How to Spot Damp in Your Basement

Many older houses around the country have the additional level of a basement below the ground floor.  But often these spaces are used a bit like the loft – for basic storage and little else.  One of the most common reasons for this is the concern that there is damp in the basement.  So how do you spot these problems?

Why basements get damp

To start with, it helps to understand why basements are more prone to dampness than other parts of the house.  The base of the problem is that the basement is underground and surrounded by soil.  Ventilation is often more difficult because of this or the basement may date from a period when such ideas weren’t commonly taken into account when building houses.

Lack of use and poor heating can be other reasons why basements often end up with damp problems.  Because they can be cold and difficult to use without work, we leave them untouched and unheated.  This makes natural problems worse and can lead to damp issues.

Types of damp

There are two main types of damp that effect basements – rising damp and lateral damp.  Condensation can be an issue at times of the year when it is colder outside and flooding around the property can also lead to problems.

Rising damp is where water rises through the walls from the ground.  Above ground level, the damp proof course will solve this problem, but this might not exist in older properties or in basements.  Lateral damp comes because the ground level is higher than the building and moisture penetrates the below-ground-level walls.  It is similar to penetrating damp experienced in other parts of the house.

Damp proofing the basement

But the potential damp problems with a basement doesn’t mean you can’t make it into a useful space.  There are lots of different ways to damp proof a basement and make it into a useable space.

One example is a chemical damp proof course that can be added to walls if they aren’t holding back the moisture from the soil.  This makes a barrier that water cannot wall and stops the damp problem.  Sometimes a full waterproofing system is required for earth-retaining walls as this needs to be a little stronger.

Cavity drain membranes or waterproof render are also used to create barriers that water cannot pass.  In addition, some kind of drainage system is sometimes put into place.  This carries away any excess water and stops it turning into condensation in the space.

Making the basement useful

With the right damp proofing measures in place, it is easy to turn a basement into a useful, liveable space.  It is ideal for everything from storage to being a utility room, a games room or even to use as a second living room.  Kids often love the basement as their dedicated space for their hobbies and they can play their computer games in peace down there.  Or it can add much needed space to the home for all those appliances and equipment we all end up needing.