Let's face it: a damp basement is a curse, yet it's much more common than you think. Even an unfinished basement should have a healthy odor and be free of molds of all types.
Wet basements may be common, but they are not normal: something went wrong, somewhere.
It's easy to prevent a damp basement -- and even more serious basement flooding and resulting water damage -- if you're building a new house:
1. Choose the site carefully (no filled-in former marshes; don't build below the water table or below the road level);
3. Install a system of eavestroughs (a.k.a. rain gutters) and drain the rainwater away from the foundations (or, if you're truly green, or rich (or both), harvest it in tanks for use in the house);
4. Ensure adequate yard drainagethrough the correct slope design;
5. Install a backwater valve on the main sewer pipe (this will prevent sewage from backing up).
But many of us aren't building new homes; in fact most people live in an old house with a damp basement. For them, a dry basement may seem more of a dream than a realistic goal.
Assuming that you're not living over an ancient marsh, there is a solution to most basement moisture problems. By order of cost (least expensive first), they are:
A flooded basement is no joke, yet the flood can originate from a mysterious source.
How to find leaks. First, locate the leak. I once fixed a very annoying source of flooding in a basement by examining every square inch during a heavy rainfall, finding the leak and fixing it the next day by digging the dirt away on the outside and applying about a dollar's worth of mortar. No more damp basement.
(For more serious foundation repair to get rid of major basement leaks or cracks, you may need to contact a foundation waterproofing specialist.)
Conclusion: start with the simplest, cheapest solution.
The second solution, a basement dehumidifier, will take care of a slight basement moisture problem, like the one I'm having right now in the house described in these pages. I bought one at Sears for around $250; it's an Energy Star model and has many features, including an automatic timer.
The downside is that dehumidifiers consume a fair amount of electricity, though if you live in a cold climate, you may not need to use it in the winter. No rain + frozen ground + cold air = dry basement!
For me, a second disadvantage is having to haul that heavy bucket of water up the stairs to empty it (my basement has no drain), and a third is remembering to empty it in the first place! As soon as I get a chance I will build a high base for my dehumidifier and drain it directly into the sewer pipe via a simple washing machine hose.
Improving your yard drainage could be the main strategy against your damp basement.
It was one of the solutions I opted for. Check out the step-by-step process right here.
Nothing is as effective for preventing basement moisture as a set of eavestroughs.
Even the relatively inexpensive vinyl gutters of the install-it-yourself kind.
Even if they leak a bit, as long as they slope down sufficiently to carry the water into the downspouts, and provided that the downspouts are extended far enough, directly, as in this picture of my former house.
Or indirectly, like my present underground system that takes the rainwater to a dry well located downhill and across the back yard.
This picture shows the downspout located on the south side entering the underground system...
...where it is joined by the downspout from the north roofs...
... to emerge into a dry well located across the yard, into a perforated pipe.
I opted for a seamless eavestroughs system through a professional contractor because my roof system is rather complicated and frankly, I'd rather leave the roof climbing to a professional with a good insurance plan.
In addition, I wanted something esthetically pleasing and more solid and permanent than what I could get at the local home improvement store.
Check out my Eavestroughs page, where I document, step-by-step, the why and how of eavestroughs (rain gutters for some of you).
A. QUICK AND EASY DIY
1. Stop small leaks
2. Install a basement dehumidifier
3. Install a sump pump
4. Put up some simple eavestroughs (gutters)
B. WITH PROFESSIONAL HELP:
1. Improve yard drainage
2. Get expert foundation waterproofing
2. Install seamless eavestroughs (rain gutters)
3. Install French drains
And don't forget the backwater valve.
Drying out your basement can cost from as little as $200 to as much as several thousand dollars.
In my case, luckily, the dehumidifier, the eavestroughs project and the main yard drainage improvement project were invoiced separately, so I know exactly how much they cost.
Other items were absorbed into the general billing by the stores and builders at the time they took place.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (a Canadian government service) has an excellent brochure titled Avoiding Basement Flooding, which covers everything. Visit the website or click on this link to download the PDF (opens in a new window).
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A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.
It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.
Don't believe me? See these "Before" pictures.
My intention was to turn it into as "green" as home as I could, within my physical, financial, and geographical limits – and to share this adventure with you, step-by-step and dollar-by-dollar.
I'm not quite finished, but I do have a few "After" pictures to show.
If you want to follow me on this exciting adventure, you can subscribe to this site by RSS feed -- see the box below the navigation bar on the left.