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Crawlspace Moisture Problem Solution: Vapor Barriers, Proper Drainage and Foundation Vent Fan Can Help

I have a major moisture problem with a home that is one block from Lake Michigan in South Haven, MI. I have a working sump pump below ground level and am still having rotting problems with the floor joists. A local contractor wants to staple plastic to the joists or lay it on the ground. Would you recommend either of these as a solution?

Our Answer

Moisture management typically involves several solutions working together. Adding plastic sheathing over the soil as a crawl space vapor barrier is a good start. Also check your outside drainage conditions. Gutters must be clean, free-flowing and discharging four to six feet from the foundation. Grading also has to slope away. (See our article on wet basement and crawl space tips.) If the crawlspace moisture problem is severe, another step might be to install a crawl space foundation vent fan, wired into a humidistat. The fan can be set to kick on whenever humidity gets high enough and pull drier outside air through the space to minimize condensation on the floor joists and the potential rot, mold and insect problems that could ensue.

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red paint, concrete

Learn to Repair and Paint Concrete Foundation Walls

I just purchased a new home with a solid poured concrete wall foundation. I am not looking to "finish" the basement, but I would like to paint the concrete foundation walls to brighten up and make the basement look clean.  Is there a material that I can use that would also fill in all the little holes in the concrete and paint the walls at the same time?

Our Answer

Solid concrete foundation walls are about as good as it gets for a strong base for your home.  The concrete walls themselves are not really designed to be a finished surface, as the steel forms leave ridges when they are removed, and small voids where air has settled in the concrete results in pock marks.  These ridges and pock marks, as well as even minor shrinkage cracks on the concrete foundation should be considered minor and mostly cosmetic.

Basement wall paints tend to be fairly thick and  no matter what you do, the concrete walls will not be silky smooth.  If the concrete wall has any large areas that need repair, I'd recommend the products from Quikrete.  These patches and fillers do a good job on repairing holes and voids in concrete. After the repair, you can paint the solid concrete foundation walls using paint specially formulated for concrete.

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Wet Concrete Floor

I am having a problem with the concrete floor in one of the rooms of the house we moved in to. Every time it rains the floor is wet. I don't know if there is any kind of sealant on it or not. The rest of the house has linoleum. But this room is just concrete. What can I do to fix this problem? Will the new flex seal work? or do I need to try something else?

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Best Soil for Keeping Water Out of House

My basement floods every spring and during heavy rains. I read your tip on sloping soil away from the house to deter water from collecting and making its way in. You said to use clean fill soil - not top soil. Can I use sand if I cover it with topsoil and grass? I have a bunch of sand with nothing to do with it, so I'm hoping to put it to good use here. 

Our Answer

You need to find another use for all that sand, because sand will do nothing to help your leaky basement!  Clean fill dirt works best because it's less pervious - that is, it lets in less water than top soil or sand.  You want rainwater and precipitation to run over the soil, not through it and into your house. 
Another leading cause of leaky basements is improperly designed gutters.  Extending gutters far enough from your home is another crucial form of protection against basement leaks, floods, and moisture.

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Humidistat Fan or Dehumidifier for Damp Crawlspace?

I live in Nashville, where it's quite humid.  I moved into my first house last August and we have a stand-up crawlspace.  Around the exterior of the crawlspace, the builder put in four vents.  About a month after moving in, we started to see what looked like mildew and/or mold growing on the walls of the crawlspace.  I had a "mold guy"  come in and he recommended a dehumidifier.  I had a friend of mine who knows quite a bit about DIY stuff come to my house and he recommended getting a humidistat fan instead.  Before I rush out and buy one and put one in, what do I need to know about using humidistat fans?  Are there certain factors that make them uneffective that I need to be aware of?

Our Answer

Either approach - a dehumidifier or a humidistat fan - is a good approach. 
If you go with a humidistat, first make sure you have a vapor barrier across your entire crawlspace floor.  You also need to ensure that the vents on the opposite sides of the crawlspace open, so that once the fan kicks on, it pulls air from the crawlspace outward. 
If you opt for a dehumidifier, I personally just installed one from the Santa Fe Compact line and am very happy with it.  The version I selected is designed specifically for crawlspaces.  It's small - only 12 x 12 x 22 inches, yet hangs from the floor joists and takes out an impressive 70 pints of water each day.

