The Importance of Exterior Waterproofing

In this article we'll take a look at the basics of exterior waterproofing. You'll learn what the project entails, which will allow you to make an educated decision on whether this is a DIY project or something you want professional help with. We'll also include some tips for finding the ideal professional.

One of the most common and unfortunate complaints among homeowners is a musty, damp smell in the basement. This is caused by groundwater or rainwater penetrating the foundation and creating optimum conditions for mold within the foundation itself. If this is left untreated, the entire wall can become compromised. You may eventually see large cracks or even unnatural settling patterns as the foundation loses strength and integrity.

Your foundation is one of the most...if not the most...fundamentally important portions of your home. After all, it holds everything else up! This is why taking care of your foundation from the very beginning is crucial. If you live in an older home or one which was not properly waterproofed during construction, there are still very helpful steps you can take. Waterproofing is a growing trend among homeowners these days, due to the increased popularity of focusing on and improving the house you have, instead of purchasing a larger, more elaborate home.

What are the Benefits?

Many people have come to believe that a musty smell in the basement is simply a fact of life to be dealt with. This couldn't be further from the truth! That smell is a sign of moisture. Moisture not only makes your basement a damp, smelly, unpleasant place to be, but it can severely damage your home's foundation over time. Waterproofing is a very worthwhile investment, and can help you avoid incredibly costly repairs in years to come.

Waterproofing is especially important if you currently use your basement as a living space, or plan to do so in the future. Many homeowners put a lot of money into basement renovations, turning them into game rooms, arcades or spare apartments. That money is essentially wasted if your basement is an unpleasant place to be. Nobody wants to spend much time in an area which smells bad or has a cold, damp feel.

Whether you currently use your basement as a living space or you intend to in the future, waterproofing will help you make the most of your renovation dollars. A warm and inviting basement is just takes a bit of know-how and the proper techniques!

What is Waterproofing?

Just as the name implies, exterior waterproofing is simply coating the exterior of a home's foundation to make it waterproof. A common and inexpensive alternative to waterproofing is sometimes referred to as “damp-proofing.” This service is offered by many builders and contractors.

While it may sound like a good idea, damp-proofing usually does not bring the results homeowners are led to expect. Damp-proofing products are usually tar-based. While they do create a coating which retards moisture, they also have very big drawbacks. Tar-based products tend to harden as they dry, and become brittle. A home naturally settles over time, and as it does, these tar-based coatings will crack and flake. Any opening in the coating allows moisture to come into direct contact with your foundation and cause damage.

If you're building, insist on waterproofing, not just damp-proofing. The initial cost is higher, but this is a true case of getting what you pay for. Damp-proofing can mean significant repair costs in just a few years, whereas the best waterproofing products come with guarantees that extend up to thirty years. In addition to saving yourself headaches and money, you'll get to enjoy a pleasant-smelling, dry basement, instead of a musty, damp living space.

True waterproofing products are usually rubber-based. Rubber is flexible, even in freezing temperatures. Waterproofing products penetrate into the foundation itself, creating an amazingly tight bond that actually prevents moisture, instead of just slowing it down.

How is Waterproofing Applied?

Depending on the amount of surface area to be covered, you can choose to waterproof your foundation in one of two ways. Waterproofing products can be applied with ordinary paint rollers. An average-sized home's foundation can usually be completed in less than one day if a few people are working with rollers.

Spraying is a great technique for speed or larger foundations. Sprayers can be rented appliance rental shops and many home-improvement stores. However, getting the technique down is something that some homeowners struggle with. For this reason, spraying is usually done by professionals or homeowners who have worked with a sprayer in the past.

An extra step in waterproofing is the application of flexible or rigid outer coatings. These are available as flexible polyethylene “wraps,” which are applied over the dried waterproofing, and as rigid boards of polystyrene. Both options offer the added benefit of extra insulation, although rigid polystyrene boards offer much more insulating power. If you want to use polystyrene boards, check to ensure that your waterproofing product is water-based and does not contain solvents. Other formulations can negatively impact these boards, making them less effective over time.

