Damp basement? This might be the easiest fix in the world

Damp basement? This might be the easiest fix in the world

Few things can be more aggravating — and potentially damaging — for a homeowner than a damp or wet basement. A basement can hold the potential to add great value to a home by providing space for storage, additional areas for living, hobby or recreational space, and generally easy access for plumbing, heating and cooling systems.

Most homeowners also agree the additional heated space under living areas can make for a more comfortable climate in the home. The potential downside to any basement follows right along with its most basic attribute: A basement is really just a hole in the ground.

While measures to prevent or cure basement dampness are myriad, sometimes complex and oftentimes expensive, I will touch on the simplest strategy of all: First, identify the source.

When my wife and I first looked at our house for the first time, it was early September. The house had sat empty for two years, and although it was a bit dusty, there weren’t any must or mildew problems evident. The basement was cool but dry. We moved in at the end of October and were entirely satisfied with our purchase. There was a great deal of work to do, but a good roof and sound walls made for a good platform to begin.

When springtime came, along with April showers, we got a big dose of first-time home owners’ reality as every time it rained with any degree of intensity, we’d see a small stream of water spring from under the south wall of our basement and run to the floor drain across the room near the opposite wall.

Panic ensued. There was talk of water-proofing, sump pumps, open cuts of our basement floor, massive excavations on the outside of the house, and thousands and thousands of dollars in expense. For a pair of newlyweds who had just dumped everything they had into a down payment, it was horrifying.

Good sense and serendipity prevailed as before I signed off on any of the above remedies, I asked a neighbor across the street if he had experienced any such issue, adding that I thought it was crazy we’d have such a problem, given our place was at the very top of our neighborhood hill.

“No, I’ve never had that problem,” he said. “But I’m glad you asked because I have a really good idea where yours is coming from.”

He went on to explain that he’d watched the neighbor kid lob a tennis ball onto the roof of the then-empty house dozens of times over the past few years.

“Now, every time it rains, I watch all of the water from the south side of your roof run into the gutter, only to overflow at the downspout,” he said. “I’d say that ball is right up there.”

I borrowed an extension ladder, and a quick visit to the suspected corner was all it took to solve the problem.

When water can’t find a way away from your basement, it will almost always work to find its way into it. With fall on the far horizon, it’s a great time to do a walk-around inspection to make sure all your gutters and downspouts are working as intended. And the best time to do it is in a good, steady summertime rain (beware of lightning). An occasional inspection at each change of season may just save you a full-blown panic.

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