You spend money and time on taking care of your home, so it's important to protect your investment by preventing minor moisture problems like odors from a damp or wet basement from growing into major problems that can cause structural and integral damage to your home.

Basement moisture problems are found in three out of four homes in the United States, according to the National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractors.

Is yours one of them? Here's what the NAWSRC says to look for:

  • Damp spots on the walls. When wet or damp, block or concrete walls will turn a dark gray color.
  • Mold or mildew. These fungi usually grow in dark, damp areas of the basement and will cause discoloration on most surfaces.
  • Peeling paint. Look for paint that is discolored and/or chipping or flaking off the walls.
  • Rust on appliances or furniture. Rust may form on fuse boxes or other metal appliances throughout the basement if it's damp.
  • Musty odor. The smell is the result of the decay process associated with mold, mildew and dry rot. A musty odor may be an indication of dampness even if signs of wetness are not visible.
  • Dry rot. It often appears as a brownish-black fungus growth on walls, clothing and other surfaces; typically grows on wood surfaces, causing wood to decay.
  • Cracked walls and floors. Look for horizontal cracks on walls and step-down cracks in corners of the home. This could be a sign of foundation problems.
  • Warped paneling. Basement moisture and dampness can cause wood paneling to bow out of shape.
  • White chalky substance on walls. This white chalky matter is the result of mineral deposits drying on walls, commonly referred to as efflorescence.
  • Condensation. Signs include dampness or sweating around the bottom of the walls during humid months, sweating water pipes, etc.

    But what causes moisture in basements? The Concrete Network, an Internet directory of concrete services and information, says some of the main causes of moisture in the basement are inadequate grading around the house, defective or missing gutters and downspouts, improperly designed window wells, and ineffective drain tiles and sum pits. Improper drainage with underslab ducts and structural cracks can also lead to excess moisture.

    It's important to take care of the problem right away. Otherwise, the NAWSRC says you'll be looking at a host of potential problems, including:

  • Deterioration of property value by ten to 15 percent
  • Dry rot - a fungus disease that attacks both softwood and hardwood timber and can result in the collapse of wooden structures
  • Unhealthy living conditions including respiratory problems
  • Damage to stored belongings
  • Warping of woods and flooring
  • Weakening of supporting beams
  • Damage to furnace
  • Crumbling of walls
  • Extension of existing cracks which can lead to structural damage
  • Erosion of metals and appliances
  • Structural foundation damage

    So what can you do to prevent problems?

    The University of Wisconsin has created an extension program for residents and the University to work together using existing resources to help families with this very issue.

    John Merrill, University of Wisconsin Extension Housing Specialist, says the first thing to do is check your gutters.

    Your gutters should be catching the rain and channeling it to downspouts. Make sure there is no debris blocking the inlets of downspouts and that all downspouts have extensions so they can release the water at least 4 feet away from your home.

    Merrill also recommends making sure the grading around your home slopes several feet away (from the home) at a noticeable grade of at least one inch per foot If not, dig a shallow ditch to intercept the surface water and carry it around the house and down a slope toward the street, placing the drainage path as far from the house as possible.

    He says any pavement immediately next to the home should slope away. If it doesn't, replace it and correct the sloping problem in the process. Or he suggests adding an additional layer of pavement next to the home to reverse the slope, but says if you do this you'll need to caulk joints and cracks in the drive or sidewalk.

    Merrill also recommends making sure your basement window wells are deeper than the window sill, and that the top rim is above grade with the ground sloping away.

    If it's too late and you already have problems, there are steps you can take to remedy the situation. See Monday's article to learn how.

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