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Poor Foundation Drainage

If you have noticed dampness and damage in your basement, poor foundation drainage could be an underlying factor. Our experts can help you to deal with it.

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Your property’s foundation is incredibly important to the overall health of your home. This should come as no surprise; it is, after all, responsible for supporting the structure of your property as a whole. This is why your foundation is designed to deal with the weight of your home, as well as the pressures exerted by wind, rain, heat, cold, and the pressure and weight of the soil around your home. 

Your foundation is strong and incredibly resilient, but it is not immune to damage. Water is one of the most destructive forces in the world when it comes to a property’s foundation. As such, perimeter saturation and poor foundation drainage are real threats to the security and stability of your house.       

prevent leaking in your foundation

What Causes Poor Foundation Drainage? 

Poor foundation drainage can be caused by a number of issues, both inside and outside of your home. Understanding these causes is incredibly important ensuring that your home is safe and healthy as a homeowner. 

Broadly speaking, the causes of poor foundation drainage come in two forms: inappropriate or damaged drainage systems and sources of excess water. In the worst cases of damage, the two can combine to cause serious flooding both around and inside a property. 

Expansive Soil 

Expansive soil is a common cause of poor foundation drainage in Kansas City, Moberly, St. Louis, and Springfield. The heavily clay-based soils that are so common in and around the Midwest are very absorbent and reactive to water. This means that, unless you have robust drainage systems in place to whisk rain and runoff away from your property perimeter before it sinks into the ground, it will be much harder to manage moisture. 

Expansive soils are incredibly slow draining. They can cause damage to your home when they are oversaturated by placing too much pressure on your basement walls and foundation. This can lead to seepage, bowing walls, and even a sinking foundation. 

The Clay Bowl Effect 

The clay bowl effect is a symptom and a cause of poor drainage around your property. Caused by the difference in drainage capabilities between loose backfill soil and the more hard-packed virgin soil beyond the construction zone, this is pretty much what it sounds like. 

Because the virgin soil is more firmly compressed than the soil that was excavated to make room for your home (and the construction equipment), it is less absorbent and takes longer to drain. The backfill soil that was used to fill in the gap between the virgin soil and your foundation walls, however, is fairly loose and absorbent in comparison. During heavy rainfall or thaws, this loose soil fills to the point of saturation as the clay bowl around it struggles to drain quickly enough. 

This can cause many problems for a home, especially with damage to the foundation and foundation walls. Unlike some other causes of poor foundation drainage, there is really nothing that you can do to cure this issue. Instead, it must be managed with robust perimeter drains and gutters. 

Interior Leaks 

Interior sources of water can be just as damaging to your property as external ones. In fact, a serious plumbing flood could contribute dramatically to poor foundation drainage, especially if it combines with exterior sources of water to overwhelm the drainage solutions you have in place. 

Any kind of plumbing failure, appliance failure, or pipe damage is a form of internal leak. Internal leaks can cause many different problems in a property. As such, they should be addressed quickly to prevent widespread damage to your home as a result of both internal water damage and foundation saturation. 

Blocked or Damaged Drains and Gutters 

Your property’s interior and exterior drainage systems and gutters are incredibly important to the health of your entire home. These systems include rooftop gutters, perimeter drains, interior drains, and drainage appliances like sump pumps. Many things can cause blockages in these systems, but they fall broadly into three categories: 

  • Debris 
  • Buildup 
  • Ice 

Debris blockages are caused by things like leaves, litter, and other material becoming caught in the drain systems, while buildup is the gathering of sediment (which is found in most water). Ice is most likely to block drainage systems that are exposed to the elements. 

Whatever causes the clog or blockage, the result will be runoff, flooding, and perimeter saturation as a result of poor foundation drainage. 

Structural Damage 

Any damage to your property in a structural sense is likely to result in foundation saturation of some kind. Structural damage that is the most damaging to a property’s ability to stay dry and safe include: 

  • Foundation damage 
  • Damage to basement walls 

Cracks in your foundation, settlement, subsidence, and bowing walls are all incredibly destabilizing and will let groundwater seep into your home at an alarming rate. 

Managing soil saturation and hydrostatic pressure around your home is the best thing that you can do to protect your home from this kind of damage. 


Seepage occurs because of the porous nature of concrete as a construction material. As such, seepage is as much a symptom of poor foundation drainage as a cause of it. This is a process where concrete foundations, flooring, or walls absorb water and let it (eventually) pass through entirely. This is hard to deal with, because it does not require damage to the surface and may not even cause damage. 

