The basement is one of the most important rooms of any house. Large or small, ranch or colonial, this room is the foundation of your house. If the foundation has problems and is in need of repairs, the whole house suffers, both structurally as well as cosmetically.
If you are in the market for a new home or just looking to remodel, the cellar should be inspected before you do anything. A walk around the exterior of the house is a good place to start an inspection. However, there are lots of things to look for within the interior of the area as well.
1. Unstable Foundation
Depending on the age of the house, a variety of materials used to build a basement could be found. Stone and brick are more common in older homes, while cinder block and concrete are used in newer construction. Older homes with stone and brick walls may not have concrete floors, but newer homes are more likely to.
With concrete cellars, the home’s foundation is key to the entire unit’s structural integrity, as problems with the foundation make the walls susceptible to settling and shifting. Look for cracks in the walls. If you find a crack, determine if it is a surface crack or if it goes much deeper. Significant cracks in basement walls are often symptoms of unstable foundations.
One of the more common causes for cracks in the walls is the ground shifting around and underneath the room. If the ground is not stable or settled, this could leave voids under the walls, which in turn could cause the wall to shift and crack. These cracks are usually vertical.
Lateral cracks, which run across a wall, are generally caused because there is no exterior support to hold the wall upright. This usually has to do with the soil and foundation upon which the home rests. Over time, if rain water drains between the basement wall and the surrounding ground, this can cause erosion of the soil, leaving portions of the wall unsupported. This causes the affected wall to buckle under the weight of the house.
Also go into the interior of the house on the main floor above the cellar and inspect the walls. Cracking and uneven plaster or sheet rock can also be signs of foundation problems. Uneven floors more than likely are caused by the same.
2. Pest Problems
Another item to inspect for carefully is pest invasions.
Termites are the worst of these invaders and can cause major structural damage. Even if no signs are found on the exterior walls, go to the interior and inspect the sub-flooring and floor joists for signs of damage. Other signs of termites include piles of wood shavings or piles of transparent wings.
This can be difficult if you are inspecting a finished basement, but check as much as possible. Hire a professional if you have serious concerns.
3. Water Damage
Water in a basement is a hugely serious problem. During your inspection, check for any signs of water damage or flooding.
Look carefully at the walls, especially if the room is unfinished and make sure you don‘t see any water stains that may have been left from standing water. Wood studs can also show signs of water damage.
Look in any areas where you have access to the back side of a wall that’s not finished. If signs of water damage are found, find the cause and make sure it has been corrected.
Don't forget to waterproof even if you haven't seen signs of damage; it will keep you protected and give you piece of mind.
4. Out-of-date or Poorly Placed Plumbing
Plumbing should be examined to determine condition and soundness. In older homes, cast iron piping was used for drainage and steel pipe for water lines. Cast iron drains, if in good condition, are fine. However, steel water lines should be upgraded to copper or plastic to help minimize impurities in the water.
If the basement is unfinished or you would like to add a bathroom, this is a good time to see what plumbing issues could arise. Usually getting water to a bathroom is not much of a problem. Lines can be installed in the ceiling and run down the studs to the desired location. Drain lines on the other hand can be quite an undertaking if not in the right location.
First, you have to make sure the drain is below the floor. Some drains exit in the center of the wall, this is determined based on were the sewer line is in regards to your house. If this occurs, a lift station would need to be installed to lift the sewage up and out to the sewage pipe. This can add additional cost to your bathroom project.
5. Low Ceilings
One of the most overlooked problems of a basement, especially if it is finished or you plan to finish the area, is the head height. Nothing makes a basement feel more like a basement than ducking down to go under water piping or heat/AC ducts.
Once finished, the ceiling should be at least 7 feet tall. If this is as tall as you can construct the ceiling, make sure all duct work and plumbing can tucked away in the ceiling, as this will make the room feel like more of an extension of the rest of the house. It will also make for a more inviting and comfortable space.
6. Electrical Codes
Additional areas of concern for a basement include the electrical work running through the walls and ceilings.
Make sure the all electrical wiring is in good condition and is up to code before finishing walls and tucking it away. Poor electrical wiring can be a fire hazard. Check the breaker box as well to make sure it is not overloaded and high-voltage items, like refrigerators, are on separate breakers.
The same goes for fuse boxes. Make sure fuses are up to date and appropriately configured.
7. Exit Standards
Last, but not least, are exit areas in case of an emergency. This can largely be dictated by local building codes. Most local municipalities require at least two points of entry or exit for emergencies.
Window exits can also double as light sources to open up a basement and let the sunshine in.