Foundation waterproofing system battles basement water problems

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
 Foundation waterproofing system battles basement water problems

Photo courtesy of Mar-Flex

For most homes with a basement or foundation, it's not a matter of if it will leak, but only when.

In 2014, about 28 percent of the new homes completed had a full or partial basement, a drop from the peak in the mid-1970s when 45 percent of the new homes had basements each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that about 85 percent of the builders who responded had homes with leakage problems. There was no difference in the type of foundation – concrete walls and masonry block all experienced water problems.

The study found that below-grade waterproofing, as well as good supervision of construction details, were among the tops ways to address the problem.

Unfortunately, below-grade waterproofing is all too often a case of out of sight, out of mind. It's not something homeowners or building professionals spend much time thinking about.

But Brett Oakley, founder and CEO of Mar-Flex, a Carlisle, Ohio-based manufacturer of waterproofing, basement and air barrier products, is trying to change that.

Since it was established in 1984, Mar-Flex has developed a full range of materials and equipment for lower-level-living environments, including water proofing systems, air barriers and egress windows.

Oakley has also made a commitment to developing his products to use as much recycled material as possible.

The first green product was Shockwave in 2007, a crushproof drain board made to take 42,000 pounds of pressure, fit closer together and protect the concrete. Shockwave consists of ground up plastic scrap from car seats and dashboards in automobiles, heated to 350 degrees and laminated with a silk protection cloth to filter dirt. Oakley says it’s the only drainage board in the world made with 100-percent recycled material. It's used in building foundations, landfill filtration and under artificial turf of sports fields to drain water. In fact, Shockwave was named the most innovative product at The World of Concrete trade show in 2007.

In an exclusive interview with, Brett Oakley discussed the challenges of foundation and basement waterproofing and his commitment to developing products that use recycled materials.

Q: Why is foundation waterproofing so important?

A: When you build a house with a basement, one of the things that gives homeowners a sour taste is that builder often cut corners in waterproofing. So too many basements and foundations end up with water problems.

Builders don't mean to cut corners, but the industry has a very poor education process for below-grade waterproofing and foundation products, and it's such an important piece because the whole structure of the house sits on top of it. You just don't cut corners there.

The goal is, when you do it right the homeowner will love their basement, because a basement if designed and built properly adds value to a house. Also putting in egress windows and window wells makes it so you can get in and out of a basement and you can lighten it up and make it livable space.

When you do it right it's the most comfortable and quiet place in the home, and at the same time when a tornado comes you have a place to for your family to take shelter.

Basements have a lot of value but only if you think about them on the front end and do a little research on the products and understand what you're doing before you do it.

Q: What are some of the challenges to getting architects and building professionals to focus on waterproofing?

A: A lot of people don't realize that the below-grade foundation is the single most important part of a house for longevity – the problem is, it's out of sight and out of mind.

When you put dirt over top of it people think it's not a big deal. They seem to not pay attention to this like they do cabinets bathrooms, prestige roofs; they spend more on gutter systems on some houses than they do on waterproofing.

Q: What can architects and homeowners do to get it right?

A: Because a lot of builders aren't well educated and seem to want to cut corners when it comes to water proofing, we want to work with architects to specific our products. That way the builders can't cut corners on this step.

Q: How does the Mar-Flex system address these challenges?

A: We have a system that will work on any kind of basement or foundation wall, whether it's poured concrete, masonry block, insulated concrete forms or anything else. Depending on the type of wall there are specific products for waterproofing membrane, drainage board, and drainage tile.

One of the key components is the Shockwave drainage board. It helps moisture move away from the wall, and also protects the waterproofing membrane and the wall material.

So our system accomplishes two things. It waterproofs the foundation wall and stops moisture penetration. And then we put the Shockwave drainage board over this, which gives the water path to the drain tile. By giving the water an easy path, it keeps the hydrostatic pressure off the basement walls.

We call the drainage board Shockwave because it absorbs the shock of the bulldozers and the back fill, the rocks and anything on the construction site that can damage the waterproofing membrane layer.

Q: Why have you made the commitment to using recycled products?

A: Shockwave for example uses post-industrial polyethylene-polyolefin foam waste from the automotive industry. This material was going into landfills but it never dries up, it never rots, it never goes away. We figured out a way to take a product that doesn't decompose and find a use for it on foundation walls. It's here for the lifetime of the house. It's healthy for the environment and healthy for the foundation.

Q: What role do homeowners play in causing water problems for their basements and foundations?

A: People want beautiful landscaping beds, they want sprinklers in their yard, but the problem is the foundation is below that. So we have to do the right things on the front end so the soil around the house can handle the water from landscaping and the weather.

When you saturate the soil around the house with water that puts a lot of weight on the foundation, and it starts compressing. By getting Shockwave on the walls, it allows the water to move as the soil gets saturated.

Q: How can a homeowner make sure they're getting the best recommendations for foundation waterproofing?

A: Foundation waterproofing is the cheapest part of a complete house, but the most valuable. Homeowners should educate themselves and ask questions of their architects and builders. If the basement or foundation is not built properly, it will have water problems. Homeowners have to be educated on what's going on below-grade in their house.

Topics: Building Green, Foundations, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Proud Green Building, Proud Green Home of Cincinnati, Sustainable Products

Companies: Mar-Flex

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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