As such, the only real option you have as a homeowner is to manage soil saturation and invest in basement waterproofing services. 

Underground Water Sources 

If there are underground rivers or water sources near your home, it will be significantly harder to maintain your foundation drainage. In these cases, specialist products that can handle the high volume of water in your soil will be needed. As well as causing foundation flooding, this can also cause damage to the structure of your property because of the weight of the water and the pressure it exerts. 

Once again, moisture management solutions are really the only option you have for preventing damage as a result of these issues. 

Most properties are designed to withstand issues like soil expansion and saturation. As such, a property that is experiencing very poor foundation drainage will usually be struggling with more than one of these issues. This may not seem like a huge problem for your home, but poor foundation drainage can actually cause serious damage to your home as a whole. 

Poor Foundation Drainage


As with so many issues, it is far easier to deal with poor foundation drainage when you catch it early in the process. This is why it is vital that you learn to recognize the signs of poor foundation drainage as a homeowner. The signs of this damage can be broken up into interior and exterior signs. 

Exterior Signs of Poor Foundation Drainage 

The exterior signs of foundation saturation and drainage problems can be fairly subtle, but when you know what you are looking for, they are easy to spot. First and foremost, you should look at your rooftop gutters and downspouts. If water spills over the top of your gutters during a storm or the downspout dumps water into your yard directly next to your property, it is very likely that water will be building up around your foundation. 

Secondly, check any basement window wells around your home. If you have poor foundation drainage, these are likely to be the first places affected. If your window wells are constantly flooded or seem to drain very slowly after a storm or period of thawing, it is likely that there are issues in your exterior foundation drainage systems. This may also be accompanied by the presence of cracks in your exterior walls. If you see strong signs of structural damage, it is likely that you will also find issues inside your home. 

Interior Signs of Poor Foundation Drainage 

When a property has issues with foundation flooding and drainage, it is very likely that its basement will also be affected. This can be a result of seepage or structural damage. If the issue is seepage, you are not likely to see signs of physical damage to your walls or floor. You might also notice that your walls are wet or find pools of standing water in your property. 

The other possible point of entry for water is through cracks in your property’s walls or foundation. These should be easy to spot as long as your basement is well lit. These cracks will generally be darker than the surrounding concrete if water is seeping through them. Whatever the cause of dampness, however, you are likely to see mold and mildew formation if the issue is prolonged. This will lead to an unpleasant smell in the area and could even attract pests into your home. 

If you have started to see damage in your home that you feel is connected to foundation drainage issues, you should act quickly. Foundation problems of any kind tend to grow at an exponential rate and will not stabilize or get better without intervention. 

Improved Drains and Gutters 

Assuming there has been no lasting structural damage to your property, the most effective solution for poor foundation drainage is to update your interior and exterior drainage systems or to invest in repairs where needed. For example, if your rooftop drains are starting to come away from the side of your home, simple repairs will probably suffice. Likewise, if you notice overspill from your gutters, there could be a simple clog to blame. 

However, there are times when it is far more effective to replace existing drainage systems and appliances with newer or more robust equipment. For example, even the most robust and high-quality sump pump will eventually reach the end of its useful lifespan. When this happens, it will start to drain water slowly and inefficiently, even if it is not actually broken. 


If your issues with dampness are being caused by seepage, the only options you have are moisture management in the exterior soil and waterproofing for your basement. This is because of the porous nature of concrete. If your soil is very wet or marshy, seepage is likely to be a recurring issue. However, waterproofing is a good way to protect any home, especially when you have had issues with dampness in the past. 

Basement waterproofing is a relatively quick, easy, and cost-effective process that can be completed in less than a day if you hire the right professionals to help you. Generally speaking, waterproofing will include interior drainage and a sump pump, as well as a dehumidifier and vapor barrier (assuming you do not already have these solutions in place). 

Preventing the formation of issues to begin with is the best possible option for you and your home. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to protect your home from damage as a result of poor foundation drainage. 

Perform Yearly/Seasonal Maintenance and Cleaning 

One thing that you can do as a homeowner is keep on top of cleaning and maintenance around your home. Undertaking seasonal yard and gutter maintenance will go a long way toward minimizing the amount of water that pools around your property after a storm or during the spring thaw. You should also pay attention to your ground-level systems like perimeter drains, as this will give you a comprehensive understanding of your property’s health. 

