Storms like this past one make me wonder why I own an older home. The basement is always damp, but only takes on water when we get huge amounts of rain, like this past weekend. My kids like to play downstairs, but I’m concerned with them getting sick from any mold. What should I do?
– Damp in Ridgewood
It seems a bit overwhelming at the moment, but do not despair. You’re not alone. Consider yourself fortunate compared with some of the neighborhoods we’ve seen on the news during and after the storm. These past couple of years have produced unusually significant and increasingly frequent rain events. I won’t get up on my soap box about Global Climate Change, but these gradual changes have been predicted for years if we continue to pump carbon into our atmosphere. Insurance coverage is also surprisingly limited, which does not make the situation any more bearable. The fault does not lie in your older home either. I have heard from many people this weekend, some of them in brand new homes, some historical, and everywhere in between.
The first thing you need to do is assess your house. I’m assuming that you are not in a flood plain, as “taking on water” would have an entirely different meaning! In addition to taking care of the immediate damage, you will want to think about the longer term solution of addressing the moisture/water source, with the goal of making your house waterproof. Water damage, in its various forms is by far the #1 cause of building failures, or the need to be demolish a home completely. Once you clearly identify the source of water, you need to take steps to remediate it. The water source may not be as straightforward as you may originally think. It may also not be as catastrophic. The problem may be with the grading of your landscape, as simple as a broken or malfunctioning downspout, or it may be penetrations or cracks in your foundation, or hydrostatic pressure coming up through your basement floor, etc. The right basement waterproofing professional will help you pinpoint the source. Choosing the correct contractor is important. We only work with the most ethical of basement waterproofing companies, as many of them tend to recommend their most expensive solutions.
It is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to eliminate the source, as bulk water will destroy your belongings, and dampness or moisture will cause mold/mildew, which can be equally damaging. It can have a severe negative impact on your indoor air quality. If you or your family is susceptible to allergies and respiratory ailments, this will make your home very unpleasant. In every energy audit we conduct, one of the first things we do is look for moisture or mold (or carbon monoxide, asbestos, etc) because it would not be prudent, nor ethical, to seal up and insulate a home properly if these conditions exists. As much as I am a die-hard environmentalist, health and safety is always the highest priority. You do not want to make your home more energy efficient, at the expense of clean air.
In many circumstances, the best solution may be to have a French drain installed, with the proper sump pumps to remove the water from the home. This tends to be a bit expensive, and doesn’t “add value” to your home per se. It will, however, make your home healthier, more comfortable, protect belongings stored in the formerly damp areas and improve your quality of life. It is not as glamorous as renovating a bathroom or other more visible improvements, but having a dry home is well worth the investment in the long run.