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How to Paint a Peeling Basement Floor

I have a basement floor that has been painted at least once, and probably with an oil base.  The current topcoat was a latex paint. 

In preparing to paint the floor with a concrete water-based acrylic floor coating, we are seeing the current floor coating bubble and chip off. This is from damp mopping and we plan to use a TSP cleaner.   Do we need to completely sand all the paint off?  Do we need to scrape the floor and sand it?  Is there a sealer for the floor that will seal the old paint so it won't bubble and then chip and become the base for our new paint? 

The basement is unfinished and I'm simply trying to update the paint on the walls and floors to freshen everything.

Our Answer

The first rule of painting is this: Don't put good paint over bad paint!  You need to first strip off the old.  But before taking the time and trouble to do that, consider alternatives such as laminate flooring.  Laminate flooring is a dream solution in situations like yours: It's inexpensive, extremely durable, and provides a very finished look to a space.  It's also completely damp-proof, and therefore perfectly suited for basements.  By the time you're done stripping and repainting all that old paint, you'll find laminate floor could've been put down in a fraction of the time.  Based on what you described, it really is the best option.

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What’s the Cause of Spotty Radiant Heat?

Hi!  I am a new member and cant tear myself away from your website and show.  I purchased my first home last year in upstate New York.  It is a small 1922 farmhouse that was mostly move-in ready.  After spending a year here, I have learned what improvements should be made.  Going into winter, I have a big concern about my radiators.  

I have hot-water radiators throughout the house, zone-controlled, with a thermostat on both floors.  I noticed that the second floor radiators don't provide sufficient heat when compared to the first floor.  I chalked this up to their distance from the boiler, but after closer inspection, i discovered the culprit: Though the pipes are new copper and seemingly updated, I learned that there is actually no "Send" for the second floor rads.  There is a zone valve for the return, but the second floor supplies are all tapped out of the first-floor send.  I didn't catch this before purchasing the home, but the more I learn, this seems like trouble.  

Is this as large an energy-waste as I think it is?  It seems like the radiator is pushing and pulling in ways that it isn't plumbed for.  Would running a supply line be best, or should I leave it alone?  I feel that with the proper plumbing, I will get much more heat and efficiency from the boiler.  

Thank you so much for your input, and I look forward to hearing your replies.

Our Answer

First, welcome to the Money Pit!  I'm glad to hear you've gotten a lot out of the show and website. 
My advice for you: This is NOT a DIY project.  There are a number of possible causes for the inconsistency among your radiators, but I don't have information to confidently diagnose the problem.  For example, is it a hot water system or steam?  From a consumer perspective the two can look identical, but they're plumbed differently. 
This is a case where I'd spend time finding an experienced plumber, one with a reputation of successfully servicing older houses, and get a diagnosis.  If after that happens you still have questions, fell free to send us the information provided by the plumber or heating contractor, and we can take it from there.  Good luck!

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Can I Lay Hardwood Floor in a Dry Basement?

Hey guys, I enjoy listening to your show and I'm looking for some help with basement flooring:

We have extended gutters, gravel and sealant around the exterior of our home's foundations, and a French drain which empties into two different sump pumps. So water in our basement is not a problem. However, there is a lot of dust like you mentioned on your program, so I agree that carpet  in our basement wouldn't be a good idea.

The basement floor is not level.  There are small cracks and such, so tile would probably break over time, and is too expensive. I'm trying to do most everything myself and on a budget. There is a lumber yard just down the street and they can cut fresh planks that I'm thinking about laying down over some underlayment, and then sanding, sealing and staining the plank on top. Any thoughts or other ideas? If I do go with wood, do I need to put down anything underneath between the concrete and the underlayment? Thanks!