Your downspouts and basement window wells are very vulnerable to issues. You should make sure that you check them in the fall and spring to ensure issues don’t have time to ferment. Check that your downspouts are properly placed and that your basement window wells are not clogged with debris and sediment. This will ensure that water is being directed away from your foundation before it has a chance to sink in. 

Book an Annual Inspection 

Performing your own yearly checks will certainly help you to keep things in good working order. In fact, these simple tasks will also ensure that you spot little signs of damage before they begin to snowball. To ensure that you have the best possible protection, however, you should book an annual professional inspection with a registered and certified foundation specialist. Doing this might seem like an unnecessary expense, but we assure you that the benefits are considerable. 

First and foremost, a professional inspection is thorough in a way that non-professional assessments are unlikely to be. This is partly to do with the experience and knowledge of the person who is undertaking the inspection, but also because they have the necessary tools to make in-depth investigations of problem areas where necessary. Secondly, when your annual inspection highlights a potential issue, having a professional on hand will make a speedy and appropriate resolution far more likely. This means that you can rest easy knowing that your home is taken care of. 

The Effects of Poor Foundation Drainage 

The effects of poor foundation drainage can be many and varied, but it is safe to say that they are negative. Of course, you can do a lot to protect your home from these issues (like keeping your gutters and drains in good condition), but once damage takes root, you will need to call a professional. Saturation of the soil around your property, and water seeping into your foundation from within, can wreak havoc in your home (especially when they are co-occurring). 

Cracks and Dampness 

One of the biggest issues caused by poor foundation drainage is a sharp increase in hydrostatic pressure. This puts excess strain on a property and will eventually lead to cracks forming on the walls, foundation, and floors. As these cracks spread, they will let more and more water into a property and increasingly undermine its stability and structural integrity. This can lead to bowing walls and sagging floors, as well as the eventual collapse of badly affected walls. 

Sinking and Settlement 

Soil that’s incredibly saturated and wet will quickly lose its ability to support structures of any real weight. As such, affected structures can begin to sink into the ground, usually at an uneven rate. This can cause many issues. Most worryingly, it can lead to the formation of huge cracks across the surface of the property’s foundation. This can result in sections of the foundation breaking away and settling into the ground. 


Once the area around your foundation is saturated, it is only a matter of time before water starts to make its way into your property somehow. In most cases, this will cause a generally damp environment, but in serious instances, it could lead to your basement flooding entirely. This will be most likely if you get seriously bowed walls or severe foundation settlement during a storm, or if your home sits over an underground water source. 

Mold, Mildew, and Rot 

Mold and mildew formation are tertiary problems that can be caused by poor foundation drainage, along with wood rot. These are issues that are most common and severe in properties that have long-standing structural damage and issues with dampness to contend with. The presence of rot and mold is fairly easy to spot, however, as they are often accompanied by a musty, slightly sweet smell. 

These are just some of the issues that can be caused by persistent foundation saturation. If you start to see signs of damage in your home, you should contact a professional as quickly as possible. Signs to be aware of are: 

  • Humidity 
  • Spreading cracks 
  • Mold formation 
  • Pest infestation 
  • Bubbling wallpaper 
  • Stained concrete or drywall 
  • Pooling water (either inside or outside of your property’s perimeter) 

By contacting a professional quickly and having them assess the damage, you will be able to get an idea of the extent of the issues in and around your property. This will ensure that you get a solution to all areas of concern as soon as possible (and that the solutions you get are permanent). We do not recommend that you attempt to solve this issue alone. 

Let the Foundation Recovery Systems Team Protect Your Home 

For almost three decades, the team here at Foundation Recovery Systems has been helping homeowners in the Midwest improve foundation drainage and ward off serious damage. We offer free, no-obligation inspection appointments to homeowners within our service area and guarantee a same-day written estimate for all costs. This will be provided at the end of the appointment. 

Our staff is skilled, highly trained, and very experienced. As such, you can rely on them to provide you with a high-quality service no matter how complex the job is! It is our mission to restore to optimum health your greatest asset: your home. Of course, we will never pressure or rush you when it comes to booking repairs, so feel free to take your time in making a decision. If the situation escalates before you schedule repairs, however, feel free to contact us immediately. Our team is always on hand to help.

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