Foundation Maintenance – Water Edition!

One of the most important and often worry-some elements of your home, or prospective home buy, tends to be the foundation. A bad, or even less than perfect foundation tends to scare home buyers away, and frighten home owners. While it is important to keep an eye on your foundation, not every crack or leak is necessarily a reason to panic – but often times it most definitely is a call to action.

In this post, we’re going to tell you a little bit about how water can be a problem for your foundation, and some ways you can prevent it from getting to your foundation to increase the longevity of your foundation walls.

Keeping water away is the key to foundation maintenance.

Like with many areas of the home, water where it doesn’t belong (basically, in a sink, shower, or tub) is your enemy. Many people tend to underestimate or simply be unaware of how water can get in and around their home and cause perpetual damage over time.

Especially in Michigan where we tend to see the extremes of both summer and winter seasons, water can really do a number in between. This is because water gets into the ground soil and / or clay and go through cycles of freezing and thawing, causing an expansion of the ground, thereby possibly pushing in the walls of your homes foundation. If you notice bowing or bulging of your foundation walls, this is likely a primary cause. While a large bowing or bulging is cause for concern, it’s never too late to take action.

Keeping water away for foundation maintenance.

There are a few common methods for keeping water away from your homes foundation.

  • French Drain
  • Gutters and Downspouts
  • Swale’s

French Drain

A French drain is an irrigation method meant to collect water from soil near the foundation and move it somewhere safer. Usually these systems involve a corrugated and perforated PCV pipe under gravel and soil. The idea is to have rainwater soak into the ground, drip onto a bed of gravel, and then fall through geotextile fabric and into the pipe to be drained away.

While this is an effective method, it wont work in every situation. It does require an adequate slope to move the water. If one of these systems is being installed, it should most definitely be done by a professional who will ensure the slope is sufficient.

Another issue with these systems is that they do need to take the water elsewhere, so you need to be sure wherever the water is going is also somewhere that wont result in any damage from the water.

Gutters and Downspouts

One of the most effective methods is one we see often, gutters and downspouts. With gutters, rainfall from your roof falls into the gutters and is moved to the downspouts, which then pushes the water away from your foundation. Without gutters, rainfall on your roof falls directly next to the home, and typically soaks right into the foundation – causing problems (like bulging and bowing) down the line.

Gutters are a reliable method, and ultimately while they can be a bit costly to install – they pay off in the long run.

There are a couple things to remember with gutters and downspouts, though. First of all, make sure your downspouts are away from the home at least 5 or 6 feet! This is a mistake we see all too often during our home inspections!

example of poor downspout routing
This is an example of what not to do! This downspout checks the box for length (5 to 6 feet) but it’s pointing right into the home’s foundation!

The next thing to remember with gutters is…to clean them out! All too often we run into clogged and dirty gutters that simply can’t do their job! It’s advised to get those gutters cleaned out every year to make it easier, quicker, and ensure your gutters are working for the rainy seasons.

close up of clogged gutter
Believe it or not, this type of clogging can occur after only a few season!


In some cases, a swale may work to keep water away from your foundation and in a safe place. A swale, very simply is a large depression in the landscaping where water can collect away from your home. You may see these commonly in cities and other commercial areas.

This is an example of a swale. Notice the dip where water will run off the road!

Swale’s are typically used in conjunction with a gutter system and / or French drain. When installing a swale one needs to be sure it is large enough to do it’s job. On smaller properties, this may not be an option, but it is certainly something to be aware of and keep in your foundation maintenance toolbelt.

Those are the 3 most common systems to prevent water from getting in and around your home, an absolute key to foundation maintenance. During our home inspections, we evaluate these methods used at any given property to ensure they are actually working properly, as often times they’re present but not working to their fullest.

If you’re in the Grand Rapids or surrounding area of West Michigan, reach out to us to inspect your home or foundation, where we’ll be sure to provide you with as many tips and tricks as possible based on your own situation to create a solid foundation maintenance plan!

What about water that’s already there?

Often times, water in the basement is a big scare factor for home owners and buyers. Sometimes it is cause for larger concern, but often times it can be mitigated and the threat level is low. There are a couple simple methods and tips to remember when dealing with water in the basement.

Run a dehumidifier!

Frankly, this is almost always a good idea. Running a dehumidifier in the basement (especially in Michigan) is a way to ensure your basement stays dry. This means it will be far less likely to see mold buildup, or moisture to damage your foundation and / or framework.

Be sure you have proper ventilation!

Be sure you have a fresh air intake. A fresh air intake is designed to draw fresh air into your home from outside. Most of the time, the fresh air intake is a duct that runs from a vent outside into the room housing your furnace. The exact locations and the number of fresh air intakes will vary in different homes, especially in regions where building codes determine how air is released from the home.

Another method of ventilation is an exhaust fan.  An exhaust fan will help to remove the moisture from the home and it can improve the ventilation in the basement. Be sure to have this installed by a professional who can properly hook up the fan, and instruct on where the best location is.

If neither of these are options at the moment, consider simply running a dehumidifier, box fan(s), and opening any possible windows in the basement, weather permitting. The goal is to make sure the air does not stay stale, and is able to move.

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