Whether you have drywall throughout your home or you have installed it in your basement to finish or partition the area, dampness is something that you should be concerned about. When drywall becomes damp or waterlogged, it starts to degrade very quickly and can even harbor mold, mildew, and pests, making the environment around it very unhealthy.
Of course, wet drywall is not just an issue. It is a warning sign of deeper problems at work in your home.
Drywall: The Basics
Many homes in Colorado, especially modern homes, make liberal use of drywall in their walls and ceilings. Likewise, when you hire a contractor to finish and convert your basement into a livable space, they will likely use drywall as it is a cost-effective and lightweight material.
This has a lot to do with how it is made. Drywall panels are made by sandwiching wet gypsum plaster between surface sheets. These sheets tend to be made of either fiberglass or heavy paper. Once formed, the panels are hardened with the application of heat.
The result is a fairly durable building material that is versatile enough for interior partition walls and cladding. It can be strengthened further with the addition of plaster. However, because of the nature of the materials used, drywall is incredibly vulnerable to water damage.
Of course, there is a range of pros and cons to consider when you’re thinking about using drywall in your home. The most obvious are:
- Easy to install
- Easy to remove and alter
- Easy to replace damaged panels
- Very vulnerable to water
- Prone to cosmetic damage unless plastered
- They can swell/separate over time making the joints more visible
- Installation can be a messy process
Of course, there is nothing you can do about the drywall that is already in your home, but these are points to consider when planning future renovation work.
Why Worry About Wet Drywall?
There are a few reasons you should be concerned about wet drywall in your home. As well as being structurally unstable, it can create a very unhealthy environment for you and your family. Here are some of the consequences of wet drywall in your basement:
Mold and Mildew Formation
Wet drywall provides the perfect environment for mold and mildew and will act as an incubator for any spores that take root in it. This is worrying not just because it can spread like wildfire to other damp panels and surfaces, but also because of the potential health impacts. Certain species of mold can be incredibly damaging to your skin and respiratory system, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.
Damaged or mold-ridden drywall is very attractive to certain kinds of pests. Insects like cockroaches, mold mites, and termites, for example, are more likely to make their home in damaged drywall. When they do, they will quickly spread through your home.
Wet drywall quickly loses its structural integrity and can collapse entirely over time if not dried out quickly. Worse still, the dampness and rot may spread to any wood that is in contact with drywall. This can impact the structural stability of your home as a whole.
These issues may not be overly severe in comparison to the issues that wet drywall can be a symptom of, but they certainly do not help. The removal or repair of damaged drywall panels, as well as the repair of any connected issues, will only add to your repair costs.
Problem Signs to Look Out For
Recognizing the signs of wet drywall early is key to minimizing the damage to both the wall in question and the rest of your property. Some of the warning signs are consistent with warning signs for dampness as a whole, but there are others that are specific to issues with drywall.
Musty Odors: A musty smell is a sign of rotting material or mold buildup in that area. If the smell is strongest around certain drywall panels, then it is very likely that they are wet and damaged.
Visible Mold: A visible mold formation on a drywall panel is one of the strongest signs of dampness and damage.
Condensation: Condensation on cool surfaces in your basement is a strong sign that you have issues with dampness at work. Condensation on cool surfaces, especially your walls, is a huge red flag.
Damaged Plaster: If you have plaster on your drywall, it will be very susceptible to dampness. When plastered drywall panels become wet, the plaster on top will start to crack, flake, or even fall away.
Sagging: Drywall that has been saturated for a prolonged period will lose its structural integrity and start to sag. If left alone, it could eventually start to break away from the frame holding it and collapse entirely.
Bubbling: If the plaster, paper, or drywall starts to bubble, this is a strong sign of dampness and damage at work.
One good way to tell if your drywall has become saturated is to put a small amount of pressure on it. If it feels bendy or springy to the touch, there is a chance that it has become wet and is starting to degrade. If you notice any of these signs, you should contact a professional to inspect the area.
