Does It Make Sense Using Plastic Around House Foundation

Learn whether the plastic can be considered a good material for protecting your home’s basement from water

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As all of you probably know, most basements in the United States are rather wet which makes them unsuitable for living. However, it does not mean that your basement can be treated carelessly. Protecting it from water and moisture still remains your task and responsibility. 

However, quite many homeowners still have a question: can plastic be used to cover the foundation of the house? And if it can, then how efficient this material can be? Some people feel so uncertain about plastic that they even prefer using another material (for example, rocks) for this purpose.

In this article, we will do our best to find out whether plastic is able to keep water away from your home’s foundation. In addition, we will share a few useful tips and life hacks with you that will help every homeowner to avoid wet basements should they have any problems with proper drainage.

A house foundation being protected by heavy-duty plastic sheeting
By vista.com

Can Plastic Keep Water Away From Foundation Of Your House?

Many basements are wet, as you probably know. This is the major reason why more of them are not used as living spaces. And if some of you think that the high water table might be the cause of it, note that it isn’t always to blame. 

Soaked after heavy rains and seepage of melted snow basement
By vista.com

Quite often, your basement may get wet after heavy rains and melting snow seep in through the walls. See, the soil right next to a foundation is usually the wettest. This is because all the rain that hits the siding then washes down the wall. Naturally, it collects next to the foundation! With the snow, it works the same: when a heavy snowstorm takes place, or after a few snowy days, the snow melts and water runs down through the soil, ending up in your basement. Houses that have no gutters dump even more water from the roof into the soil next to the foundations.

Foundation drain - use gutters
By vista.com

The usual way to keep runoff away from foundations is to either use gutters or grading. However, it may not always help. See, if the soil that your house stands on is sandy, sloped grade alone won’t always work. 

In this case, the best way to move surface water away from the foundation to protect it and keep it dry is to install an underground roof (also called below-grade flashing). This underground roof is usually made from heavy-duty plastic or roofing membrane that is attached to the foundation and sloped away from the house. 

Underground roof - waterproofing below ground level.
itishouse.com

The depth depends on foundation plantings, soil type, and amount of surface water. Wet areas need deeper flashing, as you could guess. This is exactly the case when using plastic around the house foundation becomes handy.

So if you are wondering whether the plastic can be used for protecting your home’s basement from excessive water, the answer is yes. However, you still need to take into account that you can’t use any kind of plastic for this purpose! You will need heavy-duty plastic in order to make sure that it protects your basement properly. 

If you your new or existing home has a crawlspace, you can also Install a 6-mil polyethylene vapor diffusion barrier across the crawlspace floor to prevent soil moisture from migrating into the crawlspace. 

www.energy.gov/energysaver/vapor-barriers-or-vapor-retarders

How to Prevent Wet Basement In Your House. Tips And Life Hacks

Have you ever experienced a situation when, after a few years you have spent in your house, you suddenly start finding water in your basement? This is not something unusual, in fact! This issue is typically caused by settlement around the house foundation. 

Sediment around the foundation of the house
By vista.com

See, when a house is constructed, a hole is excavated for the foundation that is larger than the foundation. And when the hole is backfilled (it means that the soil is pushed in against the wall), sometimes there are voids that eventually fill up with earth from above. This settlement may take several years and go unnoticed until water starts appearing in the basement.

This is why, if you want to avoid unwanted water and excessive moisture in your basement, we would recommend you use several handy tips and life hacks. They will help you protect your house and avoid a wet basement that may later develop mold and other harmful and dangerous issues.

Make Sure You Have the Right Minimum Grade

A rule of thumb is to have a main minimum grade that is approximately 5"-6" of fall in the first five feet (downward slope) from your foundation. This is the equivalent of a 10% grade. A minimum grade should be not less than 3" in that same five feet. 

Downward slope from your foundation - diagram
itishouse.com

Like this, you will assure that rainfalls will not reach down the outside of the house and into the basement. In very dry years, the ground can literally shrink from the house and in that case, it is best to place clay soil in the crack between the wall and the earth.

Unmasking the Shield: Types of Plastic Used in Foundation Protection

Protecting your house's foundation is as important as putting up a solid structure. Water can be a silent enemy, causing a variety of structural issues that can compromise the safety and integrity of your house. That's where a good water barrier for your foundation comes in. One of the commonly used materials for this purpose is plastic. However, it's essential to know that not all plastics are the same. So, let's demystify the different types of plastic used as a water barrier for foundation protection.

