Everything you wanted to know about bulkheads but were too afraid to ask

- Monday, December 06, 2021

Bulkheads are an integral part of the foundation and basement. A1 Foundation Crack Repair gets a lot of calls about them, especially when they are leaking.  The Crack Daddy covers this topic in detail.

Narrator: It’s time once again for the “Crack Man Podcast” hosted by A1 Foundation Crack Repair. I’m Darren Kincaid here with the Crack Daddy himself, Adam Tracy. Adam and The Crack Man Rich have over 30 years’ experience in the construction industry. Rich as over 25 years as the president and founder of A1 Foundation Crack Repair. This podcast provides expert basement waterproofing, concrete repair, and preventative maintenance tips for homeowners and businesses. A1 Foundation’s valuable insight will help avert a disastrous flood within the basement, health problems associated with water infiltration, and protect your biggest investment….your home. The topic of today’s podcast: Everything you wanted to know about bulkheads but were too afraid to ask.

Narrator: So Adam, bulkheads are an integral part of the foundation and basement, you must get a lot of calls about them especially when they’re leaking, right?

Adam: We get a lot of calls on bulkheads. And you’re right in that they’re necessary in a lot of homes. Not every home has a walkout foundation where you can just walk out to the backyard. A lot of them you have to come up and out of the ground there, so bulkheads have been a tried and sure way of doing that for many decades. Depending on what type of bulkhead you have sets the stage as to what you can accomplish and not accomplish when it comes to waterproofing and keeping the basement dry.

In general, there are 3 different types of bulkheads. When we get a call about a bulkhead from the homeowner, the first question I’ll ask them is, “what kind of material are the stairs made out of”? If you have concrete stairs going up, more than likely you have a precast bulkhead, which I’ll kind of get into what that is and how it works. If you have wooden stairs going up, where you can usually see through them in towards the back, you have a poured in place bulkhead, which I’ll get into as well. And then if you have metal stairs going up, you have a metal bulkhead, which is kind of a dying breed of bulkheads but they’re still out there and they cause lots of issues.

The most common type of bulkhead is a precast bulkhead, and what that is, is during the construction of the house, they cut open the wall, and they dig out and drop in a pre-manufactured bulkhead. Usually, it is made of concrete and have a steel cap on top or the door skull, and they drop this into the hole, they bolt it on to the foundation, and then they backfill it, and then you have your stairs going up. Most often with these types of bulkheads when they’re leaking, they leak at that seam of where the concrete foundation meets that precast manufactured concrete. They put a sealant in there and it’s like a rubberized gasket and they’ll both be sealed on. But what happens typically on this is that depending on how they backfilled, where they put the dirt back into the hole underneath the bulkhead, will really determine whether or not that’s going to stay as a sealed environment. Most often when we’re seeing water coming through here, it’s because there’s a rocking motion with these bulkheads. When the freezing and thawing cycles happen through the winter in spring month, the bulkhead will actually move relative to the house foundation and it breaks down that seal around the bulkhead. So, unfortunately there’s not a whole lot you can do with that outside of waterproofing that joint. The real underlying issue is the fact that they didn’t backfill it well and they didn’t compact the soil as well so that there’s a movement going on there. So we can get in there, we can waterproof that joint around the concrete, so the usual, people will see it typically at the floor or at the threshold of the doors, but they’ll also see it coming down the walls where it’s attached to the foundation.

Another type of bulkhead that we get into a lot are the poured in place bulkheads. It’s a kind of an extension of the original foundation, it’s part of when they did the original foundation pour, and it’s almost like a square jetty of foundation that sits outside of the normal square or rectangular box of the foundation. So these are actually an extension of the foundation and the way we treat them is just like a normal foundation, there’s no gaskets per se, there’s no difference in what the foundation is versus the interior basement of the foundation, it’s just a different part of the foundation. So in terms of waterproofing it, usually we treat it as just a normal foundation, the biggest difficulty there is the stairs usually have to come out because we have to get in behind them.

The last one we’ll talk about are the metal bulkheads. Metal bulkheads were very popular in the 60s and 70s, and they were just like a precast bulkhead where it was made of concrete, except it’s metal everywhere -- the bottom is metal, the stairs are metal, the sides are metal and the top is metal. The problem as you would imagine is when you put a big metal bulkhead that’s made of steel against the ground for 20, 30, 50, 60 years, rust starts to occur, and rot starts to occur. And unfortunately when that happens, there’s really not a whole lot of saving there, there’s really not much you can do. You can, usually if it’s at the seams, you can try to seal it with a high-grade polyurethane sealant, but in reality as the water starts to go, it goes. And usually I’m looking at replacing versus repairing for those. So those are kind of a bummer for homeowners who discover that they have one of these types of bulkheads.

The other area where bulkheads typically leak on is at the transition between the cap and the concrete, that cap and concrete a lot of times they’re called the Bilco Doors. Those doors, if they’re not fitted properly, or if rust starts to develop around the perimeter, or if the sealant that was once put in when they were installed starts to fail, time to basically reseal that bulkhead. A lot of times we’ll get into this when we have found out the water’s coming down the doors and over the concrete lip, basically it’s as simple as stripping out the old stuff, wire brushing, reestablishing a good seal surface there, and then resealing interior and exterior of the bulkhead to make sure that it’s sealed out as best as possible.

So those are the basics on the bulkheads, most of them can be resolved unless you have an all metal bulkhead, usually those are challenging. But if you have a precast bulkhead or if you have a poured in place bulkhead, there are a lot of solutions to keeping the basement dry if the big source is coming from that area. Always if you have questions, make sure you talk to somebody who knows what’s going on with these because the approach can vary tremendously between the two, so it’s really important to know what kind of bulkhead you have before we can even talk about the types of repairs that are appropriate for it.

Narrator: Wow, what an impressive amount of great information and you certainly are a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for explaining bulkheads and what you can do to maintain them.

Narrator: If you have a basement water problem and think you need a professional, or, if you’d like more information on foundation crack repair and basement waterproofing topics, please visit A1FoundationCrackRepair.com or call Rich at (866) 929-3171. Or you can email Rich at info@a1foundationcrackrepair.com. Thanks for listening and keep that basement dry.

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A-1 Foundation Crack Repair, Inc. is a fully registered home improvement contractor. Contact us today to talk to a knowledgeable, master waterproofing professional.

E-mail: info@a1foundationcrackrepair.com
Toll Free: 866-929-3171

Call Us Today at 866-929-3171

A-1 Foundation Crack Repair, Inc. is a fully registered home improvement contractor. Contact us today to talk to a knowledgeable, master waterproofing professional.