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How to Stop Basement Wall Leaks in Their Tracks

Wet basement walls affect your basement’s health and appearance, and their repair isn’t something to be taken lightly. Learn more about basement wall leaks and how to repair them with professional assistance.

leaking basement walls

Your home’s basement can be a functional space for storage and living, but it is not without problems. Water can easily leak inside and lead to damage, and it is important to get to the bottom of those problems and tackle them at the source.

None of these issues, including a leaking basement wall, can be adequately repaired with DIY solutions available from big box stores. While sealing basement walls with “waterproof” paints and other widely advertised products has become popular among homeowners, it’s a good idea to steer clear of these products. 

Below, we will cover why basement walls leak, how not to repair them, and why our durable, long-lasting solutions are the most effective options. 

Why Your Basement Walls Are Leaking

Apart from internal leaks like burst plumbing pipes, water can seep into your basement and through the walls for a variety of reasons. Here is what is happening to cause wet, leaking basement walls. 

Degrading Dampproofing and Failing Footing Drains 

Wet basement with peeling paint and wet floor

When your home was built, dampproofing and footing drains were added to exterior walls to help keep water away from the basement. However, dampproofing does not stop water leaks or floods, but simply delays the flow of water vapor from the earth to the basement.

The dampproofing can also degrade and wear away over time and the footing drains can be clogged or crushed under the weight of the soil. This leads to water leaks inside the basement. 

The Clay Bowl Effect and Hydrostatic Pressure

hydrostatic pressure

The clay bowl effect and hydrostatic pressure are two phenomena that negatively impact basement walls.

Backfilling the home’s exterior with excavated soil follows the completion of the foundation and walls. This produces a type of “clay bowl” and an artificial water table.

It is easier for the backfill soil to retain water, especially if it contains clay. The soil expands and pushes against the walls with enough force during heavy rain or snowmelt to cause basement wall cracks and leaks.

Porous Concrete Walls 

cracking and peeling paint on basement wall

Concrete is a durable material, but it is porous. This means it absorbs water through a path of capillary holes or tiny pores formed when the cement used to create the concrete was poured.

Water collecting behind walls fills invisible holes in the concrete when the pores draw water from the earth.

Calcium is a component of the cement paste that holds concrete together. Water causes calcium to dissolve, so when water is present, the pores gradually enlarge. The sequence of microscopic veins in the concrete leads to leaking water. 

How to Waterproof Basement Walls: What NOT To Do

Your basement walls can be delicate and difficult to deal with, and there are so many forces at work, so installing or applying any type of DIY wall waterproofing method is ill-advised, including the following: 

Excavation and Dampproofing Reapplication

applying exterior dampproofing

Excavating down to the footing to reapply dampproofing or install new drainage pipe are two options.

However, this approach has various drawbacks, including high cost, the potential for a lengthy installation, and the need for substantial landscaping after restoration.

The actual issue with external excavation is it has previously been tried and failed. The dampproofing coating will wear away again, and drainage pipes may clog wherever they sit in the ground. 

Applying Interior Paints or Sealants 

Many advertised DIY products are paints or sealants applied to interior basement walls that claim to be waterproof and effective at locking out water and moisture. The problems with these sealants include: 

Underlying Issues

Although a sealant may temporarily stop cracks or leaks, it won’t deal with their root causes. There could be more going on beneath the surface.


Sealants may be advertised as fantastic answers to your issue, but they are brittle. The seal may be broken by efflorescence, and hydrostatic pressure might cause it to flake off.

Additionally, a moist basement wall cannot handle a sealant. It will take days or weeks for the wall to dry before you can apply it. 

Temporary Fix

A sealant is not a long-term solution, despite the fact that homeowners are drawn to it by its affordability and ease of application. The sealant will only serve as a short-term fix that covers up cosmetic issues. It will begin to wear away after a few months, so it would need to be continually purchased and reapplied. 

Basement vapor barrier 3D

How To Waterproof Basement Walls: Vapor Barriers 

Instead of ineffective sealants, the best way to address leaking basement walls is with vapor barriers.

Professionally installed liners attached to basement walls are a better, longer-lasting solution. Groundworks companies across the country install these barriers as part of a complete basement waterproofing system that also includes an interior drainage system, sump pumps, and dehumidifiers.

What To Expect

basement vapor barrier installation

If your inspector notices wet basement walls, leaks, or efflorescence in your basement, they may recommend the installation of our wall vapor barrier. This plastic barrier is 12-mil thick, waterproof, mold-resistant, and guaranteed to stop vapor intrusion through porous concrete walls. 

After the vapor barrier is placed on the walls, any water that seeps through the walls will automatically run behind the material and down into the interior perimeter drainage system. Water in these drains is directed to a sump pump that pumps the water up and out of your home. 

Additionally, if your basement walls are cracking or bowing inward, you may need foundation repair solutions including reinforcing carbon fiber straps or wall anchors to counteract hydrostatic pressure. These solutions are compatible with the wall vapor barrier and can be installed at the same time. 

The best part about these repairs is they are long-lasting and will keep your basement protected for good. While sealants only last a matter of months, some vapor barriers have a five to 10-year lifespan and others can last up to 20 years or more.

Once our wall vapor barrier is permanently fastened to all the perimeter basement walls and the other components (interior drainage, sump pump, and dehumidifier) are installed, you will have a fully warrantied dry basement. 

Contact Groundworks for Permanent Basement Waterproofing Solutions 

Wet basement walls are an ugly nuisance that diminish your basement’s safety, health, value, and appearance. Applying a store-bought paint or sealant is not going to fix the problem long-term.

For a more reliable, permanent fix, trust your local Groundworks company. We have experts across the country who are well-versed in all types of basement problems, including leaking, wet walls. Our professionals will properly diagnose your basement issues and recommend the best solutions to fix them, including wall vapor barriers.

To address your leaky basement and ensure its health and safety, contact the Groundworks company serving your area to schedule a free inspection and estimate. 

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