When you live in Alberta, you become familiar with the unique and often surprising weather patterns our province can experience.
One week, you’ll have to put up with the thermometer plunging well below freezing, along with mounds of snow and ice, and then roaring chinook winds and unseasonably warm temperatures the next. Summertime can bring sweltering temperatures under a bright clear blue sky in the afternoon, then torrential rains and spectacular lightning by the evening.
We enjoy (and endure) countless weather events year-round, but one thing is common throughout the year, and that’s precipitation.
No other place in Canada – and few other places on earth – experience the same kind of variability in climate combined with the annual precipitation levels we do in ‘Wild Rose Country.’
Alberta receives approximately 355 millimeters (14 inches) of rain between May and October. On a typical 40′ x 110′ residential lot, this amounts to approximately 31,900 gallons (144,800 litres) of water.
Which makes management of surface water an essential part of life and home ownership in Alberta.
So much rain and snow means you’ll be dealing with a lot of water on your property (about 630 bathtubs worth) which can cause thousands of dollars of damage to your home if you aren’t properly prepared for it all.
Luckily, we’ve got answers and tips on how to handle surface water on your property, so your home can stay safe and dry all year long.
Signs you have drainage problems
As you can imagine, there are many indications you have moisture management issues on your property; leaks or flooding in your basement, pooling water on your lawn, powdery deposits or mold on your cement walls, and overflowing eavestroughs are a few of the most visible signs.
Results of poor drainage
It’s not only your foundation and basement walls that could be affected; mold could take hold in stagnant water, causing health issues like coughing, lung infections and more. Mold is the ideal environment for insects like mosquitos to breed, and also sometimes attracts rodents, who see it as a beneficial resource to have near their nests.
Managing surface water
When the soil around your home settles, it can start to slope towards the foundation, and water could eventually enter your basement. You can take steps towards directing rainwater, snowmelt and sump discharge away from your home and off your property.
An area where water is pooling could be an indication that your soil has settled unevenly, affecting the grading, or the sloping of your yard away from your home. Correctly graded soil allows precipitation to flow away from your home, rather than sitting on the surface.
If you notice low spots, you can easily fix them yourself. Remove the topsoil and fill the low spot with compacted clay, ensuring it slopes away from your foundation. Once filled with clay, topsoil can be added again. Avoid simply filling a low spot with topsoil, as it will quickly settle again.
Make sure there’s no debris trapping water in window wells. Your window wells should be built to Alberta Building Code guidelines, as improperly built wells could contribute to water collection.
Ensure eavestroughs and downspouts are kept clear of leaves, twigs and other materials, and that downspout extensions and rain leaders direct water away from the ground adjacent to your home, where it can pool and damage your foundation and basement. Downspouts should extend at least 1.8 meters away from your home; if they don’t reach quite that far, you can add extenders to make up the difference.
You can also improve drainage by installing a French drain in your yard. This is a trench roughly half a meter deep, lined with water-permeable fabric and containing a drain pipe with holes in it, which is then covered with gravel. This creates an efficient way for water to exit your property quickly.
Basement waterproofing makes a difference. See if your home has weeping tile – which isn’t actually tile but underground pipes around your foundation – which can greatly increase removal of water from your property, especially in the springtime or during extended rainfall.
A sump pump in your basement draws excess groundwater away from your foundation and directs it to appropriate drain pipes, an absolutely essential fixture if the water table around your home is especially damp.
Shallow depressions along your property line – called swales – help direct precipitation away from your home and towards appropriate drainage.
Make sure flowerbeds aren’t set directly against your foundation, and that you have a layer of clay that slopes away from your home underneath the potting soil.
A concrete driveway’s surface is porous, meaning water can eventually damage it. Applying an acrylic or polyurethane surface sealer covers and protects your concrete by penetrating a few millimeters in, but still allowing it to breathe, expand and contract. Patch cracks with a flexible-type filler solution that will move, contract and expand with your driveway during changes in temperature, or a dry concrete mix or patching compound with gravel. If the cracks are larger, you may opt for a dry concrete mix or patching compound, and if they’re deep, use a compound to help fill the gaps. Digging a five-centimeter drainage strip in the edge of your lawn adjacent to the driveway allows snow and water to drain away, maintaining your concrete driveway safely.
Finally, if you have a sprinkler system as part of your home landscaping, make sure it doesn’t direct water directly at your home and maintain the underground pipes to make sure they don’t freeze and burst.
Maintaining your eavestroughs
As mentioned, ensure you’re maintaining your eavestroughs and downspouts. They’re essential to keeping water from pooling in areas where it can damage your foundation.
Using a stable ladder, clean your eavestroughs and downspouts twice a year to ensure they’re clear of debris. If you’re not comfortable using a ladder, it’s wise to hire a qualified professional to do the work for you.
A small garden tool can remove leaves, branches, seeds, pinecones and mud; these small obstructions can quickly clog up eavestroughs, causing blockages that will send water down to your foundation, and may damage the eavestroughs themselves.
Make sure you have rain leaders installed to direct water away from the ground next to your home. Then cut back any tree branches that overhang your eavestroughs and install screens to cover your downspouts.
Seasonal landscaping tips
An essential step in keeping groundwater from collecting and damaging your home is maintaining your yard properly, especially in the spring when the temperature is fluctuating and snow is melting.
Any debris that has collected under the snow should be picked up and disposed of correctly, including dog waste, pinecones and dead leaves. Yellowed patches of grass may indicate snow mold, which can obstruct proper drainage.
Frozen soil can often buckle and throw fences out-of-kilter, but there’s a chance heaving soil could damage underground pipes (such as rain leaders) as well. Make sure that tree roots aren’t bending or breaking underground pipes as well.
Aerating your lawn and raking up thatch promotes oxygen entering the soil, making it breathable, porous and able to direct precipitation as your landscaping grading intended it to do.
Take care with landscaping near your home, especially when it comes to planting trees, bushes and flowerbeds close to your home’s foundation. If you don’t have proper drainage and grading, constant watering can drive water towards your home, rather than away from it. Check to see that the grading hasn’t been unduly affected by the winter freeze.
Installing and caring for new landscaping
There is no question that a well-planned yard will add to the beauty and value of any home.
Consider the climate, topography, size and layout of your outdoor space; avoid planting trees and building water features randomly, as poorly-planned landscaping can actually damage your home if you’re not considering how the soil is graded or drainage will work.
Also, just like flowerbeds, make sure trees are planted away from your foundation; think about how large they could grow in a dozen years. Also, remember that fully-grown tree roots can buckle your driveway or sidewalk and damage underground pipes.
Remember groundwater when renovating or building additions to your home
If you’re renovating or expanding your home, make sure your contractor considers the many ways such updates may affect surface water on your property. Simply adding a retaining wall could add strain to water drainage systems if planned incorrectly; conversely, well-designed retaining walls will aid in water drainage. Make sure yours is from the latter category.
When it comes to winter, be prepared for cold snaps, and you’ll enjoy the season in relative comfort. Some Albertans are lucky enough to have space on their property to install small ice rinks as well. These small surfaces are fantastic ways for kids or adults to practice their hockey or skating skills during the cold winter months. If you’re planning on installing one yourself, ensure you’ve got ample runoff areas and that it’s always placed on a downhill grade away from your home.
It’s a lot consider, but even a few of these steps, along with regular preventative home maintenance can drastically improve your home’s resistance to groundwater leaks and seepage.