“White Stuff” on the Basement Wall: Mold, or Mineral Salt?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Roy in Maryland, what’s going on at your money pit?

    ROY: I’m having a problem down in my basement area in reference to my closet – two closet areas. The basement is made out of gray brick but the basement is completely finished. And I noticed that I see a lot of mold and wetness, you know, around in the brick area. Also, I was reading some information that you had on the website – before you start hiring contractors. I did have an inspector come in and she took some pictures and everything. What I’m trying to find out, do I need to use a professional contractor to fix this problem? Or how can I relieve this problem?

    TOM: Well first of all, if what you’re seeing is on the masonry surface, it’s probably not mold. It’s probably mineral salt deposits.

    LESLIE: Does it look white?

    ROY: It’s kind of – kind of white and brown.

    TOM: Yeah, it sounds to me like it’s mineral salt deposits. Mold does not generally grow on a masonry surface. You get moss on the outside, which is more of a plant growth, but inside in a basement area, generally it’s mineral salt. What happens is you get moisture in the wall on the outside and then the moisture sort of evaporates into the basement air, Roy. And then what happens is it leaves the mineral salts that are in the groundwater behind. And that’s what is that sort of brown, crusty – whitish brown crusty stuff. And there’s an easy way to tell. Take some vinegar and spray it on that …

    LESLIE: Some white vinegar.

    TOM: … and it’ll melt it right away.

    ROY: Is that right?

    TOM: White vinegar, yeah. But it’s basically pointing to a deeper problem and that is that I think, Leslie, he probably needs to address some drainage issues outside.

    LESLIE: Yeah, you need to look at the outside of your house before you start addressing what’s going on on the inside. And there are a couple of things that you can take a look at, Roy.

    First, look at the gutters on your house. Make sure you have gutters, make sure you have enough for the size of your house and make sure you have enough downspouts. Now with your gutters, make sure they’re clean. Make sure you clean them out as often as you can or if you’re not going to get up there a lot to clean them, put some sort of cover on them so that the debris doesn’t get in there and sort of clog everything up. Then you want to make sure that the downspouts are clear so everything flows through nice and smoothly. And then you also want to make sure that where the downspouts deposit the water is not right next to your foundation. You want it to go as far away from the house as you can; minimum three feet. Get it away from there. So look at that.

    Then look at the grading, also, on the outside. You want to slope down about six inches over four feet. So it’s not drastic but it’s enough to get everything moving away. And if you can address those things, you can really keep the moisture down inside your house.

    ROY: Oh, OK. So that – based on what you’re telling me, I need to do these things first, as far as like trying to get a contractor to deal with any type of drainage issues. Check these areas first, am I correct?

    LESLIE: Yeah.

    TOM: Yeah, absolutely. Because the contractors that deal with moisture problems in the basement, in my opinion, are mostly dishonest.

    ROY: I believe that.

    TOM: The waterproofing contractors across this country don’t tell you the easy things to do, like improve your grading and drainage. What they like to do is to sell you expensive solutions that involve digging up the soil on the outside of your house or digging up the foundation and the floor area on the inside of your house and putting in expensive drainage systems. But if you’re getting moisture – and especially if your moisture’s consistent with rainfall – it’s always stemming from outside drainage issues. And the bottom line is that those are just easy to fix. And they can’t make money doing that so they don’t tell you about it.

    ROY: OK, well I really appreciate that. As I said, before one came over and was telling me about a different type of static pressure (inaudible) ….

    TOM: Aagh!

    ROY: … brick walls.

    TOM: No, you know what? That’s like – that’s the standard line. They try to scare you. They talk to you about hydrostatic pressure in the wall.

    ROY: Right.

    TOM: Well you know, it doesn’t make any sense if you think about it, Roy, because if you have water in the soil on the outside, even if they drain it on the inside, that pressure is going to be the same before, during and after.

    ROY: Oh.

    TOM: So you need to just improve your grading and drainage like Leslie is talking about and that’s going to stop the water from getting there. What I would do is I would go to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors …

    ROY: OK.

    TOM: … and put in your zip code and find an ASHI certified inspector in your area. Those guys are the best in the business. And if you put in your zip code, you’ll probably get eight or ten that come up or more. You can call through that list, find somebody you’re comfortable with and have them do an inspection of that basement. And that’s a good idea because those guys are not in the business to sell you any repairs; just to kind of get your problems straightened out.

    ROY: And that’s called American Home of Inspectors?

    TOM: The American Society of Home Inspectors – A-S-H-I.org.

    ROY: Oh, thank you so much. You’ve been extremely helpful.

    TOM: You’re welcome, Roy. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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