Cold temperatures and heavy snowfall are common in Maryland. When the weather warms up between storms, the melting snow has to go somewhere. All too often, unprotected basements and crawlspaces are flooded with several inches or even feet of snowmelt. Even if water merely drips in through cracks in the walls, a wet basement is an unhealthy problem you shouldn’t ignore. It leads to mold growth and stagnant conditions that wreak havoc on your home’s indoor air quality.
To avoid problems associated with excessive snowmelt, prepare your home for winter before cold weather arrives. Then, remember to take certain precautions after each snowstorm to prevent basement flooding.
Prepare for Winter Before Cold Weather Sets In
Fall is the right time to start planning for snowy weather. Avoid the cost and inconvenience of a flooded home this winter by following these tips to waterproof your basement.
Improve the Soil Grading
Proper drainage is the key to guiding snowmelt away from your foundation rather than toward it. The first step is to do some land grading around your house. You want a slope of about 5 percent, which means the ground should slope downward a total of six inches over 10 feet.
The easiest way to re-grade the land is to add soil near the foundation and tamp it down. Make sure the dirt remains below the siding to prevent rot. You can then plant flowers and shrubs around the foundation to help hold the new soil in place. Remember to keep large plants and trees at least five feet from the foundation to prevent damage from tree roots.
Install an Advanced Drainage System
Research shows that over 60 percent of households experience yard drainage problems, and homes in the Baltimore area are no exception! A custom-designed advanced drainage system is a reliable way to prevent a flooded basement. Such a system might include French drains in the basement along with yard and driveway drains outside. With these solutions, you’re another step closer to a waterproof basement.
Install a Sump Pump
Sump pumps are essential for homes in flood-prone areas of Maryland. The device sits in a sump pit located in an unobtrusive corner of the basement or crawlspace. When water rises into the pit from oversaturated soil, the sump pump activates, drawing water out of the pit and draining it to the exterior. This one-time purchase can protect your home from flooding year-round, including in the winter when excess snowmelt saturates the soil.
Seal the Foundation Walls
Water can enter your basement or crawlspace through the tiniest cracks, so take time to seal any openings in the walls, floors and sill plates with caulk. Create weather-tight windows with weatherstripping, and seal off window wells from the outside to prevent snowmelt from accumulating there.
Clean the Gutters
When snow on the roof starts to melt, water runs into the gutters and down the downspout. If your house doesn’t have gutters, install them this fall to help protect the foundation. Without gutters, snowmelt cascades from the roof like a waterfall, saturating the soil directly next to the foundation. This puts undue pressure on the concrete, which may cause it to crack.
If you already have gutters, clean them every fall to remove dead leaves, pine needles, twigs and other debris that blocks the flow of water. If the gutters become clogged, water will flow over the sides with the same effect as having no gutters at all.
To clean the gutters, you’ll need a sturdy ladder, gutter scoop, trash bag, garden hose and heavy-duty gardening gloves. If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning the gutters yourself, you can hire a professional to complete the job for you. You might also consider investing in a gutter guard system to shield the gutters from debris while still allowing water to drain.
Prevent Frozen Pipes
Winter temperatures here in Maryland often dip below 20 degrees. This is the “temperature alert threshold” for frozen pipes. When pipes freeze, they tend to burst, flooding your home in the process. With a few preventative measures, you can prevent frozen pipes and the possibility of extensive water damage. Here’s what to do:
- If water lines run through the garage, keep the garage door closed.
- If plumbing passes through the basement or crawlspace, seal and insulate the walls, windows, doors and sill plates.
- Insulate exposed pipes or wrap them with electrical heating tape.
- When the temperature falls below 20 degrees, let a trickle of cold water run from the faucet. This prevents a pressure buildup that often causes pipes to burst.
- Keep cabinet doors open so warm air can circulate around the pipes there.
- Never set the thermostat lower than 55 degrees, even when you’re away for an extended time.
- As an added precaution, drain the plumbing before going on vacation. To do this, turn the main water shutoff valve and open a tap until the water stops running.
- Remove and store garden hoses.
- Blow out the sprinkler system to remove standing water from the pipes.
Install a Vapor Barrier
Crawlspaces are prone to moisture buildup, especially if they feature a dirt floor and incomplete vapor barrier. Crawlspace waterproofing calls for vapor barrier installation to slow the rate at which water vapor passes through the walls, floors or slab-on-grade foundation. The purpose of a vapor barrier is to help control humidity levels that can lead to condensation, standing water, mold growth and poor indoor air quality.
Install a Dehumidifier or Ventilator
The purpose of a dehumidifier is to remove moisture, thus helping you avoid mold and air quality problems. Similarly, a ventilation system replaces damp, stale air in the basement or crawlspace with fresh air from outside. These systems aren’t designed to prevent basement flooding, but they do control moisture levels for healthier air while your home is sealed up tightly over the winter.
Prevent Basement Flooding After a Snowstorm
With all your preventative measures complete, there’s nothing left to do but wait for a snowstorm. After the flakes finish flying, head outside to perform a few precautionary tasks.
Remove Snow from Around the Foundation
When you shovel the driveway, be sure to pile snow away from the house. After an especially heavy snowfall, it’s also worthwhile to clear away snow at least three feet from the foundation. Remember, snow may slide off the roof and plunge to the ground, creating a barrier that can cause water to pool around the foundation. To prevent this, continue checking on the status of the snow around your house until it has melted completely.
Clear the Downspouts
Snow and ice can block the downspouts, preventing melting snow from draining off your roof. Tap the side of the downspout and remove any obstructions you see at the bottom to clear a path for water to drain.
Place Sandbags Around the Foundation
Sandbags are an effective temporary solution if you experienced some water damage earlier in the season and you want to prevent further flooding until you can waterproof your basement in the spring. Place these around the foundation, especially at weak points where water always seems to find its way inside. Sandbags don’t guarantee a dry basement, but they can help prevent the worst flooding until you can make more permanent improvements.
Let Us Help Prepare Your Home for Winter
If you live in the Baltimore area, Budget Basement Waterproofing is here to help you prepare for heavy snow and the possibility of basement or crawlspace flooding. Our services protect your foundation year-round from the damage caused by excessive rain and snow. If your basement has already flooded, we can also help you recover with mold remediation, foundation repair and other related services.