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Is It Really Possible To Fully Waterproof Anything?

Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg

Can You Waterproof?

Is ‘waterproof’ an attainable state? In other words, is it actually possible to either create or modify an object to become completely impermeable to moisture … or perhaps would it be more accurate to suggest that there are levels of waterproof, ranging from ‘water resistant’ all the way to full imperviousness? Some would suggest it’s merely a selling point and or simply untrue, but many industries and products exist today that would have you believe otherwise.

Boats

Most boats today are fiberglass which in its normal state is a porous substance. But where fiberglass boats are concerned relative protection from water absorption is attained by applying a barrier coat of epoxy or epoxy-based paint. Depending on the smoothness required of the finished surface these paints can be sanded before an anti-fouling paint is applied to retard vegetation growth, but all along the point is to keep the porous surface of fiberglass from developing the clear sign of water penetration, blisters. More often than not this approach is successful. In stark contrast, old fashioned wooden boats never truly achieved a watertight state. In fact, caulking or tar was used between the wooden planks to slow, but never truly stop the incoming tide of leakage.  

Clothing

A wise person once declared there was no such thing as bad boating weather, merely poor clothing choices, and he couldn’t have been more right. The old days of oil skins and rubberized foul weather gear has evolved and been slowly taken over by high tech fabrics such as Gortex and polypropylene. Both are derivatives of nylon, and Gortex, the industry standard, is a cloth purported to not only be waterproof but also breathable. This is achieved by incorporating micro-sized holes in the fabric which allows perspiration to exit while also being too small for rain or splash to penetrate. Another advancement is the quick dry nature of synthetic athletic apparel, which also incorporates the ability to “wick” surface moisture to the outside for easy and quick evaporation.

Basements

Nearly all basements are susceptible to water seepage. Whether built in a flood plain or the product of a localized heavy rainfall, water will almost surely find a way to the lower level of your home. 

Waterproofing methods vary, but they usually include concrete coatings such as silicone and waterproofing paint. Occasionally even a plastic sheet/sump pump combination will do the trick. All these methods work for interior and exterior walls and floors. Additionally, with excavation, you can greatly improve the waterproof qualities of the exterior walls through a drainage system.

Outside prevention also includes preparing the ground with sand or gravel around the structure base which serves to direct water away from the structure. In addition, drainage piping is imperative in order for water to be passed through gutters and disposed into the ground through downspouts. But the location of downspouts is also a continual battle. In many older communities these drainage systems drop water directly into city sewerage systems, but in more modern areas this practice has been outlawed. Therefore, proper drainage that directs water away from the structure is even more important.

Interior waterproofing involves the use of waterproof paints such as Drylock or Water Tite. In all cases, proper preparation of the surface has a direct bearing on success.   

Other clear signs of basement leakage include cracked or buckling walls, peeling paint and efflorescence. 

Cracked walls come in various shapes and sizes such as horizontal, vertical, diagonal or even stair-stepped. Widening cracks strongly suggest the presence of severe pressure or structural damage.

Buckling walls are usually caused by hydrostatic pressure and when walls appear to be bowed inward you’ve got a serious problem that likely requires professional attention.

Water seepage through walls also causes bubbling and/or peeling paint along basement walls, and is a sure sign of unwanted moisture.

Efflorescence is a white, powdery residue that appears to grow on basement walls (usually near the floor) that often leads to various types of molds that usually grow in damp, dark areas and are known to cause respiratory problems.

Unfortunately, basement leakage issues are an ongoing problem that appears to be impossible to completely eradicate. 

Electronic devices

Today here are many electronic devices available that boast their imperviousness to water. Waterproof watches were once designed almost exclusively for divers but now they are so common as to nearly be a standard feature. However, don’t necessarily believe that “Waterproof to 100 Feet” marker. Although this feature has become nearly standard also suggests it is often simply not true. However, moderately priced watches with this feature (for real) can be found in Timex, Casio, Armitron and Aposon brands, all which make reasonably priced watches that do actually keep out the water.   

The advent of smart phones, once led by Apple’s iPhone, ushered in a new era of needed waterproof electronics, particularly personal cellphones. But protection, although available, often proves illusive. Protective cases from makers such as Pelican and Otter provide multiple levels of protection ranging from water resistant to full waterproof. As with all specialty products, form, style and function provide options ranging from soft bags to form fitted boxes designed specifically for particular models. With this in mind, the ability of the product to keep the water out relies on you to purchase the correct product. However, I still would not recommend total submersion as a test.

In short, the pursuit of waterproof items, ranging from clothing to boats, basements and electronics is largely a matter of degrees and compromises. However, so long as your expectations are realistic and you’ve done your homework, a remedy can readily be found to meet your needs.