DON'T LET BASEMENT MOISTURE DAMPEN YOUR SPIRITS!!
Hey, don't sweat it! Let the Natural Handyman wrap up your condensation problems!
This is a typical question I have received a hundred times about damp basements...
Is there a way to stop the sweating on the pipes in my basement? There is so much condensation that water actually puddles on the floor!
You are not alone! With the exception of a handful of very modern homes, every home has a basement moisture problem. Pipe sweating is just one symptom of excessive dampness.
Even basements that have never had a visible water leak share the misery... water vapor in the ground virtually forces large amounts of water vapor through the floor and foundation walls. This water vapor is eager to become water again, and any inviting cold surface will do the dirty job! Cold water pipes and well pressure tanks are both prime targets.
And to give credit where credit is due, home builders do try to thwart moisture (even if they are dragged kicking and screaming by the local building inspector)! Most modern basement floors have plastic vapor barriers installed under them, and the exterior concrete walls are coated with various sealers to waterproof them. Unfortunately, most of us don't live in new homes, so our moisture problems can at times be severe.
There is no single solution to this problem, but a "shotgun" approach can give the best results. The following is a list of actions you can take to lower basement moisture levels. They are in no particular order of importance, but it goes without saying that they work best together. And don't get discouraged... any of these tips that you follow will measurably improve your moisture situation!
This discussion assumes that you have a concrete floor. If your basement has a dirt floor, there are other steps you must take to lower the moisture level. Click HERE to read about moisture in crawlspaces... specifically the info on vapor barriers on dirt floors.
Eliminate all active leaks...
This is obvious and essential if you want to gain control over the moisture. Some waterproofing compounds (more below) will eliminate minor leaks, but in my opinion you should repair all known leaks with either hydraulic cement or concrete patching compound before applying any waterproofing compound to the walls. Hydraulic cement is designed to repair actively leaking areas, while the patching compound can be used for damp areas without flowing water.
There will be a waiting period necessary between the leak repair and application of the waterproofing compound. Read the instructions on the waterproofer you choose for specific information.
If your home has severe and persistent water leaks that defy simple patching, more extreme measures involving either interior or exterior drains may be necessary. This can be a complicated and expensive procedure, and a few professional waterproofing contractors should be consulted. There are many different ways to approach serious water problems, and few contractors do them all, so a few "eyeballs" can help you to learn what types of expertise your local contractors can provide.
Check the exterior of the house for moisture problems near the foundation...
Blocked, damaged, or missing gutters are a common source of foundation moisture. Clean them regularly, be sure the leaders drain the water away from the house, and, if necessary, install new gutters. Though it is admittedly unpleasant, sometimes gutter problems can only be detected while standing outside in a torrential downpour! Just be sure to wear your hip boots!
There are some gutter-like products on the market. Some folks just don't like the look of gutters. But without gutters your foundation can become waterlogged. These "faux" gutters are designed to eliminate the "drip line" along the side of the foundation caused when water falls off the roof in gutterless homes. The water is somewhat dispersed and lands further from the foundation. Even though these products do what they are intended to do, they may still drop the water too close to the foundation in some situations, especially if your grade directs the water back towards the house.
Vegetation near to the foundation is another potential problem. Not only do the roots and soil hold moisture, but the shade the vegetation creates does not allow the ground to dry out. Insects view these damp areas as a "Welcome" mat to your home as well!
Walk around the foundation and check the grade of the land. If there are low spots near the foundation, take a walk in the rain during the next downpour and see if there is any noticeable puddling anywhere near the foundation. If you do feel a change in grade is needed, there are many ways to accomplish this, as simple as adding and compacting soil near the foundation, or as complicated as installing drains.
Remember... even if you do not have an active leak, any moisture near the foundation increases the amount of water vapor that can get inside!
Coat walls and floors with a waterproofing compound...
Choose your product with care. There are various types of waterproofing products on the market, so it is critical that you choose one that is a waterproofer, not a sealer! A sealer protects the concrete from surface moisture, but does not stop the movement of moisture through the concrete from the outside as effectively as a true waterproofer. Also, be sure the product you choose is designed to be used below grade, and will seal walls under water pressure.
Proper preparation of the concrete is essential. If there is old paint or other coatings on the wall, they should be removed either chemically or by sandblasting if you want the best possible job. Not to say unequivocally that the new coating won't stick... it just may not do as good a job sealing the wall. Remember, there is no such thing as perfection... it is the striving for perfection that defines us and our work!
Wrap all cold water pipes and tanks...
This is the easiest and most direct solution to prevent condensation on cold surfaces... don't let the moist air reach them! Do not use fiberglass pipe wrap... it is not waterproof, will absorb water, and the extra step of wrapping the fiberglass with a plastic vapor barrier is more than a pain.. it is downright frustrating! Use plastic foam pipe wrap instead. It is available in various lengths (depending on where you buy it), and is easily cut with scissors or a utility knife. Miter (angle cut) all corners so they meet as closely as possible, and then wrap all seams with duct tape.
You might say... "Yeah, but there are fifty miles of pipe to wrap! Do I have to wrap it all?" Answer... not really. The amount of condensation is proportional to the amount of exposed pipe. The less pipe you have exposed to the moisture, the less total condensation you will have. Pipes that run above suspended ceilings, for example, will often not collect condensation because the area is drier than the basement itself. In other words, cover as much pipe as you can without sacrificing your sanity or the economic security of your family!
Well pressure tanks are also the source of mucho condensation. The ideal wrap for them is a plastic foam water heater blanket. However, if you cannot find or order one from your local home, plumbing, or hardware store, using fiberglass and then tightly wrapping it in a heavy plastic tarp (and duct tape, of course) is an acceptable, albeit second choice alternative. One thing about these tanks is that the condensation tends to limit itself to the water level, so even a half wrap can be beneficial in a pinch.
Use a dehumidifier...
Even if you do all the things mentioned above, you will not eliminate all the moisture from the basement air. Human and animal traffic leaves moisture behind. If you have a finished basement with potted plants and little ventilation, more moisture is added to the air. Open the window and bingo... in comes the outside humidity! So just about any basement can benefit from the use of a dehumidifier.
Want more practical information about dehumidifiers? Check out the article on this very subject... right in this book!
In conclusion, your task may be simple, or it may be involved. But let me make one thing perfectly clear. With moisture clearly being Basement Enemy Number One, whichever of these steps you take will add to the life, comfort, and value of your home.