Poured concrete foundations, coupled with Styrofoam insulation forms and improvements in perimeter drainage and waterproofing, have made damp basements an avoidable nuisance, allowing the homeowner to use these spaces as family rooms, workshops, laundry quarters, and basement storage centers.
Basement Moisture Control
Damp basements make lousy lodgings for family possessions. High humidity causes condensation and allows mold and mildew to fester. This, in turn, damages books, documents, and furnishings, and causes musty odors to permeate clothing and upholstered furniture. While some problems may require a professional, you can do many things to identify and eradicate basement dampness.
Basement Wall Insides
Basement water woes are caused by internal forces, external forces, or a combination of the two. Gravitational pull draws heavy, humid air from the upper floors to the basement, where it settles against colder surfaces, causing condensation. Wrapping pipes in insulation and running a dehumidifier provide a quick fix to this problem, as does opening a basement window or two to promote ventilation. While running the dehumidifier, however, close the windows and the basement door for optimum efficiency. A self-draining unit is especially helpful since it won’t shut off once the system has reached capacity. These units are connected directly to the floor drain.
As for walls, insulate them by adding furring strips or studs to the wall, and insulating between the strips. A new wall can then be fastened directly to the studs. It is important to run insulation at least two feet below grade or just below the frost line. The soil that surrounds the foundation below this line has its own insular qualities, so it is not necessary to duplicate the effort. Your local building department can help you determine how far down the wall you need to insulate in your region.
Basement Wall Outsides
External water damage is usually due to poor drainage or tiny leaks in the foundation. Correcting these issues can be a bit more complicated and may result in some costly excavation; so, there are simple remedies that you may want to try first:
- Clean rain gutters of debris and make sure that connecting downspouts empty at least five feet away from the home’s foundation. Keeping water away from your home will help to keep it out.
- Check the grading surrounding your basement to assess drainage capabilities. The soil should gradually slope away from the home at a distance of two inches for every horizontal foot, and should continue to slope away from the house for a minimum distance of three feet.
- Correct any leaks in the foundation from the inside by sealing the walls with hydraulic cement or silicone caulk. If desired, treat the walls with a waterproofing paint.
Basement Storage Ideas
A basement is usually more accessible than an attic, and tends to house a mix of items ranging from furniture to paper products, as well as stacks of family memorabilia. Basement storage accessories should be tailored to provide maximal access, ventilation, and moisture resistance. Since basements can be damp, metal shelving and cabinetry protect possessions better than wooden alternatives; plastic bins, in turn, protect better than cardboard boxes. If you are using plastic tubs for storing clothes, make sure that the bin is not airtight, as clothing needs some ventilation. If you do store in cardboard boxes, don’t stack them—always leave space for air circulation.
Cellars offer a number of creative possibilities when it comes to basement storage ideas. Unlike an attic, with its sloping ceiling, basement rafters provide the ideal framework for shelving. Vertically attach 2×4′s from the rafters to act as supports, add a plywood shelf, and you have created the perfect home for flat, bulky items like storm windows or folding chairs.
As with any storage area, label your boxes, post an inventory map, and check your possessions periodically to make sure they are damage free. Look in every nook and cranny of your basement for telltale signs of water damage. Water stains, musty odors, powdery deposits on concrete walls and floors, and crumbling mortar should serve as red flags for moisture damage.
Mold and mildew flourish in poorly ventilated areas; dormant mold spores will continue to grow in basements if not fully eradicated. Scrub suspect areas with a solution of bleach and water, use a mildewcide, and remove boxes and other items that show signs of mildew damage. Use muriatic acid and a wire brush to remove any white, powdery deposits, known as efflorescence, from concrete walls. Then, crank up the dehumidifier and get some air circulating.