Is water in the basement always a big problem?

cathleen_ni_houlihanMarch 18, 2013

Hello old house experts,

I recently looked at an 1850s farmhouse that is on the market. It appears to be fairly structurally sound, but requires extensive systems upgrades and a lot of interior rehab to undo years of remuddling.

I hate basements, and dreaded going down into an 1850s pit. To my surprise, it was quite clean down there, and I was surprised to find that it did not smell musty at all.

However, it was a warm winter day, and snow was melting outside. I noticed several small trickles of water that mostly seemed to be entering where the stone walls met the floor. Aside from these few trickles on the floor, I did not see any further evidence of water damage.

My rule of thumb as a homebuyer is that "basements should be dry." Is there any circumstance under which a little water would not be that big a deal in an 1850s basement? The house needs so much TLC that the need for extensive drainage work might knock it out of consideration.

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Unless you wanted a finished basement, it wouldn't be a big concern unless there are signs that the trickle becomes something more.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 1:36PM
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Many 19th century houses were built with stone foundations of various types. In general they were constructed so that water could enter and exit through a gravity drain. There were many advantages to this type of construction. Unmortared stones could flex with the movement of frost without cracking. Hydraulic pressure could not build up on the foundation's exterior side. Water could be directed to the drain by a gutter built at the intersection of the walls and floor. Many such foundations continue to function as they were intended after 100 or even 200 years. Two things to check: make sure the drain is not clogged. Make sure the grading on the outside directs water away from the foundation.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 6:24AM
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I think [url=]it's[/url] [url=]not[/url] [url=]a[/url] big problem

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:55AM
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Circus Peanut

We just had our gravity drain snaked and partially rebuilt for about $800. When they work, they work very well, better than any other options; failing that, a sump pump is a good fix. You'll likely need a plumber versed in sewer lines to take a look and guide you.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 10:26AM
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When we were house hunting a couple of years ago I was in love with a 1720 house with a year-round spring in the basement (my wife thought I had rocks in my head). Apparently the house has been just fine for nearly 300 years now, so no, it's not always a big problem.

The spring came out of the floor, ran across the room and out under a door. A rock basin had been built to create a pool. Seems this setup gave the farmer a convenient place to chill and store his milk. I imagine that the ice on the walkway up to that basement door could be nasty in the winter.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 12:31PM
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No, not always a problem. I bought an old house and in the Spring or when we have very heavy rainfall I have water seepage in the basement but it doesn't stay there long and it just on the cement floor. I don't have enough water that comes in so I don't need a sump pump. I wouldn't worry about if if I were you.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:00AM
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If the water seepage is new, and the original structure wasn't designed to allow water in and out, then it's a problem. If water has been seeping in and out for 150 years, there's probably nothing you can do that won't make it worse.

The easiest thing to do is get gutter extenders and move the downspouts as far away from the structure as possible. Get the kind that you bury a few inches below the soil. Put each downspout at least 10 feet away from the house.

Normally I would say water in the basement is always a problem, but I don't know much about stone basement walls and if there are any stone or concrete footings. If after 150 years it doesn't look like it's about to cave in just keep the gutters clean and downspouts away from the house.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 2:42PM
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I also have a small stream in my basement. No real problems at all. Hurricane Irene was our only real problem. Boy it flooded then.
I remember when the previous owner was showing us the house, we asked is that a stream? she just said yup and went on with the tour lol!.
The house was built in 1850 and still standing.
:) Laura

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 1:14PM
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We just snaked our gravity drain and fixed a sewer line. My DH did it for about $25, but he did it himself. Our limestone basement has had water in and out for 140+ years with no problems. Just one of those things that happens around these parts with our high water table and millions of underground springs and streams. It's hard to find a dry one as a matter of fact...

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 6:42AM
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We had a spring going through ours so hubby ran drain tile etc been dry for over 20 yrs

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 7:39AM
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