mystery waterfall in basement

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    • #279165
      Avatar photobtrotter

        Help! I purchased a home, built 1931, in September. We’ve had a drought for the past 2 years, but are making up for it in the past 3 months.

        Christmas morning I awoke to heavy rains and water in the basement–some is seeping in through the crack between the foundation and the wall, but there is one crack in the wall where water literally pours in when it rains.

        This crack brought in about 30 gallons of water on a 1.68″ rainfall over 10 hours that day. When it stopped raining, the leak stopped.

        I had new gutters put in immediately, taking the downspouts out of the underground pipes, so now the gutters drain with plastic drain pipes about 18″ from the house.

        But New Year’s Day I awoke to more rains and more flooding–this time 50 GALLONS from the one crack over a period of about 9 hours and under 2″ of rain.

        I definitely will get a sump pump put in, but before I do any repairs I really need to figure out what the problem is–the water is too much to be explained by regular seepage.


        1. poured foundation, some vertical cracks, have been checked out by a building contractor and a home inspector. Some of the cracks leak, not all.

        2. Large pin oak in front of house, same wall where there are cracks.

        3. Front yard is flat, yard grades downhill to back yard.

        4. Leak is toward front of house on driveway side, but is relatively dry aboveground–no puddling where the leak would be. Driveway has been checked out and water is draining properly toward back yard.

        5. Gutters, roof both check out fine. There are 5 gutters now, and while one is just uphill from the leak it is draining properly down the driveway and is about 18″ from the house. No water from that gutter is getting anywhere near the house.

        6. There is an enclosed front porch just in front of the wall where the leak is. Underneath the porch it is BONE DRY.

        7. There are French drains but no sump pump in the basement. There are holes cut in the floor with plexiglass covers–the drain to the rear of the house has a trickle of water; the drain to the front of the house is standing water that’s not moving. I stuck a 6-8″ snake through as far as I could and hit no obstructions.

        8. Basement floor also slopes toward the rear. Leak is to front of house.

        9. Near ‘waterfall’ leak are the underground pipes for gutters that run parallel to the house–before I had gutters replaced I could hear the gutter draining down the pipe, and it sounded as if it were draining to the back yard just fine.

        Now that the gutters are out of the ground, I don’t hear any water running through those pipes. The holes have been covered up but not filled in.

        10. The home inspector managed to open up the water meter cover–the dials to the meter are under about a half-foot of water. I called city/county folk, and the storm drain guy came out and opened the drain that is downhill from me–that water is running. However, the guy couldn’t find the uphill drain.

        11. Neighbor swears the previous owner had a dry basement–he used to brag about it, and I called the 86-year-old previous owner, who told me that at most he had maybe a couple of gallons after a really heavy rain.

        And when I originally looked at the house, there was so much crap in the basement [the previous owner ran a flea market business] that there’s no way the basement wouldn’t be mildewed if it was this bad.

        12. Plumbing pipes inside aren’t leaking, and anyway it only happens when it rains. When the rain stops it’s okay.

        13. Water is light brown. Does not smell like sewage.

        14. There is landscaping all around foundation, but in general it is graded slightly away from the house.



      • #300168
        Avatar photoRetired plbg1

          Have you got drain tile around the house, if not you might have to have foudation dug up and walls water proofed and drain tile installed.

        • #300169
          Avatar photobozo

            Go to your local lumber yard and see if they have Benonite.Ask them to explain to you how to use it around your outside basement wall to stop water from coming in.It is a masonary product.The spelling might be incorrect,it is pronouced Ben-o-nite.Worked for me save alot of useless digging and saved alot of money. If they dont know about it ,let me know and I will e-mail you .

          • #300170
            Avatar photoclangr

              thanks for both of the tips. I am certain I’ll be doing some kind of waterproofing, but til then I’m still waiting for answers. I called the city 10 hours ago to report the water in the meter well, called back to check and to report a sinkhole that I realized is about half a block away, and they told me that they have a lot of main breaks and that they probably won’t get to me til tomorrow.

              » This message has been edited by clangr on 04 January 2003

            • #300171
              Avatar photoJohn Aldrich1

                clangr, first I must commend you on your comprehensive description of the situation. It is obvious that the water leaking into your basement is storm water. If, in fact, there is a storm water collection and drain system on the front wall of your home, then it is improperly designed or was improperly installed. I think the appropriate approach is to excavate the soil from the wall, waterproof the wall and then install a properly designed drainage system with a discharge to daylight into the back yard. A drainage product called “Advan-Edge” made by Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. (ADS) is an excellent product for foundation drains.

                In regard to the suggestion that you use “Ben-o-nite” purchased at a lumber yard, well, as Tony Soprano would say, “Figget about it!” Loose Bentonite Clay spread inconsistantly around the area of the leak in the foundation wall will not permanently fix this problem, and may in fact cause damage to the foundation wall as it expands when hydrated.

                There is a below grade concrete wall waterproofing product which consists of a layer of Sodium Bentonite clay sandwiched between layers of geotextile. The product is made by Colloidal Environmental Technologies Company (CETCO) and is called “Volclay”. Check out this website;

                I have used CETCO’s “Bento-Mat” pond liner material for lining Constructed Wetland Filter basins with much success.