Polyethylene Plastic Sheeting: An Economical and Efficient Option

Polyethylene film - foundation waterproofing
By itishouse.com

Polyethylene plastic sheeting is one of the most widely used materials for creating a water barrier for foundations. Notably, it is known for its affordability and versatility. This material stands out for its remarkable durability, which means it doesn't tear or get punctured easily, making it a suitable water barrier for foundation protection.

Typically, polyethylene sheeting's thickness ranges from 6 mil (0.006 inches) to more substantial 10 mil or 20 mil versions. Remember, the thicker the sheet, the better it withstands external pressures, providing effective water barrier for your foundation.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): The Tough Performer

Foundation protection is high density polyethylene
By vista.com

The next type of plastic worth considering for your foundation protection is High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). As the name suggests, HDPE is denser and more robust compared to its cousin, making it an excellent water barrier for foundations. It can resist extreme temperatures and impacts, making it suitable for areas prone to severe weather conditions.

HDPE's exceptional moisture control properties make it a prime choice for regions with heavy rainfall or high groundwater levels. Its use as a water barrier for foundations ensures the home stays dry and structurally sound.

Foundation Protection - HDPE Geomembrane
By vista.com 

Main advantages of HDPE geomembrane

  1. absolute waterproofness;
  2. unique tightness during installation;
  3. high mechanical strength and elasticity at negative temperatures;
  4. good resistance to UV radiation;
  5. long-term resistance to chemicals and filtrate;
  6. seismic stability due to high elasticity and stretchability;
  7. resistance to damage by microorganisms and rodents;
  8. high laying speed: up to 2000 m2 per shift;
  9. ecological use for clean water reservoirs;
  10. lifespan in construction up to 100 years;

 

Vapor Barrier Plastic Sheeting: The Moisture Blocker

Vapor barrier plastic film prevents the passage of water vapor
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Vapor barrier plastic sheeting is designed to bar the passage of water vapor explicitly. As a specialized type of plastic, it is an excellent choice as a water barrier for foundations. It helps to keep moisture from entering the home, ensuring the foundation remains dry and robust.

Vapor barriers are usually made from polyethylene and come in different thicknesses to cater to varying moisture control requirements. A high-quality vapor barrier exhibits a low permeability rating, meaning it allows minimal moisture passage, thus acting as an effective water barrier for foundation protection.

Choosing the Right Plastic as a Water Barrier for Your Foundation

House next to a small river
By vista.com

The right type of plastic to use as a water barrier for your foundation hinges on several factors. First, consider your area's climate and environmental conditions. If you live in an area with heavy rainfall or high groundwater, a material like HDPE or a superior quality vapor barrier might be necessary.

The condition of your foundation and the soil around it is another critical factor. If the soil around your foundation is rough or rocky, you'll need a thicker, more durable material to resist possible punctures.

Lastly, remember to consider your budget. While it's ideal to invest in the highest quality material possible, it's crucial to choose an option that aligns with your financial capacity.

In Conclusion: Pick Your Plastic Wisely

In conclusion, picking the right type of plastic as a water barrier for foundation protection is a crucial aspect of maintaining your home. By considering your specific needs and conditions, you can select a material that offers effective moisture control, shielding your home's foundation for years to come. Ensuring your foundation stays dry is an investment worth making for the health and longevity of your home.


Securing the Shield: How to Attach Plastic to a Foundation

Installing a plastic barrier around your house's foundation is an excellent method to keep water away from the foundation, ensuring moisture stays at bay and safeguarding the structural integrity of your home. This process involves two major methods - mechanical and adhesive attachment. Let's delve into the nitty-gritty of each procedure and provide step-by-step instructions.

Method 1: Mechanical Attachment of Plastic to Keep Water Away from the Foundation

Mechanical fastening of the plastic barrier
By vista.com

Mechanical attachment is a secure way to fasten the plastic barrier, which aids in preventing water intrusion into your foundation. However, be warned, this method can potentially damage the foundation. Here's how you do it:

Preparation: Begin by cleaning the foundation surface. This step includes removing any dirt, debris, or loose material to ensure a secure fit.

Measure and Cut the Plastic: According to the size of your foundation wall, measure and cut the plastic sheet.

Attachment: Using screws or nails, attach the plastic to the foundation. Keep them spaced every 12-18 inches for a firm hold.

Seam the Plastic: At points where two pieces of plastic meet, overlap them by 6 inches and seal the seam using butyl tape or spray adhesive.

