The Base­ment

Old House Journal - - Restore -

A wet base­ment is a catas­tro­phe wait­ing to hap­pen. Damp­ness in the con­fined space of a base­ment cre­ates a prime environment for the growth of harm­ful mold, and in­vites wood-bor­ing in­sects into the house that can de­stroy it from within. Unchecked, the wet­ness will ul­ti­mately in­fil­trate plas­ter, wall­board, and floor­ing up­stairs.

Solv­ing a mois­ture prob­lem in the base­ment may be as straight­for­ward as repo­si­tion­ing a gut­ter that doesn’t drain prop­erly, or as com­plex as in­stalling a high-tech de­hu­mid­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. The best ap­proach is to re­move or con­trol the source of the mois­ture, not to try to stop it at the last line of de­fense.

A floor that’s con­stantly or sea­son­ally wet is a sign that wa­ter is seep­ing through por­ous ma­te­ri­als in the walls or floor. To check for mois­ture in a base­ment, lay a 3' x 3' square of clear plas­tic sheet­ing on the floor, then tape down all the edges or se­cure them with bricks. If wa­ter con­denses un­der the plas­tic, the mois­ture is com­ing from a source be­neath the floor (ris­ing damp). If wa­ter con­denses on top of the plas­tic, the mois­ture is present in the air.

Sources of hu­mid air in­clude seep­age from rain­wa­ter that isn’t ef­fec­tively chan­neled away from the foun­da­tion, and lack of ven­ti­la­tion. In the first in­stance, check the gut­ters, down­spouts, and lead­ers to make sure they are con­duct­ing wa­ter away from the foun­da­tion, not to­ward it. Next, check that the grad­ing at ground level isn’t di­rect­ing runoff to­ward the house. If it is, you may need to re-grade some ar­eas so that ground lev­els slope away from the foun­da­tion. (Swales, for in­stance, can dip as lit­tle as 1" to 2" across a 4' or 5' area and still ef­fec­tively chan­nel wa­ter away from the foun­da­tion.)

In some cases, foot­ing drains—per­fo­rated pipes in­stalled un­der­ground around the perime­ter of the foun­da­tion—may be re­quired. Foot­ing drains catch rain­wa­ter seep­age and can lower the im­me­di­ate ground­wa­ter level around the build­ing. For best re­sults, wa­ter­proof the foun­da­tion wall at the same time.

In­crease air cir­cu­la­tion by adding vents, fans, and de­hu­mid­i­fiers as needed. Gen­er­ally, no one so­lu­tion is suf­fi­cient to keep wa­ter out of the base­ment. It’s nor­mal to use sev­eral tech­niques and prod­ucts to re­duce wet­ness, mois­ture, and hu­mid air.

RIGHT Flak­ing paint, stained or cracked brick, and pond­ing wa­ter at ground level are all in­di­ca­tors of wa­ter pen­e­tra­tion into the house and base­ment.

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