Building ideas for over the basement steps to keep rain out

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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Building ideas for over the basement steps to keep rain out
A brick drainfield can carry rainwater away from basement steps. (Backyard Brickfest image by Epix from

Exterior steps leading down to a below-grade basement door provide an efficient channel for rainwater, which runs down the steps, pools until it rises above the threshold of the door, then floods the basement. This perennial home-repair problem has two components: the rainwater that falls directly on the steps and the entrance area, and the rainwater that falls into the yard and then migrates to the steps continuing downward into the basement. An effective solution that keeps rainwater out of the basement must deal with both components.

Awnings and Porches

You can prevent rainwater from falling onto the steps and the entrance area between the last step and the threshold of the basement door with either an awning or a porch. (While we sometimes think of porches as the area underfoot at an entrance, architects use "porch" to refer to the small roof extension over the entrance area). Awnings cost less, but will need periodic replacement. A small porch will require some carpentry, but provides a permanent solution to this first part of the problem.

Drainage Solutions

The solution to the second part of the problem, the rainwater that falls elsewhere in the yard and then migrates to the steps, begins with good drainage. You can achieve this in several ways. One excellent, but somewhat labour intensive solution, consists of tearing out the cement in the entrance area, running a 3- to 5-inch drainpipe up from a lower part of the yard into the entrance area and terminating it with a drain. Re-pour the entrance area, being careful that the area has a slight slope downward to the drain from all directions--much like the drain area in a shower.

When You Cannot Install a Drain

Often you cannot install a drain in the entrance area because you do not have a lower yard area to drain the water to. You can still remove the old concrete entrance area, put in a small field of drain tiles below it, then repour a new entrance area consisting of a concrete frame with a grate. This is an imperfect solution because the water will remain in the drain tile area below the grate until it slowly migrates into the surrounding soil, but it will help. A similar solution provides 6 or 8 inches of sand below un-grouted bricks in place of the previous concrete entrance. The rainwater will run through the bricks, into the sand and then percolate back into the surrounding soil.

Redirecting the Water

You can reduce the volume of water flowing down the steps by digging a shallow trench in front of the steps and one along each side. The water flowing toward the steps will now run into the trenches. If you use these steps often, put grating over the trenches so they do not constitute a foot hazard.

A variant solution lines the trenches with concrete. Build small-scale forms to pour the concrete into. If possible, include one or more drainpipes to carry the water away from the trench and deposit it into a drainfield elsewhere in the yard. Otherwise, you can put in a few drain holes in each trench that will allow the rainwater to percolate back into the soil. Again, for safety reasons these trenches should have grates over them.

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