I don't know if it's possible to give useful advice on this without actually seeing various details, but hey, maybe talking it out will help me :) I've tried editing this down to cut out some details, but it's still pretty dang long. Skip to the end of this post for more general thoughts.
Some background: it's a bungalow-style house in the Chicago suburbs (edit: almost 100 years old). For anyone unfamiliar, those tend to look something like this:
http://www.trbimg.com/img-53c083ef/turb ... 3-20140713. As you can see, they tend to be much deeper than they are wide, and there is very little space between buildings. We and our neighbors have driveways running alongside the house instead of sidewalks, but there is still very little space between the house and the neighbor's driveway (only like a couple of feet). Ground level is a little under the basement windows (no window wells). Brick siding (on 3 sides), poured concrete foundation, tile flooring, no drain tile / no sump pump. Gutters are clear, and downspouts extend as far away from the house as they can, and they seem to be working fine.
The basement was finished by a house flipper. We would like to use the basement as some extra living space, but we've been putting that off until we're more sure our stuff won't get flooded down there (usually it's not so bad, but one time during a bad rainstorm we got a huge puddle down there).
Water gets in when it rains, in two or three separate approximate locations (it's not been completely consistent), appearing where an exterior wall meets the floor. The problem tends to be worst during sudden intense rain; slower precipitation that saturates the ground with water doesn't seem as problematic.
In one area, the foundation wall is honeycombing in spots, and we've seen a little water come in through there. (So water is coming in via foundation cracks, but they can't be fixed by crack injection.) In another area, the foundation wall is fine for all the spots we've checked; we think water is likely coming in over the top of the foundation wall, or even higher through the masonry. Trying to reproduce the problem with a garden hose has been unsuccessful.
After talking to many contractors, I have heard various possible solutions:
Install an interior drain tile / sump pump system around the entire basement
This is possibly the most common solution for this kind of problem. There are a bunch of companies in the chicagoland area that do this and have a bunch of advertising everywhere, etc. This collects water around the edge of the basement floor and feeds it to a pump that expels the water outside via a pipe.
- Pretty good guarantee that it will catch water coming in, regardless of reason. Companies tend to actually provide guarantees for this (assuming we install it around the entire basement).
- The most expensive option. (approx $15k)
- Requires tearing up the finished basement, and so will need repairs to the wall and floor
- Water still comes in, and so potentially leads to moisture-related deterioration. (Doesn't address the root of the problem, arguably.)
We could instead try to prevent water from coming in by fixing any openings in the masonry (if that's where water is coming in), and by covering the upper part of the foundation with a membrane/barrier that protects it from water.
- Cost (~$10k for masonry repair, and covering foundation)
- Prevents water from coming in in the first place (assuming we're right about where water is entering)
- Basement interior is untouched
- We probably need to repair the masonry at some point in the next few years anyway; some of the bricks have deteriorated and I believe some of the repointing was done incorrectly by the house flippers
- Not sure if this is actually the problem; might not solve the problem. Most masonry contractors I've talked to seem confused that I'm asking them to fix a water entry problem, like they've never had someone come to them with that problem. Adding a barrier around parts of the foundation may just cause the water to keep going until it finds an unprotected part of the foundation
- Part of our driveway needs to be dug up for part of this; but that seems like a minor annoyance relatively speaking
Currently, there are some low points in the soil near the house, where we get some standing water pooling after it rains. We don't always get water coming in when we see these pools of water, but they are suspect; ideally the soil would be graded so that this doesn't happen.
My understanding is that ideally the exterior foundation walls would be exposed to the air for the top couple of inches, and the soil around the house would be graded away from the house for several feet. However, this seems impossible for us, because:
- One of the problem areas is where our foundation is only a couple of feet from the neighbor's driveway
- The top of the foundation wall is lower than then neighbor's driveway, and about level with the sidewalk
I've only been able to find a few landscaping companies in the area that try to address drainage-related issues; not just mowing the lawn or designing a good-looking garden. Perhaps there is no way to fix the landscaping drainage issues, because none of them seem to agree with each other:
One suggested a surface drain and shallow french drain (perforated pipe) leading from the point where water pools towards the front yard. Others said the elevation does not allow for it.
One suggested drains to a drywell (or "flowell"; whatever). But this admittedly only helps for a certain capacity of water; once they fill up, water will still build up in the original spot. Some others also said the local government would not allow installing the well(s) where they need to go.
One suggested a shallow trench filled with gravel pitched towards the front or back yard. But he didn't seem too confident about this; he seemed to think there was no solution to this from a landscaping perspective. I never managed to get a quote from him.
- Cost (varies depending on specifics, but maybe $5k or so)
- Prevents water from entering
- Basement interior untouched
- Gets rid of some pooling water outside
- I have little confidence that any of these will work, and frankly I doubt the competence of some of the people I talked to
This interesting approach was mentioned by a plumbing company that also advertises some services in fixing landscaping drainage. Most/all homes in this area used to have their gutter downspouts connected to the local sewage/rainwater drain system, via these clay pipes in the ground. Many homes (including ours) have had the downspouts disconnected from them to help avoid overloading the city sewer, but the pipes themselves are still there (I know where one is, but not the other).
It's maybe possible to install a surface drain to remove the outside pooling water and feed it into these clay pipes.
- Ideally, same as the landscaping approach above, but actually works
- I need to actually find the other pipe, since that's the one in the useful location. It may not even still be intact.
- This is possibly against local regulations. The company that mentioned this to me said they would probably not do this kind of setup (since they're not supposed to officially recommend this), but if I did it myself as a homeowner, the worst that would happen is a minor fine or they'd make me take it out, etc.
- I'd need to do (most of) this myself. I don't think it sounds too hard, depending on how "properly" I'd actually do it, and actually sounds kinda interesting, but it's definitely a project.
- It "feels" like a cheap, hacked-together solution.
Initially I was just going to go with one of basement waterproofing companies to do the drain tile system. But the common advice on the internet (here and elsewhere, I think) is that people often just by those systems because some salesman pushed it, and there are often much cheaper and effective ways to solve these kinds of things, like fixing gutters/grading. After finding that, and because of some info from some of the basement waterproofers themselves, I thought I should try one of those alternatives to fix this.
But now, I feel like I've explored these alternative solutions, and they don't fill me with confidence in our specific case, especially since the spots where water comes in has changed a little as we've made some adjustments to gutters/downspouts. So now I feel like I just need to bite the bullet and go with the expensive option and tear up the basement.
The cost of the drain tile system (approx $15k) is something we can afford without issue. I feel like I was trying hard to avoid this because it just sounded like such a hassle, needing to repair everything inside afterwards (and it "feels" like a workaround, not a real solution). But if it means I don't need to keep calling contractor after contractor and spending all of my time on this, it doesn't seem like so much of a hassle anymore.
If anyone has bothered to read this, feel free to tell me I'm being ridiculous or overthinking this in one way or another, or share any thoughts you may have had. I'm happy to share any more details if anyone wants even more (I've skipped over quite a bit, trying not to ramble on even longer).