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Poor Foundation Drainage

If your foundation drainage is subpar, it can result in damage to your home, your health, and your budget. Here’s why your drainage may not be up to snuff.

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Homeowners may underestimate the amount of damage water can cause. When a foundation is frequently exposed to an excess of moisture, it will begin to deteriorate. 

Of course, your home’s foundation is one of the most important parts of your house. It holds the entire structure up and makes sure it doesn’t come crumbling down. 

Without proper foundation drainage, your home’s structure will become overloaded, break apart, and strain the walls of your basement with an unprecedented amount of pressure. Finding out what causes poor foundation drainage will be the key to eventually solving the problem and protecting your home. 

Here’s everything you need to know about poor foundation drainage. 

What Causes Poor Foundation Drainage? 

Poor foundation drainage all has to do with how water gets directed around your house. The soil that’s directly next to and underneath your foundation isn’t solid and stable. Depending on its water content, it washes away, swells, shrinks, and compacts. The foundation around your basement is especially important because too much water in the soil can cause hydrostatic pressure. 

Hydrostatic pressure puts extra weight against basement walls, causing them to crack. In time, this only leads to more leaking and water pooling around your basement and foundation. 

Poor foundation drainage can be defined as anything that allows water to pool around your foundation. This can be: 

  • Gutters 
  • Downspouts 
  • Lawn grade 
  • Window wells 
  • Damaged sump pump 
  • Expansive soil 
  • Poor waterproofing 

This can be a lot to keep track of. This is why it’s important to contact an expert to inspect your home if you have poor foundation drainage and frequent leaks in your basement. They’ll be able to assess the damage, figure out the proper solution, and fix your home accordingly. In the meantime, it’s best you understand how poor drainage can affect your foundation so you know who to call and what will be done to repair your property. 

  • Gutters  

Gutters serve a very important role in keeping water from pooling around the perimeter of your home. Any rain and snow that settles atop your home will be drained out and away so your foundation doesn’t flood. 

Homeowners need to pay special attention to their gutters during the fall season. Leaves often get stuck in gutters during this time of year, so maintenance is especially important during fall. If the gutter is unable to drain water properly, the water will pool up around your property. 

  • Downspouts 

Poorly placed downspouts are a big problem for your foundation. If the downspout doesn’t direct water away from your home, then it wasn’t placed correctly. Even if you have downspouts that point away from your home, if it doesn’t direct it far enough away, the soil can absorb it all and cause trouble. 

  • Lawn Grade  

Every lawn can be graded either positively or negatively. A positive lawn grade means the lawn naturally directs the soil away from your home. A negative grade means that the lawn’s shallow slope allows the water to collect around the home. 

A positive lawn grade should have the ground slope downward by three inches every 10 or so feet. You can have your lawn assessed by a professional and if it seems it has a negative grade, it can be fixed. Flooding is very common in the state of North Carolina and given how much it rains at any time of the year, making sure your lawn has a positive grade is crucial. 

  • Windows and Window Wells  

Homeowners need to keep a close eye on the condition of their basement windows and window wells. Over time, basement windows can’t keep out water as well as they used to. The frame bends out of shape, the seal loosens up, and the glass cracks and breaks. This gives water and easy entry to your basement. Even if not much water gets in, it does raise the humidity levels in the basement, which can further damage the window as well as the wood and concrete. 

Window wells are specifically designed to separate the foundation soil from getting into the basement through the window. They are also designed to improve yard grading. When the well is damaged, water can leak into your basement. If you’re having problems with basement leaks and flooding and have a window well, you’ll need to check if it’s working as intended. 

  • Damaged Sump Pump  

A sump pump is a drainage device installed in basements. They’re meant to drain out any water that gets in to keep your space from getting flooded. If the sump pump is damaged, it will not be able to properly drain out the water. If sump pump issues happen regularly, you’ll need to talk to a contractor who can install a reliable sump pump so you can keep your basement as dry as possible.  

  • Expansive Soil 

The kind of soil most of North Carolina relies on as a foundation, Cecil soil, can cause a lot of damage. This is because it’s expansive clay soil, meaning that it swells when wet. The more soil can expand, the more it shrinks once all its water content dries up. When soil shrinks, all the soil particles come closer together, which makes the soil denser. However, cracks and gaps begin to form, and more water is able to seep through. 

As the soil shrinks and comes together, it loses its topsoil. Since your home is no longer supported by the soil, it begins to settle. Your home’s concrete cracks, which only serves to allow more water to seep through. Because soil shrinkage allows for more water to seep through the ground, your basement walls are now subject to hydrostatic pressure. 

