If you’re a homeowner in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you’re likely familiar with the annual springtime ritual of dealing with water in the basement. A wet basement can cause a variety of problems, from mold and mildew to structural damage. 

Fortunately, there are several smart solutions that can help you keep your basement dry and protect your home’s value. 

At the end of this blog, we’ll take a look at some smart ways U.P. homeowners can prevent a wet basement for good and all. But before you can choose the solution that will work best for you, you need to find out where that water in the basement is coming from!  

Troubleshooting Water in the Basement

As a home inspector in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, an important part of my job is to help homeowners troubleshoot issues. 

So I can tell you from experience that we need to look first at “where’s the water coming from”, and only then ask “what are the solutions”.

How Do You Get Water in the Basement? 4 Ways We See a Lot in the U.P.

Except for relatively rare cases of plumbing leaks or condensation inside the house, water in the basement starts with water on the foundation.  Otherwise it will not be coming through the basement wall and puddling on the floor. So we have to find out where that water on the foundation is coming from. 

Typically in the U.P., I’ve observed that springtime water in the basement comes in from one or more of these avenues: 

Poor Drainage Around the House

When I am inspecting a basement for moisture issues, I always take a look at the slope of the land around the home. We want to look at a couple of things there. Do we have negative slope coming toward the house? Or positive slope so that when the snow melts, it pushes away from the foundation? Ideally, you want six inches of drop from the house across about eight feet of slope.

If we don’t have good slope, the water doesn’t have a chance to run off away from the foundation. Instead, it.will run straight down and saturate the soil. When this happens, eventually it will enter the basement through any cracks or holes in the foundation. I have even seen a home where the water pressure was so high that water would literally pour in streams through the basement wall like fountain jets after a heavy storm. 

Poor drainage affects snowmelt just like it does rainfall. But with snowmelt, it can actually be worse, depending on conditions. In many Upper Peninsula locations, the soil becomes so saturated in the springtime that sometimes even a decent slope doesn’t dp the trick. In these cases the culprit is almost always snowmelt rather than spring rains. That’s because rainfall will run off where snow is sitting and it’s saturating down regardless of what the weather is doing. 

And that leads to what’s often the biggest culprit for wet basements in the U.P.: snow piles! 

Snow Piled Near the Foundation (Don’t Do It!!)

This is what we like to see in spring. When snow piles are kept clear of the foundation, they will melt away from it quickly.

If we have a pile of snow up against the foundation or we’ve been plowing close to the house, it’s going to melt as soon as the mercury rises in spring. Typically that snowmelt goes straight down and saturates the soil close to your home. Hello, water in the basement (again!)

Snow piles by themselves are often enough to create a wet basement in spring. But if the drainage around your home is already poor, it can compound the problem. So regardless of our drainage, we ALWAYS want to make sure we keep snow away from the foundation. 

Spring Drainage Issues in the Greater Landscape

Another thing I’ve seen often cause water in the basement in the U.P., is large-scale drainage problems. I see a lot of this on lake and river properties in hilly areas.

Take a city like Munising. The City of Munising is tucked down against the bay with this large hill behind and above it to the west. As all that snow on that big expansive slope melts, it’s going to make its way to the lake. While some runs off on the surface, a lot of it will flow through the soil. So even if there is positive slope right at the foundation, it’s not enough to divert all that water coming from that giant slope behind it.

If that foundation isn’t damp proofed, it’s going to try to get into the basement. That’s just the easiest path. When there’s a great deal of water like we have in the spring, it’ll find its way in. That’s something we can’t prevent. It’s inner flow. It’s going through the soil. That’s not our fault, but snow placement usually is. So we want to make sure we push the snow away from the house, especially in the springtime, so as not to compound the issue!

Poor or Missing Gutters

The final issue I see a lot that can cause water in the basement is improper guttering on the house. Without proper gutters, all the rain and snowmelt coming off the roof land right where you don’t want it – next to the foundation! That’s why it’s so important to keep your gutters in good order, and make sure they’re draining where it makes sense. 

