The traditional American basement is becoming a less common feature of modern homes, but if you’re buying existing stock or want to remodel your current property, chances are there’s a basement that needs attention. The National Association of Home Builders report less than a quarter of single-family homes built in 2018 have basements, so while people buying new are less likely to have a basement to work with, the majority of people own an older home so it’s a space you could be benefiting from but in many cases, probably leave neglected.
Many people avoid even looking into their basement because it’s nothing more than a damp and dingy storage space or somewhere to put all the junk that has nowhere else to live. A damp basement is different from damp in other spaces in your home because it’s below ground, and this can make the damp more difficult to deal with. Despite this, it is more than possible to transform even the dankest basement into a comfy and cozy space to enjoy as a family.
Why Do Basements Suffer From Dampness?
Basements are much more prone to damp than any other area in the home because they’re below ground. The walls of your basement are earth retaining and this earth is usually saturated by groundwater. The moisture from below the ground is forced through the basement walls through hydrostatic pressure. This is why it is important to protect your basement against damp as it can cause serious damage to brickwork and foundation of your home, as well as internal surfaces. There are different ways to prevent and minimize damp in your basement.
Basements are often left or only used for storage, which means homeowners often don’t give them the attention they need to remain in the best condition. They’re usually poorly heated and ventilated, so both damp and humidity are uncontrolled. If damp is left long-term, it can lead to serious decay problems such as wet and dry rot, so eradicating damp as soon as possible is your best bet. Beyond this, the value of your property will positively benefit from a beautifully designed and cozy additional living space below the ground.
Health Concerns Linked to Damp and Wet Basements
Moisture problems in your basement can lead to harmful health issues if not dealt with. Mold and mildew grow quickly in damp spaces, especially beneath wall coverings and carpets, so if you’re considering remodeling your basement, damp and moisture issues need to be dealt with first. Bacteria flourish in damp spaces so your wet basement could be home to all kinds of disease-causing germs. What’s more, damp spaces also attract rodents and vermin, as the humid conditions created by damp are a perfect breeding ground for rats and mice. No one wants a vermin infestation in their home and, of course, the risk of infection and disease is higher once again.
Consider the following options to get your wet basement into shape before your remodel and ensure no moisture issues are going to cause a problem.
Preparing your Basement for Remodeling
There are few options when looking to get your basement ready for a makeover. You can look at damp proofing and waterproofing but to begin, it’s important to look for defects and issues with your home’s structure, which should be dealt with first. External defects to your building such as leaking rainwater goods, hollow rendering or defective paving or paths near to the basement could be adding to the moisture entering your home, so these defects are where you should begin. Next, it’s time to look at damp or waterproofing.
Damp proofing and Waterproofing
It is important to understand the real difference between damp proofing and waterproofing your basement space. Damp proofing is a process that is designed to keep out moisture from the soil from the space. Waterproofing keeps out both the moisture from the soil and streams of water in liquid form.
Waterproofing your basement is required in certain areas, while in others, damp proofing may be enough. Buildings have traditionally been damp proofed for years, and for some time, this process was described as waterproofing, despite it not providing the same protection as a full waterproofing service. The International Residential Code Section R406 specifies the conditions which require damp proofing or waterproofing. It lays out guidelines which state any concrete or masonry foundation walls:
“that retain earth and enclose interior spaces and floors below grade shall be dampproofed from the top of the footing to the finished grade”.
The International Residential Code also states permissible materials which can be used for damp proofing which include acrylic-modified cement and bituminous coatings.
When it comes to full waterproofing, the IRC state it is necessary in areas:
“where a high-water table or other severe soil-water conditions are known to exist.”
Depending on where you live, this should identify the particular approach you need to prepare your basement space.
Damp proofing is usually an asphalt-based coating which is sprayed or applied by hand to the exterior of the wall. It has some drawbacks including not being able to seal large cracks and holes and the risk of damage if not applied correctly. Damp proofing can be effective if it is used alongside the correct surface drainage, professionally fitted foundation drains and no hydrostatic pressure driving water infiltration. If these conditions are met, a damp proofing course can be more than effective before you begin decorating and remodeling the basement space.
Waterproofing your home’s foundation requires the same processes as damp proofing when it comes to treating surfaces and the drainpipe fitting but it’s much more exacting and specific when treating the walls directly. If you have any doubt that damp proofing may not be enough or you know you live in an area which meets the specifications laid out by the IRC, then waterproofing is more than worth the additional cost.