  • Poor Waterproofing  

In recent years, waterproofing a basement has become a popular thing to do because homeowners are now realizing how effective it is at preventing floods and humidity. Of course, traditional methods of waterproofing are put into place when building a house, however, these methods tend to be temporary because people underestimate moisture and its ability to erode and break up materials. Sealants, special cement mixtures, waterproof paints, and other waterproofing methods used for basements are eventually unable to hold back the water. 

When you live in a place like North Carolina, one of the top 10 states most susceptible to flooding, you need to properly waterproof your basement, or you’ll be dealing with poor foundation drainage issues for years to come. Proper waterproofing methods involve installing an interior drainage system as well as a sump pump and dehumidifier. Vapor barriers also have their place in basement waterproofing, as well. It may seem like too much, but each piece plays a role in making sure your basement never has flooding or humidity problems ever again. 

Concrete isn’t as solid as we think. It’s actually permeable, and water can easily seep through it and reach the soil. Making sure your basement is waterproof prevents future foundation drainage issues. 

What Can Be Done About Poor Foundation Drainage? 

As you now know, poor foundation drainage can end up destroying your home and costing you a lot of money in the long run. Thankfully, there are multiple things that can be done in order to repair and prevent the consequences of poor foundation drainage. 

  • Indoors 

The best thing you can do to prevent poor foundation drainage is waterproof your basement. Even if you have an external drainage system put in place, having an internal drainage system helps take the load off the outside one, which saves you money and saves you from a big headache. Among the many waterproofing methods you can choose from, there is: 

Interior Drains 

Should water infiltrate your basement, you need a way to intercept it before it reaches and damages the rest of your basement. An interior drainage system placed throughout your basement’s perimeter and just underneath the floor checks this box. Any water collected by this specially designed system drains into a sump pump system so it can be removed from your home. 

Sump Pump 

A sump pump is a machine that mechanically pumps water out of and away from your basement. As we just mentioned, this system works hand in hand with the interior drain in your basement. It automatically deals with water so you won’t have to worry about basement flooding anymore. 

Vapor Barrier 

Vapor barriers are typically used for crawl space encapsulations, but they have other practical uses, as well. A thick and durable vapor barrier placed on your basement walls will help prevent moisture and vapor intrusion in your basement. 


A dehumidifier keeps the humidity levels low. It prevents mold growth in your basement, which can spell trouble for your wood, concrete, and anything else you have stored in your basement. A lack of humidity also discourages insects and pests from coming in and making a nest in your basement. 

  • Outdoor  

Aside from interior waterproofing, the foundation outside your home needs to be taken care of as well. Exterior solutions are the most important part of making sure your foundation’s integrity stays structurally sound, so observe the way water collects around your home so you can understand what needs to be done. Outdoor solutions include: 

Re-grading Your Yard 

If your house looks like a castle in the middle of a moat every time there’s heavy rainfall, you need to re-grade your yard. A negative yard grade means the soil slopes in such a way that all the rainwater gets directed toward your house instead of the street. Re-grading your yard means altering the ground so there’s an incremental downward slope so all the water trails away from your home.  

Downspout Repositioning and Altering 

If your downspouts point toward your house, they aren’t positioned correctly. Downspouts need to point away from the home so the water doesn’t affect the foundation around a building’s perimeter. Downspouts can also be extended so the water gets drained farther away from the foundation. If the soil near your foundation is affected by swelling and shrinking, it will eventually affect the home’s foundation soil. Extending your downspouts, and even having the extensions placed in the ground, is a great way to avoid this. 

Window Wells 

Window wells serve as a barrier between the soil and your basement’s window. Window wells prevent your basement windows from getting damaged because of expansive soil. As the name implies, it’s a small well or trench that’s dug into the ground. They often have a drainage system in place so that when it rains, the water won’t fill the well up. They come in a variety of forms and styles so you can choose one that matches the aesthetics of your house or garden. 

Exterior Discharge Line Attachments 

If you have a sump pump, there are various ways you can alter its discharge line so it’s more effective in pumping the water away from your home’s foundation. It all depends on the company installing the sump pump, but reputable contractors should install a line attachment like FreezeGuard™. When your sump pump’s exterior discharge pipe gets frozen or blocked, it’s unable to drain water properly. A discharge line attachment makes sure water keeps getting drained away from your home, even if the discharge pipe is frozen. 

Exterior French Drain 

An exterior French drain is a pipe that’s installed within a trench encased in gravel. It’s a type of drainage system that uses gravity to direct water away from the home. An area drain is similar to an interior drain save for the fact that it only drains water from specific areas of the house, so it’s a good drain choice if you only have drainage problems in some areas. 

