“A-5.8.2 Moisture 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.”


Got it! 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:


9.13.1.1.(1) 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 what happened:


THE CLASSIC POST-WAR SUB-DVISION BLOCK FOUNDATION:


- A 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” stone (no

dust / rocks only) to the height of the footings

- Blocks are laid on top of the footings, using 3/8 in. of mortar to hold them together

- The exterior of the walls are “parged” with a thin layer of cement

- The exterior of the walls are “damp proofed” with a single layer of tar,

(again damproofing 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 developer.


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.

3) 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 wall.

    4) Once 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 lbs./cubic yard.

5) 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.






I’ve 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.


Mortar isn’t 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).


Hydrostatic 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.




{Typical fracturing of block walls}


One More 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 enough.



WATCHING A BLOCK WALL:


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 levels rise.

* Flooding becomes more frequent and in greater volume as the mortar lines dissolve.

* 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 basement.

* 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 in “catastrophically”.



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.


DRAINAGE, WATERPROOFING, AND THE CODE:


The Drainage Part:


9.14.5.1 Drainage disposal. Foundation drains shall drain to a sewer, drainage ditch or dry well.

9.14.5.2 Sump 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.

9.14.5.3 (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 lawn.


When it rains, it pours:


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. However…


The Ontario 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.


Realistically there 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 home.


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


The foundation walls aren’t up yet, and I see four major Code violations. What of the rest of the house???


This 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 & SUMP PITS:


Traditionally a 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.


THE WATERPROOFING PART:


9.13.1.1.(1) Required Waterproofing: Where hydrostatic pressure occurs, floors on ground and exterior surfaces of walls below ground level shall be waterproofed”


9.13.3.2 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.”


9.13.3.2. Simplified:


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.


The yellowish 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.

{Finished 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 and true.


There exist 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 9.13.1.1 (1) of the Code. If they had, you wouldn’t need me.


Waterproofing 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 footings

* 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 landscape

* get paid


Insulation:


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.


Another little 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.


**Backfill material:


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 the pitch:


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

absorbing water, 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.










Realistic options:


To fix it, you have to do what I just stated. To minimize the problems you can try these:


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 WALL.


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.
















ON BACTERIA:



Ever so 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 itself.


They exist 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 occurs).

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 air anymore.





What isn’t a waterproof membrane:


Damproofing (tar only) is not waterproofing.

Drain clad (reddish or yellow fibreglass boards) is not waterproofing.

System Platon (heavy black plastic mats with bumps on one side) is not waterproofing.


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.


Waterproofing keeps 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 jack-hammer

- 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. foundation)

- 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

wall. It’s not a question of will this cause structural failure, it’s a question of

when.

- 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 place.

- When you go to sell your home in Ontario your real-state agent will ask you

to fill 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.


This warranty 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!


John McEwen   ©   2014