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Spring. It’s a wonderful time of year. You’re looking forward to warmer temperatures, fresh air and new beginnings. If you’re like thousands of other homeowners, you’re also starting to plan those renovation projects. Perhaps you’re thinking of a simple paint job, updating a kitchen or finally utilizing that empty basement space. There is a significant trend for finishing lower-level spaces and the concepts are limited only by your imagination.
Whether you’re going to assemble the perfect playroom for your kids, set up an entertainment center for the ultimate movie experience, create an amazing game room for family fun, build a man cave for some private time or design a multi-purpose area of smaller rooms, you’ll need to do a little preparation work to make sure the space stays comfortable and dry.
There are a few simple steps you can take to keep your new basement space moisture-free:
- Check for excess condensation with 2-foot plastic sheets taped to the walls and floor. Water droplets on top will indicate the need for a dehumidifier; drops underneath mean you'll need concrete sealer.
- Invest in a sump pump battery back-up to keep water away from your new room during a power outage.
- Use a concrete patch to seal small gaps and cracks.
- Cover pipes with foam insulation sleeves. This will prevent heat loss and condensation drips inside walls or ceiling.
- Make sure your water heater is in good working order. Any water leaks or age concerns should be addressed now.
Preparing the walls involves sealing them against water seepage, water vapor and radon gases. Spray-on concrete sealer is easily applied and a permanent solution to moisture problems.
Moisture-tolerant insulation should be installed next. There are four types recommended for below-grade use:
- Unfaced extruded polystyrene
- Unfaced expanded polystyrene
- Closed-cell medium-density polyurethane foam
- Notched insulation panels
Each type will prevent warm air from condensing on the concrete walls and allowing mold to grow. Panels are a little more expensive but provide an easy sheetrock attachment method resulting in a streamlined profile. The backsides also include wiring chases and drainage channels.
Any wall or partition framing can be done with insulated wood or steel studs. Only below-grade sheetrock or moisture-resistant paneling should be used in the basement. Standard drywall will soak up any moisture and be prone to mold and mildew growth. Be sure to use only latex paint on wall surfaces, as it is semi-permeable to moisture also.
Your basement floor poses the greatest risk for dampness or water infiltration. With the exception of traditional plank or strip hardwood flooring, most other products can be used in the lower level. Below are the options available along with the precautions needed to keep your floor from rotting or warping:
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Engineered Hardwood: Pressure-treated wood pieces, plastic, plywood and roofing felt paper are layered underneath the flooring prior to nailing or gluing.
Carpet: A similar layering system to wood can be used underneath with the addition of padding to give a more cushioned feel. Synthetic fibers are the most durable and mold resistant.
Vinyl Tile or Plank: Again, the wood strips, plastic and plywood base is required, but instead of felt, mastic is applied to the plywood.
Ceramic Tile: Cement boards are nailed to the concrete floor as a base. Mastic, tile and grout are then applied on top. The wood process can also be used if the basement floor gets wet.
Laminate: As the most durable product for below-grade application, this option can be placed directly on the concrete floor.
Rubber Tile: This type of flooring works well in children's playrooms as it provides cushioning and little risk of mold. It can be applied directly to the concrete floor.
A Special Design Note
Most design ideas for the basement will provide years of enjoyment and little worry about water problems. If a lower-level washroom is planned, there are a few more issues to address:
- Below-grade sinks, bathtubs and showers can put a lot of pressure on your main drain line. Installing a backflow valve will prevent overflows.
- An exhaust fan and humidistat should be added to remove extra moisture.
- Wastewater can be removed properly with the addition of a sewage ejector system.
- Be sure to install shut-off valves in case of a plumbing leak.
Spring really is an exciting time of year. No matter what your plans are for your basement, understanding how to keep that space dry should give you peace of mind and years of enjoyment.