There are some downsides to living in a basement (who knew?!). These are amplified when it’s an old basement with brick walls, and even more when said walls have problems with moisture. We’re tackling the drainage project to hopefully address the biggest problem, which is water coming in. However, that isn’t going to solve everything. Because the roof, gutters, and siding are all problematic, water is coming into the brick wall above grade. Worse, the outside of the above-grade brick is parged in concrete, so the water has nowhere to go but inside. The result is humidity, mold, bugs, and brick efflorescence. None of these things is particularly pleasant to live with and none of them are solved by the drainage project. We plan to fix the roof, gutters, and siding, but there are a bunch of dependencies we have to do first, and that’s going to take some time.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence

We’re running a dehumidifier most of the time, as well as open windows and fans. We put a retractable screen door on the back door so we can improve the air flow there as well, but that doesn’t help when it’s muggy and rainy outside. We also picked up a used portable air conditioner from Craigslist on the cheap, but it’s missing some parts and we still have to get it hooked up. Hopefully between the two we can keep humidity under control. On top of that, we have good quality air filters running. We’ve sprayed for bugs a couple of times and picked up some stronger stuff to try on the centipedes. If it doesn’t improve, we’ll call in an exterminator.

We looked into painting the rest of the walls with Drylok, but that would actually make things worse. For one, Drylok is a water barrier, not a vapor barrier, so the moisture would still be coming through, which means it wouldn’t actually stop the efflorescence or humidity. On top of that, Drylok can actually host mold and make that problem worse. The only thing it might help with is closing up the hidey holes the bugs are living in and stop some of the fine brick dust from raining down on the curb.

We could remove the parging on the outside, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t put up on a great-looking brick wall in the first place, not to mention the damage the parging has done to it since. Removing the parging would mean re-pointing (and replacing) a lot of brick. On top of that, we discovered the color of the face bricks on the front of the house is a rather, um, strong red, and we’re not big fans of it. That means the face brick would either have to be painted (and re-painted every 3-5 years), or replaced, both of which are pretty unappealing. In short, it’s an expensive project that probably wouldn’t actually solve the problem, because the underlying cause is the roof, gutters, and siding.

Since that’s not possible immediately, we’ll need to spray a mold remover/mildewstat/fungicide periodically and try to keep the efflorescence under control by cleaning it and spraying a water/muriatic acid solution. We put some of our wire shelving up against the outside wall, and at a minimum we’ll need to pull it back an inch or two, since as it is the efflorescence is snowing on our food (yuck). We discussed putting something between the brick and the shelf, but we’re concerned about anything that would reduce air flow across the brick and potentially make it easier for mold to grow.

All of that means that, in the end, we’re just living with these problems for the time being. Until we can stop the water from coming in, the basement is going to be somewhat unpleasant. That may rearrange some of the priorities on our project to speed up the outside, but it doesn’t change our immediate next steps: the drainage project and the second floor demo.

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