Your basement can be a treasure trove of extra living space when finished properly, but there are pitfalls to this. One of the most concerning is the propensity for dampness that many basements have. Of course, what makes them so vulnerable to dampness and flooding is their subterranean placement. Because of their positioning below the ground, basements face a unique set of challenges, including pressure from the soil, perimeter flooding, and excessive hydrostatic pressure.
Leaking basement walls, therefore, are actually one of the more benign issues that can form in your home. Homes in Denver and Colorado Springs, CO, are more likely to see this issue in fall or in spring when the snow melts. Despite not being the worst issue that can form in your basement, leaking walls still need to be recognized and addressed to prevent long-term damage.
Wet Basement Walls: The Signs of Leaking
The most obvious sign that your walls are leaking, of course, is them being wet to the touch. If your basement walls look or feel damp and you cannot find another obvious source for the water – for example, a burst pipe or leaking appliance – then it is likely that your walls are leaking. Other signs of leaking basement walls include:
Mold will form very quickly in a basement that is damp and humid. If you notice mold formations around your basement, this is a sign that you have issues with water. While you may be tempted to ignore this, you should investigate. As harmless as mold may seem, it can actually damage your property and exacerbate pre-existing health conditions, as well as cause headaches, nausea, and skin irritation.
Wood rot is often found in spaces where there is already mold. This is partly because of the way certain molds can feed on rotten wood, but also because dampness is a huge contributor to wood rot. Wood that has started to rot will change in appearance, have a slimy feel when touched, and can become very soft and crumbly. Wood rot is a very serious issue in and of itself and can lead to sagging floors, leaking windows, and even warped floorboards.
Musty Basement Smells
If you notice a musty, slightly sweet odor in your basement and it simply will not go away, no matter how you try to clean the room, you should consider the possibility that you have an issue with dampness. Musty smells are often caused by mold, rotting organic material, and other issues that are commonly found in damp areas. The only way to effectively get rid of this musty smell is the removal of all rotting or damp organic material and mold, as well as a deep clean and dehumidification.
Increased Energy Consumption
If you notice a sudden spike in your energy usage and bills, this could well be a sign of dampness. Damp air is far harder to process than arid air. As such, basements that have leaking walls or other sources of moisture may cause your energy bills to rise by increasing the relative humidity inside your home. These increases can be very small at first but will quickly mount as your HVAC system deteriorates as a result of the extra strain.
The issue is that these are signs of general humidity in a property rather than signs specific to leaking walls. The strongest sign of leaking walls, other than the walls being damp to the touch, are small pools of water around the perimeter of a room. If you cannot see these more obvious indicators, you will have to rely on general warning signs.
If you see these signs but cannot quite tell if the source of the water is within your basement walls or outside of it, you will need a professional to conduct a more thorough investigation. A professional investigation will not only tell you what you are dealing with and the best possible solution. This will also help you get an idea of the cost of repairs so you can prepare.
What Causes a Basement Wall to Start Leaking?
Understanding why your walls are leaking is an important part of figuring out how to prevent or deal with the issue. There are a few potential causes when it comes to leaking basement walls, but they can be broadly split into two categories: seepage and structural damage.
Seepage is an unusual phenomenon since it allows water into your home without the presence of damage and without necessarily causing damage to your home. This makes it a fairly benign issue, but it can also be very hard to deal with precisely because of this. Seepage occurs thanks to the porous nature of poured concrete.
Despite being strong and tough, poured concrete is able to absorb water. As a result, basement walls that are set in very moisture-rich surroundings are likely to begin leaking. This happens as water from the exterior of the property slowly seeps through the wall.
This is most likely to register as slight dampness, and you may notice that hairline cracks are darker than the wall around them. However, in serious cases, you may see droplets forming over time. This is most likely a combination of seepage and condensation.
Structural damage of any kind to your basement can easily result in leaking walls and a serious issue with dampness. There are two main kinds of structural damage to watch out for: bowing walls and foundation damage.
Bowing walls are one of the easiest forms to spot. Once the issue advances to a certain point, you will have clear visual evidence that allows you to identify it at a glance. Walls that have started to bow or buckle will either bulge in the middle or start to lean, usually with the top edge of the wall having the most pronounced deviation. This issue will inevitably lead to cracking and allow water to enter your basement, but it can have a host of other nasty side effects, including the collapse of affected walls and a sagging upper floor.
