Take a guess: What percentage of basements in the US experience water damage?
You’re reading this article because you have a water issue in your own basement. But I know, you’re probably thinking “Well, not all basements are like mine…after all, we live…
…in an older home…
…close to the river…
…at the bottom of a hill…”
Yes, all these things can lead your basement to being wetter than your neighbor’s BUT I bet you won’t believe it when I tell you how common water damage is.
Take a quick guess. Ready?
Did you guess 60%?
How about a whopping 98%. Wow, right? It’s true, in the United States, 98% of basements experience some form of water damage during a home’s lifetime!
The truth is it doesn’t matter where your home is or how it’s built, basement moisture is a common foe all of us face.
This time of year, we get a lot of calls at Martin about refinishing basements. So I thought I’d spend this week writing about an issue you’ve got to get covered before you start planning out your man cave.
Before you can turn a basement into a functioning part of your home: You’ve got to deal with the water.
Once when the sewer backed up…
Let me tell you about my first experience with…sewer water.
I was just a kid. And it wasn’t even our basement that flooded- it was a friend’s down the street. But I tell you what…as I peeked down my friend’s basement steps and saw the foot of brown water standing on the floor? Well, it’s a sight and smell you never forget.
What happened? There was some problem with the municipal sewer system and the whole block experienced back-up.
My friend was devastated. Her basement was technically ‘unfinished’, but it was still pretty nice. That’s where we’d go to play dress-up and roller skate around on the concrete floors. At the time, our biggest worry was whether or not our toys were ruined by the water. It turns out- the damage was far worse.
The flooding led to a massive mold problem and, yes, some of our favorite things were tossed in the trash. Even worse? I remember her mom telling us a few years later they had lost a lot of family Christmas decorations that were stored downstairs.
As kids? It was bad enough. But now thinking about the time and money her parent’s spent fixing the problem? I can’t imagine.
The point is: You can’t always prevent basement flooding. City sewer problems have nothing to do with the way a home is built or how you take care of your home as an owner. Sometimes basement damage comes down to just being the wrong house at the wrong part of the line.
But other types of water damage- like sweepage or condensation- can be prevented (or fixed!). These issues have more to do with your home’s structure and environment.
Water damage is something we all want to prevent, whether it comes from the roof or the ground. Is there anything you can do yourself, as a homeowner, to stop it? Let’s take a look.
Why Is There Water in My Basement?!
Whether you want to refinish your basement into a full living space or are just looking to clean it up for safe storage, getting that moisture out is the first step.
But you’re here because you want to know “How much can you DIY…and when should I call in a pro?”
First step to answering this is knowing why your basement is wet.
Different issues require different solutions. Before you start painting your walls with Drylok, check this list and see which reason best fits your situation. Then make a plan with the approach that best fits your situation.
Source #1: Water From the Inside
Is your water coming from inside?
Yes this could be sewer issues but cracked pipes, corroded drain lines, or a sink that’s leaking upstairs can also be the source.
Here are three ways to check if your basement’s water problem is coming from inside your home.
First, Is the water clean?
Backed up sewers, deteriorating wax rings around your toilet…internal drain issues are easy to identify. (Do I really need to go into why???)
If the water in your basement smells like waste, you can’t fix this problem on your own. Call a plumber immediately to determine the source of your problem. Water issues that involve raw sewage can lead to serious health issues for your family.
Does the leak look and smell like clean water? Thank goodness! Move on to the next step.
Next: How much water is there?
How much water are you dealing with? A few puddles that appear after a storm….or a few inches that appear overnight?
If your basement floods fast and the skies have been clear, it’s like your water is coming from inside. Again, before doing any DIY work to seal your basement, call a plumber to get the leak stopped.
Finally: Where is the water?
It sounds straightforward but..look around your basement for cracked pipes and backed up drains.
If any of these checks apply to you, then you have to call a pro before leak-proofing your basement. Internal water buildup is an easy fix but it’s not a DIY fix.
So, you’ve checked around your basement. There’s no sewer smell, no standing water that’s appeared under a main line overnight…and you’re pretty sure your source isn’t the inside of your home. Now can you start shoring up your mortar and caulking the cracks in your basement?
Hold up! We still haven’t found where that water is coming from. Let’s check on a few more things first.
Source #2: Condensation
We all remember some scary, musty basement from our childhood.
That unwelcoming feel? You didn’t know it as a kid, but it really comes from moisture (and lack of ventilation!)
Your basement shouldn’t be a source of stress, and it shouldn’t be an unhealthy part of your home. Getting the moisture out and some clean air in is the first step to reclaiming your basement as a usable space in your home.
Musty basements where condensation is an issue benefit most from DIY solutions like sealing.
But before you spend hundreds on sealant, first get a dehumidifier. Airflow can make a huge difference in your basement’s environment!
Ready to seal your walls? Products like Drylok can help protect against condensation and, to be honest, those white walls make your basement look much more inviting.
If you’re going to jump into sealing your basement, here’s a few tips from the pros…
Get Your Basement As Dry As Possible: Run a dehumidifier (or two) for 7-10 days to knock as much moisture out of the air as possible. NEVER try to seal your basement if you have standing water.
Clean Your Walls: How you clean your walls will depend on what type of foundation you have. Basically, you don’t want any loose debris inhibiting the sealant from adhering to the walls. For most basements? That means scrubbing the walls and floor joists with a dry broom, vacuuming, and doing your best to get the dust out.
Seal Cracks First: Again, follow instructions based on the type of basement you have. Some basements will need a coat of mortar to patch in areas between old stone foundations. Concrete basements? They’re usually in better shape. Patch any large cracks (or caulk with an appropriate sealant) and allow everything to cure before you start applying your product.
Basements have high humidity when compared to the rest of your house. A dehumidifier will help alleviate some of the moisture in your basement and is a great way to keep all basements- even finished basements- smelling fresh.
Another plus? Dehumidifiers also increase the air quality and help protect against mold. Want to know more? Check out this article on Mold Myths and Risks.
Source #3: Exterior Problems
Exterior problems are the most common cause of wet basements.
If you follow regular maintenance for your gutters and still notice that they aren’t functioning properly, take a closer look. It might be time to replace them.
If you notice:
- Cracks or breaks
- Stress along the seams
Then it’s time to call a roofing pro to replace your existing gutter system.
Not everything is a big fix. Simple issues, like downspout placement, can also be the cause of water damage. How? Your downspout directs water away from your house. But if it’s shedding water too close to the foundation, it’s like pointing a hose right at your basement wall!
Downspout extensions are a good DIY fix for this. Extensions are easy to find at the hardware store and don’t take any tools to install.
Help! My foundation is cracked!
The good news? Every foundation has some cracking…and it’s not always something to worry about.
It’s the size of the cracks that matter.
Cracks larger than ⅛ of an inch indicate a potential problem area. Don’t worry yet: monitor it. Make sure you’re checking it after storms to see if water is appearing on your basement wall, and definitely call in backup if it begins to expand.
This is something we can help with. Noticed cracks in your foundation? Let our team help! We can come out and investigate and give you options for a solid fix. And yes! Sometimes the best solution is a DIY fix.
We want what’s best for your home. If our team comes out to take a look at a problem, you don’t have to worry about us trying to sell you a full new roof if all you need is gutter extensions. If it turns out you do have a problem that’s best for a pro? We’ll work with you to find the best solution for your budget.
Stay tuned! It’s the season for remodeling basements. We’ve got some great articles lined up this month for homeowners who want to make the most of their home’s existing space.
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