There are many potential ways for dampness and water to get into your home; cracks in your walls, foundational instability, internal leaks, leaking window wells, and failing appliances can all be sources of dampness. Most homeowners are aware of this, but few realize that the basement stairs can also be a source of dampness if they are improperly installed and have poor drainage.
This may be because very few homeowners have external hatchways and stairs these days; they were primarily a feature in older homes. Nonetheless, these features are notorious for allowing dampness and mold into basements. As they age, they can even allow for full-scale flooding, especially in extreme weather conditions. If you are experiencing frequent flooding from your external hatchway and basement stairs, there are some key steps that you can take to prevent water intrusion and keep your home dry.
Flooded Stairs and Leaking Hatchways
External access hatchways and stairs are hotspot areas for leaks because they are often constructed separately from your basement’s foundation walls. Designed as a concrete shell fixed to the foundation walls after they have been built, hatchways often start to separate from the foundation walls over time and, as a result, let in dampness. The stairs themselves are often attached to the foundation walls if they are concrete, but this is not always the case. However, these joining points are a part of what makes them so vulnerable to dampness; time and pressure can wear away the seals and allow water to seep, trickle, and eventually run through them.
Of course, not all basement stairs and hatches are the same. Older models leak more frequently and severely, while newer hatchways and stairs will be less likely to leak at all. Nonetheless, the most common places where basement stairways flood are:
Underneath Hatchway Doors
Metal hatchway doors are usually not flush with their concrete frame. As a result, rain will slide down the doors and pool on the concrete around the edges of the doors. From here, the water has two potential paths to follow: It can either flow to the ground or slip underneath the metal hatchway door and onto the stairs.
Between the Hatchway and Foundations
As we said, the concrete shell of the hatchway is mounted to the foundation walls via bolts. These bolts are drilled through your home’s foundations. Because it’s rare for this joining point to be properly sealed, it is a weak point where water can begin to seep through over time. As groundwater builds up around your foundations, it presses on this weak spot and can cause leaks and flooding.
Through Cracks in the Concrete
Like any concrete structure, your hatchway is vulnerable to cracking as a result of hydrostatic pressure. If cracks open up in your hatchway or stairs, this will allow water into your basement. Some old-fashioned external access doors were built with loose panels of wood and made little attempt to keep water out. If you have one of these older hatchways you should consider replacing the doors to ensure your basement is kept dry.
Your basement hatchways and stairs may be leaking or allowing large amounts of water into your basement. This can have two main explanations.
- Structural Damage
Leaks in your basement stairwell can be irritating and damaging, but they are often caused by very simple things. For example, they are most often caused by cracks, weaknesses, and gaps in between the hatchway frame and foundation walls. Another likely cause is a weakness between the doors and the frame.
This kind of structural issue is very common and it’s all to do with the way that basement access hatchways are constructed. These structures tend to be constructed separately and attached to a property later. This is efficient during construction but leads to a generally weak spot at the seam between the structures.
- Older Hatchways Are Not Weatherproof
The most common cause of leaking or flooding basement stairways is a damaged or non-weatherproofed hatchway. This is seen most often in older homes where the basement was intended as a storage area and not a living area. This is why, in some cases, replacing the hatchway doors is the best option. These days, replacing old hatchway doors is fairly easy too.
Another possible cause of a leak is damage to the seam between your property and the hatchway. Sometimes, the contractors building a property do not seal this seam, leaving it vulnerable, but it is also possible that worn or damaged sealant could be letting water into your basement. If this is the case, simply renewing the sealant may be enough.
Even modern, weather-resistant hatchways can leak from time to time. When this happens, flooded stairs are generally caused by wear and tear, extreme weather, and pressure-causing cracks on the walls and frames. The things most likely to cause this damage are:
- Snap Freezes and Extreme Weather
Repeated freezing and thawing can damage even the sturdiest of hatchways, as well as the sealant around the door to your basement. This is because they are commonly made of poured concrete, which is very susceptible to water intrusion. When water that has seeped into porous concrete freezes, the expansion can cause or widen cracks and let water into your basement.
