This is a true story of the situation at a condo complex in Toronto where extensive basement waterproofing for over 75 townhouses in Scarborough was done by the wrong waterproofing contractor. It is a must read because, in reality, it is a horror story about basement waterproofing that should be shared by everyone.
In general, the repair of leaks in the building envelope of condominium townhouses are the responsibility of the Condominium Corporation managing the units. On May 17th, 2012 we were called in to provide a waterproofing estimate for one of the unit owners that was experiencing significant persistent basement leaks, even after the basement of his unit was waterproofed 3 times. Although the Condo Corporation is responsible for looking after the unit owner’s basement leak problem, the unit owner was so frustrated with the lack of success in waterproofing his basement that he decided to take the matter into his own hands; so he called us.
The basement waterproofing that was done
Here are some pictures of the waterproofing work done at all units in the condo complex.
On May 18th we visited the condo complex. The installation of metal flashing at the bottom of the brick walls was the first thing we noticed. Since the installation of flashing in this location on a home is not the norm in new construction we know that the flashing was installed to correct a problem. This was the first red flag that we encountered. We then conducted an inspection of the interior of the unit and observed the following.
Where the basement leak actually originated
In the first picture we see tar that leaked down the foundation wall on the inside of the basement! This occurred while waterproofing the exterior foundation wall. Since the foundation is poured concrete, the tar did not come through the wall, it came over the wall. In the second picture we can observe soil at the top of the wall as well as water damaged drywall in the ceiling. The only way there can be soil at the top of the wall is if water carries it in over the top of the wall. Similarly, leaks through foundation walls do not cause drywall damage in ceilings.
From these pictures we can logically conclude that the basement leaks that occurred in this unit originated from the top of the foundation wall and not from ground water penetration through it. From our observations so far we can assert the following:
- The underlying cause of the basement leaks affecting the majority of the townhouses was not understood as water was entering basements over top of the foundation walls. This problem was not resolved by the basement waterproofing that was done nor the installation of the flashing at grade;
- After spending a significant amount of money to waterproof all units; likely in excess of $100,000.00, many units continue to experience basement leaks; therefore, the basement waterproofing methods utilized were inappropriate for the problem at hand; and
- The permanent solution for this type of basement leak problem is not traditional basement waterproofing (exterior excavation and waterproofing) but landscaping changes that would ensure that water could never pool to such a height that it could pour over top of the foundation walls.
From the visual evidence one must logically conclude that true basement waterproofing professionals could not possibly have been hired. From reviewing what is written above, a few questions come to mind:
- Was the extensive basement waterproofing work sold to the condo corporation as a “cash grab”?
- Was the excavation and waterproofing work done because the contractor actually thought that the problem would be solved by using a traditional basement waterproofing method?
- Did anyone, including the waterproofing contractor, actually understand why there was such a widespread problem with basement leaks among so many units?
- Was the contractor who performed the waterproofing work competent?
- Did the condo corporation hire that waterproofing company because they provided the lowest quote?
The real cost of incompetence in basement waterproofing
One can only speculate as to the answers to these questions, but one thing is clear: if anyone ever thought that the problem was fixed and that money was saved they are dead wrong. Every unit of the condo complex requires extensive landscaping (lowering of the grade height, removal of soil and re-sodding of each property) in order to finally resolve the leaky basement issues across the condo complex.