Poor Foundation Drainage


The biggest argument for foundation drainage repair and basement waterproofing is hydrostatic pressure. It’s something many homeowners may not be aware of because it has to do with the water content within the foundation’s soil. It’s something that homeowners aren’t able to detect until it’s already too late, and the only way to avoid it is by properly waterproofing your basement and making sure the drainage system is functioning properly. 

How It Works 

Soil, especially expansive soil, is capable of collecting and holding large amounts of water. You might not think it, but water can actually be extremely heavy. If your house does not have a proper foundation drainage system, a lot of water will begin to collect underneath the soil. 

However, it’s not just underground water that puts pressure against the walls of your basement. Any water that sits atop your yard will increase the hydrostatic pressure and make the situation worse. This is why it’s important to waterproof your basement as well as make all the necessary alterations to your outdoor drainage system. 

How it Affects Your Home 

Because of how heavy the water is, it will place a large amount of pressure on the walls of your basement. Despite how strong concrete seems, it’s no match against the force of water. It will begin to bow inward and will eventually crack. 

Cracked basement walls are a huge issue. The more cracks there are, the more frequently you’ll have to deal with leaks. If your basement walls are cracked because of hydrostatic pressure, you can bet that there is a lot of water pushing against your basement just waiting to get through.

How do you know your home is suffering from poor foundation drainage? It’s important to deal with the problem before the damages get too expensive or ruin the quality of life in your own house. Even if the drainage issues have caused some sort of damage around your property, repairs can still be done and prevention methods can be put into place before things get worse. Here’s everything you need to know to detect the problems: 

  • In the Home 

You’ll notice when there’s a drainage issue in your yard from within your own home. Because poor foundation issues affect the basement, you’ll be able to tell based on the mold growth, leaking, flooding, and humidity within the basement. If the drainage issues are really bad, your entire house will be inundated with the uncomfortable smell of humidity, and mold might even begin to grow in other areas of the house. 

Poor foundation drainage affects your soil, and when soils shrink or erode due to exposure to excess moisture, settling occurs soon after. Because of foundation settling, you might notice that your window and door frames are warped, cracked, or tilted. 

  • Outside the Home  

After some rain, it’s normal for the soil to be moist. However, there shouldn’t be large, deep puddles in your yard. With a proper drainage system in place and a positive yard grade, whatever puddle that forms should be gone in a few hours if there is sufficient sun. Significant paint peeling near the bottom half of your home is another sign to take note of. 

Settling concrete is another sign of poor foundation drainage. When the soil underneath your concrete steps, patio, or driveway is expanding and swelling, it will no longer be capable of supporting your concrete. All concrete settles over time, but if the concrete around your home shows significant signs of settling despite being covered, it could have to do with foundation drainage problems. 

One of the biggest threats to your home’s foundation drainage is expansive soil. As a matter of fact, it’s a threat to the entire structure of your house if you don’t take the necessary measures to prevent the damage. So, if expansive soil is that bad, why is it still used in construction, especially in a state like North Carolina, where the soil gets wet often? Turns out, expansive soils such as Cecil soil have their uses and are preferred by some site masters because of their properties. On some occasions, they might even make for a better foundation than other types of soils. 

  • Expansive Soil Properties  

While it is true that expansive soils tend to swell and shrink a lot, they compact better than any other soil. Soil that is to be used as a foundation must be compacted well so that it can be tough and dense. When properly compacted, expansive soils are firm, stable foundations. 

Because of these specific properties, many site managers prefer to use expansive soils. Other types of soils would have to be compacted multiple times before they are ready to be used as foundations. Because expansive soils compact so well, they are very easy to manipulate, which saves time during a construction job. 

  • Other Soils  

Other soils like gravel and sand have less clay in them, so they are less absorbent and don’t swell as much. As a result, they don’t shrink as much either. This might make them seem like the more attractive option as foundation soils, however, they have their downsides as well. 

Soils that don’t compact very well have a lot of air between each particle. Because of this, they are very loose and have a tendency to fall apart and give way when exposed to water or when there’s an earthquake. North Carolina may not get major earthquakes, but the earth is shaking with mini tremors all the time. Even though we don’t feel it, it does affect the ground significantly. 

Call Tar Heel Basement Systems for Basement Waterproofing and Repairs 

There’s a big difference between hiring a general contractor and relying on foundation repair experts to fix poor foundation drainage. Tar Heel Basement Systems specializes in basement and foundation repairs, and we’re proud to serve Winston-Salem and Raleigh, NC. We’re no jack of all trades, so we only work with the best tools in the industry for the job. Your property has never been in safer hands. 

If you’re having problems with your foundation and basement drainage system, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Contact us today to schedule a free inspection and repair estimate

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