Damage to your hatchway can also be caused by how the soil around your home reacts to extreme weather and temperature changes. Expansive soils can swell and put pressure on your property when it rains or snows, for example, and cause cracks to form in your basement walls and hatchway. This will let water into your basement directly.
- Foundation Damage
Though hatchways are generally constructed separately, they are attached to your home pretty securely. As such, severe damage to or shifting in your foundation can put them under strain and cause them to crack, thereby letting in water. This can happen as a reaction to the removal of support or because the property shifts in a way that puts pressure on the hatchway.
Foundation problems almost always begin in the soil. Whether the soil is fundamentally incapable of supporting the weight of a property or it is reactive to moisture levels in a way that makes it shrink and grow dramatically, it is almost always the cause of foundation damage. Once your foundation is damaged, however, the whole of your structure is affected, including your basement hatchway.
The quickest way to fix flooded stairs in your basement is to address the underlying issues that are creating entry points for water. This is easier said than done, of course, and requires specialist knowledge and skills. As such, you should call a professional basement repair specialist.
- Avoid Recurring Problems
When you book professional repairs, you can rest easy knowing that the issues at play are being thoroughly investigated and properly addressed. This means that you can be sure that all underlying causes will be identified and handled. This will not only fix the flooding in your stairs, but it will also prevent recurrence at a later date.
Preventing problems from recurring will not only save you money on repair costs, but it will also limit the cumulative damage being done to your home. After all, there is only so much damage that a property can take before serious structural work will be required to keep it stable and safe for you and your family. As such, you should call a professional quickly when you see signs of damage.
- Perks of Professional Repairs
It can be tempting to try a DIY repair when the problem seems localized, but we would urge you to leave repairs to a professional. First and foremost, there is no such thing as a simple structural repair. Once a part of your home’s structure has been damaged, it will take a professional to identify the cause and implement an effective repair.
Professional repairs are not only more convenient than DIY repairs, but they are generally more cost-effective in the long-term. Experts also tend to have access to specialist tools and products, which are simply not available over the counter in your local hardware store. As such, they are more likely to give you a truly lasting high-quality result.
Our Solution: The BasementGutter™ and Grated Drain Perimeter Drainage System
Aside from repairing cracks in your hatchway frame and ensuring you have a well-fitting, modern door that provides insulation, the best way to deal with flooded stairs is with proper drainage. To prevent flooding through your hatchway, we recommend perimeter drains. Our grated drainage system has been specially designed to deal with situations like this.
This patented system is designed with a half-moon pipe section and a grated top so it can lie flush with your floors when it is installed. This makes the finished job look clean, sleek, and professional, but also ensures that all water slips easily into the drainage system—which easily connects to our other unique interior drains—and will be funneled towards your sump pump. This system can be altered to suit every basement and will make flooding a distant memory. You can opt to have the system inserted just behind the hatchway or directly into it. If you’re not sure which would be more effective, you should ask your technician. They will give you a measured response based on their analysis of the current basement system.
Aside from installing proper drainage, you could also consider other waterproofing solutions such as:
- Sump pump installation
- Vapor barrier installation
- Dehumidifier installation
These simple steps will not help manage the humidity and dampness that comes hand in hand with having an external access hatch in your basement.
Foundation Recovery Systems: We Prioritize Your Home
Don’t let a leaky hatchway and flooded stairs ruin the clean, dry, inviting basement of your dreams. We at Foundation Recovery Systems have more than 25 years of experience in dealing with dampness and flooding caused by exterior stairwells and hatchways.
Our team will be able to assess your basement and suggest viable solutions for the dampness issues you are experiencing. All our repair plans come with a written warranty, so you never have to worry about facing recurrence down the line. All you need to do is contact our team and schedule a free inspection appointment—we will do the rest.
Whether you already know where the water is coming from, or you need someone to help you identify the source and make a viable plan for resolving the issue, Foundation Recovery Systems is here to help. Our team will not stop until they have the best solution for you. By the time your inspector leaves your home, you will know what the issue is, what repairs they suggest, the cost of the suggested work, and how long they expect the repairs to take. This will leave you informed and empowered to make the best possible decision for you.