Why You Want to Grade the Soil around your Home | Minimizing Water Intrusion

Landscaping finished, still some windows to do.

Water in the basement? There are easy things you can do to minimize this, such as grading and landscaping the soil, putting on gutters, and making any necessary repairs to cracks or leaky foundations.
Sand next to the foundation to improve drainage.

I have done this with many houses and it has worked to minimize water and humidity in the basement, and protect the foundation.   

Before-and-after grading and landscaping.

Even if you live on top of a hill, you can get water in your basement. In fact that happened to a brother of mine.  He ended up with an insurance payout, which he used to drain tile his foundation.  Drain tiling jack  hammers out the cement around the foundation in your basement, installs a permeable water pipe to drain the water to a sump pump, which then pumps the water out. The area of cement taken out is re-covered with fresh cement.  Drain tiling will generally take care of water intrusion, but it is very costly.

So before you get to that point, you may be able to address the issue by simply grading and landscaping around your foundation.

This post will cover those basic steps and techniques.

  1. Grading the Soil
  2. Landscaping:  Why I Don't Recommend Landscape Fabric/Felt
  3. Landscaping:  Set the Edging Deeply
  4. Drain Tubes:  When the House is Set Very Low to the Ground
  5. Putting Gutters On
  6. Field Stone Foundation Repair

1.  Grading the Soil

When I grade the soil, I like to use sand next to the foundation. Sand drains better and will help keep moisture away from the foundation. This video shows the process of putting in window wells and grading the soil around a house.

Before-and-after grading and landscaping

With the  house below, the yard sloped downward towards the house from the street. So I had the contractors dig the driveway down, pave it up to the house, and add the soil to the yard, sloping it away from the home.  I once got a small stream of water in the basement, but after this I didn't.

Before-and-after grading and landscaping

2. Landscaping: Why I Don't Recommend Landscape Fabric/Felt

The second part of grading your soil is putting plastic and rocks around the perimeter.  I have seen plants and trees grow through and into landscape felt/fabric, so I only use 6 ml. black plastic under the rocks.  This video shows landscaping around an AC.  He does a nice job, except he uses landscape fabric, which doesn't work well in Minnesota.

I graded all the soil around the below house, put in window wells, new basement block windows, and landscaped it. This kept the basement less moist and minimized the amount of water in the two sump pumps.

Before-and-after grading and landscaping

3. Landscaping:  Set the Edging Deeply 

Landscaping needs to have deeply set edging to keep the grass from growing up underneath it.  The edging also needs to be staked to keep it from getting pushed up. When you buy a roll of edger, it may come with plastic stakes you can use.

Deeply set edging.

The below edging is simply set on the ground, which will allow grass to grow between the edgers.  The edgers are also easy to dislodge. They need to be embedded flush with the ground with plastic underneath them.      

Grading and landscaping.  The edgers should be
buried to minimize plant intrusion.

I once used these ties as edging, but had to dig up the ground around them and nail in some edging to keep the grass from growing underneath them or the plastic and into the rocks. You'll also notice that leaves are an issue with rocks. They have to removed annually, or the will accumulate and  you will get plants growing in your rocks.

Edging nailed on to the ties to stop plant intrusion.

4. Drain Pipe:  When the House is Set Very Low to the Ground

Old houses were often built very low to the ground, as this was less expensive than adding more foundation to raise it higher.  The below house, for example, is very low to the ground and it was difficult if not impossible to grade the soil away from the home.
The arrows show the gutters that feed into the buried drain tubing.

So my seller dug in drain tubes, hooked the gutters up to the drain tubes, and emptied the lines in the alley.  This flushed water away from the home. 

Trenches for the piping.

Notice the sand beneath the piping for better drainage.  

Also, even though this house was high on a hill, it had a very damp basement, and a dehumidifier was needed to keep the basement relatively dry.

5. Putting Gutters On

Gutters are essential to moving the water away from the home. On the below house gutters were added to both porches.

Gutters on both porches.

Gutters have to be cleaned every year, or they can back up or get trees and plants growing in them if left long enough.  This can contribute to moisture near the home, which can cause rotting in the fascia and/or roof. 

This video shows a basic way to clean your gutter.  You can also buy extension rods to clean the gutter from the ground.

6. Field Stone Foundation Repair

Cracked or damaged foundations can contribute to water leaking in a house.

When I was restoring a farmhouse I bought, I had to repair the fieldstone foundation. The cement holding the stones together was crumbling, and the foundation was leaky. This was a very time intensive and laborious process, but it improved the house tremendously.

Repairing a field stone foundation.

Before-and-after of the same side of the house.

Here is another side of the house that was repaired. Foundations can also be excavated to be repaired. At that point you might want to replace the foundation if you are going to go that far.

Repairing a field stone foundation.

Landscaping after repairing the field stone foundation.

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