10 Frequently Asked Questions Answered ABout Wet Basements

Some basements are partially or fully underground. Others are more above grade. Either way, a basement should not be eternally wet. This will be especially true if the area is finished off into living space.  

  1.  What are the signs of a wet basement?

There are some signs of a wet or damp basement. You might notice damp, musty smells; these smells may even migrate to the floors above. There are be signs in the basement of mildew or mold. Water stains may be present. Concrete blocks or concrete can show signs of efflorescence, indicating the seepage or wicking of water.

2. What exactly is efflorescence?

When porous material gets wet, a salt can move to the front of the material, forming a coating. The masonry will appear to have a whitish fluffy appearance. The tricky part is that the efflorescence may be cosmetic, or it may indicate structural problems. Issues may develop of the process is breaking down the concrete or masonry on which it grows.

3. What are the primary causes of a wet basement?

Leaks or breaks from inside pipes are a source of moisture. Overflows from fixtures above can also intrude into the lowest level of the home. Floods or heavy rains can be problematic, especially if drain pipes overflow or drainage and grading are inadequate. But excess humidity can be the culprit as well.

4. What problems can a wet basement cause?

High moisture content or standing water can lead to mold growth. As mold feeds on organic building materials such as wood and the paper on the insulation, mold can deteriorate any material it feeds on. As discussed earlier, the foundation of a home can be severely affected as well. If water gets into the masonry joints and temperatures are not controlled, freezing and thawing can move foundation walls over time. Wet insulation is failed insulation, and corrosion around pipes can lead to joint failure and water damage.

5. Can a wet basement create problems for my living spaces?

Yes, they can. The loss of structural integrity in the joists, beams below can endanger the home above. Subflooring installed over the joists is a base for the flooring above, and warping or disintegration of the subfloor will affect any flooring installed over it. The air quality of the home can be diminished. As much as 50% of the air from a basement can enter the first floor of a house. This air may contain contaminants. Energy costs are also a consideration.   

6. Are basements with dirt floors more susceptible to being wet?

Yes. This is because water can wick up through the dirt. Even if there is no standing water present, the air can become saturated with moisture and damage building materials. Rising levels of groundwater during times of flooding and severe rain can increase problems. 

7. What are some options for drying my basement?

The EPA states that controlling moisture in the basement is critical. They suggest using moisture, resistant building materials. Also, monitor the relative humidity in the basement. Make sure that grading and drainage systems keep water away from the foundation. Dehumidifiers and sump pumps are also a good idea.   

8. Where can I check in my basement for water problems?  

Check around the pipes for even small leaks or holes. Pay special attention to joints. Look for efflorescence, mold, mildew, and staining anywhere. Notice smells. Look around the perimeter of the basement where the foundation walls meet the floor.  

9. What is involved in basement waterproofing?

Any holes or cracks in masonry should be filled in. Dirt floors can be covered with a vapor barrier. Specially formulated paints can be applied to walls. Waterproofing can require more costly repairs, however. Sometimes earth around the home needs to be pushed aside so that waterproofing can be applied to outside foundation walls. Drainage and grading may need to be adjusted to keep water flow away from home. Probably a homeowner should employ the services of a reputable waterproofing company. They will have the qualifications, equipment, and experience to diagnose problems and employ effective solutions. 

10. Is waterproofing done inside or outside of the home better?

The EPA suggests that waterproofing materials applied to the outside foundation walls are the most effective. Water is kept from entering the basement area in the first place using this technique. Landscaping materials can be used to enhance drainage around the outside of the house as well. This would be a benefit because high relative humidity will be easier to control, and water removal costs will be limited to internal water intrusion.

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