Wet Drywall Is a Problem Sign of Bigger Issues
As inconvenient and unpleasant as wet, rotting, or mold-ridden drywall can be, it is also a warning sign of far more widespread issues. The signs of wet drywall, after all, are also indicative of a general issue with dampness in your home, which can be co-occurring with many other problems. Here are some of the most common issues that wet drywall can be a warning sign of:
Wet drywall can be caused by leaks in your plumbing system or attached appliances. If the joints between your pipes and sink are loose, for example, this can cause a low-level, persistent leak that will damage any drywall panels it comes into contact with. Likewise, leaking appliances, like a washing machine or water heater, can cause serious and lasting damage to your drywall, even if they happen only once.
If this is the cause of your wet drywall, then the damage is likely to be localized to the area around the internal leak. As such, your wet drywall acts as a pretty effective marker for where to start looking for leaks.
One of the most worrying causes of wet drywall is structural damage to your property. If the source of the water is not internal, then it must be entering your home from the outside. Cracks in your floor, foundation, and walls are some of the main reasons that a reasonably large amount of water can make its way into your home from outside.
Walls that are cracking or bowing as a result of excessive hydrostatic pressure from the soil around your home can let in a lot of water, for example. As can cracked flooring that is suffering as a result of foundational issues like settlement and subsidence. In short, any structural issues could lead to your drywall becoming saturated over time, especially if they go unnoticed.
High Relative Humidity
The level of humidity in your home can increase for a number of reasons. Whatever they are, if that humidity remains persistently high, your home will be damaged, and that doesn’t just include your drywall.
Generally speaking, if you notice condensation on your basement walls or other cool surfaces, the humidity in your home can be considered to have reached dangerous levels and should be dealt with quickly. If you do not deal with high levels of humidity, you will end up with issues like mold, mildew, pest infestation, and even sagging floors as a result of wood rot.
Leaking Window Wells
Leaking windows, window wells, and external basement access points or hatchways are another potential source of moisture. Some of these leaks can be very subtle, but over time, persistent leaks in these areas will present themselves in a number of ways. Leaking window wells, for example, will often cause the area beneath a window to become discolored, while a leaking basement hatchway is likely to leave puddles around the stairs.
These are the most visible causes of wet drywall, so that makes them easy to spot and deal with rapidly.
Seepage is one of the most insidious causes of wet drywall, and also one of the hardest to fix. Seepage occurs because concrete is porous in nature. Over time, it will absorb water. If the soil around your home drains slowly or is close to an underground water source, it is likely that water will start to literally leak through your walls and basement floor.
If you have a fully finished basement, it should have been waterproofed before drywall panels were installed, but this is not always the case. If seepage is at work, it is likely that every drywall panel that is in close proximity to your walls will be affected. The only option will be to remove damaged drywall, waterproof the basement, and place new drywall panels.
Each of these issues has a unique set of causes and consequences of its own, but wet or damaged drywall is a common symptom for each. As you can see, it pays to be aware of the health of your drywall panels at all times. They could very well act as an early alarm system for more serious problems in your home.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wet Drywall
If you have noticed that drywall panels in your basement seem to be damaged, flaking, sagging, or even crumbling, there are a few issues that could be at work.
Drywall is incredibly tough considering its weight, but it has a few vulnerabilities. Its attractiveness to pests and bugs is one such weakness. If your drywall has started to show visible signs of deterioration, it could be infested with termites. Look for the telltale tunnels near the base of the walls. Drywall infested with termites will be dry and brittle.
Secondly, the drywall could be infested with mold and mold mites. Mold is most likely to take root in damp and humid environments, but it does not require the drywall to be saturated in order to take root. Mold-infested drywall will often have visible mold formations as well as a distinctive, musty smell. Furthermore, it will feel soft and spongy to the touch if the damage is advanced.
Another possible cause of a visible, physical breakdown in your drywall is complete saturation. Drywall that is truly wet will lose its structure and load-bearing capabilities very quickly if untreated. This reaction is because of the way that the gypsum plaster core of the drywall reacts to being saturated (and it can be quite dramatic).
Drywall that is crumbling as a result of saturation will often shed any plaster that has been applied first and then begin to sag before crumbling. Once it has reached this stage, you may be able to pull some of the wall away by hand. If this is possible, it is time to call a professional. Saving the drywall will not be possible. You will need to investigate the source of damage and replace the affected panels.
Wet drywall is usually a co-occurring issue rather than the primary form of damage. It occurs because of an uncontrolled source of moisture somewhere nearby.
