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Do you rule out any house with a wet basement?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 30, 2012 01:57 PM

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We are not experiencing flooding like New York City and other coastal cities on the east coast. But, homeowners wondered about their basements yesterday.

Every year or two, we have “extraordinary conditions” which lead to the wet basements. For a buyer, it can be hard to distinguish between a basement that get wet once or twice a decade and one that puddles with every thunderstorm.

Sometimes, I see seepage (that’s when the concrete is damp to the touch because there is enough water pressure to have water forcing its way through the concrete.) I’ve seen little waterfalls coming through foundation cracks and gaps between stones. And I’ve seen puddles.

Seepage is almost unavoidable with rubble or stone foundations. Water can works its way through solid rock. It has little problem getting through mortar between the rocks. Seepage is less likely with poured concrete. Modern foundations have a water barrier outside that also stops seepage. A sign of seepage is white marks on the foundation. It looks like chalk. That is the residue of seepage past.

Puddles are another story:
I’ve seen sump pumps that are happily pumping in basements with dry floors. I have seen sump pumps that are sitting in wet sumps not going on. I have been told about that bitter hum of the pump as it dies when called to duty.

Buyers who are house-hunting right now have an opportunity to see basements at their worst. If a basement made it through Sandy dry, it is likely to be a dry basement. If the basement has a sump pump, kudos to the little pump that could! (However, you may want to add a battery back-up, since the current owners may have been just lucky to didn’t loose power.)

It is easy to say, “I’ll rule out any damp basement.” There are whole sections of towns where everyone knows that the basements are all wet. Frequently, these are nice areas. These are not in a flood zones, just damp-basement land.

My clients have a mixed opinion of sump pumps. Some want to rule out any house with a pump because, they think, it means the house has a problem basement. Some owners are reluctant to install one for fear of such resale issues. Others see a sump pump and a drain as a solution, not a problem. I’d rather see a pump and perimeter drain installed and the basement dry. If the basement is wet, it is not proven that a pump will correct it and what that correction will cost. Which side do you take on that?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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