A hopeful future for our moldy basement of doom?
June 30, 2014 1:45 PM   Subscribe

8 inches of rain caused our basement to flood, so we ripped out the carpet and pad, baseboards, and waterlogged drywall. It turns out we had decades worth of pre-existing mold in the drywall, so most of the walls had to come out, too. Now we have a partially unfinished basement with 60 years of half-assed renovation attempts exposed. What do we do now?

I liked our basement, but it had plenty of quirks. We have a very basic rectangle-shaped ranch house, so the basement was literally half of our house. Now that the framing is exposed, we're starting to wonder if we should repair everything as is ($$) or take this opportunity to make this a basement that will last us the next 30+ years ($$$). That said, we hadn't been budgeting for renovations.

What should we be considering? Who should we be calling to get repair and/or renovation estimates? All the basement waterproofing people are booked solid in our area due to floods, and many aren't even answering their phones. There was asbestos tile underneath our carpet, so we're thinking about biting the bullet and getting that properly abated/removed rather than wasting our money on carpet again. That's as far as we've gotten, thought-wise.

Any advice would be appreciated, particularly if you've been in this situation before.
posted by Maarika to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Decades worth of mold and half-assed renovation attempts suggests that this basement has flooded, or at least been problematically damp, fairly regularly. If you put it back the way it was without sorting out the water problems, then you'll just be contributing another half-assed renovation attempt which may not last all that long. I'd remove everything damp or rotting, set up a good dehumidifier, and clean the place well enough that you can live with it until the basement waterproofing specialists' schedules open up.
posted by jon1270 at 2:12 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

First and foremost is doing anything and everything in your power to ensure that the basement is leak proof and that the next time you get eight inches of rain it will go somewhere else. Until you are sure that the water will not be back there is no point putting in any carpeting or drywall. This may be the only time in history your neighbourhood had eight inches of rain, but it's more likely to be a sign of things to come and a sign of things that have been quietly happening but being overlooked.

I'd start by reading up about leak-proofing basements, finding leaks and all the methods that could be used to ensure that the water doesn't come in but if it does that it immediately is caught and sent somewhere that will not result in mold. You want to understand why your contractor talks about needing to get in a backhoe if that's what they tell you.

If you can narrow down the place the water came in - up the drain? Through a crack in the wall, now exposed by the missing drywall? you know where the battle starts.

Consider a sump pump, if your basement floods down at one end and it would be possible to create the hole to install it.

Consider redoing the basement in pool or bathroom materials, designed to survive in lots of damp. Rather than carpet would tile be a good plan?

If you can't prevent the future leaks, you might want to seriously consider creating blocks for the appliances. If your washer and dryer and hot water heater are all ten inches off the floor they will survive an eight inch puddle in the basement, no problem. If they all have to be replaced and reinstalled anyway this might well be worth it.

If the mold in your drywall was not caused by seeping or condensation through the walls but just by general humid conditions you might want to think about getting a dehumidifier for your basement, or more than one as needed.

Are you certain that no new construction or other situation caused this flood? If they just built a mall on your nearby flood plain the water that used to stand there is now being dispersed in your direction. In a situation like that you need to start planning for annual floods.

I would get rid of the asbestos if you can afford it. It's a hazard and has to come out at some point. If you put carpet back on top of it you'll only have to tear up the carpet again some time to remove it eventually. Sooner rather than later will save you money and prevent respiratory problems.

Your being too late to get a contractor in the first rush is not altogether a bad thing. This means you will be able to check in with all your neighbours who got flooded and get their recommendations as to if they would go with the same contractor again and how much the total bill for repairs ended up costing them.

Disaster restoration workmen can be some of the nicest people on earth. The ones at our local company got training because they wanted to know what to do when people are in tears at the damage to their home and possessions. They felt so helpless that they got management to get them some special training. They know they are dealing with a traumatic situation and the ones I know are very sensitive to it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:13 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to the interior/exterior water proofing (likely some combination of weeping tile and membrane), consider adding a sump pump with emergency battery back up - which will will save in if there is a storm with heavy rain and high wind etc. that knocks out your power. Not that much more expensive than a standard sump pump, and definitely worth it for peace of mind
posted by walkinginsunshine at 3:22 PM on June 30, 2014

A good resource on basement water/dampproofing is the information pages from Building Science Corporation. That's a survey on basements, there are many other pages in the site.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:40 PM on June 30, 2014

At the risk of sounding really mundane (and I am not mundane about basement floods; our old townhouse basement used to flood every spring and it was maddening) - make sure your gutters drain properly and your downspouts lead out at least 2 feet (3/4 meter) away from your house. We took ours out at least 1 meter at every downspout location (about 3 feet), and in some cases out about 2 meters from the house. This has helped so much with keeping our basement dry. It's a small thing, but an easy help for future heavy rains.
posted by RogueTech at 4:46 PM on June 30, 2014

There's floor paint that help deter water, and surely other treatments for walls. Do you have a sump pump?

After dealing with keeping the water out, I'd consider flooring that's slightly raised; they make something specifically for damp areas. Basements have cement floors which stay cool. Water condenses on cool cement. Then I'd probably keep part of the basement plain for storage, and re-sheetrock or panel a nice room, and get a synthetic rug.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 PM on June 30, 2014

Thanks, everyone. We do not have a sump pump, but we know it is in our future.

We were away at work when the flooding happened, but there are multiple possibilities as to where the water came in. The floor drains might have backed up, the window wells might have had water so high that the water came in around the window frames (particularly in the deep egress window), we had a full rain barrel with an inadequate overflow hose, soil had washed away by part of our foundation, there are some small cracks in the foundation walls, and the city storm sewer in front of our house doesn't drain properly. Lots of things to figure out still.
posted by Maarika at 6:02 PM on June 30, 2014

A couple of other interesting articles: BSI-041: Rubble Foundations, BSI-045: Double Rubble Toil and Trouble, BSI-059: Slab Happy.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:24 PM on June 30, 2014

An issue people haven't mentioned is your lot - is your house at the low point or does the ground slope away from the house? Even a very slight slope towards the house can be a major contributor towards a wet basement. We found we needed to have the land re-graded, adding a tile field as well as replacement gutters and new foundation work ultimately. Pricey? Yes but our thin concrete over rammed earth/sand foundation needed the work after 20+ years of ever increasing numbers of "100 year" floods and a rising water table.

Contact the city re the storm sewer for sure but it's worth getting someone knowledgable to look at the big picture - my understanding is that basement waterproofing won't solve a problem if everything is draining towards you.
posted by leslies at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2014

Final update - we've decided to rip out the entire basement and put in drain tile/sump pump around the entire perimeter. So the plan is: asbestos tile abatement, demolition of walls/framing/bathroom, drain tile/sump pump, foundation repair (we discovered some additional damage), then insulate all the exterior walls and refinish everything. We're looking at $60,000+ in total costs, which is brutal. We also extended most of the gutters and sadly got rid of the rain barrel but still have to do some regrading in a section of the lawn.
posted by Maarika at 5:42 AM on November 3, 2014

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