Method 2: Adhesive Attachment of Plastic to Keep Water Away from the Foundation

Adhesive fastening of the plastic barrier
By vista.com

Adhesive attachment is less destructive compared to the mechanical method. However, it might not provide as much security. The steps involved are:

Preparation: Similar to the first method, clean the foundation surface to remove any unwanted materials.

Measure and Cut the Plastic: Depending on your foundation wall's dimensions, measure and cut the plastic.

Apply the Adhesive: Follow the manufacturer's instructions and apply the adhesive on the foundation wall.

Attach the Plastic: Press the plastic onto the adhesive. Make sure to smooth out any air bubbles for a flawless finish.

Seam the Plastic: Just like before, where two pieces of plastic intersect, overlap them by 6 inches and seal the seam with butyl tape or spray adhesive.

Regardless of the method you choose, ensure that the plastic is tightly attached to the foundation to effectively keep water away and maintain a dry foundation.

Additional Tips for Attaching Plastic to a Foundation

Loose plastic to the foundation
By vista.com

To make the most of your moisture barrier installation, keep in mind the following tips:

Choose a high-quality plastic designed for moisture barrier applications. This selection will significantly affect the effectiveness of the barrier.

Ensure that the plastic sheet is free of tears or holes, which could compromise the barrier.

Overlap the seams by at least 6 inches and seal them well with butyl tape or spray adhesive.

Use a rubber mallet to tap down any areas of the plastic that are not sticking properly.

By adhering to these tips and carefully following the instructions, you can efficiently install a plastic barrier around your foundation, effectively keeping water away and protecting your home from unwanted moisture and related damages.

 

Consider Landscaping Next to Foundation

Most homeowners choose to landscape around their home, but there is something you can do in order to improve drainage from the foundation wall. The most important thing, make sure that you achieve the minimum grade and place 4-6 mil plastic sheeting on top of the ground and under landscape rock. Like this, you will be able to accomplish two major goals: 

  1. You will keep water from penetrating into the ground
  2. You will prevent weeds from growing
landscaping and plastic film
By vista.com

With careful surface grading, you can easily direct some of the water to the shrubs and planting areas. However, you should note that in some areas (for example, where flowers are planted) plastic can not be used! In those instances, make sure a 5-10 percent grade is maintained from the foundation. 

Also, be careful you do not trap water with plastic edging that is designed to keep grass from growing into the landscaped areas. If necessary, cut the edging in several places to allow water to flow from the foundation. After all, it is a lot easier to remove a little grass than to clean up a wet basement.

Downspouts

A number of homes utilize rain gutters and downspouts to minimize any possible damage that may come from water, especially if it is running from the roof and onto the ground. 

Use of downpipes - scheme
itishouse.com

However, it is a good idea to add an elbow to the downspout along with an 8-10 foot pipe (downspout laying nearly parallel to the ground) for the water to flow from the foundation, especially if the area where your house is built has clay or sandy silt soils. At a minimum, a splash guard, at least three feet in length should be installed beneath the downspout. This will prevent erosion of the soil.

Sump Pump Discharges

It is extremely important to discharge the sump pump away from the foundation. At the very least, you can install a pipe extension of at least 8 feet from the foundation wall. Ideally, the discharge pipe should be installed underground. 

Drainage pump coming out of the foundation
By vista.com

As long as the discharge pipe is installed at a slope (1/4 bubble on a level) from the foundation, it should not freeze because the water pumped out of your home by the sump pump is at least 45 degrees. If there are no low spots in your discharge line, the water will drain when the pump shuts off and therefore no ice will form.

Window Wells 

Many homes now have window wells that provide emergency access from basements. However, these window wells are also the source of moisture intake! Ideally, the bottom of the window well should be filled with a well-graded sand or pea gravel with a tie to the foundation’s drain tile system. 

Window well separated from the foundation
By vista.com

This tie can be accomplished with sand/gravel or with a piece of drain tile. Plastic covers can be installed as well, but they cannot be anchored to the building as this would defeat the purpose of the window well. 

If you have window wells, note that they should be inspected each fall prior to winter! Like this, you can make sure, for example, that leaves are removed (if you do not have a plastic cover). If you let the leaves remain, they can easily prevent water from percolating into the ground. If this occurs, it is possible that the water will build up and flow in and around the window frame. 

The window frame can be caulked to not only avoid water but also prevent insects and rodents from entering the basement.

Annual Inspection

Trenches near your house.
By vista.com

Regular inspections of your home’s basement are essential for keeping it safe and dry. Each spring, after the frost is gone, you should walk around your home and look for settled areas. Areas of most concern that should be checked first are the trenches where your utilities were extended into your home. 

