The last thing a homeowner wants to find in the basement is water. A leak can cause significant and costly damage, and it also creates health hazards if not addressed. You can prevent water from seeping into your basement with a sump pump or French drain system.

Effects of Water Damage

Basement water can swell and disintegrate drywall, warp or split wood building materials, and rust uncoated metal surfaces. Water damage will cause the basement to smell musty and begin to grow dangerous mold. Mold spores not only break down building materials, they also can cause serious health problems. Children, the elderly, and those who already have allergies or asthma suffer the most.

A flooded basement can cost a pretty penny, too. Just 1-inch of water takes hours to clean up and can cause thousands of dollars of damage depending on how you use your basement—man cave or extra bedroom, for instance—and what you store in it.

Prevention Method: French Drain System

A French drain involves a ditch filled with gravel, rock or perforated pipe. The drain redirects surface and ground water away from where it can do damage. It does so by bypassing air-filled soil that slows drainage and by sloping downward so gravity helps the water along.

The drain should end at a low point on the property where the water does no harm. If using a pipe instead of and/or with gravel or rock, camouflage it with larger rocks or landscaping, with the latter including greenery that appreciates the extra water.

Multiple French drains can interconnect if needed. Water that enters any of the drains travels through the system to the low point. This allows a yard to drain in hours rather than days.

French Drain Fun Fact: The name doesn’t come from the country, but from Henry French, a judge and farmer in 1800s Massachusetts who first presented the idea in a book on farming.

Prevention Method: Sump Pump

This method involves a mechanical pump installed in the lowest part of a basement, typically in a specially made pit—essentially a hole with a gravel base. If water reaches the pit, the pump pumps the water out of and away from the basement.

There are two types of sump pumps: submersible and pedestal. A submersible pump does as its name says, becoming submerged in water. When turned on, it sucks up water through a bottom grate and pumps it through an outlet pipe and away from the basement.

A pedestal pump also does what its name says, sitting on a pedestal that keeps it out of the water. It features an inlet pipe that reaches down into the pit to suck the water up, out, and away from the basement.

Most sump pumps automatically turn on when water reaches a certain level, either by it activating a float or pressure sensor. Manually operated pumps also are available, but do no good if you are away from home and unaware that the basement is at risk of flooding. Some automatic pumps have backup and alarm systems.

Installing a French Drain System or Sump Pump

If you regularly perform DIY improvements to your home, this task may be well within your skill set. Keep in mind, though, that proper placement of the French drain or sump pump and pit proves vital to success. Your best bet is always to call a professional plumber. You don’t want to find out that the method you hoped would save you from a basement disaster didn’t work after all.