Most homeowners understand the potential for damage that lies in having water in the basement.
If the basement is finished, the risk is obvious – flooring, furnishings and other personal belongings can be damaged or destroyed.
In an unfinished basement, water threatens stored belongings, laundry equipment and the home’s mechanical systems, including heat, hot water and air conditioning.
Many homeowners, though, aren’t aware of the potential dangers of “invisible water,” the dampness that permeates many basements and creates that musty smell. Just because it can’t be seen, doesn’t mean that water isn’t damaging the home and putting its occupants at risk.
The Dangers of a Damp Basement
One of the most common and most dangerous results of dampness in the basement is the potential for the growth of mold, fungus and bacteria. Mold requires only three things to grow: warmth, moisture and food. Any enclosed space, such as a basement, provides the necessary warmth and food is abundant with all the organic building materials present, such as wood, carpet fiber and drywall.
Moisture, then, is the key to mold growth and even if the moisture dries up temporarily, the mold spores will only go dormant and will begin growing again when the moisture returns. Mold can be dangerous to humans, especially those with auto-immune deficiencies and respiratory problems, as it can spread and be carried by air flowing through central HVAC systems.
Another significant danger of a damp basement is the effect of moisture on the structure itself. Consistently damp concrete may effloresce and leave unsightly deposits of salts and minerals on the walls. More importantly, wood that is exposed to dampness, such as floor and rim joists, sub-flooring and other structural members, can begin to rot and compromise the stability of the structure. Of course, drywall that is exposed to any significant moisture is ruined and must be replaced before it collapse or becomes a food source for mold spores.
Insects, too, are attracted to dark, damp spaces and a consistently damp basis is likely to become a home to infestations of ants, roaches and, worst of all, termites.
How to Fix a Damp Basement
Some basements are damp because of ground water seepage, which is usually visible to the homeowner. The best way to eliminate dampness caused by seepage, is, of course, to stop the seepage. Cracks in poured concrete walls can be repaired by polyurethane injection, cove and floor crack seepage can be cured by installing interior drain tile and water coming through mortar joints, porous concrete or masonry or over the top of foundation walls can be stopped by applying an exterior waterproofing membrane.
Other basement dampness is more insidious, caused by leaks too small to see, moisture penetration behind walls, water vapor coming through unprotected walls or floors, standing water in floor or sanitary drains and many other reasons. When there’s no clear source of water to seal, or even when there is, the best remedy is a basement dehumidifier.
A humidifier designed specifically for basements is different from a conventional dehumidifier in that it is designed to dehumidify large spaces and maintain humidity in the 30 – 50% range recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent odor and mold growth. It will also have a line to discharge condensate into a sump pump basin or floor drain instead of requiring water to be removed in containers. Basement dehumidifiers are also more energy efficient than conventional units.
At U.S. Waterproofing, we are an authorized reseller and installer of the Santa Fe Air System, a high performance basement dehumidification system. Relying on our expertise developed from 57 years of keeping “visible” water out of Chicago basements, we have helped numerous Chicago homeowners remove moisture from their basements with the Santa Fe System, leaving their homes free of dampness, odor and mold. Why not ask for our free advice?