From moisture to full blown flooding, it’s all too common to see basements that are damaged by water intrusion. Learning how to identify the warning signs of a water damaged basement can help you make better decisions when purchasing a home, save you money on more costly repairs, and ensure you have a safe and healthy living space.
- Musty odor
That all too famous “basement smell.” The dingy, musty odor is so synonymous with basements that it’s easy for us to chalk it up as normal. The truth is that smell most likely indicates the presence of moisture issues in your basement. This is often the first sign that you should be considering moisture mitigation and is typically the result of mold and mildew growth.
What are mold and mildew?
Mold and mildew are fungi that grow in moist conditions. If your basement has a build up of moisture for any reason, that fungus has an ideal environment to flourish. As they grow and reproduce, they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which produce the characteristic musty odor.
The risks of mold and mildew
- Mold and mildew break down organic materials, such as wood, paper, and drywall, as they grow, releasing VOCs in the process.
- Some molds can produce toxic compounds known as mycotoxins, which can intensify the odor and increase health risks.
- Mold and mildew reproduce by producing spores, which are tiny, lightweight particles that can become airborne. This allows them to spread with ease.
- Visible Mold and Mildew
Identifying mold and mildew growth is relatively straightforward. There are characteristic visual cues that this fungus exhibits which will help you identify whether your home has been affected. In conjunction with the musty odor in your basement you can usually identify mold in areas of excessive moisture. Mold and mildew will typically grow on your walls, carpets and floors, cardboard boxes, and upholstery and will appear as black, green, white, gray, brown, or yellow growth that is fuzzy, powdery, or slimy.
- Water Stains on Walls or Floors
This one might seem obvious but it’s identifying the cause of the water stains that can be a bit more complicated. If you understand what leads to the issue in the first place, you can determine how extensive a solution it might require.
The common causes of water stains:
- Cracks in the foundation: If the water stain is associated with a crack in the foundation wall, then it will need to be injected to stop the water.
- Leaky basement window: This is a common issue with basement windows and can be difficult to resolve. Make sure you have proper window wells installed and a good cover.
- Cracked or damaged pipes: This will require you to hire a plumber to help repair the pipes.
- Grading issues: If water is able to pool near your foundation, then it is possible for water to come over the top of your foundation wall in heavy rain. A landscaping contractor can help make sure your yard is sloped away from your foundation.
- Condensation: in basements with high humidity or insufficient ventilation condensation can form on basement walls and floors, resulting in moisture-related stains.
- Seepage through porous materials: Concrete is a porous material and when it’s not properly protected with vapor barriers and drainage material it can wick moisture from the surrounding soil. The solution to this issue tends to be a bit more extensive, potentially requiring a full slab replacement.
- Cracks in the Foundation
Cracks in basement walls are a common occurrence. After you build a home, it will settle into the soil below. As the house settles you can develop hairline cracks in your foundation walls. The issue arises when water gets into those cracks and deteriorates the area. The crack will widen over time and cause water leakage in your basement.
Cracks will run vertically or horizontally. Vertical cracks are straight forward repairs and should be injected with some kind of resin or epoxy. This process is best completed by a professional as meticulous attention to detail can mean the difference between a sealed crack and wasted time.
Horizontal cracks on the other hand can develop into structural issues over time. This doesn’t mean all horizontal cracks are structural issues, however. If you have one of these cracks, then keep your eye on it. If it begins to leak, have it repaired right away. If the crack begins to deflect, meaning one side protrudes further than the other, then call a professional to have it assessed.
- Peeling Paint or Efflorescence
The primary cause of both peeling paint and efflorescence is the presence of moisture. If your paint is peeling, flaking, or bubbling. That can indicate water penetration through the porous concrete underneath, or high humidity. Efflorescence, or the formation of white chalky deposits on the surface of concrete or masonry, will occur when water carrying dissolved salt evaporates. If you see these markings on your wall or floor that’s a sure sign that water was present.
- Warped or Buckled Flooring
Hardwood, laminate, and engineered wood flooring are sensitive to moisture. When excess moisture infiltrates the basement, these materials can absorb the water, causing them to swell and expand, and over time, warp. Your subfloor can also be affected by excess moisture causing protrusions in your flooring.
In many instances the solution involves removing the flooring. This will help prevent mold growth, allow you to identify the cause of the water intrusion, and fix the issue. If you are finishing your basement, it is commonly recommended to install an interior French drain as a preventative.
- Puddles or Standing Water
Shocking I know. Standing water is a clear indicator of water damage in a basement. The question is what damage did it cause? Is the basement finished? How long has it been happening for? Has it been properly addressed? A basement with constant pooling is likely to have mold and humidity issues which can lead to unsafe living conditions. Excessive water can also deteriorate the concrete or mortar in your basement, leading to more costly repairs over time.
There are various warning signs that point to the possibility of water damage in a basement. Knowing how to identify these signs and understanding their causes can help you save money on more costly repairs, inform you when buying a home, or help you solve long standing problems in your basement.
When in doubt consult a professional mold mitigation or basement waterproofing company to address your concerns. These professionals are well versed in identifying the issue and the best solution to solve your problem.