Wet Basements

Published on August 3rd, 2016 | by Henri

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Inspector misses moist basement walls

Q.  We closed on a house about a month ago  and when we moved in, we noticed these wet stains around the walls. When we had our inspection, there were shelves around them, so the inspector only pointed out the efflorescence on the wall he could see. It has rained several times and no water entered the basement. However, we are bothered by the stains and wonder what the best solution could be. One part of the stain in particular feels moist but no water is coming out. There are shrubs outside, not sure if it could be caused by that.

A.  A professional home inspection does not require the inspector to move any furniture or other personal effects, in spite of the fact that they may hide a significant problem and may have been placed there to do just that.

Years ago, a buyer sued a certified home inspector when the sellers had moved out of the house and the buyers discovered that a block wall had significant cracks. At the time of the inspection, that block wall was entirely covered with firewood stacked high, a fact corroborated by photos.
I was hired as an expert witness in a litigation case against that inspector, citing the standards of practice of the major association to which both of us belonged.

Looking at the photos you have sent, I do not see any visible cracks in the block walls, but there are a lot of moisture stains and efflorescence, which indicate that moisture is actively working its way from the outside.

Basement-stains-2Basement-stains-3

It is likely that the evident moisture penetration is due to some grading issues around the foundation. The shrubbery may be part of the problem.

The grade should be sloping gently away from the foundation, and best practice is to grow a healthy stand of grass. Foundation plantings, particularly if mulched, are often responsible for foundation leakage.

There are also indications that there has been leakage by the basement window. This may also be due to poor grading around a window well. It also appears as if the block wall below the window is stained with chalking white paint from the window frame, which may indicate that the well has been filling with water at some time. If you have no gutters, roof water may dump more water in the well than the soil can absorb in a timely manner. A window well cover should help.

One of the photos shows a set of block steps. I assume that they lead to an exterior bulkhead since there are heavy signs of moisture at the base of the surrounding walls. This tells me that there is negative grade from settlement at the bulkhead, as is often the case. There is also efflorescence on the blocks of the steps, suggesting that they are subjected to moisture as well as the walls.

If you have no gutters, either have some installed or set masonry units (concrete patio blocks, not bricks) flush with the sloping grade at the roof’s drip line. Look critically at the grade where there are shrubs. It may be possible to add soil between them and the foundation if there is enough clearance from any wood siding or trim. Be careful not to harm the shrubs by adding soil to their root system.
If this is impossible to do, the alternative is relocate the shrubs a few feet away from the foundation at a level that would not provide an obstacle to proper drainage. When all of this is done, the blocks should eventually dry.

The efflorescence, basically salts commonly found in all masonry products, dissolved by the moisture penetration and left on the surface as the water that dissolved them dries out, can easily be brushed off; it is harmless.

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