Settlement and subsidence are the most common issues that require foundation repair. Both of these can damage walls indirectly by destabilizing the overall structure of a property. Settlement, for example, occurs when sections of a property’s foundation sink into voids left behind by receding or shifting soil. This can lead to the walls that are reliant on damaged sections of foundation and cracking under the strain. Subsidence, by contrast, is a type of sinking that can lead to walls cracking or buckling as a property sinks unevenly and the weight of the structure is distributed in an unbalanced manner.
Whatever the particular issue, foundation damage is one of the leading causes of dampness and wider structural issues within Colorado properties. If you suspect you may have damage to your foundation, you should contact a professional as soon as possible.
Each of these issues has a unique set of underlying causes and co-occurring issues you may have to deal with. This is why it is so important that you involve an expert in the assessment process. Getting the right diagnosis is the first step toward an effective repair process.
Frequently Asked Questions about Leaking Basement Walls
If your basement walls are wet to the touch or have puddles of water pooling at their base, there is a leak somewhere in your home. Of course, the source could be a leak from plumbing or appliances above the wall, but if you can find no obvious source, the walls themselves could be leaking.
Poured concrete walls are uniquely susceptible to leaking because of a process called seepage. Seepage is what happens when water comes into close contact with a porous substance, like concrete, for a prolonged period. If your home is subject to strong hydrostatic pressure or the soil around it is frequently saturated, your basement walls may start to weep.
This process is surprisingly benign. In fact, even completely healthy walls can experience seepage. The absence of a particular point of damage, however, is what makes seepage so hard to deal with. Generally speaking, there are two options for walls that are experiencing seepage: waterproofing or exterior moisture management, like drains.
Of course, the most obvious cause of a leaking basement wall is damage. Cracks and crevices that penetrate the full depth of a wall act as channels for water to enter your home. There are many things that will lead to cracks in your walls, but the most common are hydrostatic pressure and expansive soil. Hydrostatic pressure can cause damage directly with the use of extreme lateral force. In severe cases, this can cause the walls to lean or bow inwards, gradually widening cracks over time.
Expansive soil can also cause damage like this. In fact, expansive soil and hydrostatic pressure are often connected. Expansive soils, however, are usually the cause of foundation damage. Foundation damage may cause your walls to leak by damaging them indirectly. A foundation that is settling or subsiding will have an effect on your basement walls and floors. This instability may cause the weight of your structure to be unevenly distributed. The walls that are forced to bear the brunt of the weight will likely crack or crumble over time.
When the leaks in your basement walls are relatively small, it can be tempting to think you don’t need to intervene, especially if you don’t use your basement often. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons you should worry about leaky basement walls.
Even a small amount of water leaking through your basement walls can cause a massive spike in the humidity of your house. This can have many different effects, but the most noticeable are mold formation and an increase in energy costs. Mold and mildew go hand in hand with humidity, and while many kinds are benign, others can damage your property and even your health. Some kinds of mold even cause headaches, respiratory issues, skin irritation, and exacerbate pre-existing issues.
Humid air will also have an effect on your property’s HVAC system. This is because humid air is harder to process than arid air. As such, your HVAC system has to work harder to give you the same results when you are dealing with humidity in your home. This not only increases wear and tear on the system, but increases energy consumption and your energy bills.
Dampness and humidity (the mold infestations that they can lead to) are also dangerous to the structure of your property. This is most obvious when the cause is a cracked or bowing wall, of course. Once a wall is damaged, any increase of pressure is likely to damage it further. This will then allow more water in and create a vicious cycle.
Even seepage can cause structural damage, however. Exposed pipes, wires, and wooden supports are at risk in a consistently humid basement. Corrosion, rust, and wood rot can all take root with surprising speed and will result in more complex and dangerous issues, like plumbing floods and over spanned joists. As such, it is best to deal with humidity and dampness as soon as possible.
Homes that have problems with dampness are very prone to mold formation and spread. This has many different side effects, including unpleasant smells, but many people will tell you that mold isn’t harmful. Unfortunately, this is just not true; mold can be very harmful to your health and your home.
