By Annmarie Timmins
Rich “Crackman” Comeras has been in the wet basement business for 20 years, so he’s pretty convincing when he says there are three things in life you can count on: “Death, taxes, and, if you have concrete, it’s going to crack.”
And in the right conditions — a trifecta of spring thaw, snow melt, and rain — a crack can lead to water in the basement and even mold, especially if that basement is finished. “We are busy all year round,” said Comeras, owner of A-1 Foundation Crack Repair in Hudson. “But when we have three days of rain, we are answering the phone from 6 a.m. to 10 o’clock at night.”
While the Boston area may not be facing a three-day deluge, snow is melting and rain is in the forecast for Friday.
So if you find yourself with a wet basement, you’ve got two paths to a solution: Tackle the problem yourself or call a professional. Either way, the first step is identifying the source of your water problem.
Is water coming in from the outside, from heavy rain or snow melt? Or, is it an indoor humidity problem? The answer is obvious if you’ve got an inch of water on your basement floor. If not, Family Handyman, a DIY website for homeowners, recommends taping a piece of aluminum foil to your basement wall for a few days. Moisture on the wall behind the foil means water is coming from the outside. Moisture on the front of the foil points to high indoor humidity.
The DIY approach
Jeff Underwood’s family has been operating Robinsons Hardware in Framingham and Hudson for nearly 60 years. Early on, Underwood’s father taught seminars for homeowners who wanted to tackle their wet basement themselves. The seminars ended years ago, but Underwood still walks customers through their options when they come in, often in a panic.
Underwood can rent you a water pump and wet/dry vacuum to remove the water, a blower to dry the area, a dehumidifier to pull remaining moisture from the air, and even an ozone generator to eliminate lingering odors. Places like Home Depot and Rental Depot of Boston also rent some equipment.
If you have a finished basement, you need to get the rugs out and replace any sheetrock that has absorbed water. Pull any snow away from your foundation. Make sure your gutters are clean and downspouts are directed away from your foundation. Consider a downspout extender that drains the water even farther away.
Once the water is gone, you can plug cracks with caulking and then seal them with a concrete-like sealant, a silicone-based sealant, or waterproofing paint. Those products cost between $30 and $50. This is likely going be a short-term fix: Either the sealant will give way to the water or you’ll get new cracks in your concrete.
Your long-term solution is installing a pump and drainage system in your concrete floor. The Internet has plenty of videos that will tell you how to do this, but the tool and equipment list is long and includes a jackhammer. This is when Underwood would suggest calling in a professional.
Calling in the experts
Ron Canelli, owner of Northeast Basement Systems in Seabrook, N.H., has seen a lot of DIY-gone-bad situations in his 30 years of waterproofing basements and crawl spaces. “Homeowners spend a lot of money to paint and seal the basement,” he said. “It’s a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of energy [for] a solution we know is not going to work.”
Canelli’s drainage systems run the perimeter of the basement and sit above the surface for easy access, rather than under the floor like some drainage systems. Wall panels direct water coming from outside into a drain channel that is connected to a sump pump. The sump pump removes the water from the basement.
It’s not a cheap solution — $6,000 to $9,000 — but it comes with a warranty that transfers to a new owner if you sell your home.
Comeras is also not a fan of the hardware store sealants and waterproof paints. “If you think about it, how can paint stop [water] pressure from coming through a wall?” he said. “It can’t.” He explains this — and more — in detail in his Crackman podcasts and videos on his website, www.a1foundationcrackrepair.com.
Comeras focuses on sealing cracks and leaks with things that sound very un-DIY — like “epoxy injection” and “weave carbon fiber blanket repairs” — and installing sump pumps. Rather than a drainage system, Comeras’ fixes aim to keep water from seeping in. It’s a cheaper fix — under $700 — that also comes with a warranty that transfers if you sell your home.