Our Answer

Good work on taking all the measures necessary to keep your basement dry.  That said, putting down wood planks in a basement is never a good idea, even if the space is dry.  Concrete inevitably holds moisture and humidity, so they often rot and decay. 
If you're looking for a wood look, the best type of wood flooring for your basement is engineered hardwood.  It looks like regular hardwood except it's laminated. Engineered hardwood is put together with that are glued together at opposing angles.  The top layer is attractive hardwood, but its under layers are for structure - they won't warp or twist when they get damp. 
You could also consider a laminate floor, which can look like wood or tile or even stone, but are dimensionally stable.  Both engineered hardwood and laminate require underlayment, and both float - that is, they don't connect to floor.  They feature locking tongue and groove technology, and simply snap together and apart.  

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Wet Basement: House Foundation Deteriorating

A few years ago we used locktight on our basement walls to help with a wet basement its working great, our problem is and I'm not sure if its related but the outside of the block is flaking off now  or chipping off, and its only happening where we painted on the locktight on the inside.  What can we do to fix this?  We have been told its from being wet and then when the temp. went below freezing is what is causing this.  Just need a fix it looks disqusting.  Thanks for your help.

Our Answer

What you are describing is known as "spalling.".  It happens when the block gets wet, and then freezes.  The water trapped inside the block expands and then breaks off small bits of the block, brick or stucco as it goes.

I'm glad to hear that your basement has not flooded recently, however, the solution you took by just painting the walls most likely put off this inevitable deterioration.  The best way to stop a basement from leaking is to address the real cause of the problem, which is ALWAYS roof and surface drainage.  In short, you must have a well designed gutter system that is clean and free-flowing, with downspouts extended at least 4-6 feet from the foundation.  In addition, the grade at the foundation perimeter must slope away from the home by at least 6 inches over the first 4 feet.  These details are better explained in this article on how to stop a wet basement.

As for the cosmetic damage you are now reporting, I would recommend that, AFTER you address the source of excessive moisture as explained above, you apply an epoxy patching compound the damage areas, and then repaint the foundation.

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Alternate Tar Coating for Cinderblock Foundation?

I recently offset and reconstructed a retaining wall against my house, which exposed more of the basement's exterior cinder block wall.   This previously underground cinder block has tar coating on it for waterproofing, and my wife and I hate how it looks.  We don't really want to tar the rest of the wall, and I know the existing tar will not come off without a sandblaster.  Any suggestions on what might look nicer?  I'm hoping  something like a white tar coating exists, just so it looks nice.

Any ideas?

Thanks

Theodore

Our Answer

There's a brand of foundation coating called Tanner Tuff II.  It's available at Home Depot and comes in several colors, including concrete grey and white. 
As with all coatings, you need to make sure the surface you're applying it to is clean and dry.  And most importantly, don't remove the existing coating.  It was put there for a reason, and scraping it off won't have positive results.

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Basement Soundproofing

My wife and I are having a home built this summer. We have two young children, ages 4 and 12. We have a family/rec room and two bedrooms planned for the basement, and want to see what we can have our builder do to: 1) reduce noise transfered from the upstairs to the downstairs (and vice versa), and 2) reduce the noise from the family room to the adjacent bedrooms. 

The ceiling will be an I-Joist system. We plan on a drop ceiling, especially since plumbing will be present above. Any particular brand or product line that will work well, but be somewhat cost effective? Something that is attractive and modern, ideally. Also, the main floor flooring materials will be a combination of carpet and hardwoods. 

Thank you,

Leo in Iowa

Our Answer

The downside of a drop ceiling is that it leaves you limited options for soundproofing the basement. 
It may be possible to use a soundproof underlayment under the hardwood floor upstairs (above the basement), but doing so will make floor thicker.  There are other inexpensive options for reducing noise, too, but they change the room's aesthetics, and might not be as permanent or effective as you'd like.  
If I were in your shoes, I'd use sound resistant drywall on ceiling.  No need to worry about plumbing and electrical in ceiling, as these exists behind ALL drywall.  If you take this route, there's product called QuietRock that works well for soundproofing.  It's drywall specifically designed to reduce sound transmission - so much so that it's often used in recording studios and practice spaces.  Keep in mind, though, that in addition to drywall, special preparation of all functions in your ceiling will be necessary, including electrical boxes and spaces where ducts come through.  All those gaps have to be properly sealed to prevent noise from transferring from one side to the other.  If they're not, the QuietRock loses its effectiveness. 
If this job's done well, your kids can start basement band and you'll never hear them...well, except when you want to, of course!  Good luck. 

