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4 Ways Water Can Trash Your Basement

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If you have little to no waterproofing in your basement, sooner or later you're going to regret it. Basement waterproofing systems can help prevent substantial damage due to moisture infiltration, some of which may already be occurring right under your nose. Here are four ways water can get into your basement and wreak havoc.

1. Foundation Failures

The concrete slab and walls surrounding your basement are vulnerable to many stresses and strains over the years, from heavy storms and tectonic shifts to the sheer weight of the house it supports. Some foundations even have built-in flaws that don't present themselves until some disaster exposes them. Cracks in the concrete should alert you to the potential for moisture damage. Water can seep through any gaps in the floor or walls (including the line where the floor joists meet the foundation walls), and when it freezes and thaws it can make the cracks larger, leading to more and more water in your basement. Before installing a professional basement waterproofing system, get your foundation checked out to see whether it could use some repair work. 

2. Drainage Difficulties

Most homes already have a foundation drainage system to keep groundwater away from the house. This system typically consists of layers of gravel around the basement walls and underneath the floor, with a layer of trap rock underneath. This arrangement allows rainwater to flow harmlessly into a pair of pipes known as the storm service lateral and the sanitary service (sewer) lateral. But blockages in these lines can allow groundwater to build up all around your basement -- and if it gets too high, it could spill over the top of the concrete walls or push its way through the aforementioned cracks.

The easiest way to keep your foundation drainage system from getting overwhelmed is to direct surface water further away from the house. You can do this by adding a French drain or even a simple trench if you need to create some extra slope, or you can redirect your gutter downspout to dump roof water more strategically.

3. Plumbing Problems

The drain lines leading away from your home aren't the only pipes that threaten your basement. Many homeowners's basements have surprisingly complex plumbing systems meant for serving sinks, toilets, and clothes washers. If you suffer a break or even a leak in one of these pipes, you could have a flooded basement in no time. The threat isn't confined to actual pipes, either -- a worn rubber hose on an appliance can create the exact same catastrophe.

A little "preventative medicine" always beats having to pump water out of your basement, throw away damaged keepsakes, and invest in expensive mold remediation. Have your home's entire plumbing system checked periodically, including the basement pipes and hoses. 

4. Humidity Run Amuck

If you spend 99 percent of your time basking in air-conditioned indoor comfort, it can be easy to forget that your basement's air isn't receiving the drying benefits of that air conditioning. Humidity tends to get trapped within the closed space of a basement. You might not see standing water as a result, but that doesn't mean your basement isn't suffering -- moist air can cause corrosion, wood deterioration, and mold accumulation. The two easiest ways to keep basement humidity at manageable levels include:

  • Running a dehumidifier - A dehumidifier sucks moist air inside it, where compressor coils cool it and collect water from it. The dried, reheated air is then expelled back into the environment. This is a much more effective solution than simply creating a draft, since you might just be replacing moist air with more moist air. 
  • Running the heater in cold weather - If you feel tempted to cut off the heat to your little-used basement in the winter months to save energy, fight that urge. Cooler air has higher relative humidity than warmer air because it holds more water vapor. This leads to a damp, clammy basement primed for water damage and mold infestation. Keep the basement temperature near 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months.

No matter how many start strategies you employ to keep water out of your basement, the unexpected can always occur. That's why you should also look at basement waterproofing systems if you don't currently have one. These systems can reduce the hydrostatic pressure that plays such a key role in foundation damage and seepage. If you want to get the longest life out of your home, start at the bottom -- with a drier basement!