Dark, damp, dirty and smelly are all good words to describe a typical basement, especially more then 20-or 30 years ago. Most basements were not finished spaces and strictly used for storage. In fact, basements were originally designed to as a food and water storage area many years ago, knowing that it would act almost as a spring house. A cool, dark, damp place to store extra food items and water.
Let’s back up a little! How about those of you in the south or south west US, that don’t have basements? Why? Why would a home be built and not include the additional square footage of the basement? Seems crazy right? Sort of like the design of a ranch home with no second floor?!?!…. a topic for another day.
Well……there’s good reason behind it…sea level, elevation, and water table! In places like Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, California, Tennessee and many others that are close to the cost, the ground water level may only be a few feet deep, if that. In some areas it can be as little as a foot or two. What does this mean?
Imagine for a minute, going outside of your home digging a hole 8 feet deep, water filling the hole instantly, as you dig, almost to ground level. Now imagine if you were daunted with the task of building a structure in this hole, starting from the bottom. Does not sound like it would work to well does it? Engineers around the world are faced with this task every day for special custom homes and buildings, but it is simply not feasible or practical on a mass, residential scale.
So what do we do, we dig a few inches down, lay a bed of stone, Install footings, pour a concrete slab, and build our home! However, there’s another reason why northern located homes have basements, or at least a crawlspace.
In the north part of the country, there is something referred to as the frost line. A frost line is the depth in the soil where the ground water is expected to freeze to during the winter months. The colder the climate the deeper the frost line. The problem with freezing ground water is that it can be damaging to the footing and foundation of a home. In some cases, can actually move an entire home or footing, causing severe structural damage.
Over time, the International Building Code (IRC), has required that we build our homes with footings below the frost line to avoid them falling subject to the freeze/thaw cycles. If we are required to dig down at least 36”, or even 48” to be below the frost line, why not dig another 48” and create a functional basement? Why would we not want to add an additional 700-1000 sqft, or more, to the size of the home?
So we have a climate that, almost, requires us to have a basement and a water table that makes it possible, but this is just the start. Just because a home has a basement does not make it a great space by any stretch. Many homes 20, 30,40, 50 and more years old have basements that are in bad shape due to the amount of moisture from the ground that enters the basement. Now a days, the IRC, engineers, and builders alike have required, designed, and adhered to practices that help ensure a dry, functional, space in the home for many years to come.
If your home is older and you have moisture problems, don’t worry! You’re not alone and there are many things you can do to help the cause or completely eliminate the issue all together! Some remedies are simple and others are more difficult, but they do exist and a dry functional basement can be had, regardless of your geographic location or individual situation.
With family’s growing larger in size these days, and real estate at its prime, every sqft of your home is precious, valuable space. Basements are no exception, if they are utilized properly by keeping them dry and perhaps finishing them nicely. Get on with your basement finishing project, and be sure to check out my next post, 8 Ways to Keep Your Basement Dry, for detailed information regarding the damp, dungeon that currently exist below your floor boards!