I cleaned out the basement this week. It took four full days, but it’s finally done. Here’s the electrical room:

And the lumber storage:

All of the preliminary work that we’ve done in and around the house makes for great before and after shots, but the real reason for the deep clean is to locate and assess problem areas. Recent heavy rains have given me an opportunity to see how the envelope of the house is performing against the elements. Well, I’d give it a solid C- right now.

I’ve always known the basement had a slight moisture problem. It was being used by the previous owners as a workshop and was stuffed full of tool and supplies during every walkthrough. I assumed the damp was primarily originating from a 5×5′ square of dirt floor just inside the basement door, and I visited in both fall and mid-winter and didn’t see any other areas of major concern. It was a bit musty, but there were no puddles or wall deterioration visible. With everything cleaned out and organized, and A LOT of precipitation, the basement is showing its true colors.

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Some water infiltration in the front corner of the basement caused by trees too close to the foundation and a missing window.

Anything on the floor was rusting or rotting. Three of the four basement windows are missing and not adequately sealed (one just had bubble wrap stapled to the top of the frame and was just blowing in the wind). Water was coming through both basement entrances and three open stovepipes/vents. The moisture problem was exacerbated by a ton of wet porous materials sitting on the floor, a number of mature trees about a foot away from the foundation along one wall, gutters missing downspouts or endcaps, and landscaping that forces water back towards (and into) the foundation.

There are also some concerning areas of subsidence and voids around the house. It’s difficult to capture in photographs, but the previous owners killed a tree that was too close to the foundation, and root decay, paired with an overflow downspout from the rainwater barrel (gray object at right), has caused quite a depression to form at this location.

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In addition to the dead tree, there is more subsidence visible at the front corner. In 2010, the neighboring house (the edge of which started where the grass meets the concrete path) began collapsing into its basement and started pulling my cottage in with it. My wall was repaired a few years ago after the neighboring house was demolished, but I think ground settling and water runoff has caused sinking and voids to form in this corner to the street.

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Are you panicking? I’m not…yet. I don’t want to say these things are superficial, but most of the problem areas have identifiable causes and fairly simple remedies. All of the trees against the foundation need to come down and the ground graded to slope water away from the house. The foundation needs a bit of repointing in places, the gutters and vents to the basement need sealing, windows replaced (I found two of the three missing sashes while cleaning), and the dirt floor paved, and I think we’ll be as good as new. The concrete path does need to be torn up to address the low points, but we were planning on doing this work anyway. It sounds a bit intimidating, but at this point we can do almost everything ourselves, so while it’ll take some time, it shouldn’t be overly expensive. The other good news is that the roof is brand new and, gutters notwithstanding, is performing great. The main floor is dry, with no evidence of water infiltration. Hip, hip, hoorah! Unfortunately, fixing the exterior and basement problems takes precedent over any other interior work, so we won’t be doing much of anything inside for quite a few weeks. Here’s hoping the weather gets more agreeable before the house floats away!

 

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