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Realize the basement of your dreams – AFTER you waterproof it!

Camille Panaro, M.S. Ed., M.S. ES

The basement possibilities are endless!  Home fitness center, man cave, kitchen and bar, home office, in-law suite, movie theater, or even a greenhouse! A basement remodel adds the extra space you desire in your home with all the amenities you can dream of. There’s just one step in the process that is often overlooked – waterproof the outside and inside of the space before renovations begin.

I experienced first hand the detrimental effects of a flooded basement (in a previous home I owned).  I also know of many other stories of beautiful remodels that turned into soggy, moldy, warped headaches. It’s never a good thing when water leaks into your basement. Of course, it is impossible to 100% waterproof a home, but you’ll want to make every attempt to keep the basement as dry as possible.

In my case, I purchased a home with a dry, finished basement in a very wet area. It was necessary for me to prevent water from damaging the finished portion of my basement. Several of the waterproofing suggestions below are steps I took to shunt water away from the foundation of my house. I want to say I did this immediately upon moving in, but no, I learned the hard way when water started seeping into my carpet.

Live and learn. 

So…here are a few things you can do to protect your basement from leaks, floods, and potentially damaging effects of living in a wet area:

Check Foundation for Cracks 

Checking your foundation for cracks is only easy when all parts of the house are exposed. Cracks can be hidden behind or beneath decks or other structures making it difficult to detect them. If part of your foundation is hidden, it’s helpful to inspect the perimeter of the basement or the ceilings to check for signs of moisture. Some obvious signs are moldy walls, a musty smell, bowing floor or molding.  If you are able to see the cracks in the foundation, hire a structural engineer or professional to assess the situation. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 – $10,000 for repairs depending on the severity of the situation. In extreme cases, and more typical of flipped houses, the entire foundation will need repair (and that’s much more expensive!).

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Whether concrete waterproofing is all the job will require or epoxy to glue on carbon fiber-mesh, don’t finish the basement until the foundation problem is resolved. Speaking from experience, even a small crack in the house foundation can cause a big headache.

Determine moisture levels

It’s important to determine moisture levels for several reasons. High humidity or moist air may be a clue that something isn’t right. A cracked foundation, leaky pipes, or poor insulation are common causes for raising humidity levels. Some basements are too cold, too hot, or irregular depending on where you are in the space. If you are planning on investing in a space that is comfortable for your whole family to occupy, take the time to assess moisture levels. You can do this for as little as $20 by purchasing a Hygrometer from any hardware store or online carrier. According to the Mayo Clinic, ideal humidity in your home should be between 30% and 50%.

**For good measure, you may choose to run a dehumidifier to control moisture if you live in a wet area.

Assess your surroundings: Do you live in a wet or dry area?

Look around! Assess where you live? This is a critical step to take before you finish the basement and waterproof the outside of your home. Trust me! You will want to address any wet yard concerns.  I owned a house in a very wet area.  My yard was chronically wet and soggy after each rainfall, so much in fact, ducks would regularly swim in my yard! Although the ducks were amusing to my children, I was worried about how much water was headed toward my house. I needed to shunt the water away from my house to protect the inside.

There are steps you can take to shunt water away from your home and keep your yard dry: 

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First, make sure the gutter leads are working. Sagging, bent, or damaged gutters can cause damage to your house. A telltale sign of blocked or damaged gutters is when water starts to pool near the foundation. A way to prevent leaky or blocked gutters is by cleaning them regularly. This healthy home habit is an easy way to prevent water damage to your home.

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Another relatively inexpensive way to prevent water from leaking into your basement is to build up your landscaping. Ideally, you want the ground to slope away from your house and around the perimeter. This would require grading the soil and adding extra dirt. Grading your property is a big DIY project (well…maybe just for me!), so you might want to try building up your beds first. You can use mulch to add to the landscaping or plant grass to absorb the rain water.

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A final step to waterproofing your home, and one I recommend, is to have drain tiles professionally installed in your wet yard. Drain tiles can be very effective in keeping your yard dry! This is something I had to do if I wanted the ducks to stop swimming in my backyard! Drain tiles act like an underground drainage system that protect your home’s foundation. Underground pipes are fitted in trenches to shunt water away from your home. This is not your average DIY project, nor is it cheap. But, in the long run, it’s money well spent to protect your home. One of the best decisions I made was to hire a professional to install drain tiles!

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Once you’ve secured the foundation, assessed your moisture levels, and shunted water away from your home, you will be ready to start finishing your space.  I highly recommend that you take the extra steps needed to protect your investment. You won’t be sorry you did, but you could be sorry you didn’t!

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