Many older homes have basements that have remained unfinished from the day the house was built. These were meant only as a place to keep the mechanical guts of the house, such as heating and cooling systems and other utilities. But with additional living space a priority for today’s homeowners, it’s important to get any usable square footage that you can, and the basement is usually the best place to get that. When it comes to older basements, it’s important to understand that there may be a good deal of preparation required to make the space liveable.
Moisture and Mold
One of the most common issues with basements in older homes is that they can be damp. Because of excess moisture, they can even become breeding grounds for mold. Moisture issues can occur simply due to not having the proper waterproofing material installed below ground. Older stone or brick foundations commonly have this problem. Even concrete block foundations with older waterproofing and draining systems may need to be fixed to make them functional again. Before the basement finishing even begins, make sure that water isn’t regularly entering the basement. Also, if mold has become an issue, remediation must happen before continuing any basement remodel.
Grading Issues for Water Runoff
It’s also important to note that many homes built prior to 1940 were not built to have sufficient grading for water runoff. Improper grading can lead to standing water next to your foundation, eventually leading to cracks in the foundation and other problems. Even if your home is newer than that, you still need to be wary of any signs of foundation damage. Before you go about finishing your basement, any foundation issues must be repaired. If these foundation problems do exist, you may have to look into installing foundation drain tile (a requirement in many newer building codes) or even as far as grading your yard to prevent future water drainage issues. Proper gutters and downspouts are a must, as well, as they can tend to be one of the major factors in water pooling too close to the house.
Proper Insulation and Moisture-Resistant Materials a Must
Once any existing moisture or mold issues are resolved. Any wood framing should be treated to resist moisture. Also, mold and mildew resistant drywall should be used, and vapor barriers and insulation need to be properly installed. In addition, This Old House recommends basement subflooring which creates air gaps below the floor using corrugated or cleated plastic panels that typically come in 2×2 foot interlocking panels. This plastic acts as an additional moisture barrier which will help keep the finishing flooring dry.
Health and Safety Concerns
Air quality is a main concern when remodeling an older basement. Beyond existing mold, there is the potential for radon particles in the air. Radon can be easily tested for and dealt with before any finishing work is underway, as once finishing is done, existing radon can become trapped. While it is a radioactive gas, radon typically doesn’t exist in the air in enough amount to cause any problem. But if it is allowed to build up to toxic levels, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon typically is an issue when it comes to older stone foundations and extra radon can seep in through cracks in concrete floors. This is an important consideration when finishing your basement, as it is yet another thing that must be dealt with immediately.
Other important concerns that need to be keep in mind include old or faulty electrical work, proper entrance and egress, smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, and adequate ventilation. Checking local municipal building codes for any other requirements is a must, as well.
Finishing basements in older homes can do a lot for your home, not only giving you additional living space, but ensuring that your home’s foundation is protected from long-term damage. It also makes certain that your home is safe from air quality issues such as mold or radon. Not to mention, basement remodels greatly increase the value of your home.