Basements are notoriously difficult to keep dry because they are partially or entirely below the ground and often lack ventilation. Property owners must contend with groundwater, condensation, and general dampness to keep a dry basement. There are ways to tackle these problems, but it’s necessary to understand the basement is damp in the first place.
Figure Out Where the Moisture is Coming From
Groundwater is typically the first thing that comes to mind when discussing moisture in basements. Groundwater is water that saturates substances like soil and sand, often after rainfall or snowmelt, but it can result from a high water table, a leaking pipe, or even garden sprinklers. With basements being partially underground, groundwater around the property will almost certainly find its way through cracks in the basement walls.
For a property in good repair, however, the most likely cause of moisture is a lack of good air circulation. If the air in a basement isn’t moving, the temperature differentials will result in condensation. Moisture on the walls or windows may not be as drastic as finding six inches of water on your basement floor, but damp, if left alone for long enough, will result in mold, water damage, and pests.
Keep the Basement Dry
The first thing to check is the condition of the basement’s outer walls for cracks. No amount of ventilation or damp-proofing will keep a basement dry if water seeps in every time it rains. Unfortunately, if you notice any large cracks—especially on the floor—you are likely dealing with structural issues, and a damp basement will be the least of your worries.
If the basement is free of cracks, waterproof the walls and floor using a product like hydraulic cement for small cracks, followed by a waterproof sealant.
Once you’re sure the basement is watertight, it’s time to tackle the condensation problem. First, make sure plumbing pipes are insulated. Next, establish a path for airflow. Dedicated vents are ideal, but an effective stopgap is cracking windows and leaving the basement door open.
Finally, minimize how much water your foundation is exposed to because moisture will always find a way through. Make sure the gutters and downspouts are not leaking. Land grading should always slope away from the house to direct rainwater away from the foundation.
Like many aspects of home ownership, keeping a dry basement is easier with routine maintenance. Ignoring minor signs of moisture will only allow the problem to grow, ultimately costing more money and causing more severe issues.