Internal leaks are a very common cause of wet drywall. Leaking pipes and appliances (for example, dishwashers or water heaters) are the most likely causes because the leaks tend to be so subtle that they can go unnoticed for a while. However, there are other possible culprits. A full-scale plumbing flood, for example, will saturate drywall in your basement.
In this case, wet drywall can be used to identify the general area of a leak because of the localized nature of the moisture source. Depending on the nature of the internal leak, too, you may have a chance of saving your basement drywall. It all depends on whether you can dry it out quickly enough to prevent mold and structural deterioration.
The most common causes of dampness in Colorado homes are cracked basement walls and foundation damage. If you have drywall panels covering your basement wall, it can be hard to tell if they are in good health. The exception to this, of course, is bowing walls that would eventually cause the drywall to bend and break as they leaned or bulged inwards.
Foundation damage like subsidence and settlement are most likely to show themselves as cracks in your basement flooring. If the cracks are severe, they may even let in enough water to form puddles. Cracked walls are more likely to cause drywall to become wet quickly because of their proximity, whereas you are far more likely to notice mold on your drywall before it is totally saturated when foundation damage is causing an increase in humidity.
You should not try to deal with wet drywall alone, even if you are relatively certain you know the cause of its saturation. It is far safer to call a professional.
You Don’t Know How Deep the Damage Goes
When it comes to wet drywall, there is really no way for you to know how far the damage stretches. One mold-infested panel, for example, could have infected many others with potentially harmful mold spores. Likewise, the most obvious moisture source may not be the only one at work. Leaking pipes, faulty appliances, and seepage often occur together.
If you don’t address all causes of moisture and all of the issues that the dampness has caused, the issues will start to reoccur when you install new drywall. Furthermore, leaving some of these issues unresolved could be dangerous to your home and your health. Mold spores can spread through your whole home, for example, and a leaking pipe can quickly become a burst one in winter. There are so many things that can go wrong when you attempt a DIY fix.
Professionals Work Quickly
A basement specialist will not only be able to identify all the causes of your wet drywall, but they will be able to safely and accurately assess the extent of the damage that has been caused. This means they will be able to create a tailored solution that works best for your home and provides you with the results that you need. From leaks to bowing walls, an expert will have the tools and skills to address whatever your home throws at them.
Furthermore, when the causes of dampness and humidity in your home are repaired and the co-occurring issues are addressed, they will make light work of waterproofing or structurally stabilizing your home. This will let you kick back and relax, safe in the knowledge that the problem is being dealt with properly. Finally, professionals guarantee a certain standard of work that a DIY job just cannot match. If something goes wrong, you can count on their support and guidance.
Dealing with Wet Drywall
How you should deal with wet drywall depends on when you notice the damage. If you suffer a plumbing flood, for example, you should seek advice as to how you can dry out your drywall panels before serious issues take root. If you catch this kind of issue quickly enough, there is no reason why wet drywall should need to be replaced.
If you notice that you have wet drywall because of bubbling plaster, mold, or other signs of damage, then it is likely that you will need to replace the affected panels. In this case, there are a few things that you should do.
Inspect the Area
If you notice signs of damage in your basement drywall, you should inspect the area to see if you can find an obvious cause for the moisture. Look for stains around the windows, standing water on the floor, and concentrations of mold. Make a note of the issues and warning signs you see.
Many of these issues can be hazardous to your health, so make sure you take appropriate precautions. Wear a face mask when investigating mold, for example, and protective gloves if you choose to inspect your pipes for signs of damage or corrosion. Simple measures like this will prevent irritation and injury.
Call a Professional
The best way to deal with this kind of damage is to call in a professional who knows what they are doing. A professional inspection will not only help you to figure out just how bad the damage to your drywall is but enable you to diagnose and deal with the underlying causes of the moisture.
There are plenty of basement waterproofing professionals across Denver and Colorado Springs, CO, who will be able to help you with this.
Choose Complete Basement Systems for Better Results
Complete Basement Systems has been waterproofing basements in the Colorado area for more than 20 years. We know what it takes to make your basement safe again. If you are having issues with dampness and wet drywall, book a free inspection with our team today. Our skilled inspectors will help you to find and fix the causes of dampness and damage in your home quickly and efficiently.