My Home is Older...Can I Still Waterproof?

Absolutely, although it requires an extra bit of effort. Obviously, the foundation itself has to be exposed in order to waterproof it. The earth surrounding your foundation will need to be dug out, exposing the foundation and providing enough space to work comfortably. This can be a DIY project; however, it is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. Most homeowners hire an excavation company to do the job, since they have equipment and experience which makes the process much faster.

After your foundation has been dug out, it needs to be cleaned. Power washing is the quickest and most effective way to clean a foundation, since it's literally covered with dirt. Doing the job by hand with a garden house will not only take forever, but it can't blast out embedded dirt the way a power wash can. Power washing is a popular service offered by many handymen and home contractors. You can rent power-washing devices by the day but, like sprayers, these machines take a while to get used to. Hiring a professional is much more time-effective.

Once your foundation is exposed and washed, it's important to seal any visible cracks. After all, waterproofing products are designed to seal the foundation material itself, not plug up holes. Consult a contractor or a home-improvement store employee for the best way to go about sealing cracks. You may be able to get the job done effectively using a small caulker, or you may need to apply mortar or concrete. If the latter is true, you may want to hire a professional. Applying these materials is a skill, and if you make a mistake, you could be wasting time and money by making ineffective repairs.

After cracks are sealed, the next step is to waterproof! Starting with a clean and sealed foundation is one of the most important elements in creating an effective and dependable waterproof coating.

Ideally, waterproofing should be done in the spring or summer. This avoids the extra moisture of snow and rain. However, if you need your foundation waterproofed and it happens to be the dead of winter, there are specially designed products which can be applied and seal properly in freezing temperatures.

Check with your local building officials before you begin your project. In some areas, an extra level of protection (such as flexible wraps or rigid insulation boards) is required. If you fail to follow your local regulations, you may be setting yourself up for insurance trouble in years to come, and you could even be fined and required to do the job over!

Choosing the Best Professional for the Job

Waterproofing a foundation can be done by experienced handymen, and there are also dedicated contractors and companies which specialize in this area of home improvement. Costs vary, and in some cases a handyman may charge more than a contractor, so be sure to explore all the options available in your area.

Finding a professional who has experience in your local area is vital. Not only will they be more knowledgeable about local regulations and building codes, but they will be able to make recommendations based on your specific climate. This can make a big difference when selecting products and techniques.

Online home-improvement websites have made the once-tedious process of selecting a contractor extremely simple. Most sites allow you to find the professionals who are closest to you, and to see their credentials and levels of experience. Many feature consumer reviews, written by former clients just like you. In some cases, pictures of the contractor's work are available, as well as testimonials.

Once you've narrowed your list of possible contractors, begin contacting each one and describing your project in detail. Waterproofing is a rather simple project, but each home is different, and any unique structural features of your home and property present unique challenges. Talk about the results you're after, and how much time and money you're willing to spend. Remember that estimates can't be guaranteed, especially for outdoor jobs which are at the mercy of the weather.

An alternate way of finding contractors is to post your project on the website itself. This is the very simplest way to find a contractor, since they literally come to you! You simply post what you'd like done, along with certain specifications such as the size of your home. Local contractors will review your project and contact you with estimates. It couldn't be simpler!

Posted by: Diane
Great renovations start with a great contractor.

Since 2004, TrustedPros has been helping homeowners find the right contractor for their home improvements and repairs.

Post Your Project

Within hours you'll be comparing offers from top-rated professionals. It's free to post and you're under no obligation to hire.

Search the TrustedPros directory and discover the best contractors in your area. Read real customer reviews, browse photos and compare credentials.

Find your home service pro
comments powered by Disqus

Trustedpros Inc. does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, safety, legality or usefulness of any Content, or Whether Content is Current and up-to-date, and TrustedPros Inc. Shall have no liability whatsoever with respect to your use or reliance upon any content or for content being removed or otherwise ceasing to be available. Please refer to the terms and conditions of use of this websites for more details.

Get Free Estimates

Post your project and compare offers from top-rated pros.