Your basement is the foundation of your home and should be taken care of like any other part of the house. After all, without a foundation, your house wouldn't stand. The three most common basement problems that can impose danger include flooding, mold growth, and radon infiltration. However, there are many things you can do as a DIYer to prevent these basement disasters.
Flooding and Water Damage
Inspecting your basement for previous flooding is the first step to a healthy basement. Efflorescence remnants, which look like white chalky lines, are what is left after water retreats and the basement becomes dry again. This is a definite sign of previous leaking or flood.
Even though the problems are in the basement, the causes usually begin outside the house. To keep water outside your basement, the soil around the house should slope away from your home. Check this at least once a year as erosion and settling occur. You may have to add some soil in a few spots just to keep rainwater from running into your basement.
Another area outside that is often overlooked is your rain gutter system. The gutters should be clean and allow water to flow. The downspouts should be long enough to carry water at least 4 or 5 feet away from the foundation.
On the outside of the house, seal any cracks in the foundation or around windows. Once back in the basement, check for cracks on the inside. Seal small cracks with waterproof caulk. If there are larger cracks you may want to call a professional.
If you are thinking about waterproofing your basement, there are pros and cons to sealing the walls. On the pro side, sealing is a weekend DIY project and isn’t any more difficult than a basic paint job. It's a little messier, but not any harder. On the con side, waterproofing only lasts for about 5 years and will have to be repeated. Waterproofing can also conceal any new problems that may occur and end up costing more to repair in the long run as you discover them.
Another thing that should be checked once a year is your sump pump, especially if you live in an area prone to heavy rains. Storms, heavy rain, and power outages usually go hand in hand, so if your pump runs off of electricity, make sure you have a generator that can operate the pump if your power goes out. Consider getting a back-up sump pump that runs on batteries should the main pump fail.
Moldy smells are a warning sign that there is too much moisture in your basement. Mold growth from overly wet basements can cause health issues for the entire family if not prevented. Also, know that damp corners are a sign of high humidity and condensation on cold water pipes contributes to humidity levels. This can be corrected by insulating basement pipes and using a dehumidifier.
Some other things that contribute to high humidity include:
- Carpeting. This can hold moisture that it sucks in from the air and will eventually spawn mold spores.
- Dryers. If dryers are vented into your basement in an effort to reduce your heating bill, they will add more moisture than heat, which in turn will settle on the walls and floors and create a mold haven.
- Cracks. If these are in your basement walls and/or floors, they will also contribute to humidity levels as well.
Keep the basement humidity level below 60% by using a dehumidifier. It may cost a little more on the electric bill, but that is much cheaper than trying to get rid of mold.
Radon Gas Infiltration
Radon is a gas that is emitted from the breakdown of radioactive material in the ground. Sealing cracks in basement walls and floors will greatly reduce the chances of radon leaking into your home. You should regularly monitor your home for radon, and there are test kits available at most department or hardware stores. If you live in an area where radon is a problem, get a monitoring device. These devices are similar to smoke alarms and would be a good addition to your home. They can be found for around $130 at http://www.safehomeproducts.com
To find out if your area is at high risk go to http://www.radon.com/radon/radon_map.html. It will take you to a United States map that will alert you to radon frequency in your area.
These three main basement problems can be prevented using three main practices: seal cracks, control humidity levels, and monitor your basement regularly. Protect your foundation, prevent a disaster and you and your house will live happily ever after.