Damp proofing does not stop water bearing against your home’s foundation and it can feel like enough to simply damp proof and get on with it. Remember, damp proofing only impedes moisture, and it cannot stop a flow of water bearing against your home’s foundations and walls.
Once you have fully prepared the space, it’s time to consider how you want your new basement to look and feel and how to make it as cozy and warm as possible.
Creating a Cozy Livable Basement Space
Once you’ve turned your wet and dingy basement into a blank canvas, you can begin to create the living space you’re hoping for. Whether it’s a second living room, a playroom or even a bedroom, there are tips and tricks to turn your basement into a functional additional room.
Solving Unsightly Issues
Almost all basements house one thing or another which doesn’t fit in well with your design for a stylish new living space. Deal with problem areas efficiently with solutions such as boxing in ductwork with drywall or lower the ceiling to cover any ducts you don’t want on show. You may also need to invest in a dehumidifier, depending on the quality of ventilation in your space.
Layer up the Light
Most basements do not benefit from much natural light, in fact many don’t have windows at all. Layered lighting is an effective way to brighten up your room, you can add it or remove it as needed. Opting for lighting options such as recessed or track lighting spaced throughout the room can help to remove shadowy corners and the basement will feel larger and much more open. If you’d prefer the room to be warmer and more relaxed in atmosphere, you could opt for accent lighting with wall sconces, floor lamps or task lighting in dedicated desk or shelved spaces. Install each lighting source in the space so it can be accessed and turned on and off inpidually, allowing you to brighten up or dim down the space as you need.
Cut out the Chills
One of the most basic requirements all basements need is good insulation. Getting the insulation right will help to ensure the space is warm and comfortable. Most basements only have bare concrete walls so you should invest in high quality insulation to ensure the room feels as comfortable as possible. You could also consider wood paneling your basement, as this provides additional insulation and helps to create a snug and cozy feel.
Expand the Visual Space
Some homes have large and spacious basements with plenty of scope for creating two or more rooms but others have a much smaller area, where you need to make the most of your space and create the illusion of even more. With the right design features even the smallest space can appear larger so consider vertical stripes or elegant chevron patterns, which create a trendy look and with plain and gentle colors can also help give the illusion of space. Mirrors can also open up a space and spread the light around your room evenly.
The right colorways will be the difference between a warm and inviting basement and a dark and uncomfortable space. Lighter colors are ideal for walls and ceilings to keep shadows at bay, but bright blasts of color can really bring the space alive. The furniture and other elements can be used to add this vibrancy and bring warmth to the space. Bright white is not the best choice for a basement as it can make the space feel stark and cold. Creams and caramels are better and still bring the lightness you’re looking for. Your personal touch can come to life as you add in furnishings, choose your furniture, and accessorize the space.
Most basements have boring and lifeless suspended ceilings or old, worn out tiles and while both provide a practical and affordable solution for ceiling fittings, they don’t add much character to your space. Opt for a ceiling tile which has a pattern or architectural detailing, to give your basement a more refined look. You could even consider a metal or reflective tile to reflect the light and once again bring more light into your space.
Basements tend to have lower ceilings than other rooms in the home, so you need to place closer attention on scale. Think about your basement in terms of vertical height and choose items which will highlight its positives. Low-height sofas and chairs will draw attention away from the low ceiling and soft, luxurious materials such as suede create the warm coziness you’re looking for.
Warm Hard-Wearing Flooring
Basement flooring needs to withstand the moisture that surrounds the space. Your flooring needs to be hard-wearing but must also help to keep the space warm. The most common options are laminate or vinyl flooring tiles as they are moisture-resistant and come in a wide range of colors and styles – a bright or patterned tile could be the main feature of your space. Cork flooring has also become popular as it’s soft and durable and feels warm when walked upon. Carpeting is only recommended if you are sure your basement is 100% waterproofed and there is no risk of leaks. It’s a great way to add warmth to your space if you’re sure you can keep the carpets in good condition.
Maximize the Value and Potential of your Basement
Leaving your basement wet and uncared for has the potential to be damaging to the whole foundation of your home, as well as potentially becoming a health hazard. Even if you don’t plan to use your basement regularly, damp proofing or waterproofing should be a minimum you do to keep your home protected. What’s more, turning it into an extra living or bedroom adds value to your home and gives you even more space to enjoy. It could become your guest bedroom or a playroom for the kids to keep them busy. There are endless possibilities when you take the time to waterproof and remodel that wasted space below the rest of your home. The investment is worth it when you have even more home to enjoy.