Water in the Basement

As usual, the weather here in Madison, Wisconsin, brought some surprises this past year. We moved into our house during a summer drought and watered sagging plants to try to save them. Then during the following winter, warm temperatures and heavy rains brought water into many basements in the area, including ours (despite a clean condition report that didn’t indicate water problems in the basement). One moment a drought, the next moment water in the basement. We really hoped this wasn’t typical weather.

Water entering our basement this past winter.

Water entering our basement this past winter.

While we were able to fare ok in our house during the drought, the winter weather was a problem that hit closer to home. As the temperatures rose and precipitation turned from snow to rain in January, water began to pool up on top of the frozen ground. With no where to go, it poured into our basement under two of the windows. We rushed to move our belongings away from that corner. Luckily, the water formed a river and flowed into the drain about 20 feet away. But part of our basement was now unavailable for storage.

We already had a sump pump and floor drain tiles along that corner of the basement, which seemed to be working. However, we wondered if there was anything wrong with our setup. Searching for answers, we contacted a couple of businesses that specialize in basement water problems. The businesses proposed to cut a hole in the basement wall under the windows and install drain pipes going to the sump pump. For $700, we could cycle water from our window wells, down to the sump pump, and then back out to the side of our house again. Hmmmm, it seemed like there should be a better solution. We didn’t want holes in the basement wall or fancy features which could become clogged or require repair. Rather, we wanted to prevent the water from coming near our house.

The south corner of our house is a low point on our property.

The south corner of our house is a low point on our property.

Next, we contacted some landscaping companies about how to keep the water away from the house. Some of them recommended digging the window wells deeper and adding rocks so that the water would drain down and not get saturated next to the basement windows. Another company proposed, for $1400, removing the timbers bordering the house’s landscaping, re-grading the soil next to the house, and adding a swale to move the water away from the house. We liked these ideas better since they sounded more natural. We didn’t need our sump pump running if we could just keep the water away in the first place. We decided to wait until spring to start our outdoor re-landscaping project.

April showers bring... a small pond along our house.

April showers bring… a small pond along our house.

As the weather got warmer, we hoped that the water problems would go away, but in April we had a couple weeks of rainfall which really got our sump pump running again. A small pond formed next to that same south corner of our house and Mallard ducks came to splash about.

The previous owners of the house had planted a number of hostas on the southwest side of the house. I can imagine that these plants helped absorb some of the water as it pooled up from heavy rainfalls in the summer, but unfortunately, they aren’t able to help in the winter and early spring. Likewise, a more formal rain garden or a rain barrel aren’t able to hold water at these times of year. Controlling the path of the water by re-grading and using swales or berms sounds like a better option to start with.

Here are my current thoughts for a complete solution:
1. Remove the landscaping timbers on the southwest side of the house.
2. Dig the window wells deeper and add rocks.
3. Dig a swale to channel water away from the house.
4. Use soil to re-grade along the southwest side of the house.
5. Raise the soil level in low areas to that of the surrounding area.
6. Add a rain barrel on the south corner of the house.
7. Add a berm around the south corner of the house to divert water to the swale.
8. Add a rain garden at the end of the swale to prevent water from making it to the sewer.

Since weather conditions could be quite different next year, we might not know for several years if our work pays off. But I’m inclined to believe that climate change will continue to bring extreme weather in the future and that any steps we take to improve the flow of water on our property will make a difference. I will post updates as we take on this water challenge.

Hostas on the southwest side of our house last summer.

Hostas on the southwest side of our house last summer.

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4 thoughts on “Water in the Basement

  1. Pingback: Removing Landscape Timbers | SimpliCitySoil

  2. Pingback: Improving Drainage by Window Wells | SimpliCitySoil

  3. Pingback: Planning to Dig a Swale | SimpliCitySoil

  4. Pingback: Digging a Swale | SimpliCitySoil

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