Because it can lead to costly forms of water damage, nothing causes quite as much dismay for homeowners as a leaky basement. Yet finding a solution might not be as difficult as you think--once you've determined the cause, that is. If you have been experiencing wet basement woes, read on. This article will introduce two of the most common causes of the problem.
Also known as "sweating," condensation can generally be recognized by water droplets that have formed on the walls or floor. Condensation is caused by the temperature difference between warm, moist air and the cold walls and pipes of your basement. When left unchecked, it can lead to mold and mildew growth, as well as wood rot and rust formation on metal appliances.
At times, condensation can be difficult to distinguish from either subsurface water seeping in or runoff from the soil outside. Luckily, there's a simple test to determine if condensation is your problem. Simply tape a square piece of foil over one of the problem areas, being sure to cover all four sides thoroughly with tape.
Let the foil sit undisturbed overnight, then come back and check it again the next day. If the underside of the foil is damp, then you know your problem is coming from outside--in other words, it's not condensation. If, on the other hand, the outer surface of the foil is damp, your problem is condensation from the air.
Runoff is perhaps the most common cause of moisture in a wet basement. At the root of the problem is exterior moisture such as rain and melted snow that isn't being routed away from your home properly. This runoff seeps down through the soil and accumulates outside your foundation walls. Eventually it begins to seep into your basement through hydrostatic pressure.
Diagnosing runoff isn't as simple as diagnosing condensation. However, if you notice that the problem is exacerbated by heavy rainfall or snow melt, you've got a good first clue. The next step is to take a trip around the outside of your house, keeping an eye out for certain telltale problems.
To begin with, take a look at the soil. Is it sloping toward or away from your house? Ideally it should be sloping away from your home, with a slope of at least six inches in the first ten feet. If you notice that the ground is sloping toward your home, that's a strong sign that runoff may be at the root of your wet basement.
Pay close attention to your gutter downspouts. Make sure that all downspouts are correctly attached, and that there are no leaks, as this will cause water to pool up in close proximity to your home. Likewise, you should consider checking the gutters themselves. A gutter that has become blocked with fallen leaves and other detritus will often spill water straight down the side of your house and into the soil around your foundation. A good drainage system can prevent water damage.