Preventing Basement Water Leaks:

Fixing A Leaking Basement: 
Soil Grading - The Easiest First Step

In This Article:

Soil is built up against the foundation, a 3' wide sheet of plastic is adhered to the wall and covered with bark chips.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 1 (Very Basic) Time Taken: 2½ Hours

By , Editor


There are many causes of foundation leaks. Some repairs can be extremely expensive, some can be quick and cheap. It makes sense to try the cheap-and-easy repairs first, to see if they work, before digging into the heavy stuff.

Basement leak remedies can take two basic forms:

1. Keeping water away from the foundation.
2. Ensuring a water-tight seal all around the foundation.

Generally, solutions that fall into category #1 are easier and cheaper. These could be:

  • Make sure the soil is properly graded away from the foundation.
  • Deter water from entering the soil next to the house by covering the ground with a water-tight barrier, such as plastic, or soil with a high clay content.
  • Escort the water away from the foundation area with a simple system of drain pipes.
  • Install rain gutters and ensure that the downspouts are directed well away from the foundation.

The solutions from category #2 would include excavating the soil around the house and:

  • Filling any cracks in the foundation with hydraulic (expanding) cement.
  • Repairing loose or poorly finished mortar joints in concrete block foundations.
  • Coating the foundation with a sealant, such as tar, Thoro-Seal (a cement-based product), or a bituminous membrane like Vycor Ice and Water Shield.


But the house in this article will not likely need any major surgery, since there was a visible "weak spot" in the soil grading.


The soil around the front of the house was either level or had a slight slope towards the foundation. Since the soil was sandy, the foundation rarely leaked. But when the snow melted in the springtime, there were a few small wet spots inside the foundation, just below this point.


I wrapped burlap around some of the shrubs to keep them out of the way.


I shoveled sand against the foundation. I would have used soil with some clay content, but I had no source for the small quantity needed. I used about 14 cubic feet of fill, to create a wedge-shaped berm, about 8" deep by 24" across, and 21 feet long. The slope of the soil is a bit steeper than necessary, but it will pack down over time.


I covered the sand with a 3 foot wide sheet of 4 mil black plastic. I used scissors and a knife to cut the plastic around the trees and shrubs. I sprinkled a little sand on the plastic to keep the wind from blowing it around.


Then I applied some butyl caulking to the back edge of the plastic...


... and stuck the plastic to the wall. (I cleaned the cement blocks first with a little whisk broom.) Butyl caulking stays flexible for years, and sticks well to concrete.


The homeowners bought some shredded cedar bark to cover the plastic. We applied a layer about 3" deep.


All done. That was too easy. Next spring we'll know if it works. 

If the basement still leaks, (and we're confident it won't) we'll proceed to digging a shallow trench and installing some 4" PVC drain pipes, just in front of the new berm.



Tools Used:

  • Shovel
  • Stone Rake
  • Knife
  • Scissors
  • Caulk Gun

Materials Used:

  • Polyethylene Plastic Sheet, Black
  • Butyl Caulk
  • Cedar Bark Chips


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Copyright © 2005

Written June 18, 2000
Revised January 11, 2005