If you do not know where these trenches are, locate your sewer cleanout along your basement wall facing the street. The trench will typically be 10 feet on both sides of this line to the street. Your electrical trench will typically be along the same wall in the basement (facing the street), where your electrical service box is located. 

Foundation protected by plastic
By vista.com

If you find a settlement, the sod will have to be removed and/or replaced or covered with topsoil. If the settlement occurs in the landscaped area, the landscape rock or mulch should be removed and topsoil brought in to raise the surface to a minimum grade.

Like this, now you know whether or not the plastic can be used around your house as a material for protecting the basement from water. As you know now, plastic can do this job well, however, only if you are using a high-quality and heavy-duty kind of plastic. Should you make use of other types, they will most likely fail to succeed.

If you make sure that you follow all the recommendations we gave you in this article, and if you take all the tips and life hacks into consideration, be sure that it will be much easier for you to construct a well-working and long-lasting basement protection made of plastic. 

But even though plastic is quite a durable material with a long lifespan, it doesn’t mean that your basment protection needs no checkups and care! Remember to give it a check at least once a yesr, preferably before winter comes, so that you can be sure your basement will be protected. 

Facts

The use of plastic around house foundations might not seem significant, but it has a variety of compelling advantages and points of consideration. Here are some fascinating facts about this construction practice:
  1. Plastic, specifically polyethylene sheeting, is commonly used as a vapor barrier around house foundations. Its primary purpose is to prevent moisture from infiltrating the foundation and the interior of the house.
  2. The application of a plastic vapor barrier can significantly reduce the risk of mold and mildew growth. Moisture encourages mold growth, which can lead to serious health issues for the home's occupants and structural problems for the house.
  3. An interesting fact is that the placement of the plastic is critical. The plastic sheeting is typically placed on the warm side of the wall (usually the interior) to prevent condensation from forming within the wall assembly.
  4. Plastic vapor barriers also have a notable impact on a home's energy efficiency. By preventing dampness, these barriers can help maintain the effectiveness of insulation materials, thereby reducing the energy required to heat or cool the home.
  5. It's also noteworthy that while plastic vapor barriers can be effective, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. In some climates, particularly in regions with high humidity, a plastic vapor barrier might not be the best choice, as it can potentially trap moisture inside the wall assembly, leading to rot and other issues.
  6. A rather intriguing fact is that in some cases, the plastic used around house foundations can be recycled or made from recycled materials. This offers a more eco-friendly option and aligns with the growing trend towards sustainable construction practices.
  7. In essence, while the use of plastic around house foundations is a standard construction practice, it's also a fascinating topic with many factors to consider. Always ensure to consult with a building professional to make the most informed decisions regarding your home's construction and maintenance.

History

The Plastic Guardian: A Foundation's Unseen Protector

In the annals of construction history, the story of plastic's role in home foundations is a testament to human innovation and our continuous pursuit of better, more efficient, and cost-effective solutions.

The initial advent of plastic dates back to the 19th century, but it wasn't until the post-WWII era that the material truly started to gain prominence in various industries. Around the 1960s, the construction industry began to explore the benefits of this versatile material, initially focusing on its water-resistant properties.

In the early 1970s, amidst rising concerns about dampness and its adverse effects on home foundations, a few innovative builders started experimenting with plastic as a moisture barrier. This innovative application was an instant success, significantly reducing water-related issues that had been plaguing homeowners for decades.

One of the most prominent milestones in this journey came in 1980 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development formally recognized plastic sheeting as an effective method for moisture control in crawl spaces. This endorsement brought the concept into the mainstream, and soon, builders nationwide were incorporating plastic sheeting in their constructions.

A significant innovation came in the 1990s, when manufacturers started producing plastic membranes explicitly designed for use around house foundations. These products, often referred to as "damp proof courses" (DPC), offered superior water resistance compared to traditional materials, providing an extra layer of protection for homes against moisture-related damage.

Into the new millennium, the application of plastic around house foundations has evolved even further. Today, we see plastic not just used as a moisture barrier, but also as a form of insulation and protection against insects and pests. Modern plastic sheeting also boasts improved durability, able to withstand the rigors of construction and environmental conditions.

The evolution of using plastic around house foundations reflects our continuous search for building materials that enhance the longevity and durability of our homes. As we look towards the future, we can anticipate further advancements in this field, whether it's in the form of smarter plastics, better installation techniques, or even more effective methods for protecting our homes from the elements.