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Painting Concrete Block

Tom and Leslie,

i live in northwest florida and my house is on a hill.  the crawl space is very spacious.  i have over 300 square feet of concrete floor with a 8.5 foot ceiling.  the space is not damp due to the dehumidifier that is drained to the exterior and the proactive approach to properly draining my gutters.  what i would like to do is apply a coat of paint to the concrete block to make this space a little more attractive.  i did a little research and found that the hardware store has a moisture blocking paint but moisture is not a problem.  i could apply a primer.  do you know of any paints that would be appropriate in this space?

Mark Flores

Our Answer

There are many coatings that would work well on concrete block.  Just make sure the product is listed as a "masonry" paint or finish. One example is this Textrured Acrylic Coating from Quickrete.

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How to Dry Out a Leaky Basement

Hello I've lived in my home for 15 yrs now and my basement has leaked for as long as I remember but it's only when we have a heavy rainfall or snow melt. I've just recently found a small hole that's the size of a Nail head at the bottom of my foundation. What I was wondering is can I fill that hole with a type of silicone w/I having to dig up my yard to fix this issue or will filling this hole cause me more problems? I can't afford to pay a contractor or a basement expert I'm a single mom and I've received all kinds of advise but all I'm hearing is to dig up my drains which is $$$ and I just can't do that. So was wondering if u had any advise. The other thing is it's not on the outer wall it's on an inner wall if that makes any sense. Any advise would be helpful. My daughters room is down there and this has ruined so many things in the past so I'm hoping you can give me some advise Ty for your time.

Our Answer

What you are describing is a very common occurance.  These basement waterproofing tips will help.  Because this only happens when snow melts or when it rains, it proves the point that you do not have adequate drainage for your home. 

You must have enough gutters and downspouts.  You also need to make sure those downspouts extend away from the foundation.  The gutters should be periodically clearned. 

The ground near the foundation should slope away from it.  These steps solve 99% of wet basement issues.

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Leaking Basement Fireplace

What is an inexpensive way to stop my basement fireplace from leaking all over my basement floor, destroying everything in its path????

Our Answer

First off, we need to deal with both the potential of a leaking chimney and a leaking basement, because they are clearly working together to create this issue.

First, examine the exterior of the chimney, looking for cracks and gaps where water can get through.  Secondly, look at the top of the chimney.  In fact, it's is very common to for rain to get in through a damaged chimney crown - which is the concrete surface that goes between the clay flue and the exterior of the brick edge.  

If you don't have a chimney cap, you should install one.  That's advisable because it slows down the amount of rain water getting into the chimney.

Next, look at the drainage conditions around your house.  Soil around the foundation of the whole house, but especially where chimney is, should slope away from the foundation.  Gutters should be clean and free flowing with downspouts directed away at at least 4-6 feet from house.  All those actions will reduce or at least slow the water coming in. 

As a final step, you may want to apply a masonry sealer around the the exterior of the chimney.  Masonry sealers are specially designed to be vapor permeable.  That means while the sealer will keep most of the water out, it will still allow moisture to evaporate out of the brick exterior in winter - so the bricks won't freeze and break.

Good luck and let us know how it works out!

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How To Attach Lally Column to Steel I-Beam

I have a steel I-beam my in basement and permanent lally columns that are cemented into the basement floor. What is the proper method of attaching the lally colums to the steel I-beam?  If it were a wooden center beam, I could nail or bolt through the lally tabs into the beam. Is there a similar approach for steel?  Thanks, Larry

Our Answer

In residential constructions you'll often, surprisingly, find the two unattached.  They're basically weighted from the top down, with the weight above them holding the lally and I-beam into place.  However, the proper approach is, yes, bolting.  Insert the bolt through a plate on the top column and through the I-beam.