If you live in the Tampa Bay area, you may not be accustomed to seeing many homes with basements; however, believe it or not, there are several homes throughout the area that do in fact have basements. Most homes in Florida are built without basement because of hurricane giso related issues. Building codes insist that dwelling floors be built above storm surge elevation. If a basement is allowed to be built, it usually is built as a “non-livable” space, so, in other words, homeowners can have the basement for extra storage but no bedrooms. Nonetheless, while basements provide extra room for storage and cooler places to hang out on hot days, they also have their share of moisture related problems.
When it comes to basement troubles, moisture is the most common problem in basement. The moisture most commonly enters from exterior sources though can also be produced inside as well. Often, most homeowners are unaware that the soil around the basement walls can contain a large amount of moisture. The reason for high moisture content in the soil could include surface water that is seeping down into the soil or even from a high water table. A high water table could be explained by heavy rains that cause the water table to rise higher than the basement floor. Often, water can find its way inside a basement by gravity or through a crack or flaw in the water protection layer of the foundation. Water can also be pulled up by a “wicking action” or “pushed up” by hydrostatic pressure from the soil under the walls or floor. In the summer, warm moist air from outside can enter the house and lead to condensation on the cool basement walls or floor. In areas that may experience freezing temperatures, the following situation can occur if there is a crack present: the water will enter through the crack then freeze and expand. With each cold season, the crack will eventually get larger due to the expansive properties of the frozen water.
Regardless of the cause of water damage, basement moisture problems often include: foundation cracks that leak, standing water/flooded basement floors, chalky stains (efflorescence), mold growth, wet insulation, damp carpets, stuffy odors, high humidity and decaying wood. If a homeowner experiences any of these problems, they should conduct a through inspection of the basement and basement surroundings. When checking the exterior, a homeowner should check the ground slope around the basement – is it allowing the water to drain in rather than away from the dwelling? What kind of rain drainage does you home have? A poor rain drainage system will continue to provide a large volume of water that can leak in or overwhelm basement drainage systems. Are there any visible cracks in the exterior or interior structure? Severe or active cracks may be an indication of future structural problems or even present unsafe conditions. Also, in Florida, they could be an example of a sink hole under you home. Check the window wells – are there any signs of leaking? Water may accumulate in the wells, leading to possible leakage into the basement through or around the window.
There are several ways to help prevent moisture damage problems in a basement. The first rule of thumb is no dirt basements. Although these are less common in this day in age, it is good to point out that dirt floors not only hold a huge amount of moisture but also can give off a variety of gases. When building a basement, make certain that you have a floor drain with a trap installed at the lowest point of the floor. Without a floor drain, any water that is spilled inside cannot get out. If needed, install a sump pump and make sure that the sump cover is tightly sealed. Sump pumps are often used where flooding due to a high water table might be a problem. In addition, waterproof the outside of the foundation walls and install a perimeter drainage system.
An often overlooked problem in basements is moisture that comes from humidity. The easiest way to control humidity is to exhaust water vapor produced in the house to the outside. Signs of high humidity include: condensation on windows, pipes or other surfaces as well a general sense of moisture in the air, dampness and odors. Often, humidity will be caused by exposing the basement to outside air (open windows), having wet laundry hung to dry in the basement, storing firewood in the basement, and/or a dryer vent that exhausts inside. To reduce humidity, there are several things a homeowner can do: install energy-efficient windows, insulate walls and cold water pipes, insulate floors if possible, run dryer vents to exhaust directly outside and don’t dry laundry or firewood in your basement. In summer, use a portable dehumidifier or air conditioning to reduce humidity. In warm, humid weather, keep basement windows closed. Run the furnace fan continuously to circulate house air. The key to keeping basement humidity low is to keep them well ventilated and to keep additional moisture out of the basement.
Another aspect to consider when it comes to keeping your basement free of moisture and mold is storage. Too many stored items, especially on the floor, will allow hidden corners to get even wetter and encourage mold growth. Get rid of unused items and store items on shelves. Avoid storing in cardboard boxes that readily absorb moisture and easily suffer from mold damage. The key to proper basement storage is to allow air to circulate.
Moisture problems are caused by a buildup of a variety of water sources. Whether it comes from surface or ground water that leaks in, water that wicks up or water vapor that condenses, it must be controlled. If future flooding seems unavoidable, do not install interior insulation or finishes that will be damaged by water as they will give mold a place to grow and will cause more difficulty and expense in flood clean up. In addition, correcting foundation moisture problems can improve the durability of your home and eliminate some dangerous health hazards. Hire a professional renovator for exterior, below-grade water protection and drainage problems, large or moving foundation cracks, concrete placement or major structural repairs. You may also need a heating contractor to install heating, cooling and ventilation equipment. A dry, clean basement provides a happy mold-free foundation for any home.