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Dealing with Wet Basements

One of the top home inspection concerns, according to buyers, is water. Although roofs and pipes are a constant consideration, leaking basements are definitely ranked as the highest home buying concern. It is also the top reason potential homebuyers would run for the nearest door.

Regardless of whether you are a buyer or a seller or even a homeowner looking to stay, wet basements can be devastating. Belongings get ruined and the basement becomes unusable space.

Identifying the source of the problem can save your possessions and your home from mold, rot, and insects. Although a wet basement is often thought of as one of the biggest repairs, they are generally easy and inexpensive to fix.

While the problem of a wet basement is common, many homeowners are unaware of the damage being created in their homes. Besides the nuisances and odors of a damp or wet basement that may be tolerable to some, many homeowners are unaware of the damage that is being done on the structure and integrity of the home.

A dry basement for work, storage and extra living space is a great asset to any home. On the other hand, a wet, damp, bug infested, musty basement blemishes and depletes the worth of the entire house. Not only is a wet basement a constant source of odor, worry and annoyance, it is also an incubating environment for mold and mildew that can greatly contribute to respiratory problems and other health conditions.

Signs of a Damp Basement

Water stains along the floor. Look at the point where the walls and floor connect. Water damage will leave marks on the drywall or panel board. This could be caused by a damaged hot water tank, and overflowed washing machine, or something more serious like seeping water coming in through the walls or basement windows.

Mold. Mold may be a color, black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue and even violet. Sometimes mold is hidden and cannot be seen. A musty or earthy smell is often a good indicator that mold is present somewhere.

Spalling. When water or moisture gets inside the surface of concrete, brick, stone or stucco (parging), salt deposits from the water cause surfaces to flake away, peel, or pop off in small sections. This process is also known as scaling.

Efflorescence. Salt deposits left behind by evaporated water cause efflorescence and can usually be identified by white or grayish powder or a small crystal deposit on the wall.

Other clues are dampness, rusty nails, rotten wood at or near floor level, rusted metal on the feet of appliances, lifted tile floors, or peeling paint.

It is important to note that the simple presence of these signs is not an indicator of the problem. There may be some efflorescence and paint peeling, but no evidence of obvious leakage or long-term water buildup. However, these signs do indicate that at some point, perhaps in spring, there was an accumulation of water in the walls.

Causes of Wet Basements

Water pipe leaks

Sinks, toilets and pipes can develop leaks. Follow any possible sources, if you can't find where the leak is coming from, or if there is a leak, turn off all the water in the house and take a reading of the water meter. Wait an hour or more and check to see if the meter has changed. If it has, you may have a leak behind the wall. Contact a professional service to investigate.

Pipe entry areas

Check to see if the hole is a possible water access. Chip away any loose or crumbling concrete and apply a waterproofing concrete patch. This process applies to any holes made for bolts, wires, pipes or drains. Insulate cold water pipes; this will prevent condensation from forming on the line.


Condensation can be a problem if there is inadequate ventilation for the washer and dryer. In some homes, where there is access to moisture or inadequate insulation, the moisture problem can simply be condensation, curable by creating an air vent.

Circulating air will help eliminate the problem quickly. Also, ensure the dryer vent is long enough to vent outdoors, and is not leaking or kinked.

Poor surface drainage

This can be an inexpensive repair. Grading the land away from the house is very important. If the slope of the yard is toward the home instead of away, there is no place for the water to go except down the basement wall. Without proper grading and surface water control, all other efforts to prevent basement wetness will be futile.

Gutters and downspouts

You need to make sure that all the downspouts direct the water away from the house. Downspouts should extend 5 to 10 feet away from the foundation walls. Gutters can become plugged with leaves and debris creating water overflow prior to the downspout. Homeowners should clean them regularly to avoid this. Installing screens or leaf covers across the length of the gutter can help to prevent this issue.

Sump pump

When grading is not repairable, a sump pump may help. Installing a sump pump is not an easy fix, so a professional may be required. A hole will be made in the concrete floor and the depth and size of the hole may vary. A submersible pump is installed and a PCV pipe directs the water outside the home. These pumps are usually installed at the area of dampness, located in a corner if possible.

Check with your local building official and waterproofing contractors for advice on installing a sump pump. After installing the sump pump, seal all interior cracks with concrete sealer and coat the wall with waterproofing paint.

Crack repair

If cracks are found there are epoxy products available to repair this issue. Speak to a professional who specializes in these types of repairs.

Installing drain tile, flashing, dehumidifiers, extra downspouts, new parging, and cleaning window wells and redirecting the sprinklers are all valid water repairs. Although they may not be as glamorous as redesigning the kitchen, they are absolutely necessary. A wet basement is repairable and the repair will definitely increase the value of your home.

Following these simple guidelines will solve 99% of your wet basement blues. The improvements are time consuming but inexpensive and can usually be done by you.