How to find the source of your leaks
The most likely place you’ll find water is the basement, because it’s the lowest point of the house. Basement water can come from several sources: eavestroughs, foundations, sewers, pipes. Each has its own repairs.
If you spot the ceiling under a bathroom starting to bubble and flake, chances are you’ve got a leak in your bathtub, shower, toilet or sink. Don’t wait! See if you can find the source of the leak! In some cases, it may be just a matter of re-caulking the area around the tub. Or making sure you put the curtain in place properly next time you have a shower.
To see where it is leaking behind the tile. You may be able to cut a hole in the drywall gently. Shine a flashlight in and watch as someone runs the water! If you see a lot of water, then it may mean the tiles and grout around the bathtub have failed and are allowing water in behind. This means you’ll probably be best off replacing wall and tiles all in one go. It’s an expensive renovation, but necessary before more serious damage occurs to floor joists and ceilings below.
If you find water on the floor or dripping from your pipes, don’t panic! It may just be condensation. A quick fix is to insulate the cold water pipes with a foam cover, available at any hardware store.
Blocked downspouts can back up your eavestroughs and these can spill down the walls into the house.
If you are having leaks and you suspect the downspouts, relieve the burden on the draining around your home by disconnecting the downspout and ensuring it ejects water at least a couple of metres from the house to a surface that slopes away from it.
Remember, the city of Toronto requires downspouts be disconnected from the storm sewer!
Generally, the one of the most likely culprits in the event of water leaking into through the basement walls is your eavestroughs and downspouts. Clogged downspouts cause eavestroughs to back up and spill rain water running off the roof down the side of the house where it can penetrate the siding or drain directly onto the foundation wall where tiny cracks will allow it to seep into the basement.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp says it’s a good plan to inspect your eavestroughs annually to ensure they are not clogged, and don’t have low spots where water can pool.
You check the water flow by running a hose into your eavestroughs and checking the water flows to the downspout and drains without backing up. Of course, you have to make sure thay and not blocked with leaves and debris.
It’s a fairly easy job to clean and inspect your eavestroughs, but many people are spooked working high off the ground. There are businesses that will do this for you.
Here’s a secret: Foundation walls crack. Concrete spends a lifetime curing, says Dalen Sharp, vice-president of Clarke Basement Systems. The company fixes basement leaks. When a house settles and the concrete hardens, cracks appear. You won’t see these cracks and most of the time they’re not a major issue.
Unless there’s water nearby.
Then it’s an issue.
There are different ways to fix a leaky foundation wall.
The outside fix is expensive. It involves digging a trench around the perimeter, sometimes reinstalling weeping tile (see below) and coating the outside wall of the house with a sealing material and adhering a dimpled barrier to enable any water to escape to the weeping tile without getting trapped against the wall.
The inside fix is faster and more reasonable, says Sharp. It involves removing any drywall and studs to expose the crack, then injecting it with an epoxy or using a more modern system, which applies a fill-and-fibre patch to the wall so even if the crack enlarges, the system will still block the water out.
“We don’t like the crack-fill alone, because we end up going back,” he said.
Ensure all landscaping around the perimeter of your house slopes away from the foundation and that no dirt is piled above the level of your first floor, says Sharp. He notes it’s a problem his crews often see.
Water pipes can and do leak, seals in fixtures wear out. Sink drains can spring a leak and toilets can shift off their sealing gaskets. Generally, these are do-it-yourself fixes. If you’re not handy with copper, call a licensed plumber, but for the most part sink drains, toilets and tap fittings can be replaced or tightened with a wrench and screw driver.
A roof leak is a big issue, because, not only will it damage any fibreglass insulation in the walls and attic nearby, it’s also the most likely place to get mould. It will also weaken the home’s structure with rot.
They’re also the hardest for homeowners to fix, not just because of they’re up high and you are working on a roof, but because of the skill required. Get it wrong and you could make it worse!
Roof leaks are usually easy to spot, because the drywall will blister and flake.
See if you can inspect the roof in that area! If the it is 20 years old or more, it’s probably time for a new one. If there are any missing, cracked or damaged shingles in the area and the rest of the roof is good, a repair could do the trick. If you can’t see anything, get up in the attic if you can and inspect the location above the leak.
It may be there’s a leak around a roof or drain vent which is to blame. This will mean getting to the location and refitting the flange seal or replacing it.
If you can’t find it, then you may have to resort to some infra-red or thermal scanning technology to isolate the sources. Call local roofers and get estimates!
Some homes sit on top of underground waterways and have chronic issues with the water constantly flowing around or under their home and it finds its way inside. Other houses are in low-lying areas which may not drain as quickly after a storm. In those cases, a sump pump is a solution.
“We install dozens of them every month,” says Sharp.
A sump pump is a self-contained system which sits in a pit in the basement floor. As water enters, a float-switch kicks on the motor which pumps the water out and away from the house.
Weeping tile is a system of small pebbles and perforated pipe laid along the perimeter of the house at the footings. Water drains down, through the small aggregate and into the pipe, where it drains away from the house. If your basement is constantly leaking from the bottom of the foundation, it may be the weeping tiles have failed, because they’re blocked with debris or have broken.
Fixing it isn’t easy or cheap. It’ll require digging up the perimeter down to the footings and installing a new system of weeping tiles.
Basement windows can leak if they are old and rotten or if the caulking at grade has failed. More likely is dirt has piled up outside and caused water to drain back towards them or the slope of the yard is forcing water back to the house.
A common cause of basement leaking are window wells. These are for windows sunk below the grade in a basement and are half-oval depressions with gravel in them to allows water to drain. It’s a good idea to shovel out snow in the springtime from window wells to minimize the melt.
There should be a drain under all those stones to collects the water.
“Dirt and debris collects in there over time and blocks the drain,” he said. “And then there’s nowhere for it to go.”
Except back into the house through the wall, that is. Keeping window wells clean and ensuring the drain is working will head off leaks and may fix that leak you already have.
Sewer backups are the worst of all leaks.
The storms that swept Toronto this past summer and dropped 75 mm of rain in southwest Scarborough in mid-July, for example, triggered a deluge of basement floods.
The flooding was caused mainly because older parts of the city still have joined sanitary and storm water sewers. A big storm simply overwhelms the system with a tsunami of rain water. If it’s not a storm, it’s usually a blockage emanating from the house.
Where that blockage is — it can be caused by debris in the pipe or tree roots — will determine who pays to fix it. If it’s on your side of the property line, you’re on the hook. The city will fix it if it’s on their side.
Whether it is storm water or a blocked pipe, the net effect is the same. Toxic sewage backs up into the basement, destroying flooring, drywall and furniture and pretty well anything it comes in contact with. Restoration is expensive and, even with insurance, the deductible is often around $1,000.
There is a solution if you’re in an area with chronic sewer back-up and that’s a backwater valve, which can be installed on your sewage system between your floor drain and exit pipe. It’s essentially a one-way valve. The sewage and waste water drains out, but the valve will swing back and stop liquid that wants to flow back into the house.
It’s an expensive installation as the basement will have to be dug up in that location, the main drain cut and the valve installed. The price will vary according to where that location is and how accessible it is.
It can be expensive, starting at about $2,000. The City of Toronto encourages single-family home owners to install a backwater valve. It has a program to offset some of the cost. It will pay up to 80 per cent of the cost of installation, to a maximum of $1, 250, if the City approves the application.
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