Water in the Basement: A Case Study

Photo from a recent home inspection near Escanaba, MI showing water in the basement

As an example of how some of these issues can work together to create a wet basement problem, let’s take the house I’m inspecting now. 

You can see in the photo above that there’s water in the basement. As it turns out they didn’t put gutters on the house. And they had negative grading. So the water comes to the house in two ways: through the soil and off the roof. It hits the foundation, flows right down the foundation wall, and comes out on the floor. 

If you take a home like that and plow snow towards the home all winter (as happened here as well), you’re even going to compound the water in the basement problem. And if the home had been located on low ground where the greater landscape tends to drain to, it might have gotten even wetter! 

6 Ways to Keep a U.P. Basement Dry

Water in the basement is a big issue that has homeowners scratching their heads in frustration, especially in the springtime. But once we know where the water is coming from, it’s much easier to find an appropriate wet basement solution for your home! 

Here are a few things you can do to keep your basement dry: 

  1. Proper snow placement.

 In the U.P., you always need to think about where you will be placing snow around the house and what impact it will have. In the dead of winter it’s easy to think you can get away with allowing the piles of snow to rise ever higher around your house. But as the snow melts and the ground thaws, the excess water has nowhere to go but into your home’s foundation. 

This is so important that I nearly always bring it up to home buyers during inspections, especially if they are moving in from outside the area. Many thank me for bringing it up, because it’s something they never would have thought about.

In some cases, all it takes to resolve issues with water in the basement is to find somewhere else to push the snow. Even if it means hiring someone to haul it away periodically, it’s worth it!  

  1. Install or repair gutters. 

While they won’t mitigate most snow-related issues, gutters are essential for managing rainwater on your property. Be sure they are installed properly and drain to a location well away from your foundation. 

We always recommend cleaning and inspecting your gutters as part of both our spring and fall maintenance checklists for U.P. properties. That way, you can quickly nip any gutter problems in the bud before damage has a chance to occur. 

  1. Install drain tile. 

A drain tile system or French drain is a system that can help divert water away from your home. It consists of a perforated pipe that’s buried in a trench around the perimeter of your foundation. The pipe is surrounded by gravel or rock, which allows water to filter into the pipe and be carried away from your home. Drain tile can be installed by a professional contractor. Where wet basement issues are caused by poor drainage around the house, drain tile is an effective long-term solution.

  1. Damp proof your foundation. 

Waterproofing your basement is another more involved solution, but it can be effective for homes with serious water infiltration issues (such as ones sitting at the bottom of a large hillside). Damp proofing a basement involves applying a waterproof sealant or membrane to your foundation walls, which prevents water from seeping in. This process is best done by a professional contractor who specializes in waterproofing.

  1. Improve your landscaping. 

Depending on your situation,  landscaping can play a surprisingly big role in preventing water from seeping into your basement. Proper grading can help direct water away from your foundation, while installing rain gardens or other drainage features can help capture and absorb excess water. Consider consulting with a landscaping professional to find the best solutions for your specific property.

  1. Install a sump pump. 

When all else fails, this is your ace in the hole. A sump pump is a simple but effective device that can prevent water from accumulating in your basement. It works by pumping excess water out of your home and away from your foundation. A sump pump can be installed in your basement and connected to your home’s electrical system. It’s a good idea to invest in a battery backup for your sump pump, so it will continue to work during power outages.

As a home inspector, I would rather see a basement that doesn’t allow water to infiltrate in the first place. But if there is no other viable solution that fits your budget, a sump pump will do the job. 

Ready to Say Goodbye to Water in Your Basement? 

If you’re experiencing water in your basement this spring, don’t wait to address the problem. Not only can water damage your home’s foundation and decrease its value, but it can also create a health hazard due to the growth of mold and mildew. 

By taking proactive steps to prevent water infiltration, you can protect your home and your family. But first, you have to know exactly what’s happening to make your basement wet! 

Hopefully this article will point you in the right direction. But if not, that’s where a home maintenance inspection can help. If you’re sick and tired of water in your basement, and would like help figuring out the best solutions for your unique situation, give us a call and schedule one today!