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Top Signs of Basement Water Problems and How to Fix Them

Aug 18 2012 - Posted by
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Top Signs of Basement Water Problems and How to Fix Them

Various circumstances and incidents can result in basement water problems, but not all produce the same warning signs and not all are handled in the same way. Learn how to find and discern signs of water damage, as well as understanding what you can do about this issue. Water damage can reduce the value of your home, chase away potential buyers and produce unhealthy living conditions, not to mention making your basement look and smell unpleasant.

Where to Look for Signs of Water Damage Downstairs

Certain areas of the basement are more prone to water damage, depending on the source of water. Inspect every corner of the downstairs area carefully, including finished and unfinished portions, and pay carefully attention to these locations:

  • Basement floors — If the space is finished with wall-to-wall carpeting, engineered hardwood, laminate or tile, inspect that material carefully for water damage. If the space is unfinished, take a close look at the concrete foundation, as well as seams around the floor slab.
  • Basement walls — If the walls are framed and finished in drywall or another product, inspect the joints, edges and entire surface carefully. If the walls have been left unfinished, check the foundation walls and any framing or insulation installed.
  • Basement windows — The area around a basement window is prone to leaks from multiple water sources. Check the window frame, as well as the wall space and ceiling around the window.
  • Basement bathroom — Plumbing leaks can cause serious water damage in any area of the home, and your basement bathroom may have unique challenges within the design.
  • Basement ceiling — Have a look within the floor joists above your basement as well, for signs of water entering from above. Check the condition of the drywall for ceilings in a finished basement.
  • Enclosed spaces — Pay special attention to any dark, airless spaces such as closets, cubbyholes, ledges and corners, where condensation and standing water can remain unnoticed.

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What Does Water Damage Look Like in the Basement?

Water damage results from a wide range of sources, including grading issues, plumbing leaks, sewer back up, high water table and flash floods. The visible signs of damage vary depending on the water source.

You can look for the most common visible signs of water damage in the basement, such as:

  • Water Stains — small or large, streaks or spots, water stains tend to appear on organic building materials like drywall, wood and drop ceiling tiles.
  • Cracking — hairline cracks in the foundation walls or flooring may be an indication of shifting, expanding concrete due to water damage, while cracks in drywall or wood paneling often occur after flooding.
  • Swelling and Bulging — finished basement walls and flooring may swell, bulge, bend, bow or warp after being exposed to water.
  • Peeling Paint — cracked, peeling or disintegrating paint on the walls, ceiling or floors may be indicative of basement water damage.
  • Mold or Mildew — this dangerous sign of water damage covers mold of any color, although brown, green and black mold are the most common.
  • Efflorescence — this chalky white substance is the remnants of minerals left behind when water dries up.

Use Your Nose

Many signs of basement water damage are visual, but you can also use your nose to detect water problems. Musty smells are difficult to eliminate once a flood has occurred and a sensitive nose can spot this distinct smell in a moment. Dampness also has an odor, much like sweaty socks or mud puddles.

If your nose detects a musty, damp odor try to discover the source or location of the smell. Look for visual signs, but be aware that mold and water damage may remain hidden. You may need to hire a mold remediation specialist and have mold tests completed to officially detect the fungus, or have your contractor look behind walls and under flooring for water damage.

What Can You Do About Basement Water Damage?

The first step to repairing basement water damage is to locate the source of water. If flash floods and poor grading have caused water issues downstairs, consider re-grading the yard or adjusting the landscaping to avoid this problem in the future. When sewer back ups or plumbing leaks cause water issues, it's best to look at interior solutions that protect your home from these problems.

Basement waterproofing is another option that provides protection from a wide range of potential issues in the basement. Once you (or your contractor) have dealt with the source and eliminated all standing water, seepage and leaks, it's time to replace the building materials.

All of the existing building materials should be removed. Mold spores may be undetectable at this point, but those spores will expand and multiply with time. Replacing all of the wood, flooring, drywall and furniture that was exposed to the moisture is the best plan.

Check to be sure that the vapor barrier remains intact around your basement, maintaining insulation value and reducing condensation. Consider sealing the concrete foundation or using an oil-based paint that provides a barrier against water seepage (very good for cinder block walls).

Detection is the first stage of dealing with basement water problems. Use your senses of sight and smell to find signs of water damage, and then look for the source of water. Take the steps necessary to stop water from entering your home's interior, including re-grading, basement waterproofing and concrete sealing. Once the wet (or formerly wet) building materials have been removed, replacement can begin. Protect your new basement from the threat of water damage and enjoy a healthier, more comfortable living space.

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