                John Aldrich (Septic Tank Yank)
                Septic System Consultant
                Timnath, Colorado USA

              • #300172
                Avatar photoclangr

                  Thanks, John. I’m going to call the previous owners again and ask them about it–they seem geniunely shocked at what’s going on. They’ve called 4 times out of what I think is genuine concern.

                  I did find out from the previous owners that the French drains empty out into a drywell in the far part of the back yard. This morning I did notice that the entire back yard in that area is saturated, though because it is at the bottom of the hill probably not totally surprising.

                  It also dawned on me late yesterday that about a half a block away from my house there’s a 5′ 2′ sinkhole/pothole where the pavement has been caving in. It’s in a parking lot, but the previous owner had mentioned that she remembers when they were digging up the street there was some connection with my house and the supermarket to the infrastructure

                  The sinkhole started about the same time I started having problems, and has doubled in size each week over the past 3 weeks. I don’t know if it has any relation to my problem or whether it’s just a nasty pothole, though it doesn’t seem the weather’s been bad enough to cause it. I’ve reported it to the city–they still haven’t come out to check out my problem–but the dispatcher told me that they were really backed up ‘because there’s a lot of broken mains’.

                  Clearly I’ll be spending part of my retirement fund to have the basement waterproofed, but I still want to find the source of the problem so that I don’t fix the wrong thing or compromise the structure itself. I’m going to take a tour of the Public Works Museum in the next week, and I’m going to try and get a map of the infrastructure from the city/county just so that I can understand what is going on. Now, if I only had a connection in the government….

                • #300173
                  Avatar photobozo

                    As I said it worked for me .Been about 12 years since I used benonite and havent had a single drop of water in the basement.Go ahead and spend alot of money if you want,it is your money.

                  • #300174
                    Avatar photooscar

                      I have used benonite two times ,on 2 seperate basements and it worked just fine.You have to be careful because it expans, as mentioned.I would not hesitate to use it again if needed.Anyone out ther ever used it too?

                    • #300175
                      Avatar photoclangr

                        I have another friend who’s a demolition guy who’s going to come out and take a look. He says that any waterproofing done should be done to the outside, not the inside–looks impressive, costs a lot of money, but that you want to stop it before it gets to the foundation.

                        He also seems to think that it’s somehow tied to those exterior underground gutter drains.

                        Another waterproofer came today to give a quote; he said that the foundation was masonry, not poured concrete [as I had been told] and that it had been parged after that with a coat of concrete. He said the floor was probably originally a dirt floor and the water would have just been allowed to drain through.

                        [He lost major credibility points when he told me that concrete wasn’t used in the 1930s. Fortunately I used to hang out in old cement factories, and I vaguely remembered that Portland cement, at least, has been in use since at least the mid-1800s.]

                      • #300176
                        Avatar photoJohn Aldrich1

                          clangr, perhaps the waterproofer was thinking that a concrete floor was not poured because of economic reasons in the dirty thirties, during the depths of the Great Depression. I assume that the “masonry foundation” is a cement block wall. If this is the case, then I would definately not mess around with Bentonite clay with the intent to save some money. The cement block wall will not resist the transverse load (horizontal pressure) that a poured concrete wall will resist. As the soil outside of the wall becomes saturated, the hydraulic head pressure increases. If the Bentonite clay is effective in sealing the leaks, then there is just that much more water pressing on the wall. The increased transverse load may collapse the block wall.

                          bozo wrote:
                          As I said it worked for me .Been about 12 years since I used benonite and havent had a single drop of water in the basement.Go ahead and spend alot of money if you want,it is your money.

                          Well bozo, nothing is as convincing as successful personal experience. I am thankful that I have not been plagued with a “Mystery waterfall in my basement.” However, my brother-in-law, back in Connecticut was faced with this very problem, and he also wanted to solve the problem at the least possible cost, and with the least possible effort. Well to make a long story short, he used too much Bentonite, and/or improperly applied it, and caved in the cement block foundation wall, causing some structural damage to the house, and broke a couple of windows.

                          oscar wrote:
                          I have used benonite two times ,on 2 seperate basements and it worked just fine.You have to be careful because it expans, as mentioned.I would not hesitate to use it again if needed.Anyone out ther ever used it too?

                          oscar, you are a two time winner in life’s lottery when it comes to the use of Bentonite clay to waterproof basement walls. You and bozo must be blessed with the skill of using Bentonite clay. However, it seems to me that it would be better to properly drain the intermittent storm water away from the foundation so that it does not have the opportunity to invade the basement.

                        • #300177
                          Avatar photoclangr

                            Walls–there’s a bumpout on one of the walls under the dining room; for some reason there’s a double wall, so I can see the original wall. There are horizontal board marks as if the walls were poured into a form, but it doesn’t look like there are blocks. I can see now, though, that they must be pretty porous.

                            It stopped raining almost 40 hours ago, and the one spot that got in 50 gallons hasn’t had a drop come in. However, on the front wall at the bottom of a crack but near where the water line comes into the house I’m still getting water–a couple of cups every hour or two. Is this normal to still be draining that much water?

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