Leaking Basements and Shifting Foundations Need Professional Solutions
Aug 31, 2018 11:40AM
By Vanessa Orr
It’s been a rainy summer, which means that it’s been a pretty busy time for basement waterproofing companies. And while this wet weather certainly hasn’t helped homeowners who already had problems with leaking basements or foundation issues, it’s also been an issue with people who may not have had water in their basements before.
“More often than not, leaking is due to the construction of the foundation, and while many homes begin to leak at about the 25- to 30-year mark, we’ve been called to do work on 1- or 2-year-old homes,” said Giulio Bevilacqua, owner of Highlander Waterproofing & Foundation Repair, which has been in business for a decade and has locations in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, OH and Rochester and Buffalo, NY. “A lot of folks who have had small problems or who have never even had water in their basements before are now dealing with collapsed walls—they’ve gone from zero problems to catastrophic failures overnight.”
According to Bevilacqua, foundation problems are classified into four stages, ranging from homeowners seeing peeling paint and smelling mildew-type odors, to flooded basements, to minor cracks in the walls and then catastrophic failures.
“Most people call us when they’ve had problems for years, and are now dealing with a flooded basement and a ruined water heater or furnace,” he explained. “It’s human nature to procrastinate—we’re all guilty of it. But I highly suggest being proactive; no one wants to have to replace a whole foundation.”
Brian Baker of Baker’s Waterproofing & Foundation Repair has also been busy this year because of the rains, but says that surprisingly enough, dry weather isn’t that friendly to foundations, either.
“This year, the heavy rains have exaggerated some of the things that we see every year; after a really strong rain, everyone calls us at the same time because they have water leaking into their basements,” he said. “When the clay soil base gets wet, it expands, bowing in foundation walls.
“When the weather is dry, the clay dries up and shrinks, which can cause foundations to drop, along with driveways and sidewalks, which we also fix,” he continued. “Foundations are supposed to be built on ground not affected by moisture content, but we still see a lot of sinking foundations and tilting sidewalks.”
While homeowners may not want to deal with such issues, waiting isn’t going to help the situation. “These types of problems—leaky basements, shifting and cracking foundations, musty crawlspaces, sinking concrete—don’t stop on their own,” Baker said. “Each year—each season—it gets a little bit worse, and the longer it goes on, the more damage that it causes. Ideally, a homeowner will call when it’s a little bit of a problem, but people are natural procrastinators, and think, ‘I can deal with that next spring.’”
One of the reasons that no one is anxious to have repairs done is that they can be costly—and they are not covered by insurance. “Unless it’s a mine subsidence issue, insurance doesn’t cover it,” said Baker. “And these repairs don’t run in the hundreds; you can’t just go to Lowe’s and buy some waterproofing paint. If that worked, we wouldn’t evaluate thousands of homes every year.”
Every home is different, which means that each solution needs to be tailored to the home and the homeowner.
“It’s an extensive process to fix problems like these, so after we come out and look at the property, we lay out all of the different options available to fix it, along with itemized prices, so that the homeowner can choose as much or as little protection as they want,” said Baker. “Some people are very concerned about mold, so they want added precautions; others have the, ‘It’s been there forever,’ attitude, so it’s not as big of an issue. What we do is really in control of the homeowner, and we consult with them to get their input.”
Both Baker’s and Highlander offer free estimates, as well as a range of solutions. “You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach; there are many different solutions ranging from carbon fiber technology that can be used to stitch a wall back together, to inside drain tile systems and sump pumps,” said Bevilacqua. “Sometimes it can be a simple fix, like sealing a wall crack for a couple hundred dollars, or it can be a $60,000 project where we need to replace the foundation.”
Both companies offer financing options and also warranty their work. They also caution that homeowners should do their research before hiring a waterproofing company.
“Very often, people think that we all do the same thing, and that’s absolutely not true,” said Baker, whose company has been in business for 43 years. “You need to look for an established company that has been in business for a long time and that respects your time and your property. Integrity is everything.”
“The fundamental problem with this industry is that no one governs it,” agreed Bevilacqua. “My nephew is 18 years old, and could grab a pickup truck and a shovel, and say he’s in the business. There are a lot of predatory companies out there, and you need to be wary, especially if a company tells you that they’ll give you a discount, but it’s only good today—you shouldn’t make a decision on the spot; you should shop around.”
How to Find a Reliable Company
According to Bevilacqua, homeowners should always get more than one estimate, as well as do a thorough background check on any company that they are considering hiring. “The cheapest option is not necessarily the best solution,” he said. “In fact, a large part of our business is replacing other contractors’ work.”
He also suggests checking out a company’s warranty. “We offer some of the best warranties in the business for the life of the structure,” he said. “We also back it up with a five-year inspection at no charge, because we want to be proactive and make sure that there aren’t any other problems.”
Baker agrees that warranties are important, as is the reputation of the company that offers them. “A long warranty is nice, but if the company goes out of business, or changes its name, suddenly you don’t have a warranty anymore,” he explained.
“We offer a lifetime warranty against water seepage in the areas that we treat, and if there are repairs needed, there is no charge,” he said, adding that if the home is sold, the warranty transfers to the new owner for the balance of 25 years from when the work was performed.
He also suggests that homeowners look for a company that they feel respects their time. “While an average repair can take about two days, there’s no such thing as a typical job—but if a crew is good and knows what they’re doing, they’ll be efficient. You don’t want a contractor that comes in one day, and is gone for a week before coming back.
“Look for professional, responsible people who will treat you the way they want to be treated,” he added, saying that third-party endorsements and awards are also a good sign of reputable work. “This is not a fun project, and you only want to do it once. You want to choose right the first time.”