Question

Moisture is leaking through our new basement windows. What should we do?

Asked by Laurie Jack, Lloydminster, SK, Canada

The basement windows in our new home are leaking. Moisture is getting in behind the flanges and pooling on the wood frames. Our contractor installed flashing on top and they still leak on the sides. He wants to spray expanding foam insulation around the window frames inside. Is that a good idea? And does the expanding foam insulation act as a water barrier, or does it just stop air drafts?

Answer

Greg Upwall

Answered by Greg Upwall

Washington, DC

Studio Upwall

February 4, 2008

Water infiltration is one of the most serious challenges in building design, for obvious reasons. Simply put, water must be stopped at the exterior before it has a chance to enter the building.

Your intuition is correct: Expanding foam is not a water barrier, and really is not even a draft stop. It is appropriate only for filling cavities in exterior walls and framing to improve thermal performance. Spraying foam along the inside will not correct the problem because it will still allow water to get into the wall. It could actually worsen the situation by trapping moisture in the cavity.

Now let’s get to the real issue. If your contractor is advising you to use expanding foam to address a moisture leak, it may be time to look for another contractor, or at least demand that the problem be properly addressed.

  • A primary concern is that mold or rot problems may be present in the wall already, or may develop in the future.
  • The only proper solution at this point is to remove the windows, allow the wall to fully dry, replace any wood or drywall that might have water damage, and then reinstall the windows using proper flashing materials and installation techniques.

Materials that qualify as true water barriers are commonly referred to as flashing. These are typically sheet metal (galvanized or copper) and membrane products like those by Grace Construction Products. If moisture is getting behind the flanges, it is likely that the tops of your windows are not properly flashed. Sheet metal flashing must extend up (behind the siding) and over the top of the window frame or casing.

The Grace Construction website has drawings of proper flashing assembly for specific wall construction types; it would probably be a good idea to print out the details and review them with your contractor.

Tagged In: spray foam, basement moisture, basement remodeling

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.