Irritation and Inflammation
There are many different species of mold, and while some are benign and non-harmful, there are many that are absolutely toxic if inhaled or ingested. Mold spores are tiny and will spread throughout a property via the HVAC system in very little time. Worse still, they cannot be seen with the naked eye and a single spot of mold on a wall can spread tens of thousands of spores. Incidentally, this is why you shouldn’t just cut mold away from bread; the spores will be all over the loaf.
These airborne spores can cause a huge number of issues, from skin irritation and infection to lightheadedness and dizzy spells. There are some species of mold, like black mold, that can also cause migraines and trouble breathing. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, these kinds of mold can be incredibly dangerous. In fact, they could be lethal for anyone who has a chronic respiratory condition.
Certain species of mold are also dangerous to the structure of your home. More specifically, they can damage exposed wooden structures within your home. As such, any wooden support joists in your basement that come into contact with mold spores can quickly become damaged. This process will be quicker, of course, if they have already been affected by dampness.
Mold needs organic material to thrive, and damp or rotting wood is a perfect meal. As mold spreads over the surface of a wooden joist, it will gradually become weaker. Over time, this can lead to over span and cause the joist to lose its load-bearing capability. The result of this will be a sagging main floor in your home. Of course, this process is not limited to wooden supports. Drywall, wooden window frames, and even your property’s floorboards can be affected by mold formation.
The precise solution for your leaking basement walls really depends on the source of the moisture. If your wall is damaged and buckling, the solution will be different than if you are simply experiencing seepage. If there are underlying structural issues at work, these will often have to be addressed first.
It is important that you, first and foremost, have your home properly inspected. This will ensure that all underlying causes and damages are identified and dealt with in full during the process. It is important that this is undertaken by someone who is knowledgeable and skilled; there are often many different and subtle factors at work.
A full, professional inspection will also ensure the repair solution is tailored to suit your home and your unique needs. By considering and accounting for all factors, a basement waterproofing specialist will give you the best possible results the first time around. More than this, they will be able to warn you about co-occurring problems.
Once you’ve had a proper assessment of your home, the first step will be to stabilize and repair any underlying damage. Of course, structural damage will take precedent, as it is the most immediately dangerous. Once structural issues, like bowing walls, have been dealt with, repairs can begin on secondary damage like wood rot.
Basement waterproofing will be the last part of the process but is arguably one of the most important stages. Waterproofing will not only prevent secondary issues like mold formation and wood rot from reforming but will make the environment in your home far more pleasant. Waterproofing can even lower your energy bills!
Leaking Walls: The Damage and the Solutions
Leaking walls can be surprisingly complex to deal with. This is because of how serious the potential causes are and how likely it is for seepage to be involved. Whatever the cause of the leaking, dampness and humidity in your home can be incredibly damaging. Of course, when there are already structural issues to contend with, this becomes a little more daunting.
Getting a professional involved as early as possible will go a long way toward making the repair process smooth. If the underlying cause of your leaking walls is damage as a result of foundation problems, the repairs could be extensive and may require heavy excavation. That can be paired with the installation of specialist supports and products.
Bowing walls will require structural repairs before the dampness can be dealt with. In this case, wall anchors or beams are the most likely solution, though walls that have not deviated far may be eligible for reinforcement.
After structural repairs have been completed, it is likely that waterproofing will be the next step. If your leaking walls are caused by seepage, basement waterproofing may be your only option. The precise nature of your waterproofing process will depend on your needs and the state of your home. You should discuss this with a professional to get an idea of how extensive this process will be.
Generally speaking, however, if your basement is completely bare, a waterproofing specialist will suggest that you at least invest in interior drainage, a sump pump, and a dehumidifier.
Choose Complete Basement Systems for Waterproofing
If your basement walls are wet to the touch and there is a musty smell brewing in the area, it’s time to contact Complete Basement Systems and book a free home inspection. We know it can be tempting to try to address the issue alone, but a professional job will give you far better results. Knowledge is power, after all, and we know just what it takes to make sure that your property offers a safe and healthy environment. As basement waterproofing experts in Colorado Springs and Denver, CO, we are here to help anyone concerned about their home. Don’t forget to ask our experts about our transferable warranties and guarantees for total peace of mind.