The sun is out, the snow is melting, and someday soon you may go downstairs and discover that your basement is wet. What should you do?
First, it is important to determine why your basement is wet. When we first bought our 1870s home in Stillwater, water poured into the basement every time it rained. The reason? The roof didn’t have gutters and downspouts on all sides. Instead, rain sheet-flowed off the roof to the ground directly below, and quickly seeped in through the basement walls. After we installed gutters and downspouts to direct water away from our house, the basement rarely collected water.
It’s important also to make sure that downspouts extend far enough away from your home to prevent water from flowing backwards into window wells or your foundation. Use downspout extenders to redirect the flow and check gutters and downspouts periodically to make sure they aren’t clogged by leaves or seeds.
If water is flowing downhill into your home from your driveway or the street, you will need to contour your landscaping to re-route the water around your home. Landscaping features could include a dry stream bed, contoured berm of soil, or a series of raingardens to capture and redirect the water. Be careful NOT to redirect water into your neighbors’ homes. Washington Conservation District (www.mnwcd.org) provides free site visits for Washington County residents and can provide recommendations on how to manage drainage concerns. Usually, these type of landscaping projects do not qualify for watershed district cost-share grants because they don’t provide a public water quality benefit. However, if you live uphill of a lake or stream and install a raingarden that filters water flowing downhill, you may be able to secure a small incentive grant for the project.
Sometimes, when surficial groundwater levels are very high, groundwater will begin seeping into basements. This happens most often in areas that are landlocked, have heavy clay soils, or are located near wetlands and lakes. The only remedy for groundwater seepage is to use a sump pump to pump water out of your basement and direct it downhill, away from your home.
The National Weather Service and Minnesota Climatology Department are both predicting major flooding this spring. If you live in a low lying area near a lake, stream, wetland, or the Mississippi or St. Croix Rivers, ask your city or township if they will have sand bags available for residents to use to protect their homes. Sand and bags can also be purchased from private contractors.
Use sand bags to temporarily protect low windows and doorways or re-direct water around the edge of your home and away from the foundation. It is rarely necessary to build a perimeter around your house. Sand bags should be filled half to two-thirds full and do not need to be tied at the top. Lay them flat on the ground to create a solid row. The bags should overlap so that the open ends are covered. The second row of sandbags should be offset so that each sandbag covers the junction between the two below. If you are placing sandbags near doors and windows, be sure to remove snow and ice first so that they lay flush on the ground. If you have an individual septic system, you may also need to place plastic sheeting and sand bags over below-grade drains inside, such as floor and shower drains, to prevent floodwaters from rising up into your house.
For information about flood insurance, talk to your insurance company or the National Flood Insurance Program (https://www.floodsmart.gov/ or 1-888-379-9531). Flood insurance does not go into effect until 30 days after purchase.