Ask the Architect

On proper waterproofing


Q. My foundation is damaged. Can my basement be more waterproof? I’m getting estimates to put it back the way it was.

A. Now that I’ve been in homes damaged by flood and downed trees, I’ve seen what’s behind all the stripped walls, ceilings, floors and foundations. My fascination with how materials hold up to the forces of nature has led me to several conclusions. I’ve been documenting building failures since I was a student, intending to learn, from others’ mistakes, how to do things better. I got this from high school, watching films each week of our football team plays. The coach ranted and raved, and I paid attention to avoid being singled out for mistakes.

My concern during these tough times is that construction will be put back just the way that it was. I’m seeing what looks like the Seven Dwarfs with their wheelbarrows, whistling a happy tune and ignoring any kind of building science. I’m convinced that almost anybody can build a home. The basics are always the same. Fortunately, we’ve moved far beyond the technology of those 60- to 100-year-old homes and, through analysis of how homes react to extremes, have come up with “systems” made of many of the same parts, but manufactured with better types of reinforcing, insulation, waterproofing, condensation preventatives and treatments that slow decay and prevent mold. Just buying these products is really not enough, however, as the location, overlap, venting or sealing is critical. Along the way, it’s also important to find products that are nontoxic to avoid illness.

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