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Wet basements are not only uncomfortable for the occupants but also pose a great risk to the property. This condition is observed in old as well as new residential buildings and cannot be fixed immediately.

The groundwater present in the soil exerts pressure on the basement walls that gradually penetrates the foundation and the walls, thereby ruining the flooring and the wall materials. The common signs of wet basements are the formation of efflorescence, molds, and spalling.

This article explains the steps to deal with and fix wet basements of a building.

Signs of Wet Basements

There are certain signs one must check for before inspecting the causes of a wet basement. They are:

1. Check for Mold

Mold is generally brown, yellow, green, or black in color. It occurs in the basement within 24 to 48 hours of exposure to water and may spread further if left unchecked.

Molds in Basement Walls
Figure-1: Molds in Basement Walls

2. Check for Signs of Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a white or grayish ash on the walls mainly caused due to salt deposits of evaporating water. Initially, they have a chalky appearance and sparkle later.

3. Check for Surface Spalling

Spalling of Basement Walls
Figure-2: Spalling of Basement Walls

Surface spalling is the peeling or flaking of the basement surface. It is mainly caused when salt deposits get inside the concrete, stone, or brick. The moisture trapped within the material tries to escape out of the surface, resulting in spalling.

Causes of Wet Basements

The two main sources that contribute to wet basements are:

  1. Rainwater or Groundwater
  2. Interior Moisture

1. Rainwater or Groundwater

Inadequate drainage facilities accumulate rainwater or groundwater near the foundation and the basement wall. Improper grading, gutters, or downspouts are examples of poor drainage systems that promote the entry of water or moisture inside the basement.

These water sources saturate the soil around the building foundation and can penetrate inside the structure. The water can also penetrate through cracks in concrete or masonry walls in the form of water vapor.

2. Interior Moisture

Moisture in the basement can also arise within the area due to sources like humidifiers, kitchens, showers, pipe leaks, etc.

Remedies For Wet Basements

The common problems that contribute to wet basement and their remedies are explained below:

1. Check for Improper Landscape Grade

Always check whether the grade of the landscape slopes away from the foundation. If not, certain low spots are formed near the foundation that may accumulate rainwater. This can result in future penetration of moisture through the cracks and result in wet basements.

Water Accumulating Near Basement due to Improper Grading
Figure-3: Water Accumulating Near Basement due to Improper Grading

This issue can be solved by trucking a substantial amount of soil and regrading the area sloping away from the foundation.

2. Check Roof Downspouts

The roof downspouts usually dump water directly to the base of the foundation. Large discharge of water through these downspouts during heavy rainfall can adversely affect the substructure and gradually affect the basement.

Installation of Gutters and Downspouts
Figure-4: Installation of Gutters and Downspouts

Hence, it is required to equip these downspouts with horizontal extensions that channel the roof water away from the foundation or the building. Always make sure that the gutters used to collect the rainwater are clean and free from debris. This can allow the flow of rainwater without any blockage.

3. Check Foundation for Cracks

The presence of holes or cracks in the foundation can allow the penetration of moisture and water into the basement. Plugging this crack won’t completely solve the issue but may control its spread. The holes or cracks can be sealed using hydraulic cement.

4. Waterproof the Basement Walls

The basement walls can be painted with waterproofing materials to prevent water from leaking in. Before applying waterproofing material, it is recommended to clean the basement wall surface from efflorescence and dirt. Waterproofing works best when the material is applied on bare concrete or masonry walls of the basement.

5. Installation of Drainage System

Installation of a drainage system is a permanent fix to serious basement leaks. The drainage tube is placed below the basement floor which is connected to a sump basket and a pump.

Installation of Drainage System
Figure-5: Installation of Drainage System
Image Courtesy: Seal-Tite

6. Reduce Excess Humidity

The elimination of all sources of humidity within the basement can help to dry out the wet basement. Some of the solutions to reduce humidity in the basement are:

i) Sealing the leaking dryer vents using foil tape

ii) Use of vent fans

iii) Closing windows during humid weather

iv) Use of dehumidifiers

7. Insulation of Leaky Pipes

Dripping of water droplets from cold pipes due to condensation can contribute to basement water problems. These cold-water pipes can be covered using foam pipe insulation to stop condensation. The foam insulation is cheap and can be easily cut using scissors.

Foam Insulation of Leaky Pipes
Figure-6: Foam Insulation of Leaky Pipes

8. Insulation of Basement Walls

The insulation of basement walls helps to prevent condensation issues. It saves energy and brings down the heating bill. Do not cover the walls if the water is leaking in from outside as it could result in the formation of molds. In such cases, the water leaking issues must be fixed first.

9. Installation of Drainage Mats

The installation of drainage mats under the flooring helps to provide a moisture barrier. Plastic drainage mats or dimple mats are some of the examples of drainage mats. This system allows air to circulate and separates the floor from cold concrete, thereby preventing damages due to condensation or water vapor.

10. Installation of Sump Pump

Installation of a sump pump is one of the permanent solutions to a wet basement. If the downspouts and a proper land grade do not resolve the water flooding issue, then a proper drainage system and sump pump are employed. A drainage and sump pump system collect water and direct it away from the house.

Installation of Sump Pump to Prevent Wet Basements
Figure-7: Installation of Sump Pump to Prevent Wet Basements

FAQs

What are the signs of a wet basement?

Surface spalling, efflorescence, and molds are the common signs observed in a wet basement.

How to fix a wet basement?

1. Check for improper landscape grade
2. Check roof downspouts
3. Check foundation for cracks
4. Waterproof the basement walls
5. Installation of drainage system
6. Reduce excess humidity
7. Insulation of leaky pipes
8. Insulation of basement walls
9. Installation of drainage mats
10. Installation of sump pump

What are the causes of wet basements?

The two main sources that contribute to wet basements are:
1. Rain or Groundwater
Inadequate drainage facilities cause rain or groundwater to accumulate near the foundation and the basement wall. Improper grading, gutters, or downspouts are examples of poor drainage systems that promote the entry of water or moisture inside the basement.
These water sources saturate the soil around the building foundation and can penetrate inside the structure. The water can also penetrate through cracks in concrete or masonry walls in the form of water vapor.
2. Interior Moisture
Moisture in the basement can also arise within the area due to sources like humidifiers, kitchens, showers, pipe leaks, etc.

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