The tale of using plastic around house foundations is far from over. As we continue to innovate and explore new possibilities, the chapters yet to be written promise to be just as fascinating as those that have already unfolded.
 

Expert Advice

Remember, using plastic around your house foundation is a preventive measure and not a fix for existing water damage. If you're experiencing water issues, it's important to address those first before installing the plastic barrier. It's a small step towards ensuring the longevity and health of your home. Stay tuned for more expert advice!

  1. Choosing the Right Plastic: Not all plastics are created equal. When it comes to foundation work, a 6-mil polyethylene sheeting is usually the minimum thickness recommended. This ensures that the plastic holds up to the rigors of the job and lasts for an extended period. Opt for a high-quality, tear-resistant product that is up to the task.
  2. Proper Installation: The effectiveness of the plastic sheeting is largely dependent on proper installation. It should cover the entire surface of the foundation wall and extend onto the footing. In the case of crawl spaces, it should extend over the soil. Overlap the seams by a minimum of 12 inches and seal them with appropriate construction tape to prevent moisture leakage.
  3. Consider Local Climate: The efficacy of plastic around your house foundation is also dictated by your local climate. If your region experiences heavy rainfall or a high water table, you might need additional layers of plastic or a specially designed product that offers extra protection against these conditions.
  4. Don't Neglect the Edges: Water has a knack for finding its way through the smallest gaps. So, pay special attention to the edges of the foundation and corners. It's often wise to add a little extra plastic in these areas, folding it up against the wall to create a 'bathtub effect.'
  5. Maintain Regularly: While plastic is a durable material, it is still subject to wear and tear. Regular inspections are essential to ensure the plastic sheeting remains intact. Look out for any signs of deterioration, such as holes, tears, or other damage. If you spot any issue, patch it up promptly or replace the affected section.
  6. Respect the Environment: While plastic is a fantastic resource for construction, it's essential to be mindful of its environmental implications. Aim to use recycled plastic where possible and ensure it's disposed of responsibly at the end of its lifespan.
  7. Professional Consultation: Even though it might seem straightforward, installing plastic around a house foundation is a task that demands expertise. It's always a wise idea to consult with a professional or hire experienced contractors to ensure the job is done right.

Employing plastic around your house foundation can significantly enhance the longevity of your property, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. Understanding and attending to these subtleties will ensure that you maximize the benefits that this innovative practice offers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Install A Plastic Vapor Barrier Around My House Foundation?

Installing a plastic vapor barrier typically involves laying the plastic sheeting on the exterior side of the foundation walls, overlapping seams, and sealing them with tape or adhesive.

Can Plastic Be Used With Any Type Of Foundation?

Plastic can be used with various types of foundations, including slab, crawl space, and full basement foundations, but its application may vary depending on the specific foundation type.

Are There Any Disadvantages To Using Plastic Around A House Foundation?

Possible disadvantages of using plastic around a house foundation include the potential for punctures or tears, which can compromise the moisture barrier, and the use of non-environmentally friendly materials.

How Often Should I Inspect Or Replace The Plastic Barrier Around My House Foundation?

Inspecting the plastic barrier around your house foundation should be done periodically, such as during routine maintenance, and replaced if any damage or deterioration is found.

Are There Any Fire Safety Concerns With Using Plastic Around A House Foundation?

Some plastic materials may be flammable, but building codes usually require the use of fire-resistant or flame-retardant materials for house foundation barriers.

Can I Use Plastic Sheeting As A Vapor Barrier On The Interior Of My Basement Walls?

Yes, plastic sheeting can be used as a vapor barrier on the interior of basement walls to help reduce moisture infiltration and improve overall indoor air quality.

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Comments

Delmer Hegmann:
Hi! I need someone’s help, folks! See, I live in a house that stands on quite a sandy soil. So when it rains or snows, there is a lot of moisture later in my basement. I want to protect it somehow but I’m not sure which way is better - rock border or plastic protection?
Marjorie Prohaska:
Hey there! Well, I used plastic. In my opinion, considering your type of soil, it will be better. At least, I can see that it does work for my home! But if you hesitate, better ask a professional for advice.
Maximilian VonRueden:
If my home’s basement has poor drainage, can it lead to flood in the basement?
Savion Fritsch:
I guess you will not end up with the flood literally unless you live in an area that’s prone to hurricanes (e.g. near the ocean) and thus floods. rain or heavy snow can’t result in floods for sure.
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