Whether you have a finished basement, or one that you rarely visit, this article and video will tell you what to watch for to keep your basement dry and safe, and we also include some ideas and tips for making the best use of the space in your basement.
Let’s start first with an overview of how your basement works. What makes a basement a basement, is that some portion of it is underground, and it has walls, columns and beams which support your home.
When it rains, water seeps into the ground, which in addition to soaking the soil, it also raises the water table. This added water increases the hydrostatic pressure under your slab floor and around the walls of your basement, which drives moisture into your basement. It also pushes on the concrete which can cause cracking, which in turn, allows more moisture to penetrate. In addition to the problems that this moisture causes in your basement, it also increases the humidity in the main part of your home, which can lead to problems there as well.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Now let’s look at what to watch for in you basement:
Downspouts: If your roof has gutters and downspouts, you will want to be sure that your gutters are in their proper positions, and that your downspouts are properly connected. It is very important to check that the bottoms of your downspouts are turned away from your foundation, and that the water is diverted at least 5 feet away from your foundation, so that the water does not pool against the wall.
Grading: You will want to check that the grading of the ground around your foundation slopes away from your home, so that water flows away from your foundation. The grade should fall a minimum of 6 inches over the first 10 feet from your house.
Dampness & Mold: You will want to watch carefully for any signs of dampness or mold in your basement. The sooner you catch these problems, the sooner you can catch and fix their causes, before they become much larger major expenses. Mold can show up as dark areas on walls, floors, and storage boxes.
Window Wells: If you basement has windows below grade, then they should have wells built around them on the outside. These wells should have been constructed to provide good drainage at their bottoms. If your basement window wells become clogged with debris, you can start getting water coming into your home, and also be creating a place for insect infestations. So you will want to keep these areas clean. You should also check that the sides of your window wells are sealed tightly against your foundation.
Sump Pump: If your basement has a sump pump, then you will want to check that it is operating properly, and that it is discharging water properly. You will want to check that it turns on at the proper pit level, and that it automatically turns off properly when the level is back down. You will also want to clean your sump pump’s strainer screen. If you have a sump pump pipe discharging on the ground, make sure it carries the water far enough away from the walls. If it discharges below the ground, make sure connections don't leak and are not in danger of freezing in cold weather. And if your sump pump is more than 5 years old, and don’t to risk a pump failure causing a flood in your basement, you might want to consider replacing it as a preventative measure.
Pests: You will want to thoroughly inspect your basement for signs of any infestation by pests. In particular, you will want to look for signs of droppings along the top of your basement walls where the framing of your home sits.
Ductwork & Pipes: If you have air conditioning or heating ducts which run through your basement, then you will want to check to see if they are blowing conditioned air into un-finished areas, as this wastes energy. To seal these leaks, you can use duct tape, and you will want to use UV rated tape, which is less likely to degrade, crack, or lose its bond with age. If your ducting is not insulated, you should consider adding insulation to help save energy. And if your water piping is not insulated, you should consider adding pipe insulation. Insulating hot water pipes will help to save energy, and insulating cold water pipes will reduce them “sweating” during hot summer months.
Support Beams & Columns: You will want to inspect each support beam to ensure that there are no gaps between beams and the main house girders, any abnormal slanting, sloping or leaning of beams and columns, signs of moisture damage, or insect infestations. Any gaps in the beams should be filled by driving in shims (thin pieces of metal or hard wood) as necessary. If the concrete footing has cracked, then you should get a mason to fix it.
Radon: And lastly, you should consider checking the levels of radon gas in your basement. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which seeps from bedrock, which is odorless and colorless, and is linked to increased rates of cancer. As your home shifts over time and cracks form in your slap, it can allow radon levels to increase in your basement. A simple radon test can confirm that levels are in an acceptable range.
IDEAS & TIPS
And now let’s look at some ideas and tips to help you get the most out of your basement.
Install a water leak alert. It is a good idea to place water alert leaks in your basement near areas which are at risk, such as water heaters, boilers, sump pumps, sills of window wells, room corners, etc. They can be simple audio alerts, or they can be the more sophisticated style that will be tied into your home security monitoring, or they can be the kind that send alerts to your cellphone.
Cover exposed insulation. If your basement is unfinished and you have walls which have exposed insulation, then you will want to cover these areas. Inhaling vapors from this material can cause irritation of the mouth, nasal passage and throat. If you want to avoid the expense of covering these areas with drywall, you can instead use thick plastic sheeting and a staple gun.
Place cabinets under your staircase. The odd-shaped area under your basement stairs is a good spot to convert into more usable storage by adding cabinets or shelves. It can be fancy built-ins, or just simple furniture added. Either will help you manage this space more effectively.
Use areas as a “cold room”. Because your basement is below ground, it will naturally stay cooler than the rest of your home during the summer, and will stay a moderate temperature in the winter. So this is a good spot to store food products which don’t need to be refrigerated, but can still benefit from being in a cooler environment.
Avoid using cardboard to store items. Cardboard absorb moisture which attracts mold and pests, and you should avoid using cardboard boxes to store items in your basement. Plastic is a better choice for long-term storage of items in your basement.
Add finished living spaces. If you can afford it, adding finished living spaces in your basement can add to both the enjoyment of your home, and its later re-sale value. Being underground, the acoustics can especially lend itself nicely to adding home theater in your basement.
Move the family room to basement. And lastly, if you can move you family room down to the basement, where you family spends a large portion of your time, then you can reduce your home’s cooling bills in the summer, and heating bill in the winter. This is because being underground helps to keep this area at a moderate temperature all year round. However, you will want to first check the radon levels in your basement to be sure they are well below acceptable levels.
We hope this video (and article) has helped you to better understand your basement, showed you what to watch for to keep your basement dry and safe, and that you have found the ideas and tips here helpful for making the best use of the space in your basement.
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