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4 Sneaky Signs that a Dry Basement Has a Water Leak Problem

Home inspection

During an inspection, a home’s basement might appear to be as dry as a bone. But the first time it rains, the new homeowners might have a different story. Wet basements are the bane of many homeowners’ existence. They prevent proper finishing, which limits the utility of the space. They can create mold problems and attract insects, too. Left unchecked, water infiltration can threaten the structural integrity of the house.

So how can you tell if a basement has a hidden water problem? Look for these four signs.

#1: Dank, Musty Odors

Water might be fresh when it arrives but it can leave a musty smell long after it has evaporated. That’s the classic, albeit unpleasant, smell of an old, damp basement. Dank, musty odors tend to be worse when the weather is warm, especially if heat is paired with humidity. But they can hang in the air much longer if the root of the problem isn’t corrected.

Mold and mildew are the causes of wet basement smell. Spores don’t die just because the water source has dried up. In very dry conditions, they can take flight and land throughout the basement, which causes a worsening mold and mildew problem the next time it rains. If you catch a whiff of stale, musty air, it’s time to investigate for other signs of water infiltration.

#2: Evidence of Mold or Mildew in Corners and Tight Spaces

You can’t always see mold and mildew spores, especially if the homeowner has scrubbed away the evidence. However, there are places where spores tend to thrive, and that’s in corners, along the edge of the floor where it meets the wall, behind appliances, under boxes and anywhere moisture might collect or evaporate more slowly.

Molds and mildews come in scores of different varieties and might be any color from yellow or purple to green or black. They might appear as light specks on a wall, fuzzy-looking residue on concrete block mortar or something a bit slimier. Where there’s mold, even if it’s dry, there has been a water problem.

Homeowners may try almost anything to control water infiltration or cover up the stains. This video shows some of the more common methods that usually don’t work.

#3: Paint Flaking off Masonry Walls

One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is applying waterproofing to the interior walls of a leaky basement. It doesn’t matter if the material is made for sealing from the inside. The reality is that unless it’s a new, space-age coating that’s vastly different from everything on the market right now, eventually it will fail. When it fails, it will bubble up and then flake off the walls once the water dries.

Water seeping through basement walls doesn’t affect the front surface of the coating. It builds up behind the coating where pressure forces it away from the block, stone or brick. If the dry basement hast flaking paint and what appear to be blisters in the coating, chances are the basement isn’t truly dry.

#4: Efflorescence or Chalky, White Residue

After you’ve been a home inspector for a while, you’ll learn certain clues about home defects. One of them is efflorescence. This white, chalky-looking material is a mineral or salt residue left behind from, you guessed it, water.

In some cases, water infiltration is so pronounced that the efflorescence leaves a distinct water line on the walls. Working RE says stains high on the wall could indicate a problem with soil grading. In more moderate cases, you’ll see a white haze that feels dry and slightly rough to the touch.

A wet basement is an unhappy basement. The homeowner is probably unhappy, as well. After paying for a home inspection that didn’t turn up water issues and then experiencing a deluge, you can expect a phone call asking why. Look for signs of past water damage and you’ll have a better shot at discovering a defect lying in wait.

Does the sleuthing aspect of home inspecting sound interesting? It is, and you can join the ranks. Enroll now with ICA School and start learning about wet basements, mold, and other home defects today.

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