Homeowners expect a basement to be dry and structurally sound. If it isn't, it has failed. Functionally, a basement has failed if it leaks. Structurally, a basement has failed if it develops cracks that threaten the uniform support of the structure. Having determined that a basement has failed, how does the repair contractor proceed?

Fortunately, emergency situations requiring immediate repair are rare so there's usually time to perform a thorough investigation. This is critical because repairs will last only if the repair contractor eliminates or compensates for all the underlying failure causes. These causes can only be determined if all the facts are known.

Thus, the first step is a field investigation that collects the facts. Use a checklist format to get the required information. The investigator should concentrate on four areas: facts regarding the physical construction; a description and history of the problem; a visual inspection of the interior; and a visual inspection of the exterior. Combine all the information gathered in the field investigation to get the best picture of what happened. Basement failures can arise from deficiencies in any of four areas: design defects, poor workmanship, owner neglect, and undetected natural conditions.